The fact the Raiders offense limped to the finish line in 2015 was disconcerting for the team and its fans.
In going 1-2 over its final three games, Oakland scored an average of just 20 points per game, below its season average of 22.4.
And, in the season finale, with a chance to finish the season at 8-8 with a victory over the Chiefs, the offense went flat, producing just 205 yards – its second-lowest total of the season – in a 23-17 loss. The Raiders scored two touchdowns in that one, but one of those came on an interception return by cornerback David Amerson.
One of the problems in that game, and late in the season, was the Raiders’ sudden inability to come up with big plays. Oakland’s longest run against the Chiefs was 9 yards; its longest pass play was 31.
It certainly was on head coach Jack Del Rio’s mind as he reflected on his team’s final effort of 2015.
“Early in the year we were able to generate some explosive (plays),” he told reporters. “We were able to run the ball better. … We made one explosive play for the (game). That’s a far cry from what we had generated early in the year.”
In fact, even with the late-season offensive slump, the Raiders had 39 plays from scrimmage of 25 or more yards, which ranked 10th in the NFL. Their 13 TD passes of 25 or more yards was tied for most in the league.
Quarterback Derek Carr proved early that he could connect downfield for big plays with wideouts Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Seth Roberts, along with tight ends Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford. And running back Latavius Murray had some big gains en route to a career-best 1,066 yards on the ground and 41 catches for 232 yards.
But late in the season, the offensive line began to show some wear and tear. An injury to right tackle Austin Howard caused some reshuffling and the protection for Carr began to crumble. Over the final five games, Carr was sacked 19 times; over the first 11 games he was sacked 12 times.
Plus, sensational rookie Cooper had a foot injury, hampering his ability to get open.
So, looking ahead to 2016, the Raiders no doubt are optimistic that their big-play capability will be there again with help and health on the offensive line, perhaps the addition of another solid running back to complement Murray, the emergence of Walford as more of a threat and Cooper back to 100 percent.
With another offseason of continuity -- with Carr, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and Del Rio working together – more big plays should return.
“We have some explosive qualities,” Del Rio said during the season. “Derek throws a great deep ball and we have some guys who can get behind people. We have running backs with some juice, who can take a little running room and turn it into big gains.”