As their record suggests, these aren’t the Raiders of yesteryear. In fact, they may be better. Well, better off at least. Shane Lechler, one of the longest tenured Raiders, believes as much. “I think D.A. is good for this job. He’s got my full support,” Lechler told the media yesterday. “I think somewhere in here we’re going to have to let a guy coach for a few years to figure it out. It’s not much different than college ball. You give a guy four years, let him develop his players and see how they are instead of change and change and change. But this is Oakland.”

Indeed, this is Oakland. And, to that point, these are the Raiders. But what that means can sometimes be frustrating and depressing, as well as inspiring and intoxicating. In total, following the Raiders can be baffling. That is to say, they are a mess, or so it seems. In an ongoing attempt to sort out this mess, I have sought out a few expert opinions.

Christopher Hansen is the founder of Raidersblog.com and lead AFC West blogger for the Bleacher Report. Hansen has been covering the Raiders for the past five seasons, and it shows. Hansen’s analysis is always insightful and impartial. You can find his most recent work HERE. If you prefer brevity, then follow him on Twitter: @ChrisHansenNFL

DeMarcus Davis has been a staple in the Raiders’ press box where he provides coverage for the Silver & Black Report.  A jack-of-all-trades, Davis mostly focuses on the audiovisual these days, but he will also contribute discerning prose from time to time (as you’ll see below). You can see his work HERE. You can also follow him on Twitter: @DeMarcusRFNET

Chris McClain covers the Raiders for the Silver & Black Report as well. In addition to the Raiders, McClain reports on the Sacramento Kings and Rivercats, the triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Check out his work HERE. And, follow him on Twitter: @SB_ChrisMcClain

Over the next few days, we’ll post Hansen and Davis’s responses to issues plaguing the Raiders, as well as to the future of the franchise.

East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): The Raiders are getting very little production from their highest paid players. Is this the result of player underachievement or a failure of the coaching staff to utilize player strengths?

Christopher Hansen (CH): Tommy Kelly and Darrius Heyward-Bey were probably never going to overachieve based on the contracts they signed. With a renewed focus on stopping the run Kelly hasn’t been as effective rushing the passer. Kelly is still a quality player, but he’s not worth the millions that Al Davis gave to him years ago. Heyward-Bey is having a similar season to the one he had in 2011 and he might have reached his full potential. Darren McFadden’s situation is more tricky. He’s certainly been forced into a scheme that doesn’t fit what he does best, but there is more to it than that. McFadden’s injuries may be taking a physical and mental toll. Greg Knapp will be blamed, but McFadden has been a big reason for the struggles of the running game as well.

DeMarcus Davis (DD): It’s a combination of both really, but mostly about the under-utilization of the players. For example, early this season, FB Marcel Reece was often an afterthought in the offensive scheme prior to Darren McFadden becoming injured, despite Reece accumulating 888 total yards last year (234 yds rushing and 654 yards receiving as a FULLBACK). A former wide out in college, Reece has proven to be a double threat and a legit matchup nightmare. Yet, Reece only sees REAL action AFTER both #1 and #2 running backs, Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, go down with foot/ankle injuries? That lies squarely on the shoulders of the offensive coordinator.

Chris McClain (CM): I believe that it is a combination of both, depending on the player. For example, I believe that Darren McFadden is best suited as a north-south runner. That being said, it should be the coach’s responsibility to adequately utilize each player’s strengths. Knapp tried to do this when he installed some power-blocking runs into the game plan before McFadden went down to injury. This is also the case with DHB. Hue Jackson did a good job of utilizing him by getting him the ball in space and allowing him to make a play. Tommy Kelly is suffering from the absence of Richard Seymour, who consistently drew double teams last year. It may not be player underachievement as much as it is not meeting expectations set by an overpriced salary given to them.

EBSG: What is your opinion of Carson Palmer? What would reasonable expectations for fans to have of him?

CH: Carson Palmer will make $15 million next season. If the Raiders like one of the quarterbacks in the first round they might just have to move on from Palmer earlier than expected. Very slight chance of this because of the Raiders’ other needs and the lack of talent at quarterback in the 2013 draft.

Until Palmer is replaced, the Raiders have an average quarterback that will not make others around him better. Right now Palmer is the least of the Raiders’ problems and bringing a rookie onto a team with a suspect defense and offensive line is problematic. McKenzie needs a few more drafts to get the team in position to foster the development of a rookie quarterback.

It’s reasonable to expect Palmer to do exactly what he has done this season, but he needs players around him to make the plays. Palmer is a better version of Alex Smith and before the Raiders look for their Colin Kaepernick they need to build a defense and offensive line that can protect a young quarterback.

DD: Fans may want Carson’s head, but he is the most consistent player on the team that has been putting up Pro Bowl contention numbers consistently over the entire season. The Oakland Raiders are ranked 8th in the entire league in passing. For the most part, he has been getting the job done.

Unfortunately, fans will only focus in on the interception he may throw in a game instead of the all the dropped wide open passes and dropped balls for scores or 3rd down conversions. By and large, Palmer has been getting the ball on target, but it’s also up to the receivers to hold on the the passes thrown to them.

Another aspect of the passing game fans don’t see or appreciate is the youth factor in the receiving corps. At wide receiver; Juron Criner (rookie) age 22, Rod Streater (rookie) age 24, Denarius Moore (2nd year) age 23. Then you have 4th year DHB age 25 and the elder statesman (5th year) Derek Hagan at age 28. Then you had the mis-communications between Palmer and his receivers; the vet seeing the defense one way and the young receiver seeing it the other way. Thus, the added INT’s and missed passes that go for 3-and-out and causes an already depleted defense o go back on the field on short rest.

CM: I personally don’t see how the Raiders’ struggles can be put on Carson Palmer. I understand the thinking that he hasn’t been worth the expensive price that Hue paid for him, but this season’s struggles is not a result of Carson’s play. Palmer is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards this season, something that hasn’t been done since Rich Gannon took the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002 during his MVP year. While Palmer has 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, he has had little help all season.

Though I don’t know an exact count, a number of Palmer’s interceptions have been due to his wide receivers running the wrong routes (Denarius Moore), his receivers not going up and attacking the ball (DHB), or his offensive line not giving him enough time to get the ball where it’s supposed to be (take your pick on any o-lineman).

Palmer does have that problem of trusting his arm too much and making bad decisions, but the majority of his interceptions have stemmed from a different problem. With very little support from the running game all year, Palmer has faced tough situations in which the defense knows throws are coming and has found a way to succeed. And don’t forget that his wide receiving corps has been less-than-stellar this season, with drops and wrong routes ran.

I personally believe that Palmer is an adequate option at quarterback for the Raiders and don’t put most of the blame on his shoulders as suggested. The blame should be put on the defense, offensive line and rushing attack before Palmer in my opinion

Special thanks to Chris Hansen, Chris McClain and DeMarcus Davis for participating