Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Return to Greatness

The (12-3) Broncos administered a dominating 22-3 beat-down of the (4-11) Raiders on Christmas Eve. This humiliating loss at the hands of the hated rival Donkeys was further exasperated by Shannahan attempting to ice K Janikowski with a time out in the fourth quarter to preserve a 22-0 shutout. Was this gamesmanship necessary? No. Was it payback for Al Davis giving Shannahan the pink slip many years ago? Absolutely.

With this season coming to a bitter close on New Year's Eve vs. the NY "Football" Giants, it is time to put the 2005 season in the rear view mirror and to start looking towards the 2006 season. What changes can be made to reverse the team's fortune? How can the Silver and Black rebound from the worst 3 year stretch in the organization's history? Oakland is 13-34 since losing Super Bowl XXXVII to Tampa Bay in 2003. Who should replace Norv Turner and Kerry Collins? What trades or free agent signings can make an immediate impact? What positions need to be targeted in the 2006 draft? Needless to say, Mr. Davis has a full plate of meaty questions to be answered and addressed between January 1st and the April Draft.

Please indulge me as I play the role of Al Jr. and tackle (no pun intended) these issues.

Numero Uno on my "To do list": Call a press conference on 1/1/06. At this press conference, in the company of Norv Turner, I relieve Norv of his duties as head coach in a dignified manner. I thank him for his efforts and wish him well, blah, blah, blah. Why server ties on 1/1? Because the clock is ticking on the recruiting process. By officially severing ties sooner rather than later you can actively begin the courting rituals in good faith.

Who are the potential candidates? The head coaching candidates will more than likely fall into 1 of 5 categories.
A. Current college head coach with NFL coaching experience: Pat Hill (Fresno State)
B. Current NFL offensive coaches/coordinators seeking 1st head coaching position: Russ Grimm (Pittsburgh); Al Saunders (K.C.); Maurice Carthon (Cleveland); Sean Payton (Dallas)
C. Current NFL coaches seeking a 2nd shot as a head coach ("Retreads"): Jim Fassel (Baltimore); Jim Haslett (New Orleans)
D. Current Raider coach promoted or former Raider head coach: Rob Ryan; Art Shell
E. Wildcard: A young, up and coming coach who normally wouldn't be listed as a viable candidate similar to the John Gruden hiring. Rick Nieuheisal? Is there another diamond in the rough?

My top choices would be Pat Hill, Maurice Carthon, and Art Shell. Each is uniquely qualified to steer the Raider ship in the right direction. All three are no-nonsense type men. Pat Hill has turned Fresno State into an offensive powerhouse. Maurice Carthon has an impeccable coaching pedigree. He has coached on Bill Parcells' staff that included Bill Belichick. Maurice is young (44), ambitious, won 2 superbowls as a player (NY Giants), and offensive minded to appease Al. Art Shell understands the Raider organization better than any other candidate, commands respect, and was successful as a head coach for the Raiders. Immediately following the press conference, I would start the courting and interviewing process with these 3 guys. If you forced my hand, my top choice is Maurice Carthon.

2nd order of business: Release Kerry "Statue of Liberty" Collins. (No more servings of KFC)

3rd order of business: With the newly installed Head Coach's input, sign a new starting QB through a trade or in the free agent market. Some of the candidates to consider will probably fall into 1 of 2 categories;
A. Former starting QBs who are currently #2 QBs: Jon Kittna (Cincinnati); Josh McNown (Arizona); Patrick Ramsey (Washington); Brian Griese (Tampa Bay)
B. Starting QBs who might need a change of scenery and/or burned a bridge; Aaron Brooks (New Orleans); Steve McNair (Tennesse), Dante Culpepper (Minnesota); Joey Harrington (Detroit); Philip Rivers (San Diego)

I would see most of the above listed QB's as a major upgrade in comparison with our current signal-caller. I don't profess to know the contract status or the likelihood of the Raiders prying any of these guys away from their current franchise. Are there better choices in the thin QB market? Who do I like from this speculative list?

Jon Kittna: Played well (8-8) for Cincinnati in 2003 when the team was still in a rebuilding stage and Carson Palmer was being groomed.
Patick Ramsey: Talented & tough young gun who played well last week in a pressure filled game in relief of Mark Brunnel.
Aaron Brooks: Mobile, athletic. Questionable leadership skills but could be rejuvenated away from New Orleans.
Steve McNair: Tough as nails, mobile, veteran leadership. Downside; injury prone. McNair could provide a nice 2 year bridge for heir apparent Andrew Walters to be properly groomed.
Dante Culpepper: Would the new Viking owner trade Culpepper due to the embarrassment caused by the "love boat" incident? Will the Vikes stick with proven winner Brad Johnson? Culpepper to Moss, part II?

2006 Draft: The positions that I target are OG, OT, DE, DT, LB, SS in no particular order. The Raiders 1st round draft pick will be anywhere from #4 to #8 depending on the results of this weekend. Do you hold on to this pick or trade down for additional picks? Some of the players to consider if the Raiders hold on to this pick are A.J. Hawk (LB, OSU), D'Brickshaw Ferguson (OT, Virginia); DeMeco Ryans (OLB, Alabama); Tamba Hali (DE, PSU); Mario Williams (jr DE, NC St).

The success (or failure) of any NFL team can be attributed to the leadership abilities of the Head Coach and the performance of the starting QB. I feel strongly that with the right head coach and QB, the Raiders will be right back on the path to greatness. The quest to hoist another Lombardi Trophy will be reborn.

Your comments and feedback is welcomed.

Keep the Faith,

Calico Jack

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays

Wish List for Santa Al;
1. An inspired choice to fill the soon to be vacant head coaching slot.
2. A creative trade to bring in a QB who knows how to lead his team to victory.
3. A beautiful gift basket of draft choices preferrably an OG, LB, and SS.
4. A cache of immediate impact free agent signings.
5. Sell out crowds at McAfee Stadium admiring a winning product.
6. An end to the legal wranglings with the county, city, and league.
7. A playoff caliber team in the new year.
8. A shiny new Lombardi trophy in the near future.

Have a Merry Silver and Black Christmas,

Calico Jack

Monday, December 19, 2005

Unfulfilled Expectations

Cleveland Kicker Phil Dawson’s 37 yard game winning field goal as the clock expired was like a kick in the stomach. In a season marked by unfulfilled expectations, this game defied all logic. With the clock showing 0:00, the final score showed Browns 9 - Raiders 7 .

How do the Raiders lose a game at home when the following takes place; Lamont Jordan has a career best day of 132 yards on 25 carries. The Raiders win the turnover battle 2-1. The Raiders win the time of possession battle 33:38 to 26:22. The Raiders convert 7-16 3rd downs (43.7%) to the Browns 4-15 (26.6%). The Raiders recorded 3 sacks to the Browns 2. The Raiders Shane Lechler out punts the Browns Richardson 49.3 to 43.0. The Raiders shut down the Browns lead back Ruben Droughns (53 yards on 18 carries; 2.9 yards per carry). The Raiders defense puts up a valiant goal line stand. The Browns had 1st and goal from the 4 yard line and came up empty. How do you lose when your defense holds the Browns to no touchdowns for the game?

The reason the Raiders came up short was because the offensive unit was able to score only 1 time in 10 possessions. The Raiders offense was punch-less primarily because Lame Duck QB Collins completed only 8 passes to his trio of wide receivers. The Raiders came up short because their QB completed less than half of his passes and compiled a 56.5 passer rating. I’m sorry but when you have Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, and Doug Gabriel as your receivers, this stat line is not only perplexing but absolutely atrocious. That is 2 receptions per quarter. How does perennial All-Pro WR Randy Moss go an entire game with 1 measly reception? When arguably your best player on the team has this type of production, there needs to be some serious changes made. The first order of business for Mr. Davis is hiring a head coach who will use Moss’ all world talent to be a playmaker and difference maker. The second point of business is to change the QB delivering the ball to him. The Raiders added another “L” to the loss column because K Sea-Bass missed a FG and had another FG attempt blocked in a game decided by 2 points. For the season, Sea-Bass has converted only 19 of 29 FG attempts for a dismal 65.5% rate. Although Sea-Bass misses didn't help the cause, this offense was built to score touchdowns not field goals. When your kicker and QB are both shooting blanks it is next to impossible to win.

It is disheartening to see the Raiders defense play so well and be unsupported by the kicking game and offense. The Raiders defense has played much better than anticipated this season. DE Derrick Burgess recorded his league high 14th sack. Rookie CBs Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt held up well in coverage. Rookie LB Kirk Morrison made 2 key stops on the goal line. 2nd year man FS Stuart Schweigert and LB Danny Clark were flying to the ball. The young guns on D are stepping up and making plays while the offense has been a major disappointment.

The offense is stuck in quick sand because Collins is unable to manage the game. He lacks the ability to call an audible, improvise, or avoid the pass rush. Collins has the offense stuck in neutral because he is unable to complete a decent % of his passes to top flight receivers. The offense is going nowhere fast because Collins doesn’t command respect in the huddle and consistently receives a grade of “F” in leadership abilities. I hate to keep using Collins (and Turner) as punching bags in my blog but I have had enough of their tired, losing ways. Give me a QB and Head Coach who has the passion and fire in his belly to win. Give me a QB and Head Coach who commands respect amongst the team members. Give me a QB and Head Coach who will lead and inspire the team to victory. The light shining on the quest for the Lombardi Trophy might be very dim right now but my faith is unshaken. Sure, Santa might have dumped a lump of coal in the Silver and Black stocking this season but I’m hopeful that the 2006 season will bring a shiny brand new QB and Head Coach. Feliz Navidad.

Your comments and feedback are welcome.

Silver and Black Forever,

Calico Jack

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

An Act of Desperation

Head Coach Norv Turner announced today that he is switching back to Kerry Collins as the starting QB vs. Cleveland. Turner said “We owe it to the guys on this team that are giving as much as they’re giving, we owe them the best chance to find a way to win a game.” Although this reasoning by Turner does have some validity to it since Tui did struggle mightily against the Jets, it does raise some other questions. Yes, giving your team the best chance to win is a noble cause but it rings hollow. Turner would have given his team the best chance to win throughout the entire 2005 campaign by installing better game plans, by being less predictable, by being more committed to the run, by taking more calculated risks, by using more creative play calls, by tailoring personnel packages to each unique opponent, by instilling discipline & accountability, by inspiring his players to greater heights, by passionately leading his men into battle each week.

What does this QB change mean? It means that Turner is fighting a losing battle to hold on to his job. This decision means that QB Collins will need to invest in some earplugs for his start in McAfee Stadium if he doesn’t perform at a very high level. It means that the focus & blame of the Raiders woes is shifted back on to lame duck QB Collins. More than likely it means that Turner is a puppet on Al Davis’ strings.

How was this decision made? Probably behind closed doors Davis & Turner met on Monday. After Tui performed poorly in his 1 game tryout, Davis insisted that Tui is not his type of QB. Turner probably thought he could breathe life into the offense by giving Tui a shot. After examining the game film from the Jets game, Turner realized that the entire style of offense was built around Collins deep passing abilities. He took the path of least resistance and decided it was much easier to switch back to Collins than to change the offense to fit Tui’s strengths. It would have been nice if Turner had tailored the offense in the Jets game to suit Tui’s strengths in order to truly give him the best chance to succeed. How many times did you see Tui use the roll-out, a pass/run option or bootleg play in the Jets game? Why was Tui stuck behind a static pocket the entire game instead of using a sliding, moving pocket? How many plays did Turner install that utilized Tui’s legs to run for 1st downs? You might as well pull the plug on Tui if you are going to run the same predictable offense installed for Collins.

Is this a 3 game audition for Collins to see if the Raiders want him back for 2006? Ridiculous. Collins has a body of work over 2 seasons as the starting QB. The results are clear. Collins is 7-18 as the starter. He loses 72% of the time. At best, Collins is a serviceable #2 QB with a restructured contract at this stage of his career.

What are the short term ramifications of this decision? The short-term ramifications are that the Raiders appear rudderless. There appears to be no clear direction & sound starting point to make decisions for next season. This switch might pick up an extra win but at what cost? Even if Collins plays well vs. Cleveland and the Raiders win, the season tally will still probably end up at a dismal 5-11. The QB depth chart has become cloudier.

What are the long-term ramifications of this decision? My best guess is that the Raiders organization is going to make a bold trade for a QB (Phillip Rivers, Aaron Brooks, Dante Culpepper) or go after a free agent QB (John Kittna, Brian Griese) once Collins is released and his $12.8M cap figure comes off the books. There would seem to be an outside chance that Collins could come back as the #2 QB at a discounted salary. It looks like Tui will be released. Don’t be surprised if Tui ends up in Tampa Bay and is reunited with Gruden who originally drafted him. Tui, who was mentored by Rich Gannon, would be good fit as the #2 QB in the Bucs’ west coast style offense. Rookie QB Walters will have another year to be groomed as the heir apparent.

Finally, who ultimately made this decision? None other than the patriarch of the Raider Nation, Mr. Alvin Davis. My only hope is that the godfather of the Silver & Black is feverishly working on 2 things in anticipation of the 2006 season. First and foremost is to start evaluating head coaching candidates who meets the following mandatory job requirements; Dynamic leader, creative football mind, willingness to instill discipline & accountability with players, excellent teacher, delegator, and communicator. After a head coach is hired, this new leader of the Silver & Black needs to be involved in identifying the best available QB in the market. This QB must command respect in the huddle. Both Collins & Turner are likeable, decent guys but it is time to turn the page and move forward. I anxiously await the next revitalized chapter in the quest for the Lombardi Trophy. I’m still a firm believer in Al Davis’ commitment to win. It is easy to second guess some of his decisions over the years but his passion & devotion to the Silver & Black is unquestioned. I love Al Davis, warts and all.

Silver & Black Forever,

Calico Jack

Monday, December 12, 2005

Raiders Hit Rock Bottom

The Raiders have truly hit rock bottom. The 26-10 loss to the Jets was an exercise in futility. The execution in all 3 phases of the game was worse than what you would expect in an early pre-season game. Instead of Tui providing a lift to the Silver & Black’s struggling offense, the same problems cropped up that have sunk the Raiders ship throughout the 2005 season.

13 PENALTIES FOR 88 YARDS; How does a team of high-paid, professional athletes who have been working together since July 30th commit 13 penalties in December? Totally inexcusable.

TUI SACKED 6 TIMES; The lack of pass protection over the past few weeks is a major concern especially considering the fact that Tui is a very mobile QB. LT Sims allowed RE Abrahms free reign on Tui on back to back series in the 3rd quarter resulting in 2 fumbles. Do the Raiders need to target a free agent tackle for the 2006 season? Should Langston Walker be given a shot to start at RT with Robert Gallery switching over to the left side?

4 TURNOVERS; 2 interceptions + 2 fumbles = 10 Jets points. The Raiders continued to shoot themselves in the foot against the Jets by turning the ball over.

DROPPED PASSES; At a critical stage of the game, WR Whitted dropped a pass in the end zone that hit him right in the chest. It looked like he was too pre-occupied with the DB interfering with him instead of focusing on making the play.

LACKLUSTER RUNNING GAME; Once again, Tuner gave up on the running game too early. At the half, the Raiders were only down 6-3. You would logically think that the Raiders coaching staff would be committed to the run when facing the 29th best rush defense in the league and with a newly installed QB. How is it possible that RB Jordan only gets a total of 14 carries for 49 yards? In the Raiders 4 wins this season, RB Jordan had at least 23+ carries. Is this so difficult to figure out?

POOR COACHING; How do you allow QB Bollinger to set a Jets QB rushing record of 56 yards on 6 carries? After his 1st two scrambles resulted in 3rd down conversions, shouldn’t a light bulb go off in Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s head that says “Let’s make an adjustment and use a spy to keep an eye on Bollinger”. When WR Porter scored a 4th quarter TD to close the gap to 19-9, why wouldn’t Turner go for a 2 point conversion? What difference does it make if you are down 9 points with a made extra point or down 10 points with a missed 2 point conversion? If the Raiders go for 2 points and convert it, they would be down only 8. This is puzzling and annoying to me that a coach who makes over $1M a year can’t do this simple arithmetic.

SPECIAL TEAMS INEPTITUDE; P Lechler had his 3rd straight poor performance netting only 36.3 yards. K Janikowski hooked a 29 yard FG attempt that would have tied the game at 6-6 in the 3rd quarter.

This loss to the Jets was demoralizing. The team looks like it is regressing. The coaching staff seems incapable of play-calling, adjustments, and inspiring the personnel. The players need to focus on executing their assignments, winning the one-on-one battles, and most importantly, playing for each other. Like most die-hard Raider fans, I can handle the losses. However under no uncertain terms will I accept excuses for this undisciplined, poor play or any lack of commitment. I will keep drinking the Silver & Black kool-aid and hope that the team’s pride kicks into over-drive.

Silver & Black Forever,

Calico Jack

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Grab a Clipboard Kerry - It's Tui Time!

“You know, I’m not happy about it. I feel like this is my team; I feel like I give us the best chance to win Sunday.” Kerry Collins

Let’s break this quote down folks.
“You know, I’m not happy about it. - Sorry Kerry about Norv handing you the pink slip. I also sympathize with you about missing out on a big paycheck in the 2006 season. However, we are delighted to be freeing up $12M in cap space for next year!

“I feel like this is my team” - Yes, you are a member of the Silver & Black but if this was your team you should have demonstrated some shred of leadership skills when it truly matters, game time. This is one of the mandatory job requirements that you don’t posses.

“I feel like I give us the best chance to win Sunday” - Excuse me? Your record as the starting QB is 7-18. Your winning percentage is 28%.

Although 5th year back-up Marques Tuiasosopo might be shaking off some serious rust this Sunday vs. the Jets, the move to demote Kerry Collins was a breath of fresh air. Tui has been a model employee of the Silver & Black. He has been patiently awaiting the opportunity to show-case his skills. Tui might not be the proto-typical, strong armed QB that Mr. Davis relishes but he has the ability to win. In his senior year at University of Washington he led the Huskies to 8 come from behind victories. Tui seems to be in the same mold as his mentor, Rich Gannon. Both QB’s weren’t noted for throwing a good deep ball but were able to use their legs & athletic ability to make plays. Instead of having a stationary target for the pass rush to zero in on, Tui will be able to improvise, scramble, and buy a few extra precious seconds to find an open receiver. Who will benefit the most on ‘busted’ plays? None other than WR Moss. Moss has never been noted for running precise routes or timing based patterns but he really shined in Minnesota whenever Culpepper was able to improvise. If a play breaks down, Tui should be able to hook up with Moss to make some big plays. Collins’ lack of escape-ability in the face of a pass rush caused him to make too many negative plays.

If nothing else, the last 4 games of the year will determine what direction the organization will go in terms of the most important position on the field, the QB. Tui’s audition starts on Sunday. My best guess is that he won’t be totally sharp in his first outing but that he will bring a new found energy and purpose to the offense. I hate to say this but I’m looking forward to seeing Collins with the headset & clipboard. He seems like a decent guy but unfortunately he just isn’t a winner.

I bleed Silver & Black,

Calico Jack

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bye-Bye Norv & Kerry

Post-game Observations

The Norv Turner & Kerry Collins era is officially over. Neither man has the pre-requisite leadership skills to lead this team now or in the 2006 season. Norv’s puzzled expressions and Kerry’s glassy-eyed, hollow looks doesn’t exactly breed confidence. In this 34-10 dismantling by the San Diego Chargers, it was painfully clear that Mr. Davis needs to start thinking about the necessary changes for the head coaching post & QB position for 2006. At 4-8, with 4 games left in the season, it is time to find out if QB Tui or Walters are going to be legitimate candidates to compete for the #1 spot next year or if the Raiders will need to sign a free agent or make a trade (Culpepper? Rivers?)

Why is it so rare in the NFL for a head coach to make an in game change at QB? When Collins was slumping at the mid point of the 3rd quarter, why not bring in Tui or Walters to provide a spark? I didn’t have a problem with Collins starting the game but as the game got out of reach, it seemed prudent to give your #2 QB or #3 QB some meaningful live snaps. In baseball if your starting pitcher is getting shelled and doesn’t have his best stuff, the manager doesn’t think twice about bringing in another arm. If your starting QB isn’t getting the job done, get him out. Create some healthy competition. Alternate every few series if necessary.

In today’s NFL, a QB needs to be either mobile or have an innate pocket awareness to be successful. Collins’ inability to improvise, make plays with his legs or his head means it a losing proposition every time the protection breaks down.

With CB Jammer giving WR Moss a 7-10 yard cushion on almost every play, why is it so difficult for Turner or Collins to read this coverage and take the short completion? Keep making this 7+ yard gain until CB Jammer makes an adjustment. It’s simple. Run this short pass play every single down until it is taken away. This became so painfully obvious that even the TV commentators were blabbering on and on about it. As a point of strategy and play-calling, is there something wrong with moving the chains, gaining big chunks of yards, creating a rhythm, and winning an edge in time of possession?

Bright spots: DT #90 Terdell Sands performance was an awakening. Two plays highlighted his combination of power, speed, and agility; his sack of QB Brees and his chasing tackle of LT behind the line of scrimmage. I was pleased that the Raiders held LT to 86 yards on 25 carries and didn’t commit a single penalty. Rookie LB Morrison was very active with 11 solo tackles.

Silver & Black Forever,

Calico Jack

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Come On Over to the Dark Side

The Silver & Black face a daunting task tonight in Sandy Eggo. These are the odds that are stacked against the Raiders;

The Raiders are on the road against a HEAVILY favored team (+11.5 point favorites).

The Chargers have won four straight games including last weeks comeback OT victory.

The Raiders are coming off of a dismal performance last week vs. the Fins.

The Chargers are playing for one of the remaining playoff berths.

The Raiders are eliminated from playoff contention and are playing only for pride.

The media has been circling like vultures around the heads of Norv Turner & Kerry Collins.

The Chargers have won their last 4 straight contests vs. the Raiders.

So why do I believe in my heart that the Raiders will shock the Bolts? These are the reasons to come on over to the dark side;

Sandy Eggo is a home away from home for the Raiders. Over 50% of the crowd tonight will be sporting the Silver & Black colors.

Randy Moss is very close to 100% healthy & loves the national TV spotlight.

The Raiders should play with a “nothing to lose” attitude.

The beauty of playing the playoff spoiler against a divisional rival

But last but not least, I will always believe that the Raiders have a chance to win any game, anytime, anywhere. I am always hopeful that the next play, the next quarter, the next half, the next game, the next season will be better. The Silver & Black glass is always half full for me.

Let the Force Be With You,

Calico Jack