Denver 17 – Oakland 13
My first trek to Mecca in the 06 season was a wonderful day. Everything was set up for nirvana. It started off with some interesting conversations on the plane from L.A. to Oaktown with some die hard loyalists. Next on the agenda was meeting up with an old college buddy at the Safeway Tailgate Zone. The pre-game festivities were rockin’ with a DJ, Raider legends signing autographs, tents set up with big screen televisions showing the morning games, the Raiderettes in all their glory, and free sandwiches, soup, and steak samples. The weather was ideal with a clear, sunny sky and 60 degree temperature at game time. My buddy (aka “Raider Mike”) and I had awesome seats in Section 141, Row 26 which are on the 40 yard line behind the Denver bench. McAfee was packed with a capacity Raider Nation crowd.
Early in the game, the Raiders pinned Denver on the 8 yard line with a beautifully placed punt by Shane Lechler. On the 1st snap after this change of possession, Jake the Fake was intercepted by Nnamdi Asomugha (4th interception for the season) who returned it to the Denver 15 yard line. The faithful went nuts.
On 3-9, Walter hit TE Williams for an 11 yard completion and 1st down. The Raiders eventually punched it in on a Jordan blast up the middle. Raider 7 – Donkeys 0
(photo caption) “Hey Shana-Rat...how bout’ a piece of cheese!”
Everything was set up for a glorious victory against our hated rival Donkeys. In a typical game, there are usually key moments, pivotal plays, dubious officiating, and plenty of “what ifs” to contemplate. This game was no exception. The difference between a “W” and a dreaded “L” can be marked by the following key moments.Play to Win:
In the 1st half, leading 7-0, the Raiders faced a 4-1 on the Denver 49 yard line and decided to punt which led to a touchback. Isn't this the type of situation where you play to win, show some confidence in the offense to pick up 1 yard? Worst case scenario is the Donkeys take over on downs at midfield facing a tough Raider D.
Again, near the end of the 1st half, tied 7-7 and facing a 4-1 at the Denver 2 yard line, the Raider elect to kick a field goal. Why not go for it? For starters, the Raiders have had so few opportunities on the goal line. 2 good things could happen by going for it… either pick up 1 yard for the 1st down or punch it all the way in for a TD. The difference between a potential 14-7 lead and 10-7 lead is HUGE going into half time. As the final score indicates, this 4 point swing is the difference between a 17-17 OT game and a 17-13 loss.
It is also a telling difference in strategy that when Shanahan had a similar situation (4-1 on the goal line in the 4th quarter) he played to win by going for it. Down 13-7 with over 11:00 minutes to go, he very easily could have kicked a field goal to make the game score tighten at 13-10.Golden Opportunities:
On 4 occasions the Raiders offense started off beyond the Oakland 40 yard line. 3 of these possessions resulted in punts and the other ended with a 55 yard FG by Sea-Bass.Defensive Stand:
On 2 occasions, Lechler pinned the Broncos down on the 2 yard line but the Raiders D left the Donkeys off the hook by allowing Plummer to gain multiple 1st downs to impact the field position battle.Ticky Tack Officiating:
Late in the 3rd Quarter, the Raiders Kirk Morrison caused a fumble on a punt return with Schweigert recovering at the Denver 20 yard line. However, a questionable “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” penalty was called on gunner Chris Carr. It is an obscure, rarely called penalty infraction when a cover man gets knocked out of bounds but doesn’t make a “good faith” effort to return to the playing field right away. This is one of those discretionary calls by the officials where you would hope that the official would use some latitude and good sense before pulling out the flag.
In this particular case, the reason Carr was unable to get back into the field of play right away was because 2 Denver special teams guys were obstructing him from getting in bounds. This play alone was a major momentum changer. The Raiders had the lead 13-7 and with the ball on the 20 yard line would come away with at least 3 (if not 7) points to cushion their lead. As right as rain, the Donkeys took the ensuing possession down the field for a 14-13 lead2 Feet Down:
Late in the 4th quarter, Fabian Washington intercepted an intended pass for Javon Walker but the ruling on the field was that he only had 1 foot in bounds. Shell challenged (and lost) the ruling which burned up the Raiders remaining time-out. This play was shown a few times on the Jumbo-tron and it looked to be a clean interception by Washington. Although the change of field possession was only a (-3) net from where the Raiders took over after the punt vice the interception, it seemed to deflate some much needed momentum.Fumble-itis:
On the 1st snap at the 4:03 mark, Walter was sacked and fumbled the ball which lead to a Denver field goal and 17-13 lead.
On the last drive of the game, with all marbles at stake, Walter botched the center exchange, fumbled, game over. To add salt to the wounds, the intended play call was for Walter to be in the shotgun formation which would have eliminated the botched snap.
Here are some additional observations from the game and general commentary regarding the state of the Raider Union:
After the game, a dejected, battered and frustrated Andrew Walter had the following quote in regards to the offenses struggles in the 2nd half: “One of the reasons is we don’t have a lot of depth as far as our playbook goes. I would like to see more quick stuff, more swing routes, flat routes, short stuff. We need to make it more complex.”
This comment would seem to be very relevant in regards to making adjustments in the play calling at halftime. The Raiders 2nd half output for the season: A TOTAL
19 points in 9 games. To put this ghastly number in perspective, here is a comparison that should make any Raider fan sick to his/her stomach. The Chargers on Sunday scored more points (21) in the 4th quarter than the Raiders have scored (19) in all of the 2nd halfs combined (18 quarters of play). In 4 games the Raiders were shut out in the 2nd half. The average offensive output in the 2nd half for the 9 games is 2.1 points. It should be also noted that Walter took responsibility for his poor performance. In the Denver game he lost 2 fumbles and was inaccurate with his passing.
It is my belief that OC Walsh needs to open his mind (and playbook) to accommodate Walter and a leaky O-line. Whether it is the Gilliam offensive system or a variation of this system, Walsh needs to modify the game plan to fit his personnel. His strict devotion to the Gilliam offense makes no sense under the current circumstances. When your QB is getting killed (47 sacks and countless knockdowns), you have the #32 ranked offense, you average less than a FG per 2nd half, there needs to be some flexibility and changes in the offensive schemes from a common sense standpoint. More 3 step drops, shorter passes, slants, crosses, screens, draws, quick come-back routes, etc. These are basic plays that every NFL team runs. The lack of 2nd half adjustments is killing the Raiders as evidenced by the Cleveland, SF, and Denver games where the Raiders had the lead at half and eventually lost the games.
It will be very interesting to see how Shell, Walsh, and the offensive unit reacts to Walter’s quote. Will Walter be JP’s bunkmate in the doghouse? Will Shell take a larger role in the play call input? Will the playbook be opened up to include a bigger mix of short passes? Is Brooks going to start vs. KC? This could very well be the defining moment in Shell’s return as Head Coach. Ultimately, what it boils down to for me is whether Shell is more loyal to his friend Tom Walsh who happens to be the Raiders Offensive Coordinator or to the Raiders organization and the Raider Nation? 9 games into the season, the Raiders offense is horrendous. I would hope that the players and coaching staff are more than willing to improvise, adapt, and overcome.