Monday, October 29, 2007

Raiders Offense Stuck In Neutral

Titans 13 - Raiders 9
So far this has been a VERY frustrating season for Raider fans. The 1st quarter of the season was marked by great progress. In particular, the offensive line showed vast improvement. The running attack was #1 in the entire league. The Raiders split the 1st 4 games and at 2-2 were in 1st place.

The last 3 weeks have been a return to the futile, mistake filled offense that stunk up the place in 2006. 14 points at San Diego (1 offensive TD). 10 points vs. KC (1 offensive TD). 9 points at Tennessee (0 offensive TDs). This downward trend in offensive productivity needs to be corrected pronto.

The big factors in this offensive ineptitude the last 3 games has been poor QB play (Culpepper has been very shaky), an inability to run the ball effectively (2.7 avg per carry), poor pass protection (13 sacks in the last 3 games), losing the turnover battle (4 fumbles + 4 interceptions; -6 turnover ratio), an upward spike in costly penalties (avg. of 9 penalties), and above all, a failure to make a play at critical, game deciding junctures in the game.

In this game vs. Tennessee, the Raiders offense created the perfect storm of mistakes. 14 penalties for 100 yards. 11 penalties called on the offensive line alone. The average 3rd down distance that the Raiders faced in this game was 11.6 yards. With the defense unable to create any turnovers, the Raiders stared all 12 possessions in their own territory. The long down & distances set up the Titans to exploit the Raiders shoddy pass protection. Culpepper was sacked 5 times. One of these sacks caused a fumble on the Raiders own 9 yard line.

When you boil it all down, the penalties, turnovers, and sacks laid the foundation for the ultimate deathbed of the Raiders offense. At this point in time, the Raiders can ill afford to play an undisciplined and unsound brand of football if the team is to be victorious. 1st and 15, 2nd and 20, 3rd and 12 ... these type of down & distances stack the deck against a team that has yet to show the wherewithal to unleash a consistent passing attack.

The frustration and disappointment in this closely fought game is that the Raiders found a way to lose. In spite of the offense continually shooting itself in the foot, the Raiders were in a position to win. Down 13 to 9, the Raiders had moved the ball to the Tennnesse 26 yard line with 2:00 to go. 1st down on the 26. What do you do in this important situation? 1st play: LT Barry Sims false start. 2nd play: Culpepper sacked. Next play: A short completion. 3rd down: incompletion. 4th down: BMW fails to secure the ball on a key reception. Game over.

As I pointed out in one of my earlier posts "Wanted: The Closer", good teams find a way to execute at key points in the game. When you have the lead in the 2nd half, the mindset needs to be to put your collective foot on the windpipe of your opponent.

An interesting and sad fact: The Raiders have had the lead in the 2nd half in 6 of 7 games this season. On the sunny side of things, this shows that the team is doing enough good things to be competitive and be in the position to win. Unfortunately, this is also an indicator of a team that has come up short when victory is within their grasp.

Up Next: The Texans (3-5) visit Oaktown (2-5). If Culpepper doesn't perform well, you can expect the chants for JaMarcus to get louder and louder each week.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What's It Going To Take

KC 12 - Oakland 10
Usually immediately following a Raiders game I prepare for my post by digging through the stats and articles and pound out some opinionated analysis. This time I'm resorting to mostly my recollections from my seats in the above photo to make some simple points that relate to the disappointing loss to KC.

Football: The Ultimate TEAM Sport
No matter how great one unit plays, the games' outcome more times than not is determined by a total team effort. In this game, the Raiders Defensive unit played at a very high level. Besides one 50+ yard run by LJ and one 50+ yard completion by Bowe on a broken play, the Raiders defense held firm most of the day. LJ was contained to less than 4 yards per carry minus the big scamper. Damon Huard had a consistent, steady pass rush in his face the entire game. There was even a "knock out" blow delivered on Tony Gonzales by Stu of all people. Most importantly, the Raiders D held KC to a meager 1 TD and 12 total points.

Anytime your D holds the opponent to 12 points, it takes the other 2 units to fail miserably to come up short on the scoreboard. The Raiders offense was inept and unimaginative. 2 scoring drives in 13 possessions is putrid. The Special Teams gave away 3 points by mishandling a punt return. One of the Raiders Special Teams players inadvertently ran into punt returner Chris Carr causing Carr to mishandle the punt and fumble.

Offensive Philosophy
Watching the Raiders 1st 8 possessions, a few things knawed at me like a splinter in my brain.

(1) Passing on 1st Down: Is there any enforceable law against throwing to a WR on 1st down? It wasn't until the middle of the 3rd quarter that Culpepper attempted a pass to a WR (Porter) on 1st down.

(2) Stretch the Field: Is there any logical reason that the Raiders offense doesn't incorporate more deep passes into the playcalling?

First off, when I say "deep" pass I'm referring to passes of 30+ yards not 50+ yard bombs. Secondly, I'm not suggesting that all of these attempts should be successfully completed. Third, by no means am I calling for a "vertical" offense.

No matter what type of offense is being run, it is the perceived threat of the deep ball that stretches out the D. The perceived threat is only legitamized by the act of attempting longer passes numerous times. It could be as simple as 1 deep pass per quarter. Throwing 30 yards passes 2 or 3 times per half is more than enough to achieve the indended goal which is to loosen up the D, get the safeties out of the box for run support, and allow bigger throwing lanes for the short to intermediate passes.

(3) The Guessing Game: One of the most basic offensive tenants is to keep the D guessing. The Raiders offense on Sunday had a "broken record" type quality. 1st down: Jordan off tackle run. 2nd down: Either another Jordan run or a short pass to a RB. 3rd Down: Culpepper in shotgun >>> Attempted short pass to a WR or a check down to a back. The idea of using the entire field, passing on running downs, running on passing downs seemed almost revolutionary against the Chiefs.

(4) Coaching vs. Player Execution: The age old question that gets many Raider fans riled up in heated debates. In this game vs. KC, both the coaches and players are culpable for the team's shortcomings. I was disappointed with HC Kiffin's vanilla playcalling and unwillingness to attack the field for big chunks of yardage. Kiffin mismanaged an early 1st half scoring opportunity by going for a 4th down instead of taking an easy field goal down 6 to 0. The players had a difficult time sustaining drives and getting into any type of rhythm. Key players like Ronald Curry were unable to make plays when facing critical 3rd down conversion opportunities. The usually reliable Curry, my favorite Raider, had 3 dropped passes that would have led to 1st downs and BIG plays.

The Raiders seemed to make great strides in the 1st 4 games of the season. The rushing attack was robust (194 yards per game). The scoring (25.5) was plentiful. The last 2 games the Raiders offense has sputtered and hit a wall. In the last 2 games the Raiders have averaged 54 yards per game on the ground and 12 points. As teams game plan to take away our running attack, the key question will be how Kiffin adjusts and counter attacks.

Although it is early in his coaching tenure, many impatient fans are expecting Kiffin to get the offensive unit back in gear. Each and every opponent will continue to stack the box until the Raiders can successfully move the ball through the air. It might seem unfair to expect Kiffin to turn vinegar into wine. My expectations are for Kiffin to start attacking the field with a vengeance, install a no huddle offense, start dialing up a more diversified offensive game plan that utilizes the entire field and all of his weapons. As a fan I want to see Kiffin game plan in a way where the training wheels are tossed to the curb. Above all, I want Kiffin to quit playing it safe with Culpepper and shove all his chips to the center of the table and shout "I'm ALL in!".

Up Next: The Raiders visit the (4-2) Flaming Thumbtacks in Tennessee.

AFC WestRecordNext Opponent
Kansas City(4-3)Bye Week
San Diego(3-3)vs. Houston
Denver (3-3)vs. Green Bay


at Tennessee

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chargers 28 - Raiders 14

Slow Start For Raiders:
The Chargers opening 2 drives of the game led to touchdowns and a quick 14 to 0 lead. On the opening series of the game, the Chargers marched down the field with an impressive 11 play, 5:36 minute scoring drive culminated with an LT 3 yard scoring plunge. LT had a key 3rd & 7 yard run of 7 yards for a 1st down, a 23 yard run into Raider territory, and scored on a 3rd & goal to go from the 3 yard line for a TD.

The Chargers 2nd series was set up by a Culpepper interception. The Chargers took over at the Raider 39 yard line and quickly scored on the 3rd play of the series on a cutback run up the middle by LT for 27 yards. Just like that … the Raiders dug a BIG 14 to 0 hole With 6:51 left in the 1 quarter. In all 3 losses this year, the Raiders have been stuck in neutral to open the games. Detroit up 17 to 0; Denver up 17 to 3; San Diego up 14 to 0. See an ugly pattern here?

Stop & Go:
Going into this game with the Chargers, there was a very straight forward strategy for the defensive & offensive units that needed to be executed in order to be successful. The defense needed to contain LT by limiting his 10+ yard carries. The offense needed to run the ball effectively. Stop the run & run the ball. It can’t be more basic.

LT gashed the Raiders D on 24 carries, 198 yards for 4 TDs. The Raiders D did a poor job with filling & maintaining gap control. LT was able to exploit the Raiders D by using cutback lanes and bouncing some long runs to the outside. With Michael Huff busy most of the day tracking TE Antonio Gates, the strong safety position wasn’t a factor in run support.

Being a diehard Raider fan, it is not always easy to toot the horn of an opposing player. However, LT is truly a remarkable player. I looked up his career stats and was completely blown away by his ability to create touchdowns. In the 101 games that LT has played, he has racked up 106 rushing TDs, 12 receiving TDs, and has passed for 8 TDs. That is a grand total of 126 TDs in 101 games played. Amazing.

The Raiders rushing attack was sporadic and inconsistent on Sunday. There wasn’t a “pound the ball” mentality. This can be attributed to a number of factors; falling behind 14 to 0, a high number of penalties dictating long distance & down playcalling situations, and overall poor results when rushing the ball. For the day the Raiders had only 23 carries for 53 yards (2.3 per carry).

1 More Yard ... End of 1st half:
After climbing back into the game on a 66 yard TD INT by Thomas Howard, the Raiders settled down. With 4:46 on the clock in the 2nd quarter, the Raiders seemed to hit their stride. The offensive unit rushed the ball 5 consecutive plays for 2 first downs. On 3rd and 1 from the SD 32 yard line and :27 left in the half, Curry made a nice finger tip catch of a Culpepper pass in stride and was on his way for a game tying TD. Unfortunately, Curry was hit out of bounds by CB Jammer at the 1 yard line. 1st and goal from the 1 yard line and :20 to go. The next 2 plays were UGLY. Culpepper was sacked for a 6 yard loss. The next play Culpepper was sacked and fumbled. Instead of coming away with a TD or a FG at worst, the Raiders momentum was DOA with ZERO points tacked on to the scoreboard. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Pepper who needed to simply throw the ball out of the back of the end zone.

Penalties, Turnovers, Sacks:
This game had all the ear markings of last year’s disastrous season. Boneheaded penalties (8 penalties for 69 yards), silly turnovers (2 INTs, 1 fumble), and weak pass protection (6 sacks). This is definitely not the formula for success.

BMW shows up:
Big Mike Williams finally earned his paycheck. BMW had his best game of the season. (3 receptions, 35 yards, 2 first downs; no drops) He made 2 spectacular sideline catches & has the potential to be a productive 3rd WR for the Raiders.

Up Next:
The ketchup & mustard colored Chiefs aka “The Condiments” visit Oakland. The Condiments offense is similar to the Chargers. Both teams' offenses revolve around their primary weapons combination of RB/TE (LJ & Tony Gonzales; LT & Antonio Gates). I will be in attendance in Oakland with my nephew expecting a “W” in this bitter rivalry game. Onwards & upwards!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rush To Respect

King Leonidas: Spartans! Prepare for glory!
Daxos: Glory? Have you gone mad? There is no glory to be had now! Only retreat, or surrender or death!
King Leonidas: It's an easy choice for us, Arcadian! Spartans never retreat! Spartans never surrender! Go spread the word. Let every Greek assembled know the truth of this. Let each among them search his own soul. And while your at it, search your own.

The Raiders offensive unit exerted their collective will by squishing the fish 35 to 17. This game was won in the most barbaric and ultimately satisfying fashion ... rushing the ball 49 times for an eye gouging 299 yards. Ok, 1 yard short of 300 but still an amazing show of force.

The offensive line has been completely revamped & revitalized under the direction of Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable. The OLine's domination of the Fins front 7 led to 15 rushing 1st downs, a 6.1 yards per carry average, and a total eclipse of the TOP at 35:07.

Jordan got the Raiders ground game going in the 1st half by rushing for 74 yards on 15 carries before injuring his lower back late in the 2nd quarter. Fargas promptly stepped into the lead carrier role and rips off a career high 179 yards on 22 carries at a whopping 8.1 yards per carry.

The 2 most eye popping changes in the Raiders in 2007 in comparison to 2006 has been the ability to consistently establish the run and ring up points. The Raiders are currently the #1 ranked team in the NFL in rushing yards per game (194.2). This yards per game average is 100 yards more than the Raiders averaged in 2006 (94.9). The Raiders are currently the #9 ranked team in the NFL in scoring average per game (25.5). This is 15 more points than last season (10.5). The Raiders have scored the same number of rushing touchdowns in 4 games (5) as the team did all of last year (5).

King Kiffin: My Players, gather round! No retreat, no surrender; that is Raider law. And by Raider law we will stand and fight... and die. A new age has begun. An age of freedom, and all will know, that 53 Raiders gave their last breaths to defend it!