Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Offensive Stats After 7 Games

The Raiders offensive statistics in the first 7 games this season shows a unit that is clearly struggling in too many ways to count. Some of the more glaring deficiencies are converting on 3rd downs (sustaining drives) and capitalizing on red zone scoring opportunities.

If this team wants to seriously jump start it's productivity, the fastest way to achieve this aim is to greatly improve in the red zone. Before summarizing the general offensive statistics, here is a breakdown on the Raiders red zone attempts:

at Baltimore;
1st down at Balt 9 yard line > 22 yard SeaBass FG
1st down at Balt 4 yard line > 2 yard TD pass to Griffith
1st down at Balt 20 yard line > failure to convert on 4th and 4 (no points)

vs. NY Jets;
1st down at NYJ 16 yard line > 29 yard SeaBass FG
1st down at NYJ 20 yard line > 8 yard TD pass to Walker
1st down at NYJ 20 yard line > 37 yard SeaBass FG

at New Orleans;
1st down at NO 10 yard line > 24 yard SeaBass FG

vs. San Diego;
1st down at SD 18 yard line > 22 yard SeaBass FG
1st down at SD 18 yard line > 32 yard SeaBass FG
3rd down and 3 at SD 15 yard line > 28 yard SeaBass FG

at Buffalo;
1st down at Buff 10 yard line > 23 yard SeaBass FG
1st down at Buff 19 yard line > 35 yard SeaBass FG
1st down at Buff 15 yard line > 32 yard SeaBass FG
1st down at Buff 13 yard line > 1 yard TD run by Russell

at KC;
1st down at KC 9 yard line > 25 yard SeaBass FG
3rd down and 4 at KC 19 yard line > 19 yard TD run by McFadden
1st down at KC 19 yard line > fumble on 3rd and 7 by Russell (no points)

vs. Denver;
1st down at Den 11 yard line > 8 yard TD pass to Lelie
1st down at Den 9 yard line > 4 yard TD pass to Curry

Summary: 19 Red Zone scoring opportunities
6 TDs, 11 FGs, 2 empty possessions
6 of 19 = 31.5% TD rate in the Red Zone

Offensive CategoryOaklandRank
Yards per Game290.926
Rushing yards per game129.37
Passing yards per game161.630
Turnovers Allowed1221
Sacks Allowed18T25
3rd Down Conversion25.3%31

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Is A Lonely Number

One snap. One possession. One quarter. One half.

One of the biggest problems facing the 2008 Raiders is the lack of productivity of the offensive unit. This is especially evident in the 1st half of action in each game. The following number is depressing and simply unbelievable:

The Raiders have scored a grand total of 1 TD for all of the 1st halves combined in 7 games of action.

Chew on these dismal 1st half stats:

Total # of plays: 212
Total # of possessions: 44
Time of possession: 99:57
Total 1st half points: 36 (9 FGs, 1 Safety, 1 TD)
Average 1st half scoring: 5.1 points

What are the solutions to the offensive ineptitude and slow starts? The running game of 2007 needs to be re-established in 2008. A healthy Darren McFadden making explosive plays would be one quick remedy. Getting Justin Fargas back on track is paramount. The second area that needs to be greatly improved is the passing attack. The WR corps needs to become an integral part of the offense in terms of creating balance, moving the chains, and making big plays down the field.

In 7 games of action, the Raiders have a total of 7 passing TDs with only 2 covering more than 8 yards (Higgins 84 yards, Miller 63 yards). Probably the most important area of improvement is the Raiders red zone efficiency. When the Raiders get inside the 20 yard line, Russell needs to get his unit into the end zone. This will be a result of Russell continuing to evolve in his decision making abilities and make better use of his physical talents. One play that I would like to see Knapp dial up for Russell in the red zone would be an empty backfield and delayed QB draw. Along those lines, Russell needs to be more willing to pull the ball down on broken pass plays and run for the 1st down marker instead of resorting to throwing the ball out of play.

The improvement of the Raiders offensive unit and the increase in scoring productivity is largely contingent on how quickly Russell develops. The playmakers on the roster need to help Russell bridge the gap between development and results.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Raiders D - Attack Dogs Wanted

The strength of the Raiders team going into the 2008 season was suppose to be the defensive unit. The opening day roster was comprised of proven veteran players (DE Burgess; DT Warren; DT Kelly; MLB Morrison; WLB Howard; CB Asomugha), young players with talent (DE Richardson; FS Huff), and some key, high priced free agents (SS Wilson, CB Hall). The defensive coaching staff has had continuity and stability. Defensive Coordinator (Ryan) and the majority of his staff have been with the club since 2004.

It was also expected that the Raiders offensive unit was going to struggle to produce on a consistent basis in 2008. Even with a proven rushing attack established in 2007, there was the realization that QB Russell would be a work in progress. The current WR corps is not dynamic by any measure. Walker hasn't produced the type of numbers associated with a high priced, #1 WR. Curry is more suited as a #3 slot WR. Lelie was signed a few days prior to the season opener. Schilens is a late round draft choice who is still learning his craft. Higgins is a 2nd year player who received very few reps in 2007. The best target for Russell, 2nd year TE Miller, has been the focus of opponent's game plans.

With the offensive unit struggling to score points, execute in the red zone, establish a dynamic passing attack and offensive balance, it was even more important for the defense to take the lead role. The defensive unit has not achieved a level of consistency required to climb the competitive ranks. This lack of consistency is evident from quarter to quarter and game to game. There have been times when the D has played exceptionally well for stretches of the game but ran out of gas in the deciding 4th quarter. There have also been times where DC Ryan took his foot off the opponent's throat resulting in two 4th quarter collapses (Buffalo, San Diego).

When the defensive unit has played a spirited, aggressive brand of football for an entire game, the team has won 2 of 6 games. In the 4 Raider losses, the D has given up 31.7 points per game. In the victories (23 to 8 vs KC; 16 to 13 vs. NYJ) the defensive unit set the table for the offense by providing good QB pressure and creating turnovers. The offensive unit was the beneficiary of numerous short fields to go to work. The game vs. the NYJ is an example of what the defense is capable of achieving when they play as a cohesive unit. 2 interceptions, 3 sacks, numerous QB pressures and knockdowns were instrumental in a hard fought victory.

In order for the Raiders defense to make a bigger impact, all phases of play must improve. This is very noticeable when you dig through the defensive statistical categories. Currently the Raiders D ranks in the bottom third in most categories. By the end of the season, I would hope that this unit is closer to the top half in league rankings.

Defensive CategoryOaklandRank
Scoring Allowed24.723
Total Yards per Game Allowed360.526
Yards per Rush Attempt4.626
Passing yards per game224.322
First Downs Allowed Per Game 21.329
Sacks Created1611
Turnovers Created10T17
3rd Down Conversion Rate40.7%23

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Scoreboard, Baby!

This Raiders 16 to 13 victory over the Jets in OT was especially sweet for me. I made the trek from LA to Oakland with my nephew to witness this exciting, inspiring, and dramatic contest. Prior to this game, it had been a long stretch of coming up empty ... the last time I had experienced a live win was on September 28, 2003 when the Raiders defeated the Chargers 34 to 31.

Here are some observations and key performers from Sunday:

* Nothing beats the euphoric feelings of exiting the stadium with a stirring "W".

* Rookie DE Trevor Scott, a 7th round selection, had a game he can tell his grandchildren ... 2 sacks of Favre including an OT sack on 3rd down in OT.

* WR Javon Walker finally played a complete game with 5 receptions for 75 yards and 1 TD reception.

* ST Jon Alston's 22 yard scamper on a fake punt play was pivotal and a momentum changer.

* CB DeAngelo Hall, who has been picked on both literally and figuratively, played solid in coverage limiting Favre's production.

* The Raiders D was the inspiration and backbone of this victory. The Jets averaged 28 points per game going into this contest but came away with a mere 13 points. Favre was sacked, pressured, and hit throughout the game. Hall and Gibril Wilson had critical interceptions.

* QB JaMarcus Russell was steady at the helm (17 for 30, 1 TD, 0 Int) and stepped up on the final possession in OT to put together 2 long completions (16 yards to Walker and 27 yards to Miller) that led to the game winning FG.

* Last but not least, K SeaBass was clutch booting a record 57 yard FG in OT to seal the deal.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

For Better or Worse

For Better or worse ...

There is no real point in breaking down the stats from this game. A 34 to 3 blowout is self explanatory.

No tangible insight can be gained in offering up an analysis of what happened on the field in New Orleans. There are zero positive talking points to delve into.

In the simplest terms, the Raiders D did nothing to stop the Saints from marching up and down the field. The front 7 provided zero QB pressure on Brees. The D had no answer to cover the Saints backs and tight ends.

In the most basic overview, the Raiders offense had no rhythm whatsoever. The rushing attack was never established. The passing game was sporadic and inept.

JaMarcus Russell looked like a rookie in his sixth NFL start. His timing was off with the receivers, he was inaccurate with his throws, and he made numerous bad reads about the Saints coverage.

In the Raiders first game under the leadership of Interim Head Coach Cable and playcalling of Offensive Coordinator Knapp, the Raiders laid a silver and black egg.

There is no question in my mind that this team will continue to struggle to gain traction. The fans and team will experience the growing pains with Russell. It might be only 1 game under Cable but unless things are turned around quickly, it won't be far off that the organization and fans alike ponder the Fassell era.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tom Cable Look-A-Like

Tom Cable:
Oakland Head Coach

John Goodman: Hollywood Actor

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thirsting For Stability

Many Raiders fans have focused on the recent Davis press conference announcing the firing of Lane Kiffin. We have talked about this season, 4 games in. The blame game and finger pointing has both Kiffin and Davis in the cross hairs.

We have discussed the brief Kiffin tenure ... the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Numerous blog posters including myself, Raider forums, and the media have discussed the past 5 seasons of double digit losses. We talk about ad nauseum about each Head Coach (HC) that failed and why.

One of the posters (Tooz 72) on my site brought up an interesting point that I had to do a double take on.

The Raiders have had 10 HCs the past 20 seasons. Let that sink in. The Raider organization has not had real stability and continuity in the coaching ranks for over 20 years.

1988 to 2008
1. Cable (interim)
2. Kiffin (1.25)
3. Shell (1)
4. Turner (2)
5. Callahan (2)
6. Gruden (4)
7. Bugel (1)
8. White (1+)
9. Shell (5)
10.Shanahan (1.25)

The only times we've been successful in those 20 years (success = playoffs) is when a HC had more than 2 years of tenure. Yes, I realize Callahan was the HC when we went to the SB but he inherited a team that had been to divisional and AFC championship games. 8 HCs lasting 2 years or less is a recipe for failure.

Now, take the statement of "To be successful in the NFL, a team needs to have stability and continuity in the coaching ranks." and examine it from the inside, out:

If Davis wants success he MUST value stability and continuity. In order to do so, he must make his HC selections wisely and with foresight.

Let's assume that Cable does a good job for the remainder of this season and the Raiders win anywhere from 5 to 7 games of the remaining 12 games. Let's also assume that Russell continues to develop and the team is unified. Davis will need to commit to giving Cable every conceivable chance to be successful well beyond 2008.

Davis will have some difficult decisions at the end of this season. His decision on Cable should be based on record, performance, team morale, and other factors. However, more importantly in my judgment, it should also be based on a long term vision and plan. When stability and continuity at HC becomes priority #1 you can truly start building for long term, sustained improvements and ultimately, excellence.

To continue to shuffle HCs out every year or 2 impedes any real progress. It has become a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts ... Coach Y was fired because he lost X number of games so let's take another crack at it with Coach Z. At some point you've got to stick with what you've started and that begins with the HC itself.

It has gotten to the point where I believe it would be close to a miracle if a HC lasted more than 2 years. What is wrong with this picture? There is absolutely no chance for traction and true rebuilding.

At this point in time I would happily endorse a guy like Cable 3 years to set his mark. Allowing Cable to take the ups & downs of his profession and grow as a HC is a far superior long term plan than the current cycle we have been on. If Cable fails in the 3 years then you move on but at least you gave stability and the HC every chance to succeed.

I hate to be a simpleton but ...

When you look at the big picture and review the Raiders complete history, 1 pattern emerges:

The team has shined when we have had a long tenured HC AND a QB with above average skills/leadership AND a roster filled with above average talent AND a solid GM/Ownership duo in place. You could easily make a case for this premise with all 32 NFL teams.

HC Stability: Madden, Flores, Shell I, Gruden

QBs: Stabler, Plunkett, Hoss, Gannon

Roster: HOF players and elite players (too many to list)

GMs: Wolf/Allen working with Davis

A good chunk of the credit for these successful Raider teams in the past goes naturally to Davis. He picked the HCs, acquired the talent, worked in a joint effort with a GM.

This formula for success hasn't changed even as the game has changed.

* Davis needs to make the selection and stability of the HC a priority.
* Davis needs to use the salary cap space prudently.
* Davis needs to wisely utilize the draft, trades, and free agency to upgrade the talent base.
* The Raiders coaching staff needs to develop and support Russell as our franchise QB.
* Davis needs to identify a GM who he can work with in a collaborative effort to improve the product and shoulder some of the heavy lifting.

Where are we today ...

* Cable has an uphill battle in front of him the next 13 weeks to earn the right to have the interim tag removed. 5 wins is the minimum for him to see year 2 as the HC. I am hopeful that he is given every opportunity to establish the stability and continuity NECESSARY to gain traction.

* This team has a solid talent base core especially in terms of young, gifted players. We need to infuse more talent at OT, DL, WR as immediate needs.

* Our QB has a very bright future. The talent that we knew about from his days at LSU translates extremely well in the professional ranks. Some of the intangibles (leadership, poise, team first attitude, humbleness) are starting to emerge. Reading Ds, learning the game, the game slowing down for him, and taking a bigger leadership role are right around the corner.

* The GM situation seems to be in the works this off season which Davis hinted at in the press conference. The speculation about "local" candidates points towards Scot McCloughan (49er GM) who is the son of longtime Raider scout Kent McCloughan. Scot was mentored by former Raider GM Ron Wolf in his early career years. The other potential front office candidate is Tom Gamble (49er Director of Pro Personnel) who has had past conversations with Davis.

The key factors in moving forward are (a) how Cable fares (b) team unity (c) the development of Russell (d) the resigning of Asomugha (e) the hiring of a savvy, compatible GM (f) a solid 2009 draft (g) and a few key free agents.

What concerns me the most is if Cable doesn't last beyond 2008. If that happens 1 of 3 things will happen:

(1) We go for another diamond in the rough or hidden gem (similar to Gruden or Kiffin)
(2) We hire another internal candidate (Fassell, Hackett, Ryan, Lofton, Rathman) because there aren't any viable candidates willing and able to join the Raiders.
(3) We hire a NFL retread who is dying to become a HC but is unemployed for a reason.

If (1) happens we are right back where we started ... taking a chance on an unproven coach, thrusting him into a difficult situation and expecting miracles.

If (2) happens it is more of the same ... we promote Callahan, we promote Cable to watch them tumble.

If (3) happens it shouldn't be any secret that the HC lasts only 1 year.

It might sound silly to some but it seems to me that the only scenario that seems realistic, plausible, and positive is if Cable does well and we move forward into 2009 on firm ground.

We simply can't afford to take 1 step forward, 2 steps back to ever climb the steep mountain in front of us. The first step is usually to have a respectable 8 and 8 season followed immediately by being a playoff contender, a playoff team, a viable SB threat. It is sad for me to say this but that initial step of 8 and 8 by itself seems to be a VERY big first step.

On the lighter side of things, is it just me or does Tom Cable have an uncanny resemblance to Flintstones character Barney Rubble?