Monday, November 24, 2008

Night & Day

Raiders 31 - Broncos 10

While watching this game in Denver, 2 things really jumped out to me. First and foremost was the efficiency, productivity, and creativity of the Raiders offense. The 2nd revelation was the difference between these 2 teams in terms of desire and spirit going into the final third of the season. Which team seemed more hungry for a win? Denver was playing at home. Denver was playing for a playoff berth hanging in the balance. The Raiders have had a dismal season yet the energy & passion displayed by the silver and black was a sight to behold.

Here is a summary of the Raiders Offensive Breakthrough:

(1) Touchdown ... Raiiiiiders! Going into this contest with Denver, the Raiders had a meager 9 offensive TDs in 10 games. Against the Broncos, the Raiders tallied 3 TDs ringing up 21 unanswered points.

(2) 3rd Down Conversion: The Raiders were the worst team in the NFL prior to the Denver game. In this game, the Raiders converted 8 of 13 3rd down attempts.

(3) Time of Possession: The Raiders offense was able to sustain drives on 6 of 8 possessions winning the TOP battle 32:04 to 27:56.

(4) Turnovers: The Raiders offense committed 0 turnovers to Denver's 2.

(5) Pass Protection: The OLine did an admirable job of protecting JaMarcus Russell who suffered 0 sacks.

(6) Offensive Balance: 158 yards rushing + 160 yards passing

(7) Red Zone Efficiency: The Raiders converted 3 of 4 red zone opportunities for TDs.

(8) Passing Attack: JaMarcus Russell completed 11 of 12 pass attempts for 160 yards and a 13.3 yards per pass average.

(9) JaMarcus Russell: #2 had his best, most complete game of his young career completing 91% of his pass attempts. His 4 yard TD pass to WR Lelie between 2 defenders was rifled into a very tight window.

(10) Darren McFadden: McFadden, 100% healthy, is a game changer. Unfortunately, #20 has been out or used sparingly for 8 of the 11 games played due to his turf toe injuries. With McFadden in the lineup, the Raiders offense has some very important elements to a successful offensive unit; a dynamic, big play back who has a nose for the end zone. In McFadden's career at Arkansas, he was able to score 41 TDs in 38 games. Raider fans got a taste of McFadden's dynamic playmaking ability in game 2 at KC when he ran for 164 yards on 21 carries and 1 TD. Against Denver, McFadden capitalized on 2 red zone opportunities with 2 TDs.

(11) Creative Playcalling: Finally, Cable took the shackles off of the offensive unit and dialed up some "PLAY TO WIN" calls.

* Direct snaps to Curry and McFadden
* Deep passes to Lelie, Miller, and McFadden
* End around to Higgins
* Misdirection pitch to McFadden
* Option pass from Bush to Miller

It will be very interesting to see if this one game was merely a "highlight" to a rather grim 2008 season or if the offensive unit can sustain a level of execution for the remaining 5 games. The one two punch of Russell and McFadden should give all Raider fans a sense of hope that better days are ahead of us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dazzle Us With Magic

"Hi. My name is Calico Jack and I'm a recovering Raider addict". Please bear with me as I try to get a grip on a season that is beyond the pale of competitive football and fan satisfaction.

I was reviewing the Barney Rubble "era" and realized as an arm chair football enthusiast that there are a few things that are a serious detriment to the health of all Raider fans. Let me make a few general observations and point out a few obvious remedies. Allow me the latitude of making a few common sense solutions as I rip the headset off of Barney. This will require a sense of humor and your indulgence.

First, it is important to establish a baseline for the Rubble Era. Rubble has been at the wheel for six games. In these six games the Raiders offense has scored 0 first half TDs and a total of 2 TDs. Here is a quick summary of 1st halves under Rubble:

at New Orleans > 1 FG
vs. NY Jets > 1 FG
at Baltimore > no points
vs. Atlanta > no points
vs. Carolina > no points
at Miami > 1 FG

9 points in six 1st halves. At what point does a light bulb go off in Cable's thick cranium that the ineptitude of the offensive unit requires some serious retooling in terms of game planning?

Calico Jack the Magician has a few barbed opinions when it comes to shaking things up. Most, if not all, of these "suggestions" are basic common sense points that anyone with an IQ over 80 and a passion for competitive football could easily point out. The fact that I'm blogging about these remedies is enough to make me reach for a bottle of Tylenol (or beer).

So your offense is in quicksand and is historically bad in the red zone ... what are some ways to jump start the offense, change the variables, or get a different result? Really now. Is there any downside to changing how things are being currently run?

* Has Cable or Knapp ever heard of the "no huddle offense"? I was just wondering because the no huddle offense is often times used by teams to catch the D off guard and create a faster tempo. How many times have you seen the Raiders use the no huddle offense this year? This type of offense is regularly practiced and sprung on opponents by 31 other teams in the NFL.
Isn't one of the tenants of an effective offense to keep the D on their heels or off guard? Used selectively, the no huddle offense is a way to dictate tempo, keep certain defensive packages off the field, and change the terms of the game.

* Just how skimpy is the Raiders playbook? I'm curious because the playcalling has been the most unimaginative, predictable, and vanilla offense that I've ever seen. Would it kill Cable and Knapp to incorporate some trick plays? Are flea flickers, reverses, and option plays off limits in Alameda? You've got Curry, Bush, and McFadden who are very viable candidates to take direct snaps and be utilized on various option run/pass plays. These guys can and should be used in a wide variety of ways. Curry was a QB at UNC. Bush was a QB in high school and used regularly at Louisville on option plays. McFadden is practically the godfather of the "Wildcat" formation. The point being that key personnel should be used in a wide array of offensive plays as game changers.

* What exactly are the Raiders doing in practice from Tuesday to Friday? If CJ the Magician is at the helm, at least 50% of the offensive practice time would be devoted to practicing and incorporating a new red zone offense. The Raiders are the worst team in the NFL in terms of red zone efficiency. Since the Raiders fail to score TDs when in the red zone, more times than not, the team falls behind in the first half. 0 TDs in 6 first halves says it all. Efficiency in the red zone is the difference between a rather miserable season and a competitive season.

The Raiders need more than a few "Hail Mary's" to get off of life support. It has reached a point where I would seriously doubt any Raider fan complaining if no huddle offenses, trick plays, hail mary's, all out blitzes on D were simply attempted regardless of the execution. At least there would be a competitive pulse to spark a small inkling of hope ... of playing to win.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To Move A Mountain

Jerry McDonald had a very interesting and revealing blog post today where he shed some light on the change of playcalling duties for the Raiders. Apparently Head Coach Tom Cable stripped Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp of his playcalling duties following the 0 to 24 Falcon debacle. Some other facts from Jerry's blog post and additional points by C.J.:

* The Raiders have not scored a TD in the last 9 quarters and have a total of 9 TDs in 9 games.

* The Raiders have 1 first half TD in 56 possessions.

* The Raiders do not have a single offensive player with more than 1 TD. The 9 TDs were scored in order by Lelie, Curry, McFadden, Bush, Russell, Higgins, Miller, Walker, and Griffith.

* The Raiders scored 28 offensive TDs in 2007 under Lane Kiffin.

* The Raiders averaged 19.5 points per game in Kiffins' 4 games this year and 7.0 points per game under Cable. The Raiders have failed to score a TD in 3 of 5 games with Cable as Head Coach.

With Cable taking charge of the playcalling duties vs. the Panthers, the Raiders struck a better balance between rush attempts (36) and pass attempts (39) but simply failed to execute.

What is the picture that this playcaller switch, poor record, and regressing offense paints for the future? The playcaller switch, although probably the correct adjustment, leads me to believe that Knapp won't return in 2009. The poor record and impotent offense of 2008 will be the impetus to move Cable back to Offensive Line Coach in 2009.

What really needs to happen is a combination of major changes immediately following the 2008 season. Ideally the Raiders would identify and hire a GM. The newly hired GM should recruit a new Head Coach. The new hire Head Coach would clean house on the existing coaching staff and hire a new staff where he sees fit. The next item on the agenda would be for the Head Coach & GM to work in a partnership with the owner to evaluate the personnel roster and make the necessary moves.

Of course this is the logical, normal way of tackling the current set of circumstances. Raider fans are painfully aware of the fact that logical and normal are not synonymous with how the Raiders typically conduct business. Would a GM come aboard if Al hires Jim Harbaugh as Head Coach first? Would Harbaugh and a new GM have the real authority to put the Raiders house in order? Will scholarship players such as Sam Williams still exist on the roster under a new regime?

What's it going to take turn this fiasco around? It is a mighty tall order but every facet of how the Raiders conduct business needs to be evaluated, improved, or changed. This includes but is not limited to the coaching staff, players, player personnel department, scouting staff, marketing, finances/salary cap. All of these areas fall under the direction or authority of Al Davis. All of these areas need to be revamped, altered, or heavily scrutinized in order to put a winning product on the field.

Bold, decisive leadership is required to enact the type of changes to impact and move this franchise in a positive direction. Or as my wise colleague Raider Take said in his usual brilliant fashion, "I'm waiting for the kind of change you can see and taste. There will be nothing vague about it."

Update Nov. 12: According to Nancy Gay at the S.F. Chronicle (see link), Greg Knapp was stripped of his playcalling duties by Al Davis not Head Coach Tom Cable.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Funny Money

DeAngelo Hall is cut after earning $1M per game. OK, that is some "funny" money. This clears some deadwood and cap space all in 1 tidy swoop. Performance, attitude, cap space ... who really cares.

Here's a fun fact for all Raider fans which has a BIG warning sign placed next to it: Stay away from sharp, shiny objects. The 2008 Raiders have the HIGHEST payroll of ALL the NFL teams. No joke. The Raiders 2008 payroll is a whopping $152,389,371. To put this "funny" money in perspective, just take a look at a few other NFL team's payrolls:

#28 Green Bay Packers = $94,018,300
#29 Indianapolis Colts = $93,373,915
#30 New England Pats = $92,734,120
#31 Baltimore Ravens = $90,713,965

The Raiders spent $61,676,406 more money on their payroll than the Ravens. The Raiders spent more than 40% on their payroll. Yikes! Which team has the more talented roster? Which team has won more games this year? Which team is in better cap shape to be in the position to add talent to their roster in 2009?

The fact that we have scored 1 TD in 48 1st half possessions is scary. The fact that we have a "lame duck" "interim" head coach is halloweenish. The fact that we are the only team in the NFL without a GM is spooky. To learn today that our payroll is bulging at the seams (see link for Raider roster payroll) makes me want to curl up in the fetal position in a nice warm bomb shelter.

Using the cap space wisely is chapter 1 in NFL Finance 101. Getting the most bang for your buck, making shrewd acquistions based on impact and results, using the cap dollars prudently are the hallmark and blue print for success. I shudder to think what the Raiders cap "expert" has been doing with his idle time. Did the batteries run out on his calculator?

The biggest chunk of the cap space is devoted to the following players where I've added the dollar amounts and comments:

DeAngelo Hall > $1M salary + $7M bonus > $1M a game for a "shut down" corner who should just "shut up".

Tommy Kelly > $625K salary + $13M bonus > Who were the Raiders bidding against to sign Kelly to the 2nd highest DL contract in the NFL? A good player coming off an injury who hit the lottery.

JaVon Walker > $1M salary + $11M bonus > 13 receptions, 1 TD as the "#1 WR"

Derrick Burgess > $4.5M salary > MIA for 50% of games this season

Ronald Curry > $5,102,500 salary > A Captain of the team who is currenly inactive

Gibril Wilson > $605K slary + $8.4M bonus > Solid player, good production, and good acquisition BUT ... he is beginning to wonder about the dysfunctional environment that he has been placed in.

JaMarcus Russell > $370K salary + $16.5M bonus > Reaping the financial rewards of being a #1 pick but is struggling under the current conditions

Nnamdi Asomugha > $9,765,000 salary > Franchise tagged this year. One of the top 3 DBs in the entire league. The problem is 3 fold. #1: He is disgruntled about the current situation in Raiderland especially with the firing of Kiffin and cutting of Hall. #2: The Raiders will more than likely tag him again at approx. $12M. #3: With a team that has so many holes to fill, how smart is it to break the bank on one player ... let alone a DB?

These are the cold hard facts:
The Raiders organization is leadership bankrupt. The payroll is a complete mess. The team has performed very poorly for 6 consecutive seasons. For all intents and purposes, the Raiders have officially hit rock bottom.

Where is the glimmer of hope? How does the team pull itself by the bootstraps out of quicksand? In my view, a successful organization has a 4 legged table of leadership. The owner, General Manager, Head Coach, and QB are, in my estimation, the most important leaders in an organization. These leaders have the biggest impact on a team's fortune. Here is my platform for success:

The Owner:
Al Davis needs to hire a GM who will be involved in the hiring of a Head Coach, evaluation of the roster, evaluation of the draft, selection of free agents. As I alluded to in a prior post, "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 hiring of a competent, savvy GM is brick #1 in the reconstruction process.

The GM:
It is critical for a GM to be identified early and hired by late January to allow the necessary time required to evaluate the current roster, be involved in the selection of a new Head Coach, and prioritize the needs of the team.

The Head Coach:
Kawakami at the San Jose Mercury blogged about the rumor of Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh being Al's #1 target for 2009. For unexplainable reasons, Harbaugh has an excellent rapport and relationship with Al. The hiring of Harbaugh would be too good to be true. Without question, Harbaugh has the right stuff to be a successful Head Coach. If Harbaugh doesn't pan out, I would hope that the new GM would lead the charge in the recruitment and selection of another worthy candidate. One of the biggest detriments to the recruitment of a new Raiders Head Coach is the simple fact that there isn't a GM in place. The GM would be a necessary insurance chip to a prospective Head Coach that things are being put in order in Alameda. The GM is a bridge, trusted advisor, counselor, sounding board, and partner between the owner and Head Coach. Without the GM acting as a buffer, the Head Coach is left twisting in the wind by Al.

The QB:
JaMarcus Russell is facing adversity. He is struggling. The offensive pieces are not in place for him to gain traction. What encourages me the most about Russell's future success has more to do with his character than his physical gifts. The kid is poised, even keeled, and full of confidence. He has showed his true character this season. All #2 needs is time and better support from both his teammates and the organization that signs his checks.

Monday, November 03, 2008

4 Possessions of Ineptitude

This game was decided in the first 4 possession. The Raiders first four defensive possessions resulted in 24 Falcon points (TD, TD, TD, FG). The Raiders first four offensive possessions were marked by going nowhere fast (punt, punt, punt, punt). This is the most disheartening beatdown that I have witnessed. This is the second consecutive week that a rookie QB has schooled the Raiders highly paid, highly touted (before the season started) defensive unit. The offense is regressing to the historically bad 2006 level. At the midway point of the season, the Raiders offensive unit has 1, I repeat, 1 TD in 48 first half possessions.

Here is the breakdown of the Falcons blasting through the Raiders D:

Drive began on ATL 12 > 10 plays > 88 yards gained > 37 yard TD pass
Drive began on ATL 30 > 7 plays > 70 yards gained > 12 yard TD run
Drive began on ATL 12 > 13 plays > 88 yards gained > 27 yard TD pass
Drive began on ATL 28 > 9 plays > 42 yards gained > 48 yard FG
Summary: 39 plays for 288 yards and 24 points

Here is the breakdown of the Raiders sputtering offense:

Drive began on OAK 21 > 3 plays > 1 yard gained > punt
Drive began on OAK 23 > 3 plays > 4 yards gained > punt
Drive began on OAK 20 > 3 plays > - 5 yards > punt
Drive began on OAK 21 > 3 plays > 1 yard gained > punt
Summary: 12 plays for 1 yard and 0 points

It can't get much worse than this, can it? Under interim Head Coach Cable, the Raiders have been blown out in 3 of 4 games. Is there anything worse than a lame duck interim coach? Well I guess the ushering in of the Jim Fassell "era" is a close second. Why Jim Fassell? Al likes Jim and Jim can put up with Al's nonsense and desperately wants to rejoin the head coaching ranks.

Anyone who thinks that 6 consecutive seasons of ineptitude doesn't call for drastic measures is only kidding themselves. The most important step that needs to be taken in the off season if the Raiders decide to join the adults table is to hire a football savvy GM. Without a savvy GM, this team will not gain the tractions for sustained success. No one can discount the fact that the Raiders are the only team in the NFL without a GM and are fast approaching the NFL record for most consecutive double digit loss seasons (6).

Remember how the 2006 Raiders offensive unit was the worst in modern history? Don't look now but this squad is quickly approaching the taking of the mantle as the worst offensive club ... ever. In 2006 the Raiders scored 10.5 points per game and recorded 12 offensive TDs for the entire year. The 2008 offensive unit is averaging 13.4 points per game and has recorded 9 offensive TDs ... 1 in 48 first half possessions. 1 TD in 48 first half possession is so ridiculously bad that it makes me violently ill to my stomach just thinking about it.

All you need to do is look at is the turnaround of the 2008 Dolphins and 2008 Falcons to realize a few important lessons:

(1) It is vital to have a football savvy GM building a foundation for success through the acquisition of personnel who fit the coaching staff's system.
(2) The Head Coach & GM work in a partnership to build a cohesive team with a well thought out plan.
(3) The Raiders are completely rudderless with an owner to stubborn to let himself do the one thing he desperately needs to do: Hire competent football executives, delegate responsibility & authority, and allow the team to rise again with the owner in a reduced role.