Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Very Cool Leader

JaMarcus Russell had a bumpy ride as a 1st year starter for the Oakland Raiders. Here is a quick sketch of some of the adversity and challenges Russell faced in his maiden season:

* The turmoil and circus atmosphere of the Kiffin firing
* 3 Playcallers in 1 season
* Numerous offensive weapons injured (Fargas, McFadden, Carter, Walker, Curry)
* An offensive line having a difficult time providing adequate pass protection
* The natural learning curve faced by a 21 year old first year starter
* Playing through injuries himself

To finish the season with 3 wins in the last 6 games is a testament to the development of #2. In spite of a season filled with more lows than highs, the one constant has been Russell's cool demeanor. Russell's poised leadership was very evident in the Raiders 31 to 24 victory over the Bucs. The following play by play summary and quote gives me a warm fuzzy feeling about the Raiders future being led by their franchise QB.

To put this in the proper context, here is the play by play summary leading up to the clutch TD drive:

The Raiders were driving deep into TBay territory, down 14 to 17 with 12:25 left in the 4th quarter.

1-10-TB26 J.Russell pass deep right intended for Z.Miller INTERCEPTED by Piscitelli at TB 5. Piscitelli runs the interception to OAK 11 for 84 yards.

TBay takes over at the Raiders 11 yard line and punches it into the end zone on 2 run plays.
OAK 14 TBay 24

The Russell interception was a 10 to 14 point swing. Instead of getting rattled or panicking about throwing a bone headed interception and being down 2 scores with less than 12 minutes left in the game, Russell in the huddle said:

"Chill. We got this one."

The Raiders start the drive on their own 34 yard line with 11:21 on the clock.

* 1-10-OAK 34 M.Bush right tackle to OAK 36 for 2 yards

* 2-8-OAK 36 J.Russell pass short right to J.Higgins pushed ob at OAK 45 for 9 yards.

* 1-10-OAK 45 M.Bush pass incomplete deep left to T.Watkins (W.Allen). PENALTY on TB-W.Allen, Defensive Pass Interference, 43 yards.

* 1-10-TB12 J.Russell pass short left to J.Higgins for 12 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

In 4 plays the Raiders went 66 yards using only 1:34 of time of possession to climb back to a 21 to 24 deficit. The Russell interception could have been a knock out blow to a Raider team playing for pride against a Bucs team with a playoff berth at stake. Instead, Russell showed his true colors by leading the Raiders to victory reeling off 17 unanswered points in less than a quarter.

JaMarcus Russell's 2008 Stats:
212/389, 2571 yards, 54.4% completion rate, 6.6 yds/att, 15 TDs, 9 Ints, sacked 31 times

JaMarcus Russell's Stats for the last 3 games vs. New England, Houston, at Tampa Bay:
49/78, 626 yards, 62.8% completion rate, 8.0 yds/att, 6 TDs, 2 Ints

The improvement in Russell's play the past 3 games is indicative of the game slowing down for him and his confidence building. The mental aspect of the game is catching up with the physical tools Russell possesses.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cable or Satellite

The Raiders had their most complete game of the season vs. the Texans last week. All 3 units executed the game plan effectively.

Here were some of the keys to an efficient and productive day.

* The offensive unit got on track early with a opening drive TD. Getting off to slow starts throughout the season has been the team's Achilles heel.

* JaMarcus Russell made good reads and was poised and accurate (18/25, 2 TD passes, 223 net yards passing, 0 Ints).

* Russell did a good job of distributing the ball to multiple receivers; McFadden (5), Miller (4), Schillens (3); Higgins (3).

* The offensive line did an excellent job giving Russell enough time to make his second and third reads possible. All Pro DE Mario Williams was shut down and a non factor due to the superb play of LT Mario Henderson.

* Fargas seemed to have an extra burst in his stride. The Crash Test Dummy was decisively making his "1 cut and go" work on 20 carries for 93 yards.

* Cable incorporated Darren McFadden into a bigger chunk of the playbook and didn't wait to ease him into the game. McFadden's presence on the field gave the Raiders a big play threat and more diversity by utilizing him in the backfield, in motion, in the slot, and split out wide. McFadden played 30 of a possible 60 snaps. In my opinion, McFadden needs to be on the field for at least 80% of the snaps since it forces the opponent to account for him and opens up the field for players such as TE Miller.

* The Raiders offensive unit stayed on schedule with down and distance by establishing a balanced offense and most importantly by minimizing their penalties (2).

* The defensive unit played a spirited and solid game for 60 minutes.

* The rush D held Texan RB Slaton in check and kept the rushing totals below 100 yards (90).

* The front 4 created good pressure on QB Schaub ringing up 3 sacks and causing 1 Int.

* When the chips were down, the Raiders found a way to make a play on 3rd down holding the Texans to 3 of 13 on 3rd down conversions.

Special Teams:
The special teams had their best game of the season and provided the team with a real boost.

* J.L. Higgins had an 80 yard punt return TD for his 3rd punt return TD of the year.

* Shane Lechler averaged 48.5 yards per punt and positively affected the field position game.

* SeaBass was perfect on FGs (2 of 2) and PATs (3 of 3) and had good distance and placement on his kickoffs.

* The coverage units were outstanding.

Overall, it was the young guns on the Raiders roster who had the biggest impact on achieving this victory. The key performers were Russell, McFadden, Miller, Higgins (2 TDs), Schillens (1 TD), Henderson, Chris Johnson (Int) , and Richardson (1 sack). All of these guys are either rookies or 2nd year players.

So after such a complete and positive win ... why would I be worried about what lies ahead on Sunday vs. Tampa Bay or in the larger scheme of things, in 2009?

The victory buzz lasts for an enjoyable week. Then reality sets in. The reality is that this 1 game performance is just that ... 1 game. The reasons for concern are these 2 simple facts:

(1) The Raiders have yet to play well in back to back games the entire year. In order for this team to make quantifiable progress there needs to be a level of consistency established from week to week. During the course of this season, the Raiders have won 1 game each month (at KC in Sept; vs NYJ in Oct; at Den in Nov; vs. Hou in Dec). The Raiders have had two 3 game losing streaks and one 4 game losing streak.

(2) The Raiders have lost 11 or more games in six consecutive seasons.

There has been much debate in recent weeks about whether Tom Cable should return in 2009 as Head Coach. In Cable's 11 game tenure as Head Coach, here are some of the lowlights and a summary of the games: (There is a special emphasis on offensive numbers since Cable does not shoulder the blame for the Defensive woes.)

* In 11 games, the Raiders offense has averaged 14 points per game

* In 5 of 11 games, the Raiders offense has scored 10 or less points

* No back to back wins (with 1 last chance vs. TBay)

* In only 3 of 11 games have the Raiders scored 20 or more points

* In 5 of 11 games, the Raiders were completely blown out by the 1st half. These games were not even remotely competitive.

* After each Raider win, the Raiders suffered an embarrassing loss

* The offensive unit is 29th in total offense, 32nd in 3rd down conversion rate, 30th in scoring, 29th in Time of Possession, 29th in Yards per Play.

RaidersOpponent W/L
Raiders 3at New Orleans 34L
Raiders 16vs NY Jets 13W
Raiders 10at Baltimore 29L
Raiders 0vs. Atlanta 24L
Raiders 6vs. Carolina 17L
Raiders 15at Miami 17L
Raiders 31at Denver 10W
Raiders 13vs. Kansas City 20L
Raiders 7at San Diego 34L
Raiders 26vs New England 49L
Raiders 27vs Houston 16W

Some fans have been making the argument that if the Raiders finish the season with a dominating win at Tampa Bay that Tom Cable deserves to come back as Head Coach in 2009. In my judgment, Cable should come back as the OLine coach where he is the most suited. If the Raiders demonstrated sustained improvement and tangible progress during the course of the year, I might be inclined to endorse Cable's return as Head Coach. My map to rebuild the franchise has not been altered by the one win last week. I still feel strongly that the first step to real progress will be the hiring of an executive GM who has the authority to recruit and select the best possible Head Coach in the market.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

GM Now

I hate to keep beating the war drums about an obvious solution to the Raiders malaise but ...

I read a very pertinent quote the other day that was in reference to the resignation of Kansas City Chiefs GM Carl Peterson. This quote neatly puts a bow on the essence of the Raiders problems. Most Raider fans are painfully aware of the fact that Al Davis is pulling "double duty" as owner and GM. The downward spiral of the last six years is largely due to Davis being negligent in getting the help he desperately needs to move the franchise forward.

Here's the quote from the Chiefs' chairman in reference to replacing Peterson:

"I want somebody who's a shrewd evaluator of football talent," Hunt said. "His job will be 24/7 to think about the football team. That's the most important quality. Obviously I'm looking for a strong leader, a good communicator, preferably somebody who has experience in building a winning team"

In a nutshell, Davis needs an executive GM leader to shoulder the heavy lifting required to get this team back on the winning track.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Perception = Reality

Over the past six seasons, the Raiders organization has been tagged with the perception of a losing culture. This perception is largely based on 4 areas of concern:

(1) Results on the field - a 23% winning percentage (22-71 record)
(2) Instability at Head Coach - (6 Head Coaches in 8 seasons)
(3) Dysfunctional front office - (vacancy at GM)
(4) Questionable decisions made by Al Davis (selection of HC, draftees, and free agents)

All 4 areas of concern are inter-related. How do you 'flip the script'?

Losing Culture:

The obvious remedy to the losing culture is leadership. The teams that are successful have strong leaders both in the locker room, within the coaching ranks, and the executive staff.

In the case of the Raiders, this leadership needs to be from the top down ... meaning Davis hires a respected GM. The GM selects a capable and qualified HC. The HC handpicks his own OC & DC. The positional coaches develop leaders within each unit. The players police and enforce a winning attitude.

Changing the Perception:

The way to change the perception of the organization is for Davis to delegate real authority to a GM and HC whereby these 2 leaders clean house on both the coaching ranks and personnel. Of course this doesn't mean EVERYONE goes but it certainly means that dead wood is cleared over a period of 2 full seasons. It simply isn't possible or practical to make too many drastic, wholesale changes in 1 year.

The GM & HC need to be directly involved in this clearing process which involves selecting and retaining key personnel that (a) fit the system (b) perform (c) are worth developing.

Here’s a list compiled by Raider Nate 75 of possible Head Coach and GM candidates:

Possible coaches:
Jack Del Rio
Jim Harbaugh
James Lofton (possible OC too)
Mike Leach (God forbid, but I hear his name mentioned)
Wade Phillips
Jim Schwartz
Bill Cowher (not likely, but a wish)
Mike Murlarkey
Gary Kubiak (not likely)
Mark Trestman

Possible GM's:
Jim Fassell
Dennis Green
Scot McCloughan
Reggie McKenzie
John Schneider
James Harris
Floyd Reece (* added by CJ)

Ideally, the best case scenario is for the GM to be hired immediately following the 2008 season. The newly hired GM would be responsible for compiling his own list of HC candidates based on his own past relationships. The recruitment and hiring of a capable and qualified HC becomes a much easier task if someone like Floyd Reece or James Harris is already on board.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rebuild Not Reload

This past game vs. San Diego has many Raider fans inching ever so close to a "last straw" moment. 3 games are left in a disappointing and hollow season. I hate to drudge in the misery but the first step in any "healing" process is to admit there is a problem. The second part to the equation will require a new mindset emanating from Alameda. The solutions need to be to rebuild the organization from the ground up and to quit cutting corners with the "reload" approach.

* Ten consecutive blowouts on nationally televised prime time games
* Six consecutive seasons of double digit losses
* Six Head Coaches in the past eight seasons
* A gaping hole to fill at GM
* A young QB struggling in his development
* A lame duck, dead man walking, interim Head Coach
* A locker room culture of losing, cashing a paycheck, and moving on

The vast majority of the Raiders problems stem from a lack of true leadership. The elephant in the room is Al Davis. Al Davis dictates the direction of the organization. Davis is the final authority on personnel, operations, and business.

The 2 most important decisions facing Davis this upcoming offseason is how much does he value a GM and Head Coach. In the case of a GM, it is rather bizarre, unsettling, and dysfunctional that the Raiders have this key executive position vacant. Is it any wonder that it is next to impossible to recruit, attract, and hire a top echelon Head Coach? What gets in my craw is that Davis willingly throws money around on players where he is bidding against himself yet is a complete miser when it comes to paying Head Coaches fair market value. Who do you think has a greater impact on a franchise's success ... a Head Coach or a cornerback? Davis paid $1M a game to Hall but no Raider Head Coach has earned more than $2.3M a season.

The question that needs to be answered is simply "When will the light bulb go on in Davis' thick cranium to realize he desperately needs help?" Along those lines, is it even possible for Davis to view the owner/GM/Head Coach relationship as a true partnership?

In order to build sustainable success each leader has a unique role to fill but the overall plan of each leader needs to be in synch with each other. For the past six seasons, the Raiders have assembled a team where:

(a) the players don't fit the system
(b) the system changes with each successive Head Coach
(c) there has been an emphasis on the shiny skilled players but a wanton neglect to build the foundation of a team ... the trenches
(d) the cap dollars have not been spent wisely (see Kelly, Walker, Hall, Harris)

Here's how it usually works when rebuilding a team (see Dolphins):

A GM is hired who in turn selects a Head Coach. The Head Coach hand picks his coaching staff. The GM and Head Coach select players from the draft and free agency that fit a specific blueprint or system. Players with bad attitudes, poor production, or who don't fit the specific system of the team are promptly shown the door. Both the GM and Head Coach are given all the tools, support, latitude, and authority to build a successful team within 3 years together.

The Raiders have been going through Head Coaches like paper towels. The GM role has been vacant for all practical purposes since 2002 when Bruce Allen left Oakland to follow Gruden to Tampa Bay. Instability at GM and Head Coach over the past six seasons has resulted in a winning percentage of 23%.

Is six consecutive seasons of being bottom feeders enough to propel Davis towards a new way of conducting business in Oakland? The most dramatic change hopefully starts in the mind of Al Davis. Davis asking for and getting help would lead to a standing ovation in the Raider Nation.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

SBF 3 Year Anniversary

It is hard to believe but tomorrow marks the 3 year anniversary of Silver and Black Forever. Coincidentally enough, my first post was the day before the Raiders were scheduled to play the Chargers. Tomorrow, the Raiders square off with the Chargers.

In spite of the 3 years of losing seasons and heartache, blogging at SBF has been a wonderful outlet for expressing my passion for the Raiders. The blogging platform has given me an opportunity to "meet" many spirited and opinionated fans. There have been a few times over the past 171 posts where I seriously considered pulling the plug on SBF for various reasons. The constant losing and turmoil in Alameda has taken a toll on me. Writer's block and posting after a blowout loss has given me pause. Finding the time and motivation to post regularly has impeded me.

However throughout the ups and downs of blogging at SBF, there have been 2 undeniable reasons that keeps me pecking away at the keyboard. The first is the magnetic force the Silver and Black has on me ... I have no desire to pull away from my avid interest in following the Raiders. The second reason is that about a year ago I took the creative liberty of deciding to pick and choose when I write, what I write about, and treat SBF as nothing more than a personal diary about my unfiltered views on the Raiders.

Monday, December 01, 2008


After an inspiring team win at Denver, I fortunately missed the game this week vs. KC. Our family spent the holiday enjoying the beautiful beaches, delicious foods, perfect weather, cold Coronas, and deep sea fishing of Ixtapa Mexico. I didn't watch the game, tape the game, or hear about the game until today. After reading a few articles in the SF Gate, San Jose Mercury, and Oakland Tribune, I'm feeling rather nauseous and irritable.

First and foremost, Tom Cable is officially a "dead man walking". How on earth does a Head Coach call a play that is so ridiculously flawed? I have no reservations about a Head Coach aggressively taking a chance with a trick play as long as the play is fundamentally sound. The trick FG play, at 4th and 10, where SeaBass takes a lateral from Lechler skirts all sense of logic.

It is a 3 to 3 ballgame. Why not try a 42 yard FG to give your team the lead and positive momentum? Do you seriously expect a 250+ pound kicker to "scamper" 17+ yards for a first down? SeaBass has the foot speed of a lineman. This playcall led to a botched lateral with a KC defender picking it up and going 67 yards for a TD. Even if the play was executed properly, who in their right mind believes that SeaBass can chug along 17 yards before being taken to the ground well short of a first down? To call such a play that resulted in a 10 point swing is inexcusable on any level. Cable owned up to this dubious playcall after the game but the fact that he would even attempt a play that from a design standpoint had zero chance for success says more.

What is particularly maddening to me is how inconsistent this team performs on a week to week basis. How do you beat 2 divisional leaders (vs. NY, at Den) but lose to a team that had won 1 of their last 19 games? Effort, execution, playcalling, and coaching have been hit or mostly miss throughout the year. The Raiders have followed up each victory this season with a subpar performance. For every step forward with victories (at KC, vs. NY, at Den) a few steps back have ensued. This lack of traction and constantly stubbing of the toe is unbearable. Having a lame duck Head Coach and a vacuum at GM makes it difficult to strike the flames of hope.

For hope to be reignited, major changes need to take place at the conclusion of this season. A football savvy executive GM desperately needs to be hired to construct a competitive, playoff caliber team. A proven, dynamic leader that puts his team in the best possible position to succeed needs to be hired as the Head Coach. Until these 2 things happen, this team will continue to be mired in it's losing ways.