Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Raiders "Jeet Kune Do"

I have been a life-long fan of Bruce Lee and the Oakland Raiders. I have admired, been inspired, and thoroughly entertained by both Lee and Raider football for countless years. Bruce Lee was revolutionary in his philosophies and martial arts. I find it apropos to tie Jeet Kune Do, which was the brain-child of Lee, with the Raiders upcoming game vs. the Jets.

After many years of feeling restricted by the art of Kung Fu, Lee developed Jeet Kune Do. The essence of Jeet Kun Do is to adapt your combat fighting style to whatever works best against your opponent. It is the "style of not style". It's not "this" method or "that" method. It was Lee's hope to free his follower's minds from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds.

The Raiders played arguably their best overall defensive game since beating the Steelers in 2006. The Raider Nation is naturally fired up about blitzing McNabb to hell. Many fans are looking towards the blitz as the remedy to continue on this path. I believe that the blitz is a very important tool for an effective and dynamic defense. Sustaining QB pressure and running an unpredictable defensive scheme are the pillars to a modern NFL defense.

However, it is important to note that the Eagles were the perfect team to blitz with regularity. The Eagles do not rely on the running game on 1st and 2nd down. The Eagles OLine was beat up and missing starting LT Peters for most of the game.

Going into the Jets game, the Raiders defense needs to adapt their defensive approach to fit the opponent. Here are a few statistics that are relevant for our upcoming opponent:

N.Y. Jets
Rushing Attempts Per Game: 33.5 (#1 in NFL)
Rushing Yards: 978 (#1 in NFL)
Avg. Yards Per Carry: 4.9 (#3 in NFL)
Avg. Yards Per Game: 163 (#2 in NFL)

Oakland Raiders (Defense)
Avg. Yards Per game: 145.3 (#28 in NFL)

Last week the Jets rushed the ball for 318 yards. RB Thomas Jones ran the ball 22 times for 210 yards. The team had 40 carries for 7.9 yards per carry.

On 1st and 2nd down, the Raiders defense needs to put 8 in the box against the Jets, be stout at the point of attack, maintain their gap responsibilities, and have an excellent day in tackling. This will require team discipline and passionate, aggressive play.

If and when the Raiders D puts the Jets offense in 3rd and long situations, then it will be time to cut the dogs of war loose on rookie QB Sanchize.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Modern Raider Defense Unveiled ... Finally!

Eagles 9 - Raiders 13

The Raiders attack dogs on defense were mercifully and shockingly cut loose vs. the Eagles. Going into Sunday's contest, the Raiders blitzed less than any team in the league. (20 blitzes in 153 pass plays, or 13.1 percent).

When the Raiders hired Defensive Coordinator John Marshall before the season, many Raider fans were ecstatic about a new DC with a reputation for using a heavy dose of blitzes to ratchet up the pressure on the QB. The LBs in Marshall's defense typically ranked high in individual sacks.

The Raiders defense has been painfully stuck in a very predictable defensive mindset the past many years. You know the drill. 4 DL expected to apply QB pressure, LBs in pass coverage, corners in man to man. Is there anything wrong with this as your base D? No. The problem arises when you don't strategically change things up in order to keep your opponent on their heels.

In this game, which is an aberration until proven to be a trend, the Raiders actually called an unpredictable defense game plan that clearly rattled and confused long time veteran QB McNabb. To start the game, the Raiders blitzed Howard, Morrision, and Branch on numerous plays. The DLine ran aggressive stunts and twists. The secondary mixed in some zone coverage. The end results: 0 TDs, 6 sacks, 2-16 3rd down conversions.

QB McNabb: “This week the defensive coordinator came up with a scheme in which we haven’t seen. They’re known for playing man coverage. They dropped back in a lot of zone, more zone than we’ve seen in the early games. That allowed them to sit back in a zone and just wait for a guy to catch the ball and make the tackle. They came up with more of a blitz package today. They were able to get pressure.”

The Eagles saw the Raiders previous 5 games on film. Clearly the Eagles were caught off guard by the Raiders unpredictable, aggressive defense.

Offensive Tackle Winston Justice: “They were doing some stunts. They caught us by surprise. They did a lot of things that we weren’t really expecting.”

Eagles Right Guard Max Jean-Gilles: “They just generated a lot of pressure. We just weren’t prepared.”

Other key factors in the victory:

- An early TD by the Raiders offense to jump out to a 7-0 lead; Russell to Miller 86 yard catch-n-run TD

- Handling the Eagles blitz packages; good line calls by Satele, excellent blitz pick ups by FB Gary Russell, mixing up the playcalls to including a heavy dose of screens to Gary Russell (5 receptions, 55 yards)

- Solid special teams play from K SeaBass (2 for 2 FGs) & Lechler (7-51.1). The way these 2 veterans are playing is worthy of a ticket to the Pro Bowl.

- Raiders offense doing a better job of sustaining drives by committing to the run. Fargas ran the ball with conviction 23 times for 87 yards. Force feeding Huggy Bear allowed the Raiders to manage the down and distance and win the time of possession battle (33:02 to 26:58)

- An efficient, steady performance from QB Russell (17-28, 61%, 209 yards, 2 ints, 1 TD).

The big questions that will be answered in the next few weeks:

Was the Eagle game a fluke?

Will DC Marshall continue to use the blitz as an important tool to a modern, sophisticated NFL D?

How will the team handle a week where most everyone is patting them on the back?

Will the offense finally begin to carry the unit's fair share of the load?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Witness to a Car Wreck

I wanted to send a friendly "heads-up" to the Raider Nation who plan to tune in to the game this Sunday vs. Philadelphia. Be prepared to crane your neck to view a ghastly car wreck collision.

Last week the Eagles blitzed the Bucs on 60% of their offensive snaps (45 blitzes on 75 snaps). This is not a typo. New Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott has taken a page from former DC Jim Johnson's (RIP) playbook. The Eagles blitzed more in this 1 game than the Raiders will blitz for the entire 2009 season but that is another blog entry for another day.

Why did the Eagles blitz so much vs. the Bucs? Quite simply, DC McDermott realized that his Eagles defense was facing an inexperienced QB in Josh Johnson. When is a blitz effective? When you've got a QB who is indecisive with his reads, holds on to the ball to long, runs an unsophisticated offense, and has a leaky OLine. Sound familiar?

I hate to say it after such an embarrassing dismantling last week vs. the Giants but this upcoming game is where the wheels really fall completely off the vehicle. McDermott dials up a very diverse set of blitz packages in every conceivable game situation. It doesn't matter if it is 1st down, 2nd down, or 3rd down. It can be a red zone blitz, run blitz, all out blitz. If the opponent isn't able to handle and capitalize on the blitz pressure then he serves up even more blitzes.

Factor in a QB whose confidence is reeling, a team struggling to churn out 200 yards of offensive production, 2 rookie WRs who are not reliable to read and react, and you've got yourself a seat to a full on, no holds bar gore fest. The over/under on total sacks, interceptions, and QB fumbles has to be close to a +/- 12. Are these what Cable would call "explosive" defensive plays? Can you say "Dynamite, Tom!"

I would like to think that Cable is doing everything humanly possible as the Head Coach to prepare the offensive unit for the inevitable onslaught of a "Super Sunday Blitzkrieg" in terms of scheme, personnel groupings, play calling, and group prayers to get ready for Sunday.

I would love to see the the entire team to play with a sense of pride, purpose, aggression, and conviction.

Being a realistic optimist (hoping for the best outcome but grounded in reality), my view is that this is the type of match-up that is no better than bringing a parka jacket to hell.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Cry For Help

N.Y. Giants 44 - Oakland 7

Let's face it ... this was the perfect storm for the Raiders to flounder. The beat down delivered by an elite team like the Giants is merely a symptom of a team crying out for help.

The only way for the Raiders to turn things around is to change the way business is conducted at Alameda.

- We have a Head Coach who is the acting Offensive Coordinator, the playcaller, and Head Coach. Even if Cable was qualified and capable of handling all of these major responsibilities (which he is not), how far would he get with the current personnel?

- We have a young QB who needs stability, structure, coaching, patience, and solid support personnel around him to develop ... he doesn't. Russell has a non-existent running game to lean on and 2 rookie WRs to throw to.

As the QB playing so poorly, Russell is the natural focus for all the negativity from the fans. I understand that is part of equation with being the franchise QB. It is much easier to direct your angst at Russell than all of the other problem areas. Russell's poor play is a major concern but not the only concern such as:

Are you upset with Davis wasting a #7 pick on DHB? Does it bother you that our running game is non-existent? How much does it disappoint you that our defense gets continually gouged for big, explosive plays? How good do you feel about our current WR group? Our OLine? The Hanson incident blowing up in our faces? The fact that we don't have a GM?

- We have an owner who for dubious, negligent reasons, refuses to seek the help of a capable GM to partner with.

Simply replacing a Head Coach and/or replacing a QB is only putting a band aid on a gushing, wound. Significant change starts with the hiring of a GM. It carries forward with an exhaustive, thorough, diligent search for a HC who is given the authority to make key decisions on his staff and what type of offense/defense he wants to run.

Summary of the necessary corrective surgery:

(1) Hire a capable GM.

The GM would be directly involved (acting as a true partner to Davis) in overseeing the scouting department, the draft, and most importantly, the recruiting, evaluation, and selection of a Head Coach. The likelihood of finding someone Davis trusts enough to be a GM/partner seems remote at best. Is Davis seriously looking to find a GM? If so, I guess I shouldn't be so damn impatient considering it has only been what 3+ years and counting since Lombardi aka "the fox in the hen house" left the building.

(2) Hire a proven head coach.

To attract and hire a proven head coach requires (a) A GM already in place (b) the full authority to hire his own staff and (c) to run whatever type of offense/defense that he sees fit. The chances of hiring a well qualified Head Coach under the current circumstances is a major long shot.

Honestly. How low do we have to sink before Davis seeks help and revamps how business is conducted in Alameda? We are well past "wait til next year when we draft Johnny Jet Legs from Auburn". When you have lost 75% of your last 100 games, "tweaks" here, a few added players there, a new QB, a new HC will not suffice.

What is sad to me is that Davis should want to get a GM. At his advanced age, he deserves to get some help. If he gets a capable GM and the franchises' fortunes are turned around he will still get his deserved credit. When the team is winning at a 25% clip there is simply no credit to go around.

Door A
Allow the franchise to wallow in shame by not taking corrective action

Door B
Make organizational changes and bolster the executive support group to take another legitimate shot at glory

Is this a difficult choice?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Beyond The Sunrise

Oakland 6 - Houston 29

In the opening game this season, the Raiders played a spirited, tough brand of football in a hard fought loss to the Chargers. The acquisitions of Seymour & Ellis gave our defense some real teeth to it. The Raiders were, without question, the more physical team on the field. Offensively, we were able to run the ball effectively. Defensively, we were able to stop the run. In spite of the loss, the Raiders team showed resiliency by overcoming a late game deficit. There was a genuine sense of hope after this game that this season had real promise.

In the 2nd game vs. Kansas City, 2 of our 3 units (Defense, Special Teams) played exceptionally well allowing the team to be in the position to win in the last 2:00. Russell's struggles became quite evident in this game and there was a gloomy sense in Raider Nation that our offense could be as bad as the 2006 Bed N Breakfast edition. Instead of committing to the run in this game, Cable chose to open up the passing attack. The rushing game never gained traction. Since the team overcame and won on Russell's clutch TD drive, there was still hope. We were learning how to close out a game. A "W" is a "W", right?

In the 3rd game vs. Denver, at home with a chance to take a share of the division lead, the Raiders laid a sulfurous egg. The defense was gashed by the Broncos running attack, Russell continued to have more difficulties with his accuracy, and the run game never materialized. There wasn't any acceptable excuse for the Raiders coming out flat and unfocused. The negative feelings about the team resurfaced.

Today's game vs. Houston confirmed the negative outlook. Where is the improvement from game to game? Going into the game, the Texans were the #32 ranked team in run defense. Were we able to run the ball? Net yards rushing = 45. Did Cable make a concerted effort to get Bush more carries? Bush had 3 carries for the entire day. Was Russell more accurate in his passing? Russell completed 36% of his passes (12-33). Were we able to sustain drives? Try 8 first downs for an entire game. Did DHB or McFadden contribute to our offensive attack? Not unless you count DHB doubling his career receptions (from 1 to 2) or McFadden losing 3 yards on 6 carries. The final straw to this blowout was a dismal performance by our special teams coverage units who gave up big yardage on kickoffs and punt returns to include a 95 yard TD return after the safety.

With the team reeling from 2 bad losses, Russell becoming the poster boy for a bad team, and the most difficult part of the schedule looming (NYG, Philly, NYJ, SD), it could get ugly fast. I would like to think that hope is right around the corner if and only if the offensive unit can come up with a few solutions to their woes. Right now, the offensive unit is so bad that the team is playing with 1 arm behind it's back. Here are a few solutions to ponder:

(1) Come hell or high water, this team needs to re-establish the running attack as the foundation of the offense where drives are sustained and toughness demonstrated. Find a spot on the OLine for Barnes to beef up the run blocking. Putting Barnes at LG or RT is worth a trial run.

(2) Cable needs to rethink how he is distributing playing time. DHB needs to earn his starting position during the week of practice and by producing on the field. Our best inside runner (Bush) needs to be given the opportunity to get in a rhythm in a game by getting more than 3-6 carries.

(3) The running backs and tight ends need to become a more integral part of the passing attack. This is especially important and true for a team that has a QB struggling and a team having a difficult time sustaining drives. In this game vs. the Texans, only 3 balls were completed to the RBs and another 3 to TE Miller. Is there any reason why Cable can't incorporate more 2 TE sets and use Stewart/Myers as pass catching TEs? Does it make sense for McFadden to get only 1 passing touch for an entire game? There are dozens of creative ways to utilize McFadden and Bush into the passing attack. This omission points back to Cable's play calling. He knows his offensive unit is in a black hole. It is up to him to find ways to use his personnel to make it easier to pull themselves out of this hole. The players need to ultimately execute the plan. If one of your biggest weapons (McFadden) is only getting a couple touches per game than there is a problem with the game plan.

(4) The most important piece to an offensive lobotomy is for Russell to become a competent and reliable passer. I am not convinced that Russell will transform himself overnight when you've got 2 rookie starting WRs who are having a difficult time supporting him and a non-existent rushing attack. If and when the running attack gets going and Shilens returns there is a glimmer of hope that we can begin to climb the hill again.