Monday, December 27, 2010

Arm Chair Analysis - Indy @ Oakland

Colts 31 - Raiders 26

Game sure started out nice, huh? Gotta love Jacoby Ford! 3 KO returns for TDs. This one was set up by Ford reading his 1st block and then putting it into over-drive untouched for 99 yards. He has a 2nd gear of acceleration that is truly astonishing.

This game was puzzling, encouraging, and disappointing all rolled into a big fat burrito. Puzzling in terms of the the identities of the teams being flipped. Encouraging by how far this team has come in 12 months. It was disappointing because the Raiders, for unknown reasons, forgot their formula for success and the fact that before kickoff were eliminated from playoff contention. Thank the Thumbtacks for mailing in their game with the Condiments. At least KFC's strong arm was put to good use by causing a concussion to his own teammate on the sidelines with an inadvertent pass.

Upon further review and reflections, here are some of my random thoughts on Sunday's game:

What happened to sticking with our offensive unit's identity and strength, the running attack?

Prior to the coin toss, the Raiders were the #2 ranked rushing offense in the NFL and Indy was the #28 ranked rushing defense. Even Joe Arm Chair QB would surmise that the Raiders would pound the rock, establish the run between the tackles, and dictate the terms of the game.

In spite of a 7-0 lead, causing the Colts a 3 and out on their 1st possession, and a game evenly matched in time of possession, the Raiders only attempted a grand total of 10 rushing plays in the 1st half. What's up, Huey?

The Raiders rushing attack is the engine that drives the team to success. It creates viable play-action-pass opportunities. The rushing attack keeps the defense fresh. Most importantly, it is what we do best by exerting our will and physicality upon the opponent.

Here is a breakdown of the Raiders 7 victories this season with the rushing attempts and yards listed:

vs. St. Louis - 40 rushing attempts, 173 yards
vs. San Diego - 30 rushing attempts, 111 yards
at Denver - 52 rushing attempts, 328 yards
vs. Seattle - 39 rushing attempts, 239 yards
vs. KC - 26 rushing attempts, 112 yards
at San Diego - 52 rushing attempts, 251 yards
vs. Denver - 41 rushing attempts, 264 yards

In these glorious 7 victories, the Raiders have AVERAGED 40 rushing attempts, 211 yards for over 5 yards per carry.

On Sunday, the Raiders had inexplicably only 20 rushing attempts for 80 yards. Of those 20 rushing attempts, McFadden and Bush combined for a measly 14 TOTAL attempts.

Why would a team go away from their strength and exposing an opponent's OBVIOUS weakness? I'm afraid that I don't have any logical reasons but just more questions for Baby Huey such as;

*Was Indy doing anything on defense special to take away the Raiders running attack? No.

*Were the Raiders RBs getting stonewalled by 8 or 9 in the box? No.

*Was Oakland forced to pass more than usual to play catch-up due to falling way behind on the scoreboard? No.

The Colts are the most prolific passing team in the entire NFL yet the Raiders put up more net yards passing (237 to 179). If you were to tell me that we would hold Manning to 179 yards passing and get 2 picks and still lose, I would think you are out of your mind.

The Colts ran the ball 39 times for 191 net yards which is completely out of character. Big Rich Seymour was sorely missed on Sunday as the Colts gouged the Raiders D right up the pipe.

2 Raider pass interference calls were highly questionable and ultimately pivotal to the final outcome. I don't normally make a big deal out of the officiating. However, these 2 PIs clearly were not interference and led to 2 Colts TDs.

The first PI just before the conclusion of the 1st half was against Chris Johnson on Pierre Garcon. At worse, it was nothing more than harmless hand fighting well before the ball was near Garcon. This play was from the Oakland 43 on 3rd and 15 with only :45 left on the clock. Sure enough, the next play Manning found a teammate in the end zone. Instead of the Raiders going into half up 13-10, the momentum was shifted with a Colts 17-13 halftime lead.

The second PI, which was completely bogus, came against Standford Routt covering WR White on a deep seam route. Routt simply didn't interfere with White. This infraction put the Colts on the Raiders 12 yard line and led to another TD. The Colts 1 point lead was pushed up to an 8 point margin. Prior to the PI, the Raiders D had put the clamps down on Indy's offense. The offense had shrunk the lead from 4 points to 1 point.

In the final arm chair analysis, the way that the game unfolded was not in the Raiders wheelhouse. When the Raiders have won in 2010, it has been built on the sturdy shoulders of a dominating rushing attack, an opportunistic defense, and solid special teams play. The failure to commit to the 1st component to this formula put the team in uncharted territory.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Indy @ Oakland -- Holiday Edition

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the Raider Nation! It is hard to believe that we are speeding towards the end of the year and completion of the regular season. It seems like only yesterday that I started this blog in December of 2005.

This season has been filled with the full range of exhilarating highs and bitter disappointments. The BIG difference that I've noticed as a fan in 2010, which is a significant departure from the grim previous 7 seasons, is that the team has developed a competitive swagger. There is a sense of turning the corner and establishing a solid platform to continue to reach for the next highest rung.

Being on the cusp of a playoff berth in 2010 can be partly attributed to key additions (Campbell, Wimbley, Groves) and an outstanding rookie class where the 1st four picks made a sizable contribution (McClain, Houston, Veldheer, Ford).

The hiring of OC Hue Jackson has been instrumental in turning an anemic unit into a high powered explosive group currently ranked #9 in scoring. Under Jackson's watch, the offensive unit has become more balanced and diversified while doubling it's scoring output compared to 2009.

HC Tom Cable has done a terrific job keeping the team motivated and focused. I give Cable a ton of credit for developing the great team chemistry and instilling the team's esprit de corps. Watching the 2010 Raiders play and interact, it is quite evident that the players genuinely care about each other and give maximum effort for each other.

Up Next: A very interesting "chess match" vs. Indy. The personality, style of play, and strengths of these 2 teams couldn't be any different. When the Colts are at their best, Manning is carving up the opponent utilizing the passing game with the precision of a watch maker. When the Raiders are at their best, McFadden is dicing and grinding up defensive unit on the ground.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Donkeys Kicked In the Teeth -- Again

Raiders 39 - Donkeys 23
In a "must-win" game, the Raiders took care of business and in-turn, kept their slim playoff hopes alive. In the 1st half of action, the Raiders turned the ball over 3 times (2 INTs and 1 fumble) and gave up 2 inexcusable TDs on defense.

In spite of these turnovers and key defensive breakdowns, the Raiders made enough plays to go into half-time tied at 17-17.

The adjustments and sharper execution in the 2nd half was evident in the 22-6 differential in points and 243-73 yards gained. For the entire 2nd half, the Donkeys only put up 17 yards rushing. Besides chipping in with an important safety that made it a 2 possession lead (7 to 9 point lead), the defense contained the Tebow runs and blanketed the Donkeys receivers.

The offensive unit displayed the explosive playmaking abilities that has been a revelation this season. The win over the Donkey's was the 5th time in 14 games that the Raiders racked up 30+ points. For the season, the Raiders offense is ranked at #9 with a 25.2 points per game average. The big, explosive, key offensive plays came from Jacoby Ford (71 yard TD run), Marcel Reece (73 yard TD pass), and a solid effort from Darren McFadden (20, 119, 5.9 ypc). McFadden pushed his season rushing total up to 1112 yards on 212 carries for a robust 5.2 ypc average.

5-0 in the division and 5-2 at home are solid platforms to build on for 2011 no matter what happens in the last 2 games of the season. Counting on Tennessee to beat KC at home and Cincy to trump SD might be "fools gold" but the fact that in week 16 (game 15) the Raiders are still in the hunt is a testament to how far this team has progressed in climbing the competitive ladder.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Raiders 2nd Half Collapse

Raiders 31 - Jaguars 38

The Raiders' playoff hopes were dampened and severely dimmed considerably by a 2nd half collapse. Miscues by the Special Teams unit and back breaking big plays given up by the Defense led to JAX scoring 31 2nd half points.

This loss is particularly difficult to swallow when a few impact plays are isolated and examined. After playing a solid 1st half in all 3 phases of the game and going into the locker room up 17-7, the Raiders gave up 4 TDs in the 2nd half alone on a total of 13 plays.

The Special Teams gave the Jaguars' offense 3 possessions on short fields. The Raiders Defense gave up three 30+ yard gain TDs.

Here is a summary of the 6 pivotal plays that turned the tide against the Raiders:

1. Oakland kicks off to JAX to open the 2nd half. SeaBass kick is short (fielded at JAX 21 yard line) and JAX returns it to the JAX 43 yard line.

2. Safety Michael Huff is burned for a 48 yard TD strike to WR Jason Hill. Huff gave Hill a huge cushion off the line of scrimmage yet allowed Hill to run right by him into the end zone.

3. Facing 3rd and 2, RB Rashard Jennings goes on a 74 yard TD run. Jennings TD run should have been stopped near the sideline but the Raider defenders did a poor job containing him and using the sideline to get him out of bounds. Newly acquired DE Jarvis Moss completely whiffed on an open field tackle near the sideline by taking a bad angle. This TD run was on JAX's 3rd play of the possession.

4. On the ensuing kickoff, WR/KR Jacoby Ford fumbled the ball and JAX recovered at the Oakland 21 yard line. QB Gerrard found WR Mike Sims-Walker in the corner of the end zone for a 10 yard TD.

5. After a brilliant 36 yard TD run by RB McFadden knotted the game at 31-31, the Raiders Special Teams took all the air out of the balloon by allowing JAX to return the kick 65 yards to their own 30 yard line.

6. After the 65 yard kick return, on the 1st play from scrimmage, MJD hit a huge hole for a 30 yard TD.

It will be interesting to see how the team handles this set back. The deck is stacked against the Raiders making the playoffs although there are still enough permutations to keep a small glimmer of hope alive. A scenario where the Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs ending the regular season at 9-7 and the Raiders winning the tie-breaker is a nice dream to ponder. Pounding the Donkeys at home on Sunday, getting back to .500, and keeping the hope alive is good starting point. If nothing else, playing meaningful games in December was step 1 in climbing the competitive ladder.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Raiders Identity Restored

Raiders 28 - Chargers 13
The Raiders dominated, mauled, mugged, and man-handled the Chargers on both sides of the line on Sunday. This was a game clearly won in the all important trenches. The dismantling of their divisional rival foe restored the Raiders bread and butter identity of a team that relies heavily on a punishing rushing attack to exert their will.

251 net yards rushing to the Chargers 21 yards net rushing is what allowed for an effective play action pass, a bootleg run TD, for the Raiders D to be fresh, and pin their ears back with a relentless pass rush.

Playing with an early lead due to a muffed punt return by Sproles that set up an early TD bootleg run by Campbell, the Raiders defense hounded Phillip Rivers with an excellent pass rush. By my estimation, the Raiders pass rush accounted for a combination of 25+ hurries, hits, and sacks (4). Rivers was running for his dear life and never got in any rhythm. When necessary, DC Marshall dialed up an extra blitzer (Huff, McClain, Groves, Branch) to ratchet up the pressure.

The OLine had their best performance of the season and deserve lofty praise for enabling McFadden and Bush to combine for 192 yards on the ground. McFadden and Bush did a nice job breaking through the initial tackler and surging forward for critical 2,3,4 yard gains and more. Throughout the game, due to the effectiveness of the rushing attack, QB Campbell had the luxury of using play action passes to make some big plays and being set up with manageable 3rd down conversions.

Bottom Line: The Raiders' team success is largely predicated on the efficiency and persistence of the rushing attack. When the Raiders are running "down hill", this team has a noticeable swagger and is rather difficult to beat.

Key Stats:

* Time of Possession: Raiders 38:39 - Chargers 21:21
* Red Zone Efficiency: Raiders 4-4 100% - Chargers 1-2 50%
* Rushing 1st Downs: Raiders 14 - Chargers 0
* 3rd Down Conversions: Raiders 8-15 - Chargers 3-10

"We told ourselves all week we wanted to stick with the run, whether it was working or not" McFadden told reporters afterward, "We feel like we go back to our identity today. We wanted to run the ball and we did a great job with it."

52 rushes for a net of 251 yards and an average of 4.8 per carry is the type of rushing attack that clearly demonstrates this team's capabilities to set the tone and dictate the terms of the game.

The unequivocal belief that you can run the ball down the throat of an opponent requires the mindset that you won't back down. The Raiders coaching staff, OLine, and backs deserve a ton of credit for sticking with the game plan of re-establishing the team's identity in spite of the opponent's lofty standing as the #1 D in the NFL.