Monday, December 26, 2011

Raiders Keep Hope Alive!

Raiders 16 - Chiefs 13 (OT)

In many respects, the Raiders and Chiefs were mirror images in this Christmas Eve battle in Kansas City. Both teams had a conservative game plan, stubbornly attempted to establish the run, played good overall defense, created 2 INTs, and sloppily combined for 26 penalties. Both team's offensive units struggled on 3rd down conversions (Oak 3-11; KC 3-12) and in the red zone (Oak 0-3; KC 1-4). In the end, the Raiders made enough game altering, game saving and game winning plays to tip the balance in the Silver and Black's favor.

The 1st half was ugly football by both clubs. The Raiders failed to capitalize on an opening kickoff return of 91 yards by McCann coming away with only a FG. QB Palmer threw 2 INTs. His counter part, QB Orton moved the Chiefs into the red zone in the 2nd Quarter only to throw an INT that S Giordano returned for 61 yards. 3 plays later, Palmer gave the ball right back to KC. Throughout the 1st half it was a flag fest. It seemed fitting that to end the half, both teams went into the locker room at 3-3 when DT Bryant blocked a 49 yard FG attempt.

On the Raiders 1st possession of the 2nd half, the offensive unit patiently moved the ball down the field with a series of runs and short passes. This set up and caught KC off guard when Palmer connected to WR Moore for a 61 yard bomb TD. Palmer's beautiful touch and arc on the pass hit Moore perfectly in stride to put the Raiders in the lead at 10-3. KC answered late in game on a TD scoring drive built on a 49 yard screen play to RB McCluster. A quick 3 and out by the Raiders offense gave the Chiefs the ball back with a mere :16 on the clock on their own 33 yard line. A 25 yard completion to Bowe put the Chiefs in FG kicking range. Attempting a 49 yard FG, K Succop's attempt was blocked by DT Seymour.

From the possibility of winning in regulation to possibly losing to reaching overtime in a game with playoff implications on the line, this game wasn't for the faint of heart. After winning the coin toss, the Raiders went for the jugglar vein on the 1st play in OT. Using a nicely designed play that was set up by earlier plays in the game, Palmer hit DHB with a deep 53 yard strike to KC's 23 yard line. This was a play action pass where Palmer faked the hand-off to Bush with WR Moore circling back into the backfield on an end run action. This play action fake gave Palmer enough time to allow the play to develop and DHB to get down the field. SeaBass 36 yard game winning FG keeps hope alive in the Nation.

Up Next: San Diego (7-8) visits Oakland (8-7) on New Year's Day. This bitter rivalry game with a possible playoff berth in the balance should be a real cracker.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Disconnect Vs. Connect

Raiders 27 – Lions 28

The Lions come from behind victory over the Raiders was a real sucker punch to the gut. In spite of dynamic plays made by all 3 Raiders units and a 13 point lead late in the game, the Raiders failed to do what is required to close out an opponent.

Carson Palmer was highly accurate and efficient (32/40, 367 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) but wishes he had 2 throws back. The Raiders D made the Lions 1 dimensional, got a big fourth down stop, and caused a sack/fumble recovery TD but failed to adequately contain WR Johnson. Playing good D for 3.5 quarters isn’t enough.

4 plays in particular yesterday, 2 by the Raiders QB-WR and 2 by the Lions QB-WR, were pivotal in the outcome of the game. The Lions made 2 critical connections and the Raiders came up short on 2 game altering disconnections.

Play #1 - Disconnect (Raiders)

Context: Raiders on their opening drive of the game move the ball from their own 31 yard line to Detroit’s 24 yard line. Facing a 4 and 1, Hue Jackson decides to go for the first down instead of kicking a FG.

Play: Palmer executed a perfect play action pass and had WR Moore wide open in the end zone. However, Palmer’s throw over-shot his mark and the Raiders came away with 0 points.

Comment: Hue Jackson was aggressive and the playcall itself was equally gutsy. However, coming away with zero points at this early stage of the game was a set-back. In a game decided by 1 point, a FG here was the difference in a victory or a loss. On the play, the Lions defender clearly held Moore on 2 separate occasions but the Zebras didn’t call the interference.

Play #2 - Connect (Lions)

Context: Raiders up 7-0 in the 1st quarter. Lions on offense.

Play: Stafford to Johnson for a 51 yard TD pass.

Comment: Allowing Megatron to run clear, over the top, is the fault of Safety Mike Mitchell. MM had deep safety responsibilities but showed a lack of positional awareness. This Lion’s TD drive equaled the score immediately following the Raiders TD drive.

Play #3 - Disconnect (Raiders)

Context: Raiders up 27-21 late in the fourth quarter (approx. 2:30 left in the game).

Play: Facing a third and 3 from Detroit’s 48 yard line, Palmer misses WR Schilens hands by inches on an intermediate slant and go route down the right sideline.

Comment: A successful conversion of this play would in effect ice the game. RB Michael Bush had been rolling on this drive with runs of 12 yards, 15 yards, and 5 yards. Running the ball to pick up 3+ yards would seem to be the prudent playcall. Even if Bush ran it for 2 yards, the clock would run down to the 2:00 warning and take precious time off the clock. If the mindset is to pass on this play to finish the Lions off, why not run a shorter, safer route?

Play #4 - Connect (Lions)

Context: Raiders up 27-21 with 2:12 remaining in the game and the Lions starting at their own 2 yard line.

Play: On the fifth play of the drive from their own 39 yard line, Stafford connects on a deep seam route to Johnson for a 48 yard completion taking the Lions to the Raiders 13 yard line.

Comment: In a situation where the Lions needed a 98 yard TD drive to win late in the game, the pass coverage scheme on this play was embarrassing. The Raiders attempted to cover arguably the best WR in the NFL using MLB McClain and a 3rd string safety (Boyd) in bracket coverage. How DC Breshnahan deployed the secondary was nothing short of negligence.

Up Next: Oakland visits KC (6-8) on Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheese Whiz

Raiders 16 - Packers 46

The Raiders desperately need to get back on track quickly if there is any chance to gain a berth to the 2011 playoffs. Squished by the Fish. Cheese Whizzed by the Pack. In back to back blowout losses, the Raiders D has given up 80 points. With McFadden, Ford, and Moore injured, the team has lacked the type of explosive players and firepower to win in a shoot out.

It might sound boring and rather cliche but it is imperative that the Raiders get back to basic, sound Football 101 to create a window of opportunity to win. The competitive imbalance in the last 2 games is a direct result of poor ball security, a lack of discipline, and a porous run defense. In the 2 games combined, the Raiders have turned the ball over 6 times, had 21 penalties, and given up 345 yards of rushing.

The slow starts in the 1st half, an accumulation of injuries, and sloppy execution has led to a team that has clearly lost it's swagger and spirit.

Up Next: Detroit Lions (8-5) visit Coliseum in a "do or die!" game for the Raiders (7-6). T0 flip the switch from bleak to belief, it will be critical for the Raiders to get off to a FAST start against the Lions to get the fans behind them, play with the lead, and boost the confidence of the team.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Fish Squish Raiders

Raiders 14 - Dolphins 34

Plain and simple ... the Raiders got completely manhandled and dominated by the Dolphins in the trenches on both sides of the ball. In a crucial contest to maintain a slim 1 game lead margin over the rollin' Broncos, the Raiders got punked by a very good team playing for pride.

The Raiders defensive front 7 did a very poor job of shedding blockers, penetrating the line of scrimmage, and plugging up holes. The time of possession stat illustrates how Miami controlled the game with a 38:20 to 21:40 margin. This margin was achieved by a Dolphins team that ran the ball 44 times for 209 yards and had a 4.8 average yard per carry. 44 times right down our throat with no answer.

Whenever a team runs the ball effectively this many times, it is a clear case of exerting their will. The fact that the Raiders D was unable to get consistent QB pressure, create any turnovers, and continually shot itself in the foot with inopportune penalties made this game tailor made for a blowout.

The offensive unit was flat, listless, and did a poor job executing. There were countless dropped balls, poor pass protection, and an anemic rushing attack. In a critical game to help secure a playoff spot, the Raiders offensive unit lacked a creative, big play spark.

Simple pass and catch and move the chains type plays were bumbled or the protection broke down. It wasn't until it was a lost cause, down by 34-0, that the unit got in synch. The Raiders OLine had by far the worst performance of this season. 46 total yards rushing is a direct reflection of an OLine who lost the all important man to man battles at the line of scrimmage. Playing from behind and unable to establish the running game, the Raiders became 1 dimensional and far easier to contain.

The Raiders have a difficult task ahead of them in order to reach their goal of winning the AFC West. As I've said countless times, the 2011 Raiders have been a very resilient group. All 4 games pose unique challenges regardless of injuries, weather conditions, opponent, or divisional standings.

Up Next: The reigning Super Bowl Champs and undefeated 12-0 Packers.

I love the fact that everyone is writing off the Raiders, the Raiders chances to defeat the vaunted Pack on the road, are handing the Donkeys the divisional crown, and Te-Blow the MVP. The Raiders have a legitimate shot to "shock the world" and be the 1st team to beat the Pack, if and only if, the running game is the center piece of the game plan. The fact is that the Packers rush D is horrendous (ranked #29 at 4.9 yards per carry).

If you want to dictate tempo, control the clock, keep Rodgers off the field, establishing the run for 4 quarters is the only hope for coming out on top. Even if the Raiders fall short of a "W", it is paramount to put together a solid, sound performance to build towards the remaining 3 games of the season. The stark reality is that if the Raiders lose to the Pack, ripping off 3 consecutive wins to finish the season vs. Detroit, at KC, vs. SD might be required to punch their ticket to the playoff party.