Monday, October 24, 2011

Train Wreck vs. KC

Kansas City 28 - Oakland 0

The Raiders piss poor QB play led to a humiliating, sobering shut-out loss to the Chiefs. Kyle Boller, in his second season with the Raiders, demonstrated why he is a 9th year journeyman backup by making bad reads and decisions. In his 1st series at the helm, Boller threw into double-coverage which turned into a 59 yard TD interception.

This first Raiders' offensive series set the tone for a game that became an absolute train wreck. The train wreck included 3 INTs by Boller, 3 INTs by Palmer, the Raiders having 2 key starters hurt in the 1st half (McFadden - sprained foot; McLain - leg injury), and most discouraging, a 28-0 beatdown at home at the hands of a hated divisional rival.

In Boller's 7 total offensive series under center, he had (3) INTs and (3) 3 and outs. The 1st INT was returned for a TD. The 2nd INT put KC in good field position which they capitalized on for another TD and quick 14-0 lead with 1:53 left in only the 1st quarter. Boller's last INT killed a good drive right before half.

Hue Jackson trotted out Boller for the 1st series of the 3rd quarter which was a quick 3 and out. After KC scored another TD to go up by a commanding 21-0 lead, Jackson put in newly signed Carson Palmer. On Palmer's very 1st play as a Raider, the train wreck almost became the worst possible nightmare when DE Hali came crashing down at Palmer's legs right after Palmer released the pass. The entire 2011 season flashed before my eyes.

After spending 9 months on a couch and 3 days getting ready for Sunday, Palmer clearly wasn't ready for the speed, timing, and complexity of an NFL game. On the day, Palmer was 8/21 with 3 INTs.

Gift Wrap R Us:
An odd statistic in a 28-0 loss that shows the true value of turnovers as it relates to the scoreboard; Raiders 322 net offensive yards, KC 300 net offensive yards.

Up Next:
The bye week couldn't come at a more opportune time. The extra week of practice will be critical for the Raiders to put this ugly loss behind them, get key players healthy, and allow Palmer 2 full weeks of preparation time for a home game vs. Denver on Nov. 6th. This 2 week period before another important divisional game will define the team's leadership. How the team responds is a fork in the road for the 2011 season.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Raiders Are "All In"

The Raiders acquisition of QB Carson Palmer by trading to the Bengals a 2012 1st round pick and conditional 2013 2nd round pick is a "swing for the fences" type move. When Campbell went down with a season ending injury last week, de facto GM Hue Jackson didn't bat an eye.

The injury, unique circumstances of Palmer, and the strong relationship between Palmer and Jackson all came together with a destiny type quality to it. It has created a situation where instead of expectations being lowered when our #1 QB went down, expectations have been raised even higher.

The merit of the trade is debatable depending on whether or not you think Palmer is past his prime or will have a career rejuvenation in silver and black. The value of the trade has yet to be determined. If Palmer creates a 3+ year window for the Raiders to make the playoffs, advance in the playoffs, and reach for the ultimate prize, this trade will be viewed very favorably by fans and the media.

This type of bold, aggressive acquisition by Jackson is fitting for a man who lives on the edge and isn't afraid to chase a championship. Instead of wallowing about unfortunate injuries, Jackson has created an environment where the players and fans believe in the team. Misfortune becomes opportunity. Someone goes down it turns into "next man up". Making excuses, pointing fingers, blaming refs is replaced by accountability and a will to win.

With Raider fans buzzing with anticipation of Carson Palmer's first start, sell out crowds acting as the 12 man on Sundays, and Jackson's leadership gaining traction and results, it is an exciting new chapter in Raider football.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Raiders Don't Blink

Raiders 24 - Brownies 17

It was a bitter sweet game yesterday. It was sweet to honor Al in the 1st home game since his passing by finding the resiliency to come out victorious largely by parlaying 2 big special teams plays. It was bitter knowing that starting QB Campbell is likely out for the season with a fractured clavicle.

Special Team's Unit:
Jacoby Ford's electrifying 101 yard kickoff return TD and a deft fake FG 35 yard TD pass from Lechler to Boss was the engine that got the Raiders to the finish line.

Raiders Defense:
For the 2nd week in a row, the Raiders' defensive unit put the clamps on the opponent's rushing attack. Last week in Houston, the Texans had 70 yards on 25 carries for a 2.8 average. This week, the Raiders D gave up only 65 yards on 21 carries for a 3.1 average. Rookie Van Dyke held up fairly well in pass coverage, FS Giordano was a terror on the blitz (1 sack + 1 QB hit), and newly signed LB Curry fit seamlessly in as WLB. For the entire game, the Raiders D gave up only 1 "big play" (rushing attempt for 15+ yards or pass completion of 20+ yards) to WR Cribbs on a 23 yard pass play.

Next Man Up:
When Campbell was injured in the 2nd quarter, back-up QB Kyle Boller took over. Boller looked shaky and was inaccurate with his throws in his 1st few series. By the 4th quarter though, Boller seemed to settle down.

Head Coach has been stressing the team aspect of "next man up" throughout the season. When a player has gone down to injury (Murphy, Boss, Johnson, Chekwa, Shaughnessy, Satele, Huff) another Raider is expected to step up to the challenge. This will be put to the ultimate test with the QB position.

My expectation is that the Raiders will sign a back-up QB in the next 24-48 hours (Trent Edwards, Charlie Frye, or Josh McCown). Boller, who worked with Hue Jackson in Baltimore, is an experienced QB (66 games played) with a live arm and good mobility. The key will be for Jackson and Saunders to customize the offensive game plan to allow Boller to manage the game.

Hue Jackson Quote:
“I keep telling everybody this team is becoming something,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “We don’t blink when things happens. Obviously, we lost our quarterback early. Very unfortunate. But that’s part of the game, part of the business."

Up Next:
Raiders (4-2) at home vs. the KC Ketchup & Mustard Men (2-3)

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Resolve and Honor

Raiders 25 - Texans 20

In this game 24 hours after the passing of Al Davis, the Raiders demonstrated the type of resolve that was a fitting tribute to their fallen leader. The core essence of Davis' mantra of "Just Win Baby" is to find a way, any possible way, to come out on top when the scoreboard hits 00:00. The statistics might show that the Texans dominated the game but the scoreboard told a different story.

Quick Hitters:

1. Raiders D:
In spite of giving up 21 1st downs, 473 yards, and being on the field for close to 35:00, the D was aggressive, opportunistic, and gritty. After the Texans initial drive, Raider defenders aggressively got after QB Schaub. Huff, Mitchell, and McClain were used in blitz packages which aided the defense in 9 QB pressures, 3 sacks, 8 QB hits, and 8 deflected passes. The defense made opportunistic plays at key junctures in the game. Seymour (2) and Kelly had critical sacks, LaMar Houston a momentum changing interception, and Huff a game closing INT.

2. SeaBass Was Huge:
4-4 on the day and accounting for 13 of the 25 points, SeaBass' early 55 and 54 yard field goals allowed the Raiders to settle into the game and keep the score close in the 1st half.

3. DHB:
Another controversial 1st round pick of Davis like SeaBass 11 years ago, DHB had 7 catches for 99 yards including one 34 yard TD reception. With back to back productive games, DHB is slowly becoming a reliable WR and solid contributor.

4. Emotional Sunday:
Watching Jackson's reaction at the end of the game and in his post victory locker room speech was emotional. His love for Davis and the Raiders came gushing out in tears, words, and gratitude.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

End Of An Era - R.I.P. Al Davis

Al Davis (July 4, 1929 - October 8, 2011) - Rest in Peace

Al Davis is unlike any sports figure in history. His singular, passionate focus on football has left an indelible mark and rich legacy. He was a true pioneer, legend, and titan of modern professional football.

Davis' unyielding drive to win vaulted him from an assistant coach at Adelphi College in 1950 all the way up the ladder to an owner of a $800M+ enterprise.

An end to an era brings a new chapter to Raider football. It is my sincere hope that this transition of change and uncertainty brings about an opportunity to modernize the Raiders operation and organization but keeps the spirit and essence of what Davis built the past 48 years burning brightly.

RIP, Big Al.
"I don't want to be the most respected team in the League. I want to be the most feared."

Monday, October 03, 2011

Pats Slice & Dice Raiders D

Patriots 31 - Raiders 19

The Raiders defense got off to a terrible start and continued to struggle with the Pats high- powered offense. In the 1st series, DT Richard Seymour gift wrapped 30 yards in penalties, sustaining the initial drive, and leading to an opening TD drive. The 1st penalty was a boneheaded, completely unnecessary roughness on Brady on a 3rd and 9. The 2nd penalty was a senseless face mask on 2nd and 10.

The Raiders defense was carved up by the Patriots passing attack and rush offense for 409 nets yards. The total net yards wasn't alarming but the Pats ginsu knifing the Raiders defense by running the ball (30 carries, 183 yards, 6.1 ypc) was glaring and somewhat unexpected. Going into Sunday's game, the Pats had one of the most anemic rushing attacks in the NFL.

There were numerous times throughout the game that the Raiders secondary simply had no answer in stopping or remotely containing WR Wes Welker. Double teams, zone, man to man ... didn't seem to matter with Welker grabbing 9 balls for 158 yards and a TD. The fact that the secondary did a poor job on the initial tackle of Welker only made it worse.

Part of the problem was the efficiency, balance, and style of the Pats offense. The Raiders seemed to pre-determine that blitzing wasn't an option against the Pats spread offense which is sound in theory. The 4 man pass rush didn't provide enough pressure on Brady who was allowed to sit back, comfortably view the complete field, and often times, pick out his secondary or third reads. My personal belief is that at some point in the game when your D is getting steamrolled that it is time to take a few risky chances with the defensive playcalling in order to change the dynamic of the game. DC Breshnahan opted for a passive approach that was the equivalent of watching a slow, painful water torture

The key juncture in the game was near the end of the 2nd quarter with the Raiders down 10-14. Driving the ball 80 yards from their own 14 yard line and consuming 5+ minutes on the clock, the Raiders faced a critical 2 and goal from the 6.

Head Coach Hue Jackson called a play action pass that went horribly wrong when QB Campbell got happy feet in the pocket and threw an INT in the back of the end zone without a Raider receiver in close proximity. It was a play that Campbell could have thrown out of the end zone to live another down or pulled it down and run for daylight. Besides the poor decision by Campbell, I also question the choice of playcall in this situation. The Patriots had difficulties stopping the Raiders running attack. Why not run McFadden on a power sweep or Bush between the tackles?

It was frustrating to realize that the Raiders had a golden opportunity to go into half with a 17-14 lead but instead this turnover led to a 10 point swing with the Pats leading 17-10. It was also disturbing that Jackson only called 14 run plays for McFadden who was earning 5.4 per carry. Unless hurt, McFadden should be geting a minimum of 25 carries per game. This isn't rocket science. He is the best player on the team, an elite player in the league, and the Raiders ultimate playmaker. (Update: McFadden was nursing a sore groin and was used sparingly by Jackson for this reason.)

The game truly got away from the Raiders when the Pats marched to 2 TD drives on their 1st 2 possession of the 3rd quarter. Poor tackling, more inopportune penalties, a non-existent pass rush, and key receptions by Welker made it look all too easy.

The way this season is unfolding, the Raiders offense will need to overcome the defense's shortcomings. The offense will not only have to carry the D but do it by using the rushing attack as the primary means and sledgehammer for establishing the terms of the game. When the Raiders go against the grain of a pass happy league, running the ball 60%+ of the time, it creates the best chance to control the tempo, time of possession, keep the D off the field, and exert their bullying will upon the opponent.

Clearly, the best thing the Raiders do is run the ball with McFadden and Bush. Currently the Raiders are the #1 team in the NFL in rushing at 178.8 per game. This team has scored at a 27.8 clip. The elephant in the room is a defense that is gouged by the run (#29, 136.0 per game) and gives up far too many points (#30, 28.3 per game). In order for this team to take the next step in climbing the competitive ladder, the onus will be on the defense to make drastic, urgent improvements for the remaining 12 games.