Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gaining Traction

Raiders 26 - Chiefs 16
Over the past 3 weeks, the Raiders have made steady, incremental progress towards gaining traction with the new systems installed by the new coaching staff.  Although there has been inconsistency shown throughout this period of time, the defensive unit has made the most noticeable positive strides.  Run D, QB pressure, and pass coverage have made tangible improvements. 
Starting with the Atlanta game (20-23) where LB McClain was substituted on passing downs and CB Huff became more comfortable playing CB, the Raiders D has given up only a small handful of explosive plays to the opponent.  The lack of mental errors, blown assignments, and better overall execution is a sign that the techniques, instructions, and coaching during the week leading up to game day is starting to take shape and most importantly sink in. 
The 2 defenders who have really excelled are first year free agent LB Wheeler and rookie LB Burris.  Both men have been flying to the ball.  Other notable defenders who seem to be improving from week to week are CB Lee and CB Hanson.  It is interesting, to me at least, that some of these low cost additions to the roster are beginning to pay off.  I give GM McKenzie credit for identifying players that can contribute on a shoe string budget in 2012. 
After playing solid football yet losing to the Falcons on the road at the last tick of the clock, the Raiders came home and took care of business vs. a struggling JAX Jaguars team.  Getting off to a slow start vs. JAX in the 1st half demonstrated the "work-in-progress" mode the Raiders are in.  What impressed me the most about this victory were the adjustments and execution in the 2nd half. Down 17-6 at half, the Raiders outscored JAX 20-6.  The Raiders defensive unit gave up a mere 2 1st downs the entire 2nd half. 
In the contest this past Sunday vs. the Chiefs, the Raiders had difficulties in the red zone but dominated the game from start to finish.  Both the OLine and Dline won the battles in the trenches.  The OLine kept CP3 clean all day and were able to wear down the Chiefs by pounding the ball with McFadden who racked up 114 yards rushing.  The offense had a nice rhythm and was balanced.   Winning 2 games in a row after arguably the best overall performance of the season (ATL),  gives the Raiders an opportunity to build confidence in the players, systems, and coaches going forward.   Although we are only 7 games into the new era and there is a long ways to go, I like the course that DA and McKenzie are paving for long term success. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Turning The Corner?


Raiders 20 - Falcons 23
The expectations were low for Raider fans going into the hostile Georgia Dome facing the undefeated Falcons.   The Raiders offense had been sputtering and the D got torn up 3 consecutive weeks by the Dolphins, Steelers, and Broncos.  My biggest concern was the secondary getting exposed by Jones & White and a listless pass rush.   I was hoping for a competitive game and upset victory but wouldn't have been shocked by a blowout.

Although this was a tough loss to swallow, I was very encouraged, and quite frankly, surprised by the level of execution of the players and shrewd gameplanning by the the coaching staff.  The defense did a tremendous job creating 3 interceptions, getting off the field 7 of 9 times on 3rd down conversion attempts, and creating constant pressure and disruptions for QB Matt Ryan. 

One of the key developments in the gameplanning was getting LB McClain off the field in obvious passing downs and going to a very effective nickel package.  First the Raiders needed to shut down the run (55 total rushing yards).  Second, the DBs in harmony with a strong pass rush, needed to play more aggressive coverage and take a few chances.  Huff, Hanson, and Branch had critical interceptions that created excellent field position for the Raiders.  The Raiders defense did an excellent job holding the Falcons to 7 total points in the 1st half.

One part of the game that truly sticks in my craw is the end of the game.  After playing aggressive, effective D for 59:00 minutes, why on earth did the coaching staff put the D in a prevent, Charmin Soft D with :58 and a tied 20-20 game?  When the Raiders rushed 3 men and played soft zone, I knew the Falcons would have a better than decent chance to win the game at the end. 

The other part of the game that is hard to digest is the Palmer pick 6.  The Raiders were in the driver's seat, facing a 3rd and 6 from the Falcons 28 with 2:55 in the game, tied at 13-13.  This was a 10-14 point swing and game changer.  Instead of the Raiders taking the lead, the team faced a 7 point deficit with 2:40 on the clock.  Clearly this was a throw and decision that CP3 wished he had back.  What I admire about Palmer was how he responded to this setback by marching the team down for a game tying TD drive.  This showed leadership and character.  Palmer was highly accurate and poised throughout the game (23-33, 353) and the offense was balanced, potent, and diversified (474 offensive net yards). 

The best takeaway from the game, in my mind, is the passion and warrior spirit demonstrated by the team.  The key question moving forward is whether or not the team can build on this performance and continue to make progress.  The sign of true progress will be more consistent efforts from week to week.  Does the team build on the positives or was the overall performance, effort, and preparation an aberration? 

Next Week:  JAX Jaguars visit Oaktown