Monday, November 24, 2008

Raiders Avenge Week One Loss; Beat Broncos 31-10

A surprising thing happened during week 12 in Denver for the Oakland Raiders. Going with the trend of the weekend, away teams outscored the home teams 425-332.

The team that was expected to lose by 9.5 points appeared to wake up so to speak. The Raiders played hard and were determined to beat the Broncos.

Oakland put together a complete total team effort and beat the Broncos in all three phases of the game.

The score was knotted at three a piece when Johnnie Lee Higgins fielded a punt in the second quarter, made a few moves, danced down the sidelines and was untouched by human hands on an 89-yard touchdown return, his second in two weeks.

Despite the fact that both teams total yardage was almost identical, 318 yards for the Raiders and 319 yards for the Broncos, Oakland averaged six yards per offensive play.

The Raiders played to their strength, committed to the running game as evidenced by calling 41 running plays with Justin Fargas as the focal point.

All three of the Raider running backs were involved in this game. Fargas was able to get into a rhythm with 24 carries for 107 yards.

Darren McFadden ran for 38 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The talented Michael Bush, in the doghouse for not wanting to play fullback, only had two carries that didn’t gain any yardage but his pass to Zack Miller for eight yards showed another way that he could help this team and something that other teams will have to prepare for.

It would be nice to see the team really work on this, they’ve two running backs that can be used in the triple threat position. Both McFadden and Bush can run, pass and catch the ball out of the backfield.

JaMarcus Russell had his most efficient passing day as a pro. He completed 10-of-11 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. The average yardage gained per pass play was 13 yards.

Ashley Lelie was huge for the Raiders in his return to Denver; he hauled in four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Although none was bigger than the 51 yard strike he caught in the third quarter to set up Darren McFadden’s first touchdown run of the day.

The five most surprising things besides the win; were that the team converted eight of thirteen third downs, the team was scored three-of-four times in the red zone, the Raiders didn’t turn the ball over, the offensive line didn’t give up a sack and the Raiders won the time of possession battle by holding the ball for over 32 minutes.

The Raiders defense put together a tremendous performance to hold the Broncos to 10 points. The Jay Cutler interception and Peyton Hillis fumble were two costly Bronco turnovers that definitely affected the outcome of the game.

The Broncos went after Chris Johnson and threw the ball his way at least 20 times with minimal success which was night and day different from the first meeting and a welcome sight to all Raiders fans.

The Raiders defense was able to consistently slow the Broncos offense and holding them to one touchdown was big.

This was a huge win for the young Raiders to snap their four game losing streak and could go a long way in the development of this young team. One game doesn’t erase an up and down season but it should aide in their confidence and give this team something to build upon.

This was just the third win of the season for the team but after having the worst record in football every win should be celebrated. This team should now know that when healthy and having all phases of the game performing well this could be the outcome more often then not.

The Raiders and their fans will take this win and look for the same effort and execution next Sunday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tom Cable Many Hats; Fewer Offensive Options

After the debacle that was the Atlanta Falcons game, Al Davis strips Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp of the play calling duties he inherited with the departure of Lane Kiffin.

Tom Cable has recently had play calling added to the other items on his plate. He will now serve as the Interim Head Coach, de facto Offensive Coordinator and Offensive line coach.

The inoffensive Raiders got defensive against the Panthers passing game, played better against Carolina than they did the previous week, but didn’t do enough to score a touchdown or win the game.

The game was marred by multiple turnovers; several penalties a lot of head-scratching although when look real hard the game provided some small items that went the Raiders way.

Let’s break it down as the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Sifting through the debris, there were a few positive morsels to take away from this game, defensively, the Raiders fought hard and held Panther QB Jake Delhomme to a seven completion 72-yard one touchdown and four interception day.

Panther WR Steve Smith, one of the leagues best, was held to one catch for nine yards. The Raiders got to Jake Delhomme twice with DT’s Tommy Kelly and Gerard Warren both recording sacks. The Raiders won the time of possession battle with 37 minutes versus 23 minutes.

Oakland put up 259 total net yards. The team stayed committed to the running game putting up 149 yards on 36 carries with Justin Fargas doing most of the heavy lifting with 22 carries for 89 yards. The talented Michael Bush being used as a dual threat, eight rushes for 30 yards and five receptions for 43 yards. Veteran Kicker Sebastian Janikowski making two of his three field goal attempts breaking a seven quarter scoring drought.

The Bad

Once again; the Raiders, allowed an opposing runner to rush for 100+ yards and a touchdown. Panther RB DeAngelo Williams 69-yard touchdown run broke to game open in the second quarter. Backup QB Andrew Walter had two costly interceptions.

The Raiders had 34 pass attempts and threw for less than 150 yards and on the season rank dead last in passing yards per game.

The Ugly

Johnnie Lee Higgins coughing up the ball, again, and fumbling the Opening kickoff of the game and allowing the Panthers to start the game off on the Raiders 16 yard line.

It has been more than three decades a quarterback has played as badly as Jake Delhomme played and his team still comes out on the winning side. The Raiders found themselves in 17 third and long situations and only converted two of them.

On three consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, the team and fans had to witness third downs result in an interception and two sacks while trailing by eight points at home.

The Raiders amassed 10 penalties for 83 yards.

Not scoring a touchdown in the game.

Javon Walker caught three passes and is now out for the season one in which he amassed 15 receptions for 196 yards and one touchdown.

The play of the offensive tackles, leading the league in false start penalties and providing huge day’s to several Defensive Ends.

The Raiders have had to deal with a murderer’s row of some of the league’s best Defensive Ends and have been abused by edge rushers Terrell Suggs ( five tackles, a sack, a pair of quarterback hits and one tackle for loss) John Abraham (five tackles, three sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble).

This week’s recipient, Julius Peppers (seven tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles). Next in line, Dolphins right Outside Linebacker in their 3-4 defense, Joey Porter, who leads the league with 12 sacks.

Joey Porter has destroyed teams that leave him one-on-one with tackles, tight ends and running backs. The Raiders have to have seen this during their film study. This is one of those occasions that I would love to see the Raiders double-team him.

Potential Raiders Options

The following is all speculation due to the fact that I am not employed on the Raiders coaching staff. However, it would be nice to see the team game plan to stop him or limit his impact.

As a suggestion seeing the difficulty the team has had at the tackle position why not use an unbalanced line with a two tight end set.

However, instead of using two tight ends use both Mario Henderson and Kwame Harris on the left side of the offense to negate Joey Porter’s impact. This will force him to deal with not one but two tackles and if he switches sides move the extra tackle to that side.

This will also help the Raiders seal the edge in the running game which has the potential of the Raiders playing to their strengths and running the football more to stay out of third and long situations.

In closing, I pose a question is this the week that Raider fans finally see Darren McFadden running the Wildcat offense?

The team should be able to start using their own version of the "Wildcat" or "Wild Hog" offense now that Darren McFadden has overcome the turf toe injuries that have slowed him earlier this season.

I could be thinking way outside the box here but due to the lack of depth at wide receiver this could provide the team an opportunity to place Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush on the field at the same time.

The Raiders will definitely have to find a way to stop it this week. I want to believe that Rob Ryan and staff have discussed with Darren McFadden ways to slow down the offense due to the fact that he successfully ran the offense for three years at the University of Arkansas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big Game out West; Lakers vs. Hornets Preview

This is a match-up of the two best teams in the Western Conference last season. The last time the teams met was near the end of the regular season on a hot weekend for the Lakers when they beat the defending champion Spurs and the Hornets who had the best record in the Western Conference.

This early Western Conference showdown will be the first of several back to back road games for the Lakers. The Lakers are a young team and back-to-back games shouldn’t be a problem they’re also one the leagues two remaining undefeated teams standing at 6-0.

The Lakers sixth win of the season was exactly what skeptical fans and naysayers wanted to see this season, the Lakers had to struggle in a hostile environment, did not shoot well and have the game close at the end.

The above mentioned types received that and more in the Lakers win over Dallas. The team overcame a double-digit deficit for the second straight game and proved that even when they don’t play their best and it appears that it isn’t their night they can lay their hat on knowing that if they hang around their defense and Kobe Bryant will pull them through.

It’s the first time since Dec.10-12, 2006 that the Lakers have won consecutive games in which they had trailed by 10 or more points.

The New Orleans Hornets are 4-2 after cooling off the Heat 100-89 on 11/10. Chris Paul has set an NBA record by hitting the 20 point and 10 assist mark for six straight games to begin a season. This is historical due to the fact that he passes a mark set by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. He also added seven rebounds to his record setting night.

He’ll be facing the league’s stingiest defense at 84.4 points per game in this match up.

The biggest difference for the Lakers this season is speeding up the pace and running, looking to score in transition or easy baskets. When the defense is set up the Lakers have no problem running their patented triangle offense.

Starter Match Up’s

PG Derek Fisher 6’ 1” 210 lbs. 12thYear, Avg. 9.5 Pts, 3.0 Ast, 2.5 Reb, 1 Stl
PG Chris Paul 6’ 0” 175 lbs. 4th Year, Avg. 21.3 Pts, 11.7 Ast, 5.2 Reb, 4 Stl

This is a match up of two veteran point guards. Chris Paul is athletic and a masterful ball handler who can push the ball at a high rate of speed but is also adept at slowing down enough to get the team into their sets. He is dangerous when he can get into the painted are with his dribble penetration, this is when he gets his teammates involved and becomes more of a problem.

The Hornets run the pick and roll play a million times and Chris Paul has his choice of which direction to go with the ball score or distribute the ball. The Lakers might want to force him to become a scorer to avoid getting his teammates involved.

Derek Fisher is a savvy veteran who can play at any tempo. In the triangle offense he doesn’t have to dominate the ball and run the offense as a traditional point guard. He does an excellent job of getting the team going and spreading the floor, He is a dangerous shooter out of the triangle offense and in transition.

He’s and excellent on the ball defender, very strong inside and knows how to be effective within the offense. Fisher and his backup Jordan Farmar will have their hands full trying to keep Chris Paul out of the paint. This is a key match up in the game, because the Lakers also could play Kobe Bryant, Jordan Farmar & Trevor Ariza on Paul. Advantage: Hornets

SG Kobe Bryant 6’ 6” 220 lbs. 12thYear, Avg. 24.8 Pts, 3.0 Ast, 5.3 Reb, 2 Stl.
SG Morris Peterson 6’ 7” 220 lbs. 8th Year, Avg. 9.7 Pts, 0.7 Ast, 3.0 Reb, 1.7 Stl.

Morris Peterson is more of a mid-range shooter; he has 3 point range as well. He isn’t known for creating off of the dribble but doesn’t have to while playing with Chris Paul. He is a veteran and decent defender.

He is listed as questionable and might not play due to a sore left knee. If that is the case he will be replaced by Devin Brown, Rasual Butler or James Posey. Count on James Posey starting and guarding Kobe.

Peterson was effective against Dwayne Wade and now he gets Kobe Bryant who is a whole different animal and a much more difficult task. He is athletic and physical, with long arms he ’ll have to be ready to defend Kobe in the post, on the perimeter, and most importantly in transition and attempt to stay out of foul trouble.

He has averaged 12 points against the Lakers last season and has the size and talent to be formidable as well as pose a challenge.

Kobe Bryant who was already playing at an MVP level and known to take his game to another level when necessary. He is averaging 24.8 points, 3.0 Assists, 5.3 Rebounds, 2 stl, 2 blocks. He imposes his will on his opponents in all aspects of the game and is always playing the part as the “best” closer in the league. Advantage: Lakers

SF Vladimir Radmanovic 6’ 10” 235 lbs. 7thYear, Avg. 7.2 Pts, 1.2 Ast, 3.8 Reb.
SF Peja Stojakovic 6’ 10” 229 lbs. 10th Year, Avg. 15.2 Pts, 2 Ast, 4.6 Reb

Stojakovic is a deadly three point shooter; he isn’t going to give you 20 points or more a night and won’t be effective off of the dribble. He is strictly a shooter but very effective when he’s on. The Lakers will need to chase him off of the three point line like Rick Fox did when he played in Sacramento.

Radmanovic has been inconsistent so far but he has bought into the team concept and has played better defense. He is in the starting lineup to spread the floor with his perimeter shooting; he is more effective starting than coming off of the bench.

Radmanovic will make plays in the offense and on defense. The Lakers have an excellent problem with a lot of depth at this position. If Stojackovic manages to get hot he will be cooled off by Trevor Ariza. He will also have to contend with Lamar Odom as well, who is also capable of limiting his impact. Advantage: Lakers

PF Paul Gasol 7’ 0” 250 lbs. 7th Year, Avg. 15.8 Pts, 3.0 Ast, 11.5 Reb, 2 Blocks
PF David West 6’ 9” 240 lbs. 5th Year, Avg. 19.0 Pts, 3.0 Ast, 6.7 Reb

David West is a solid player and outstanding scorer from 12-15 feet, posting up and in the painted area. He is the team’s second leading scorer; he has been inconsistent and has gotten off to slow starts but is still highly effective. He will have his hands full being guarded by and having to check Pau Gasol.

Pau Gasol is an excellent scorer and passer out of the post and will command a double team that will open up the offense. Pau Gasol is a smooth player that will start at Power Forward but will also play Center and record a double-double nightly and have a huge impact on the outcome of this game. Advantage: Lakers

C Andrew Bynum 7’ 0” 285 lbs. 3rd Year, Avg. 9.5 Pts, 1.5 Ast, 9.0 Reb, 2 Blocks
C Tyson Chadler 7’ 1” 235 lbs. 7th Year, Avg. 9.2 Pts, 1.0 Ast, 10.0 Reb, 2 Blocks

Tyson Chadler scored a total of 11 points in two games since returning from a sprained ankle. He is the epitome of a high fly act that can jump out of the gym and the Hornets main shot blocker. Several of his points come on put backs and alley-oop passes from Chris Paul. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol both out-weigh Chandler and need to keep a body on him and between him and the basket.

It would make sense to provide him with a heavy dose of pump fakes and ball fakes to get him off of his feet and into foul trouble.

Andrew Bynum is rapidly developing both offensively and defensively, he is 2nd in the league in blocked shots. Serving as the Lakers last line of defense and protecting the rim has been huge. It was something that the team missed for 47 games last season and the entire playoff run. Pau Gasol will also log minutes at center and the combination will be deadly. Advantage: Lakers

Both teams have capable bench players that can provide rest for the starters and continue the team’s high level of play. The Lakers “Minute Men” have more depth and contributors; the bench that averaged 32 points per game last year has boosted that number to 42 points this season.

The addition of Lamar Odom to the bench but playing starter’s minutes has been huge. He has sacrificed his game for the good of the team in a contract year. The Lakers bench of Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic and others has been literally changing the pace of the game and taking this team to another level. Advantage: Lakers

Prediction: Lakers 105 - 85
* Photo Credits (2) Larry W. Smith, EPA for the Trevor Ariza & Pau Gasol Photos

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on the 2009 NFL Draft for the Oakland Raiders

The 2009 NFL Draft, as of this posting, is 171 days away but the Raiders are on the clock. The Oakland Raiders will be looking at a top five pick in the draft, again. The needs for the team are OL, DT, MLB, WR, SLB, FS.

The Raiders need to draft an impact player in the first round but fill the above mentioned needs throughout the draft.

The team can go in several different directions but with the first pick the choices that meet the need are as follows: MLB Rey Maualaga, LT Micheal Oher, LT Andre Smith if all three of these players are gone then the decision should be to trade down and secure more draft picks to build the team.

WR Michael Crabtree is the one wild card to change matters at the top of the draft board if he comes out. He has reminded several people of AZ WR Larry Fitzgerald.

If the team trades down SLB Brian Cushing, SLB Aaron Curry, FS Taylor Mays, DT Fili Moala, DT Peria Jerry, DT Terrance Cody a.k.a. "Mount Cody", DT Terrance Taylor, DE Brian Orapko become possibilities later in the first round as well as second round on.

Drafting Rey Maualaga gives the team a hard hitting impact MLB to help stop the run and gives the team the ability to move Kirk Morrison to SLB. The team needs to draft a DT or two but at this time none rate as a top five pick and can be had later in the draft with this draft having several quality DT's in it.

The two best LT's in the draft are Michael Oher and Andre Smith, both should be rated as top five picks at a need position for the team. Selecting either one will allow the team to move Kwame Harris to RT or release him.

If the team can focus on building both offensive and defensive lines in the draft that will be a step in the right direction. Especially seeing as there isn't a direction right now.

It would be great to see this team have a game plan going into the draft and not concern themselves with how well a guy performed at the combine; establish some sort of identity on both sides of the ball.

The only thing that has been close to being established offensively is being a running team. Build the O-Line and the D-Line and draft players that take teams running the ball on them personal. Bring in 2 DT's and a 260 lb. MLB will work toward that.

The team has ranked last or close to it in stopping the run since 2003, the team would make a definitive statement if say they could pick MLB Rey Maualaga in the 1st round, LT Eugene Monroe in the 2nd round, OL Max Unger in the 3rd round, secure DT Terrance Cody in the 4th round, WR Michael Jones in the 5th round, DT Terrance Taylor in the 6th round and FS Josh Pinkard in the 7th round.
Another important issue is the coaching staff, Al Davis has fired several coaches and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he chose to fire the current coaching staff. It would mean that the team is starting over, again which isn't good but still a possibility.
This team needs continuity of some sort even though that was killed when Lane Kiffin was booted early this season. Addressing the above mentioned needs for the team as shown in the mock Raiders draft for 2009 would be a huge step in the right direction.
There are no guarantees but it would make a definitive statement for progressive change within the Raiders organization.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Raiders Set To Jettison DeAngelo Hall

The Oakland Raiders came to the realization that the DeAngelo Hall experiment has not worked. This decision proves that the team made a mistake in signing him in the off-season and basically squandering a second round draft pick in the process.

Hall will have made $8 million so far this season; the team has chosen not to compound the problem by guaranteeing his $16 million salary. The Raiders now know why the Falcons put him on the trade block.

He will be waived on 11/5/2008 Per Adam Schefter of NFL Network, ending the nightmare that was DeAngelo Hall in silver and black. It was reported that personnel changes would be made and now it is known what one of those changes are.

It has been proven, without a doubt, that solid bump-and-run coverage wasn’t his strong suit. He has been beaten repeatedly from day one when he was misused by Bronco’s rookie Eddie Royal.

Bills, Chargers, Saints, Ravens receivers followed suit and proceeded to do the same. The Falcons couldn’t wait to do the same and proved it early last Sunday going right after him in a game that was over at half time.
I'm guessing that having your former teammates over for dinner on the friday before the game will not deter them from embarassing you on sunday.

I'm also guessing that the best CB tandem in the league project is now over seeing as a bigger Stanford Routt is a better fit.

The team has decided to cut their losses and play without a player that was a huge weakness on defense. The injury he has could explain some of the issues he was having but clearly not all of them.

I didn’t expect the end to come so soon for Hall but he has been awful, just as bad as Javon Walker perhaps he could be receiving his walking papers as well.

This will definitely free up money this off-season so Nnamdi Asomugha will be signed to a long term contract that he deserves.

The bad news is that the team chose not to do the same and release some other players but I have a feeling that DeAngelo Hall will not be the last player released. There is an apparent roster overhaul taking place.

Could it be that Al Davis is seeing the error of his ways and that some of the things he has done aren’t working? Could he finally ready to address weaknesses on the team and stop just throwing money at the problem? Time will tell.

Could this be Al Davis way of having a roster purge, similar to someone purging the unneeded files on a computer? If that is the case, and is what is truly going on in Oakland, then Hall is the first and not the last to be shown the exit.

The money that has been freed up can be used to improve the team by brining in players that can actually improve the team. It even has the feeling that a real NFL General Manager looked at the roster and stated that you need to cut ties with this group of players. Stay tuned apparently there is more to follow.
This move and others to save money on one hand could work out for the team in the long run but on the other it also shows the top down dysfunction of this team and more bizzare actions.
This team needs to finally hire a true front office and hire people for the following positions immediately; those positions are General Manager, President, Vice President, Director of Player Personnel, Assistant Director of Player Personnel, Director of Pro Personnel and a Director of College Scouting.
After that is accomplished this group needs to work on establishing an identity for this team offensively, that identity needs to start with a running game and work toward a balance offense. Defensively this group needs to establish and identity that this team will not be run on.