Monday, December 29, 2008

Change in the Air for the Oakland Raiders after a difficult 2008 season

Part III – The Offense

The team ended the 2008 season on a high note by doing a few things that they haven’t done since 1999, win their last game and win a road game outside of California beyond November since 1995.

The Raiders have to make some major changes on this side of the ball. Those changes need to start with the evaluation of the players currently on the roster.

Most teams are built to go eight and eight or better and when they don’t you can blame the front office 85 percent of the time.

It has to be determined which players should be a part of the Raiders future.

Several young players have been auditioning to be a part of that group and any successful team needs a nice mixture of veterans and youth. The fact remains that you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. Some of the team’s veterans need to be let go as discussed in part II.

The top down distractions from a dysfunctional front office and owner caused several problems for this unit. Former Head Coach Lane Kiffin is partly responsible for the demise of this unit as well. It was his task to put it together and develop the players.

The players that Al Davis brought in via free agency all but one failed miserably, WR Javon Walker, T Kwame Harris and C John Wade, whereas WR Drew Carter was injured.

There is no better place to start then with the franchise players on offense, QB JaMarcus Russell and RB Darren McFadden. Both are young players that need time to develop and learn how to play at this level. McFadden was injured and needs to be healthy to make an impact.

The next coaching staff will play a huge role in said development. Speaking of Russell’s development having three different play callers to include firing the head coach set his development back, especially in his first year starting.

He needs to spend a lot of time in the film room and on the field working on timing, accuracy, reading coverage’s.

Just as much as not having any go to wide receivers, the poor play of the offensive line and the terrible play calling. This team was built to run the ball and have a controlled passing game.

This leads me to assessing the offensive line, a group in need of reinforcements. The team is in need of a two Tackles especially a Left Tackle, possessing the seventh overall pick in the first round the team can go in several directions but drafting a Left Tackle would be a solid choice.

I know what several of you are thinking after I’ve made the above statement.
The team should draft WR Michael Crabtree; I don’t have a problem with the thought or action. He is the best WR in the draft, a position of need for the team.

He has yet to declare, but I doubt very seriously that the Rams, Chiefs, Bengals and Seahawks will all pass on him which would allow him to fall to the Raiders.

First things first, Tackles Kwame Harris & Cornell Green both need to be given their walking papers and replaced.

I feel that it took Interim Head Coach Tom Cable entirely too long to figure out that starting Mario Henderson over Kwame Harris was a better choice and better for the team.

He showed what he could do when given the chance in week two in Kansas City.

I think he was doing someone else’s bidding by trying to make it work or fit a square peg into a round hole. Just as he was by voicing how upset he was with Kiffin hiring James Cregg from his coaching staff.

Had the decision been made to start Henderson earlier there is a possibility this unit could’ve performed better and possibly won more games.

In regards to tackles here’s what we know Mario Henderson is raw but has the tools to succeed. Paul McQuistan who has had success playing both Guard and Tackle has recovered from injury and will be back with the team in 2009.

James Marten, the second year player drafted by the Cowboys in the third round of 2007, will have a chance to factor into one of the tackle positions in 2009. Brandon Torrey is an undrafted free agent on the practice squad.

The Guard positions are set with starters Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle.

The depth behind them, undrafted free agent Robert Felton, Paul McQuistan and Chris Morris could use an addition via the draft, free agency or an undrafted free agent. Jake Grove played well this season at center, his backup is Chris Morris.

The team could use a third quarterback possibly a veteran behind Russell and possibly Andrew Walter. I don’t see Marques Tuiasosopo in the team’s future.

The three headed rushing tandem of Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush is effective and needs to remain and make a healthy return in 2009.

The only chance of a change is if it is possible to trade Fargas for a third or fourth round draft pick.

The Wide Receiver position is one that is in transition, I don’t have a problem with the position coach. The players that are being developed prior to any additions are Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens, Todd Watkins, Arman Shields, Jonathan Holland and D.J. Hall.

Fullbacks Oren O’Neal and Justin Griffith should be back for 2009. TE Zach Miller had a solid year that could’ve been better if he didn’t have to stay in and help the offensive line. The second Tight End is Darrel Strong; the third TE is Tony Stewart who is more of a blocking Tight End.

The new coaching staff needs to use the rushing attack more, provide more playing time for Michael Bush and find a role for FB/H-Back Marcel Reece and RB Louis Rankin.

As an example I would like to see Louis Rankin and Justin Miller as kick returners. This will allow Johnnie Lee Higgins to focus more on WR & Punt Returns where he can continue to be one of the team’s playmakers.

The youth has served the team well and it shows that these young players are the future of this team and need to be developed. There are players on offense that will garner the attention of opposing defenses that need to be lead by a unified owner, front office, scouting department and coaching staff.

I’ve mentioned the players that this team will move forward with as far as youth but it all depends on one thing, Is Al Davis going to move into the 21st century or not? If he does as an example hire a GM like a Scott Pioli, give him control of the team, he could bring Josh McDaniels with him.

Al could hire Bill Parcels, who is set to be a sought after Executive at 67, give him total control. If he is able to pull off either move this franchise will be on an upswing and set for success in the future.

The NFL can be a copycat league, but the fact remains that it has several very tough competitors. You must remain competitive; the Raiders are competing with several other teams for the services of the guys mentioned above and others to right the ship.

The only way the Raiders can compete is if Al Davis changes his ways and gives the keys to someone capable of leading the franchise back to prominence.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Raiders routed 34-7; Lose to Chargers for the 11th straight time

Oakland got behind and it got ugly real fast for the Raiders. This game like several over the past six seasons wasn’t pretty. The Raiders haven’t played sound football.

Oakland had the same problems there like an old friend; four turnovers, several ridiculous and costly penalties.

Not to be outdone, making an appearance was the inability of their offensive line to give their quarterbacks anytime or protection to throw the ball, or open any holes for the running game leading to another long day on defense.

The Raiders again had too many penalties, they were so ridiculous one official could be seen shaking his head in disbelief.

I would’ve understood it if the official just said and I quote “penalty on the Raiders for stupidity, that’s a 15 yard penalty, repeat the down.”

The Raiders loss to the Chargers for the 11th time and earned themselves a dubious place in NFL history. This was once a rivalry but to lose to one team 11 times makes no sense at all but it does display ownership in more ways than one.

The Raiders lost badly in every phase of the game, a contest that was over before it started. There were several blown coverages, several missed assignments and a whole lot of bad football.

The only thing that went right for the team was Justin Miller, who returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown right before halftime and provided the teams only highlight.

He did most of the work by himself making a nice cut through several defenders getting to the sideline and outrunning another pair of Chargers.

Several other teams have slowed Charger RB LaDainian Tomlinson this season and some wondered if his skills had diminished and were searching for reasons why he hasn’t been himself.

The real reason for his decline in numbers has been three things 1) The decline in the play of the offensive line 2) not having FB Lorenzo Neal on the roster 3) The Chargers lack of identity with the departure of Marty Schottenheimer and staff.

The Raiders on the schedule has always been the cure for whatever ails LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers, he has always been able to run roughshod on Oakland.

Things have been bad defensively for the Raiders for a while but no one has killed them like he has. He has averaged 120 yards and a touchdown on them twice annually.

The Chargers ran the ball 46 times for 158 yards and one touchdown while involving three runners. Conversely the Raiders ran the ball 16 times for 54 yards.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers had a solid outing completing 10-of-22 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. His 59-yard TD pass to Vincent Jackson with San Diego up 10-0 put the game away before halftime.

The majority of his passes went to Vincent Jackson who had a great day hauling in five passes for 148 yards and a touchdown.

The Chargers defense anchored by NT Jamal Williams controlled the Raiders running game inside and put a lot pressure on QB JaMarcus Russell; OLB Shaun Phillips was outstanding finishing with a stat line the read three tackles, one forced fumble, two-and-a-half sacks.

Raider QB JaMarcus Russell completed nine-of-thirteen passes for 68 yards and had two passes intercepted by LB Stephen Cooper while throwing into double coverage. He left the game with a twisted ankle two minutes into the second quarter.

He was replaced by Andrew Walter who completed eight-of-seventeen passes for 61 yards and one interception.

Despite what appeared to be the Chargers allowing the underneath throws it is clear that with Lane Kiffin being shown the door the new directive from the top for Russell is to throw down the field as oppose to taking what the defense is giving you.

Johnnie Lee Higgins and Ron Curry combined to catch four passes; although the wide receivers aren’t scaring anyone, can’t seem to get any separation off of the line of scrimmage and haven’t been a factor for the Raiders all year, the leading receiver continues to be TE Zach Miller who finished with eight catches.

The team was terrible on offense again but the one statistic that has plagued Oakland all year happened again Thursday; the team was two-of-twelve on third down attempts and remain the league’s worst team on third downs.

The Raiders defense was playing from behind once again and could not stop the Chargers when they needed to. The loss also means that the Raiders have had double digit losses for six years in a row the second longest in league history and are now two and seven under interim head coach Tom Cable.