Here's the thing...The reason the Raider Nation is (justifiably) freaking out right now is that the Raiders are showing little indication of on-field improvement in 2014 compared to 2013 and 2012.
That may change, hopefully starting today, but that's where things stand right now for anyone who has eyeballs. Now, here's the other thing...No matter what situation Reggie and DA walked into three years ago, there's simply no excuse for a lack of improved performance after three years of (alleged) culture change, two full drafts and a free agency period with tons of money to spend.
So either things will improve, or we'll be watching the end of the Reggie-DA era in slow motion as the season progresses.
That, amigos, is where we stand right now, and time is getting short.
So here come the Texans and J.J. Watt for the first home game of the season. It's time for the Raiders to step up and give the Nation a glimmer of hope that this team is better that it has looked so far. GO RAIDERS!
1. In my pregame take, I noted that this was no time to be conservative, and that the Jets' secondary was considered "depleted" going into the game. But as Steve Corkran noted after the game, "The surprise came in how little offensive coordinator Greg Olson called for rookie quarterback Derek Carr to throw downfield. Just about every pass until real late in the game called for Carr to get rid of the ball in a hurry, near the line of scrimmage and without risk of being sacked or hit. In other words, just the opposite of what Carr did so well against the Seattle Seahawks, even if much of that came against the Seahawks backup defense." 2. Look, we were flush with $$$ during the offseason. So now you tell me where we made a substantive positional improvement during free agency with all that money. Reggie has had
three years figure out a way to stock our skill positions, and we still
don't have a legitimate #1 running back or receiver. DMac and MJD (combined 26 yards) looked
like two guys on downslope, which is what they are. Streater, Moore
and Jones are okay, but come on, none of them are true #1 receivers. Jones was brought in to help set the pace, yet he started the game on the bench behind Moore. Who's minding the skill position store for this team? 3. Therefore, Derek Carr can't be faulted for what happened. today. The playcalling was questionable, the protection was inconsistent, and his support was limited. I just hope that he keeps his chin up, particularly if we keep trotting him out into greasefires like this one. Don't kid yourself, the score looks close on paper, but the game didn't pass the eyeball test. We looked awful. 4. Our defense was a train wreck. No pressure on the QB, receivers left wide open, the dreaded "big play" on the Chris Ivory run. Different year, same ol' Raiders "defense." 5. I am this close to revving up the Clown Car on this game. But somehow, some way, we technically kept it close, so I'll keep it parked for now.
Rex Ryan is going to reach into his extensive bag of defensive tricks to try to rattle Derek Carr early. The goal should be to rattle him back with quick strikes and even long bombs if necessary, to keep the Jets from stacking the box and succeeding at the blitz. The secondary is the Jets' weak spot on defense right now.
All that said, we have to be careful. We need to establish the run, and make sure that we're not so aggressive with the pass that Carr is baited into careless early picks. The Jets' DBs may not be world beaters, but neither are our receivers.The worst thing would be for Carr's psyche to be shaken early in this game.
Here's the thing: careful and conservative may be related, but they are two different things. We'll know if the Raiders are playing conservatively, or carefully.
One other thing: We need to prove that we can tackle on defense. The era of bad angles and pansy tackling leading to big plays just has to stop. This Jets' offense isn't special. It can be shut down, and the Raiders can do it.
Well, don't expect much tonight during the fourth and final preseason game...
Per JMac, here's who won't be playing at all: Quarterback Matt Schaub, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, running backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, fullback Marcel Reece, wide receivers Rod Streater and James Jones, tight end David Ausberry, defensive linemen Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, linebacker Kaelin Burnett, linebackers Nick Roach and Sio Moore, cornerbacks Taiwan Jones, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chimdi Chekwa and safety Charles Woodson.
As JMac says, "Coach Dennis Allen has seen enough of them in meaningless games and he has deemed the final game better suited to taking a look at players who aren’t assured of making the roster." I see the wisdom in that...and yet after last week's drubbing by the Packers, Allen said, “It was a good opportunity for us to measure ourselves to see exactly where we’re at. We’re obviously not there yet as a football team. We’re going to continue to work. We’re going to get there.” You wonder if this group couldn't use at least a bit more game time to get things in snyc?
But Derek Carr will be there, trying presumably to just not get thumped and to somehow make a statement without any legit help at the other skill positions.
I'll watch, probably with my hands over my eyes. Bang it here for your in-game takes!
Tonight, I'd like to see Matt Schaub seize the reins of the quarterback job and to show us why we put the 2014 season on his shoulders in the first place. I'd like to see our receivers hang onto the ball. I'd like to see our defensive backs figure out a way to stop getting smoked. I'd like to see Mack take a firm step forward. I've actually heard some people say that Matt McGloin is, at the moment, our best option at quarterback. You know the saying that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any? How about three quarterbacks? We don't need three quarterbacks. We need Schaub to be what he was brought here to be, not become Matt Flynn redux. We need Carr to get healthy quick and show us that he's ready to be the future, whenever that comes. And we need McGloin to be a capable backup, not our best option--because if McGloin ever becomes our best option this year, then something has gone terribly wrong.
There will be penalties. I don't buy into the conspiracy stuff. Everyone's talking about the proliferation of penalties right now. There were 32 flags thrown in a game the other day. The NFL is instituting new rules that leave receivers completely untouched after five yards. It's the new NFL, I don't like it, it's too video game-ish for me, but we have to adapt or die. The important thing is that we cut down on the stupid penalties. Those are things we can control, at least theoretically. I've got a sinking feeling about this season, but tonight might make me feel better. I plan to be blogging away here during the game, hope you will join me. Let's go RAIDERS!
Ah, training camp. Gotta love it. It's not even August yet, but there seems to be just a hint of Autumn Wind in the air...
Now, as far as which way the wind blows in 2014, I foresee this season either being a bridge or a cliff. I don't see much middle ground, and I think this season breaks one of two ways: If it's a bridge, it will mean that our older free agent acquisitions still have gas left in the tank, and that Matt Schaub can still capably sling the ball, giving room for young players to grow while providing a competitive lift. Our latest draft picks will prove to be impact players, and earlier picks like Hayden will begin to gain ground. If this is the case, then we will have evidence to suggest that the ship has been righted, and that Captain Reggie and Crew are navigating us in the direction of the promised land. If it's a cliff, it will mean that we did too little, too late in matters of reconstruction, with Schaub and our free agent acquisitions failing to make a substantial impact. It will suggest that the offeseason action was more of a desperate act to play catch-up after two abysmal seasons rather than the next steps in a carefully orchestrated plan. The preceding two-year period of so-called "deconstruction" will fail to bear obvious fruit, and Reggie and Crew will go tumbling off of the cliff, and we'll be starting over again. If it's a bridge, you will sense it. It may not translate to a winning record yet, but the momentum will be palpable. Mark Davis put it brilliantly the other day: "You can feel progress. You can see it in games. Are we finishing games? Are we starting off games well and not finishing them? There were games last year where we didn’t show up."
If it's a cliff, it will be obvious as well. But let's not entertain that possibility any further at the moment.
As Davis said, we're undefeated right now. Let the Autumn Wind blow, and may it carry us along a bridge toward a new horizon.
So, our offense will ostensibly be led by Matt Schaub this year. My hope is that we get good Matt, and not bad Matt, ie: the 2013 edition.
Last year, bad Matt had Andre Johnson (1,400 yards) on his side, as well as a half season of Arian Foster (4.5 yards per carry).
If good Matt shows up this year, he still may find his support group lacking in the skills (ie: skill position) department.
Here are the Raiders' 2014 projected top two skill position players at WR and RB, along with their stats from last year:
James Jones - 59 catches, 817 yards (for the Packers) Rod Streater - 60 catches, 888 yards Darren McFadden - 379 yards, 3.3 yards average per carry Maurice Jones-Drew - 803 yards, 3.4 yards average per carry (for the Jaguars) TE: Ausberry (injured last year) or Rivera (38 catches, 407 yards) Not sure there's a real #1 at either the receiver or running back position, which could really handcuff our offense this year. Even good Matt Schaub can only do so much. Needless to say, our RBs and WRs not only need to step up, but also stay healthy. If they do, significant progress can be made. If they don't, it could be brutal. Which way do you think the offensive wind blows this year?
Is it possible to be supportive of the Reggie McKenzie Regime and excited about things going forward, while maintaining a critical eye and questioning decisions along the way? Increasingly no, at least not if you surf around the Raiders message boards, including this one. It's either Reggie Sucks or Reggie Is The Bomb, with very little middle ground.
Once again, we are eating our own, not unlike the later Al Davis days, when one side was always shouting loudly to gloss over obvious horrible decision-making, and the other side was intractably giving the man no credit for returning the team to some measure or respectability with 8-8 records. Here's an exchange from a live chat the other day with the Oakland Tribune's Steve Corkran: Q: I feel like I wasted 2 years of my Raider life on the past 2 seasons.
This 'deconstruction' should have happened in 2012 and the
'reconstruction' should have been last year. Agree Cork?
A: I have banged that drum for two years. People want to give Reggie McKenzie a free pass for two years. Not me. He should have done the entire purge in 2012 and added more core players than he did the past two seasons. Now, that's just the opinion of one beat writer, but I think it's a reasonable opinion, although an easy one to have in retrospect.
Anyhow, why can't you be excited about the Raiders (seemingly) being ready to turn a corner, while being critical of them for not turning the corner sooner? The idea that you can't question or critique your own team--even when things are going well--is ludicrous. Even fans of the NFL's perennial contenders are naturally driven to question and critique decisions.
It seems like we're no longer willing to listen to each other.
It's more about picking a side and defending that side to the bitter end, and refusing to acknowledge that in any sports organization, there are going to be both good and poor decisions made on an ongoing basis, with the balance of those decisions making the difference between a winning team and a losing team. As fans, we observe these decisions in real time, and give our takes in real time. That's what fans do. You might love a draft pick that I don't. If that's the case, it shouldn't be because we're on opposite sides of an ironclad mindset, but because we're applying some form of impartial, reasoned analysis, even if we agree to disagree.
Here's my take: If you don't like to hear any negative takes, tough. If you don't like to hear positive takes, tough. Because here are Raider Take, you're always going to hear both.
Let's get this draft party started early! Thursday will be here before we know it, so let the pontifications and prognostications begin. Now, regarding the pre-draft statements and rumors surrounding the Oakland Raiders, this is what I have to say: Smoke, meet Mirror. One recent report declared that the Raiders have zero interest in drafting a quarterback in the first round. Today, Reggie McKenzie said there's not a bit of hot-seat urgency impacting his draft board. Okey, dokey. We'll see about that.
“You draft for the future...You don’t draft for right now," Reggie said.
But I would say that drafting for the future and drafting for right now aren't mutually exclusive. It's possible to draft immediate impact players who also elevate your future. It happens all the time in the NFL.
Elite talent tends to assert itself pretty quickly in the NFL. So when you are savvy enough to select an elite player, you're not drafting for the future nor are you drafting for today. You're drafting for both. In other words, it's high time for an elite player to be identified and selected by the Oakland Raiders, and for the Raiders to find their gem and outsmart the competition, be it in the first round or beyond. So go ahead and draft for the future.
I don't know how this next season is going to turn out. I don't think anybody does. We might have a better sense after the draft, but even then, we’ll just be guesstimating. Will Reggie’s picks pan out? Will our new free agents mesh? Will Dennis Allen come into his own as a coach? We shall see.
But I do know what the narratives will be if we show tangible improvement…and if we don’t. If the Raiders show up for real in 2014, the narrative will be that patience pays off, and that Reggie was finally able to mold the roster in accordance with his vision. The many veteran free agent pickups will viewed as savvy moves. The misadventures at the beginning of free agency will be forgotten, and the recent drafts will be viewed in a softer light, if not as a smashing success. The doubts about Dennis Allen will fade, and the Raiders will be viewed as an up-and-coming contender.
If the Raiders bomb in 2014 (which I consider six or less wins), the narrative will be that Reggie forgot that the word "deconstruction" contains the word "construction." The veteran free agency pickups will be viewed dubiously for making the team costlier and older without generating substantive improvement. We'll be wondering just how many drafts and how long it will take for Reggie's Raiders to merely rise above the median of eight wins. Four years? Five? The question might be moot, as Reggie will likely be canned.
So while I can't say what will happen in September, I do know what we'll be saying come December.
The last time the Raiders were relevant, they rose to prominence with an unproven head coach, a journeyman quarterback, and a mix of young homegrown talent and older veterans acquired through free agency. It kind of sounds like the 2014 Raiders, doesn't it? The problem is, that it also sounds like the Raiders of 2003 - 2011. During that period, the Raiders fielded no shortage of unproven head coaches, journeymen quarterbacks, high draft picks and veteran free agents. Such is the difference between Jon Gruden and Lane Kiffin or Tom Cable; between Rich Gannon and Aaron Brooks or Jason Campbell; the likes of homegrown legends like Tim Brown and Charles Woodson vs. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Huff; motivated acquired veterans like Bill Romanowski, Rod Woodson and Jerry Rice vs. non-factors like Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour, DeAngelo Hall and Randy Moss.
There's no doubt that Reggie McKenzie has cleaned up some of the craziness that plagued the Raiders prior to his arrival, which included some of the most awful free agent signings in memory, and an apolcalyptic four-year stretch of first round draft picks that looks like this: JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McLain.
That said, and it's something I haven't heard anyone else talk about, it's almost eerie to me how much the "new" Raiders resemble the old Raiders.
Now you can debate whether or not the new Raiders are closer in potential/upside to the 2000-2002 model or the 2003--2011 model. But when you get right down to the hiring of an unproven first-time head coach in Dennis Allen, the turnstile of journeymen quarterbacks, the focus in free agency on older vets who may or may not have much left in the tank, all layered upon a core of young draft picks (and right down to the questionable first-round cornerback pick of last year, which was remeniscient of Mr. Davis), well, it sort of looks like deja vu all over again. Hopefully this time it will help us recapture the glory days instead of spinning our wheels.
So word on the street is that Rodger Safford failed his physical, so the deal is off, and a hole has re-opened on our offensive line. Yes, it's early. Yes, free agency is a marathon, not a sprint. But it never hurts to start strong.
Here's where my patience is being tested...
From the perspective of the GM position, wouldn't slashing the payroll, getting the financial house in order and notching two 4-12 seasons in the process be relatively easy?
What wouldn't be easy is being shrewd in coaching hires, in the draft, and in free agency along the way to keep the ball moving forward for a quicker turnaround. And I don't see evidence that we've done much of that over the past two years.
If I tell you to cut your grocery bill by 40 percent, it's painful, but not hard to do. You just spend less.
But cooking a great meal on that smaller budget? Now that's where the chef shines or fails.
Chef Reggie needs to get cooking, even though he just lost another ingredient.
Please tell me that there's a master plan in place, and that it's just beginning to unfold... Six weeks ago, if you told me that we'd re-sign Darren McFadden and lose Rashad Jennings, Jared Veldheer and Lamar Houston on the first day of free agency, well, I don't know what I would have said. And now that it has happened, I still don't know what to say. It seems like you would begin rebuilding by first retaining the best building blocks at hand.
I'm not saying that Jennings, Veldheer and Houston are elite, but they were pretty darned good, especially by the standards of the Oakland roster. Building is the act of adding, not replacing, is it not?
Now we need to act swiftly and decisively on two fronts: replacing and adding.
It seems like a tall order for a Raiders team that already on such an uphill climb. We've supposedly taken care of Veldheer's absence by the signing of Rodger Saffold. Can he protect the blind side? We'll see.
McFadden underperforms and stays, and Jennings outperforms and goes? 'K.
So back to that master plan. There has to be one, right? So this is no time to panic.
That said, if you're getting nervous, it's understandable. The stakes are high, and the offseason game is on. Let's see how the Raiders play it out.
MASTER PLAN UPDATE: Raiders sign offensive lineman Austin Howard!
Nnamdi Asomugha's retirement has been nagging me every since he announced it. Now, as we approach the 2014 draft, I think I know why.
Nnamdi was perhaps our only elite player of the non-kicker variety in 10 years. Or so we thought. As soon as he left the Raiders, he faltered, and then completely flamed out, and has now given up the game at a time when he's still five years younger than Charles Woodson. And that's the best player we've produced in 10 years? It's depressing.
How cruelly ironic that a team whose motto is Commitment to Excellence has been so lacking in it... Anyhow, onward to the draft discussion... Look who has the first five draft slots this year: Texans, Rams, Jaguars, Browns and Raiders.
What do all of these teams have in common? Grease fires at the quarterback position.
The other four teams have more genuinely established playmakers than the Raiders: The Texans have Andre Johnson, the Rams have a great pass rush, the Jaguars have MJD, the Browns have Josh Gordon...But without solid play at quarterback, they all suck. Now look at the five teams picking last: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, Niners, Panthers. The common thread isn't hard to find there: franchise quarterbacks. I'm not saying that a great defense and elite skill players are immaterial. Far from it, given what we saw in the playoffs and Super Bowl this year.
But I am saying that a franchise quarterback is the surest, most efficient tool for executing a turnaround. Who's the best receiver out there? Megatron, or Josh Gordon or Dez Bryant. All sitting home for the playoffs. The best running back? Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy? The Vikings are flailing, the Eagles were one and done in the playoffs. The Falcons gave up a king's ransom for Julio Jones, and he's damn good. But where has it gotten him?
We don't have to draft a quarterback in the first round, as long as the best quarterback isn't in the first round. We need to identify and GET the best quarterback, whether that means trading up or sitting back. That has to be priority number one, doesn't it?
The bottom line is that we need excellence on the Raiders. It's high time. There's a lot of money to spend, and a full draft ahead. We need a franchise quarterback, and some real playmakers. No more excuses. Reggie needs to rock this offseason. Here we go...
The notion that Matt McGloin or Terrelle Pryor is going to take us to the promised land is laughable. Stop kidding yourself. I know it's been a while since we've seen an elite player in Oakland. But that's no excuse for kidding ourselves.
We need to find a franchise quarterback, sooner rather than later. Look at who's left in the NFL Playoffs: Manning, Brady, Brees, Rivers, Kaepernick, Luck, Wilson and Newton. It's not a coincidence. The pedigrees of Manning, Brady and Brees are unquestioned. It's safe to say that Luck is on his way to becoming the next great thing. Kaepernick is taking his team deep for the second straight year. Russell Wilson is going to be around for a long time. You could say that Rivers and Newton aren't elite, although Newton is knocking at the door. This bears repeating from an earlier take, quoting a piece in CBS Sports: The Indianapolis Colts raised the bar on rebuilding by going from a 2-14 record in 2011 to the playoffs in 2012 after a roster purge similar to Oakland's. Indianapolis had a league-high $38.79 million of dead money last season (2012). The biggest difference in the two situations is the Colts were able to draft a franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, in 2012 with the first overall pick while one wasn't available for the Raiders in this year's draft.
Luck is making hay with T.Y. Hilton, DHB (!), LaVon Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers. The Colts are still rebuilding, and they're in the playoffs for the second straight year. Luck is an extreme example, as he's a once-a-decade kind of a prospect, but he demonstrates the palliative power of the QB position in today's NFL.
In other words, the sooner we find an elite QB, the sooner we become a perennial contender. Period. Now, that's the rub, isn't it? Elite QB's aren't exactly falling out of trees.
The 2014 is said to be a QB-rich draft, but only one or or maybe two of them will pan out as franchise quarterbacks. So what's Reggie to do? Focus on the right prospect, and go all out in drafting him, even if that means trading up.
But what if he gets it wrong? Well, here's my answer: don't.
I'm sick of all of the excuses as to why the Raiders never seem to veer into the elite. You can talk about thin free agency classes, how the draft is a crapshoot, etc.
That may be true. But if you take that thinking to the Nth degree, then what you are saying is that the NFL is just a roulette wheel, and we might as well let chimpanzees sit in the executive chair.
That is not true. Yes, everyone misses. But some GMs and teams routinely miss less than others, and find a way to draft and sign free agents more effectively than others. Those are the teams that perennially contend. It's not luck (unless you're talking about Indy, in which case it is Luck).
The entire NFL missed on Wilson and Kaepernick through round one of their drafts. But you know who didn't? The Niners and Seahawks, who are both in the playoffs again. Did they get lucky? Maybe. But they also got "lucky" picking effective head case Aldon Smith over retired head case Rolando McLain, and picking sure-handed Crabtree over stone-fingered DHB, and drafting Richard Sherman instead of Chimdi Chekwa, and finding a way to trade for Anquan Boldin, Marshawn Lynch, etc.
It's not about being right all of the time. It's about being right more often than most.
The time has come for the Raiders to aspire to, and attain, that type of excellence. There's money in the bank, and we're now in three year of the rebuilding (or year one of the "reconstruction," if that's how you choose to look at it, hah!).
Is it unfair to say that Reggie and the Raiders need to hit it out of the park in the 2014 draft and free agency market? At this point, I don't care if it is unfair, because it's high time.
Perennial contenders do it, and now the Raiders need to do it. Starting with the quarterback position.
Until John Fox pulled Peyton and started pumping the brakes, it was one of the most pitiful halves in Raiders history. After 30 minutes, Manning was on pace for eight touchdowns and 530 yards, aided not only by a biblically overmatched defense, but also by a pea-shooting offense that could barely scrape up a first down to keep the Broncos off the field.
Mercifully, the season is over, and we are no longer obligated to watch bad football. Now the so-called "reconstruction" begins.
If you want to read a lengthy and informed take on what Reggie McKenzie was up against, check out this piece by a former agent on CBS Sports, which details the epic hole that the Raiders had dug for themselves before Reggie arrived.
I've been saying that a franchise quarterback is priority number one, and I stand firm in that take. Here's a nugget from the aforementioned article that provides ample food for quarterback thought as it relates to the Raiders and this pivotal "year three" for Reggie and Co.: The Indianapolis Colts raised the bar on rebuilding by going from a 2-14 record in 2011 to the playoffs in 2012 after a roster purge similar to Oakland's. Indianapolis had a league-high $38.79 million of dead money last season (2012). The biggest difference in the two situations is the Colts were able to draft a franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, in 2012 with the first overall pick while one wasn't available for the Raiders in this year's draft.
Substitute a pick like Jedeveon Clowney or even the most elite established defensive lineman in the NFL today for Andrew Luck and do you think we're having the same conversation about the Colts and their two consecutive playoff berths?
Coach Allen said this after yesterday's drubbing: "I fully believe that I deserve the opportunity to come back here and get a chance to, as we've said, go through the deconstruction phase... I want to be part of the rebuilding phase."
When asked if the team was putting full effort into the game, he said, "There's no question. Listen, when you look at the tape, guys are flying around, all right? We didn't make enough plays. But there's no lack of effort, there's no lack of trying."
Personally, I'm thankful that the conversation will necessarily change in 2014. There will no longer be all of this talk about deconstruction and reconstruction, as if they are two wholly independent processes. There will no longer be any room for excuses about blaming a lack of talent (as opposed to, say, questionable coaching and scheming) for guys "flying around" and missing tackles, missing assignments and missing fundamentals.
The era of excuses is finally over. Now it's all about Just Win, Baby. The rubber is about to hit the road. It's going to be exciting and telling. We know that it can't get worse. How much better it's going to get, and how quickly, remains to be seen. Grab your popcorn. This is going to an offseason to remember.