Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Narratives of 2014

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.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Case of Deja Vu

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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's Hot Stove Time

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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Destination Unknown

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!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Conundrum of Excellence

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...

Monday, January 06, 2014

It's All About The QB

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. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

One Postgame (and Postseason) Take

Well, what can you say...

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.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Broncos Gameday Thread

Well, it's time once again for the annual rite of hammering the nails into the coffin of another lost season. 

We'll see today if our team has any fight left, or if they've already mentally left the building. 

Where we go after this remains to be seen. I can't see it getting any worse. But to execute a significant turnaround in 2014, everyone in the building will need to step up their game.

I will be live blogging this game. Join me and let the takes fly.

P.S. This just in from Amy Trask... 

P.P.S. NFL.com reporting that DA has organizational support for a third year...

Monday, December 23, 2013

One Postgame Take

Well, that was a fitting and emblematic end, eh? The five-minute two-minute drill. McGloin getting pressured and heaving the ball in desperation. The ball miraculously finding the cradle of Reece's arms, only to tumble sadly to the turf...

Like I said before, I'm not feeling McGloin as a future starter for the Raiders. And that's okay. He was undrafted. He's doing a pretty good job under the circumstances. Asking more from him is asking a lot. 

Cooler heads seem to be prevailing here at Raider Take with regard to keeping Dennis Allen around for next year. I'm okay with that, because coaching stability is something we haven't really tried before. Maybe it's what we need. 

I think it's pretty clear that this team is struggling with focus, fundamentals, situational awareness and discipline as we head into this very pivotal year flush with cash and draft picks. All of that needs to change, pronto.

We've certainly proven that we can deconstruct. It's the construction that's still lacking. To suggest that these are two wholly independent and successive processes is also questionable. First you deconstruct! Then you construct! No. You should always be constructing. 

I don't buy that winning eight (or nine, who knows next week!) games over two years and concluding the second year with complete nosedive and a paper-thin roster is evidence of a well executed blueprint, no matter how bad things were at the start.

But I'm not convinced that management and coaching turnover is the answer, either. So my take is that EVERYONE needs to step up their game right now, management, coaches and players. The management and coaches don't get a pass. They all need to do better. The future is now.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chargers Gameday Thread

Pride is on the line today. There's reason we can't beat the Chargers today, because we did it earlier this season. It's time to snap this miserable losing streak and regain some competitive flair. GO RAIDERS!

Monday, December 16, 2013

One Postgame Take

Showtime, it turns out, was shameful.

We gave up the most points in the vaunted history of the Oakland Raiders. We gave up the most points in a single game in the NFL this year. We gave up four passing touchdowns to a single running back, the first time that's ever been done in the NFL. 

How is it that our defense, which looked like a strong point earlier this year, has suddenly become as soft as a marshmallow over a campfire? How does that happen?


Fair or not, it doesn't reflect well on our coaching staff. Dennis Allen's background is in defense. Tarver was being celebrated eight weeks ago for whipping our defense into shape. Now they are both presiding over a defensive grease fire. Last year, the Raiders gave up 55 points to the Ravens. That means that two of the four highest point totals ever yielded in the history of the Oakland Raiders have come under their tenure. 

Amazingly, this game was close for a few seconds. After a shockingly inept start, our offense started piling on points. But the defense quickly made it moot.

McGloin tossed some amazing passes, but also some amazing interceptions. He looked alternately awful and sharp. Right now, I see his career taking more of a Josh McCown direction than a Drew Brees one. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't bank on it.

We need to develop a cornerstone quarterback, pronto. Look at the perennial contenders in the NFL right now, the Seahawks, Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Niners, etc. Throw in perennial contenders and Super Bowl winners having down years like the Steelers and Giants, and teams on the rise like the Panthers and Eagles. All of them are helmed by quarterbacks they drafted.

Sure, you can hit the free agent jackpot every blue moon like the Saints did with Brees. You can change your fortunes with a guy like Alex Smith. Or the stars could align and Peyton Manning could become available. But by and large, the blueprint to success in the NFL has been written. You need a franchise quarterback, and that typically comes through the draft.

As for what to do on defense, well, if you can't tackle or cover screen passes, I give up.
 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Showtime!

There's no other way to put it: It's showtime in Oakland as the Raiders face three AFC West rivals to conclude the 2013 season.

There's been much debate here about the progress of the Raiders over the past two years under Mark Davis, Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen. 

Some feel it's been a failure, some (including myself) see progress but expected to see more at this point, and others are fully on board and feel confident that Reggie and DA have done as much as they could given the hand they were dealt. Let's call this the Raiders Progress Scale.

In recent comments, Mark Davis expressed that he is pleased with the progress and sounded bullish on Reggie McKenzie. At the same time, he didn't sound like a guy who's going to be too happy if the recent competitive fade continues down the home stretch against three AFC West rivals. 

In other words, it's showtime. I think all of us can agree, wherever we currently land on the Raiders Progress Scale, that it won't be a good look if the Raiders fizzle away into a second-straight record of 4-12. 

The road won't be easy. The Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos are all looking formidable right now. 

That said, the Raiders were competitive against some strong teams earlier this year. In fact, the story of the first half of the season was how competitive the Raiders were, especially the defense. The story of the second half has become how bad our roster is, and how can we expect it to be competitive? 

It doesn't add up. 

Our defense can play strong, and our offense can score points. How do I know that? Because they've already shown us. 

So here we are, firmly in the proving ground once again. The players need to look to leaders like Charles Woodson and take his message to heart. DA and the coaching staff need to find a way to keep the players motivated and recapture the competitiveness. 

If they can do that, then it will be all systems go into year three of this regime, flush with cash and a full draft ahead. If they can't, then don't be surprised if the new year begins with a change at head coach.

It's going to be exciting and interesting. We're not playing for the playoffs right now, but we are playing for next year. It's time to make a statement, to start tackling properly again and for all three units to show up on the same day. 

Starting tomorrow.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

One Postgame Take

A headline after today's game: "Jets vs Raiders: Geno Smith ends streak of 5 games without a touchdown pass." Just in time for Christmas, our defense has regressed to become the gift that keeps on giving. Smith’s passer ratings over the preceding three games were 10, 22 and 8. Today, his rating was 88. Prior to today's game, Geno Smith was a punchline. Tonight, he's a storyline. Charles Woodson called today's defensive performance "inexcusable." (and that wasn't all he said.) He is right, so please hold the excuses. When Smith turned away from the sideline and lowered his shoulder to take on one of our DBs instead of stepping out of bounds at the end of a 32-yard run in the fourth quarter, that was all you needed to know about how fearsome our defense was today. Two plays later, Chris Ivory busted four "tackles" for a 15-yard touchdown. With less than six minutes to go, we were on the move and down 17, making it a three score game. With 5:24 on the clock at the Jets' 33-yard line, Reece ran for seven yards. The next snap came at the 4:45 mark. Do the math. The only thing keeping the clown car in the garage tonight is the 27 points we were able to post. McGloin's a scrapper, but I'll be surprised if he turns into a franchise quarterback. I just don't see it. Special teams? Not special. As NY Raider said, we were outplayed and out-coached today. I've spent much of the past week defending myself for daring to question if things weren't proceeding optimally in the executive and coaching ranks of the Oakland Raiders. There's no doubt that the decks were stacked against Reggie and DA when they came on board, but that doesn't mean they've made the most of the opportunity to date. We've been rebuilding for two years, and it seems like we're still pounding nails into the foundation. I've been told that Year 3 is when everything changes. Well, Year 3 starts in four weeks. They'd better hit the ground running.

Jets Gameday Thread

Today's theme is "righting the ship." This is a very winnable game for team that needs to win one after two disappointing finishes against the Titans and Cowboys.

Here are Geno Smith’s passer ratings in each of the past three games: 10.1, 22.3 and 8.3. Our defense should be rested and licking its chops. Our offense, however, needs to be prepared for a stout Jets attack.

After this, we face the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos. If we can go 2-2 over these last few games, we'll reach six wins. A win today would make that  distinct possibility. GO RAIDERS!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cowboys Gameday Thread

Happy Thanksgiving, amigos. I'm thankful for the opportunity to steward Raider Take (eight years strong!) and to be a part of the community that YOU have all created here.

The theme of today's game is "surprise, surprise," because that's what it's going to take for us to contain the Cowboys. If we play the type of defense we did last Sunday, we are going to get absolutely smoked by Romo & Co. So we need to change it up and step it up fast, and keep this season from circling the drain. GO RAIDERS!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Five Postgame Takes

1. There's nothing like pulling into the Coliseum parking lot at 9 a.m., cracking a beer, cooking some meat and socializing with the Raider Nation wildlife. It's such a great neighborhood, and you can't beat the ambiance. The Raiders might disappoint, but the tailgate never does.

2. The numbers lie. That was largely a clown show on defense. On that one touchdown, when their guy did a simple juke and left two of our guys gyrating in the dust, I swear I saw the ghost of Stuart Schweigart. Our third-down containment was a joke. Any time we got near Fitzpatrick, he spun and rolled out of danger with the same turn move over and over (hey, how about anticipating that after you've seen it three times?). And that last drive had such an air of inevitability, it was hard to watch. By the last snap, I could see the easy touchdown from a mile away. I was Nostradamus. We all were. 

3. Matt McGloin is 6"1', and looks it out there. For the average dude, that's a nice height. But for an NFL quarterback? Well, Russell Wilson is two inches shorter than that, so it can be done. But if I recall correctly, four of McGloin's passes were squarely blocked. It got old quick. He's going to have to find a workaround. 

4. I wish they would pull back on the $35 parking fee. For someone working a minimum wage job, that's most of a day's work after taxes. It's robbery. If you want all of those seats filled, you need to think about that. If I recall correctly, parking was $20 not that long ago. Another annoyance is the intensified "security theater," limiting all bags to clear plastic and creating an airport-like choke point at the point of entry. It makes life harder, and I don't believe it's making us safer. 

5. The fan experience was awesome as always. This organization needs to field a product to match. It's been a long wait, and we're still waiting. Patience is being preached, and at this point, it's a sermon we'll have to accept. 




Saturday, November 23, 2013

Titans Gameday Thread

This week's theme is "time to reset." 

Can we pivot off of last week's victory and reset the tone of this season starting Sunday? Can McGloin prove that it wasn't beginner's luck last week, and that he's a true diamond in the rough? 

I will find out first hand, as I will be at the game. Stay tuned! RAIII-DERRS!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Texans Gameday Thread

Well, the Matt McGloin era begins, however short it may prove to be...The Raiders need to regroup and show us something today. The slide ends today. GO RAIDERS!