Friday, October 02, 2015

Bears Gameday Thread

If the Raiders are truly going to exercise their demons, this is exactly the type of game they need to win, specifically because it's a game they are supposed to win. We haven't gotten many such games in recent years, and even those traditionally haven't gone well.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Raiders are giving up 414 yards per game so far this year. That is rock bottom in the NFL. 

Meanwhile, the Bears have lost three straight to...the Packers, Cardinals and Seahawks, three of the most formidable teams in the NFL. In other words, the Bears might not be quite as bad as they look at first glance.

So while the Raiders should win this game, it likely won't be a cakewalk, and the defense had better tighten things up. It will help if Jimmy Clauson is slinging it on Sunday, but we'd better not be looking past this team.

So GO RAIDERS, go forth and build upon the momentum and turn this mini-turnaround into a trend on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

One Postgame Take

Sundays have been rough on me so far this September, but I was able to find a quiet place to watch the second half last week and witness the majestic accomplishment of reaching 2-1 after a Clown Car start to the season.

The ridiculous conservative playcalling on our second-to-last drive could have undone the whole thing, but a flubbed punt return by the Browns bailed Musgrave out.

It was an example of the breaks finally going our way, just as they did late in the Ravens game. 

It was also an example of the Raiders winning exactly the type of of game they've been known for losing, just as they did against the Ravens (you know, the close game where they prevent a win on a defense, or can't punch in that final score in the last minutes). 

It was an example of building on momentum, which is something we've rarely seen lately. 

It was a sense of "out with the old, in with the new" cultural shift, with Mack, Cooper and Carr cutting loose and redefining the Raiders.

On paper, these are two solid wins. But there's something that feels immensely symbolic about them, as if demons are being exorcised. They are the games we always lose--but somehow didn't. 

(Speaking of symbolism, how about the Niners going down the drain over the past two weeks after a strong first game)

The sample size is still small, but there's no denying that a blast of Minty Fresh air has suddenly blown through the Raider Nation.

So now come the Bears. Another type of game we typically lose--you know, the momentum buster, the "how did they lose to those guys when they looked so good last week" kind of game. 

If we go 3-1, it's time to fasten your seat belts. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Browns Gameday Thread

My apologies for not doing a postgame take this week, lots of traveling, didn't even get to see the game but was able to tune into the radio call of the fourth quarter. It was an amazing victory, they kind of game the Raiders seem to have always lost lately, but this time they didn't. Hopefully some demons were buried. 

Now onto the beatable Browns. Let's make this 2-1. GO RAIDERS!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ravens Gameday Thread

The sooner we can move on from last week, the better, so I'm getting this gameday thread going early. 

Picking up from last Sunday, areas where we need improvement are: running, receiving, throwing, secondary, pressuring, special teams, preparation, playcalling....oh, I give up.

There is simply NO excuse for a continuation of what we saw last week. We have to assume, or at least hope, that it was a blip on the radar. 

On that note, we should see some vast improvement and a competitive game on Sunday. Let's GO RAIDERS!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

One Postgame Take

I'll make this quick, because I'm on the road and on my mobile. I tuned into the second half on the radio just in time to hear Tom Flores describe the overall effort as "horrible," with a nod to "ridiculous." After the game, Jack DR describe it as "embarrassing." Mind you, these are not my words, although they very easily could be. They are the words of the current head coach as well as of one of our Super Bowl winning coaches.

I will add the Clown Car graphic to this take as soon as I can, as it was justly earned.
How can this team change personnel, change coaches, have drafts, have free agency, and still look so freaking similar to last year, and the year before that, and the year before that? It's like an ongoing episode of the Twilight Zone.
Let's just hope it was some sort of weird blip, and not a sign of things to come, which would be yet another trip back to the future.

Bengals Gameday Thread

As demonstrated, the minimum expectation heading into this year (at least as far as the ownership-management regime is concerned) is a .500 record.

So let's get the party started today, in Oakland, against a capable but by-no-means indomitable team. Stuff the run, don't give up the big play, establish tempo on offense and be judiciously creative. GO RAIDERS!

Friday, September 04, 2015

The Math of Expectations

The Raiders should be expected to notch eight wins this year at a minimum, given the time and tools available to Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie in recent years. And here's the fuzzy math to prove it: 

For starters, this exercise aims to be conservative and reasonable in its analysis. On that note, let's give Mark/Reggie a complete pass for 2012. It was a year to clean house, or at least get it in order. That year, the Raiders went 4-12. 

So our win basis for today's exercise is four. That is our starting point.

Now, the whole point of free agency and the draft is to get better, not worse. In other words, with each draft and free agency period, there's an expectation of improvement with a positive impact on results.

Furthermore, the arrival of a better coach and coaching staff should also have a positive impact on results.

In other words, there are expectations that come with executing things like the draft, free agent signings and coach hirings. 

Which brings us to what I would call The Math of Expectations:

Let's begin by assigning values to minimal expectations of a job done well in running an NFL team, and specifically a rebuilding team that sorely lacks talent.

For a rebuilding team, a competent job in free agency should conservatively result in a gain of .75 of a win in the standings. Over the past two years (when we've truly had money to spend), that would add up to 1.5 wins.

I think you could also make a conservative estimate that the same holds for the draft (a gain of .75 wins per complete draft). Therefore, the past three complete drafts should add up to at least 2.25 expected wins.

Therefore, the cumulative conservative expectation is 2.25 wins + 1.5 wins since 2013.

Together, this adds up to an expected gain of 3.75 wins accumulated over the past three drafts and two free agency periods. 

Next up, the coaching factor. I will be conservative on this front as well. At a bare minimum, replacing Dennis Allen & Co. with a better staff should be worth at least one extra win. Improving results is the whole point of changing coaches, right?

Given that, we now have a minimum expectation of 4.75 wins gained.

Now, as explained at the top, our baseline starting point for Mark/Reggie was four wins. Add to that the 4.75 expected wins gained as outlined above, and you have a reasonable expectation of 8.75 wins by the conclusion of the 2015 season. And to be more conservative, let's round it down to eight wins, ie: a .500 record.

Some will say, hey wait a minute, we went 3-13 last year, so how can the baseline be four wins. My answer is that the expectations are not simply erased by missing the expectations. You're supposed to get better in the draft and free agency. That's the expectation. If you don't  get better, that doesn't mean the expectation was wrong or that it has been erased. It just means that the expectation was not met. 

So there you have it. The Raiders should reach .500 this year. Now it's time to see if they will. Aim high, go Raiders!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Reggie McKenzie, Home Run Hitter

I have to laugh when folks defend Reggie McKenzie's first complete draft as general manager of the Raiders in 2013.

It was not a good draft. For our first pick, we selected a CB who was recuperating from a life-threatening injury. For our second pick, we selected a lineman who'd been playing the game of football for less than three years. More than two years later, both have yet to demonstrate value comparable to their draft slots. They smacked of projects at the time, and they still look like projects, which is exactly what a rebuilding team didn't need: multi-year projects. The decision making was nothing short of bizarre in the first two rounds.

In the third round, we got Sio Moore (Associated Press headline last week: "Sio Moore Fighting for Spot on Team). In the fourth round, we drafted a quarterback who was demoted to the practice squad before the start of the season.

Latavius Murray and Mychal Rivera in the sixth round were nice gets, but not enough to salvage the earlier missteps.

Those who defend the 2013 draft apparently don't know what a good draft looks like, which is odd, because they've had a front-row seat to what a good draft actually looks like, because Reggie McKenzie has turned in a couple over the past two years. 

In the first two rounds (the money rounds) of the 2014 draft, Reggie grabbed what looks like a Hall-of-Fame caliber talent in Kahlil Mack, and a possible long-term starting quarterback in Derek Carr. He followed that up with a what looks looks like a game-changing WR in Amari Cooper in the first round this year. Mario Edwards in the second round looks pretty strong, too. 

Talk about an about-face. Talk about hitting some home runs. Talk about back-to-back  triumphs. Those are really good drafts, if not truly great (we need to play some games first).

It's no secret that I have been critical of Reggie McKenzie. I still am when I think it's merited. I think our free agency execution has been lacking, and I think that, combined with a bad draft in 2013, has led to a snail's pace on the comeback trail. I'm not sure why we had to wait three years for Jack Del Rio to come in and inform the organization that it needed to get its football facilities up to standard

So while I don't give Reggie and A-grade as general manager so far, he seems to have aced the past two drafts as far as the money rounds are concerned.

I've always said that elite talent never takes long to assert itself. That's why Amari Cooper is already our #1 receiver, why Derek Carr beat out Matt Schaub to cement his position as the starting QB as a rookie, and why Kahlil Mack is already renowned across the NFL. 

Kudos to Reggie for a pair of drafts that have netted us one, two or possibly three of the finest talents we've seen on a Raiders roster in a long time (kickers excepted). It gives us something to watch and to be excited about headed into 2016.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Run Fred, Run...To Oakland?

Look, I'm not advocating making a declining running back an alleged centerpiece of our rushing attack (ie: MJD circa 2014).

But Fred Jackson just got cut, and he's probably a better option than our current backup, Trent Richardson.

Jackson caught 66 passes and averaged 3.7 yards per carry for the woeful Bills last year. Richardson caught 27 passes and averaged 3.3 yards per carry last year for the powerful Colts. He has never averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry over a season. 

Our rushing attack looks woefully thin once again. Last night, we gained 37 net yards on the ground. I'm sorry, I don't expect Latavius Murray to light the world on fire this year. I'm sure he'll be good. But great? Unlikely. 

And if for some reason he gets hurt, it will be the "Trent Richardson show."

(From "In three games, here's the preseason rushing line for Oakland running back Trent Richardson: 15 carries, 42 yards, 2.8-yard average. Sound familiar, Browns/Colts fans?")

I don't know about you, but the "Fred Jackson show" may have a better ring to it? 

If so, maybe that's a hedge we want to play while he's still available.

A meaningful rushing attack is going to be vital to maximizing the potential of Cooper & Co. through the air. 

To meet that goal, no option should be left unexplored, even at this late hour.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Back on The Horse

Well, my annual spring layoff went right into summer this year...

In trying to analyze my extended ennui this offseason, I realized that I'm somewhat exhausted. 

Consider that 2015 marks the 10-year anniversary of Raider Take, which was inaugurated right before the start of the 2005 season. 

For 10 straight years, I've had the privilege of keeping the lights on here for you rowdy renegades, and I will continue to do so. 

Along the way, I've aimed to stay informed for the purpose of producing my own original takes. The Raiders haven't done me any favors in this department, with a 10-year period of play that has been one of the most abysmal in the history of the NFL. It can wear a blogger down after a decade.

But even though there hasn't been a lot to celebrate, it's been a lot of fun. On that note, I'll stop driving down memory lane and try to get back on track...

Last year around this time, my big question mark was the skill positions. We were heading into the season with zero playmakers (no true #1 receiver and a couple of dogs at RB and a guy named Matt Schaub at quarterback), which is sort of unfathomable in today's NFL, and which produced predictable results despite the fact that Carr unseated Schaub and showed great potential.

The addition of Amari Cooper is therefore a game changer, while the addition of Michael Crabtree hopefully provides enough oomph to keep Cooper from being gang-defensed. 

The running game, well, it all hinges on Latavius Murray. Did you see this video of Trent Richardson the other night (click here). I have very little faith in anyone behind Murray, so Murray not only needs to stay healthy, but also rise to the occasion. 

We don't have a shutdown defense. I think we're going to need to score a lot of points in order to notch wins. If the offense clicks, it could be fun. If it stutters, get ready for another long season. 

Carr and Cooper can't do it alone. It's going to take a breakout season from Murray, a return to form by Crabtree, and stout effort by the o-line in order to make this season successful.

Let's plan on that and see how it goes. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

R.I.P. Snake

Rumors of Raider Take's demise have been greatly exaggerated...

Alas, it took something tragic to get me off my ass and back on the horse: the unfortunate passing of Raiders legend Ken Stabler. 

I grew up in the 1970s in a Raiders household. I was young, but old enough to know that the team was something special, a rogue band of champions with a penchant for both heartbreak and miracle. 

At the center of it all was The Snake, dropping back to pass, the epitome of cool with his left-handed delivery, ruffian's beard and uncanny ability to pull rabbits out of hats.

Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio had a great opening take on the Snake and the Raiders this morning, I'm hoping it will be available on Podbean later today (he flubs a bit at first using Bradshaw's name instead of Stabler, but hey, that's live radio). For those of us old enough to remember such things, Cowherd eloquently encapsulates what it was like to be a young fan back in the 1970s, with the Raiders playing late afternoon games on television against rivals like the Chargers, Dolphins and Steelers, the lengthening shadows as the games wore on, and the seemingly always last-minute comebacks or heartbreaks. If you lived it, you know how indelible those memories are. There was nothing like the NFL in the 1970s, and Stabler's Raiders were the team most emblematic of the era.

If Joe Namath belongs in the Hall of Fame (and he's there), then certainly so does Kenny Stabler. It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Stats. Few were more famous than Stabler at the time, and perhaps no quarterback was at the center of such a glorious mix of triumphs, controversies, comebacks, last-minute thrills and colorful off-field exploits.

I'll have to come out of hibernation soon regarding the upcoming season, but today is a day of remembrance for a great Raider who will be missed. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Draft Day Thread

I'm getting this started early, as my availability on Thursday will be limited...

My theme for this draft is: expect the unexpected. 

You can draft the best player available, or you can target a specific need. But needs are aplenty on this roster, so its likely that we can kill two birds with one stone. 

We need playmakers in the skill positions, and WR Amari Cooper is said to be a temptation, though Leonard Williams looms large at DT. 

A lot of people think that Williams will be there, and that the Raiders will sprint to the podium to pick him. But that presumes that the Raiders will sit tight at #4, without trading their slot for other picks. And it also presumes that if that's the case, we know what the Raiders are thinking. 

But we don't know if they'll sit tight, and we don't know what we're thinking, which makes me want to expect the unexpected.

What's your take?  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Schedule Time

I'm recovering from my extended spring break from Raider Take and coming out of hibernation just in time for the 2015 schedule announcement.

Yes, we knew who our opponents would be. But the order of those games and where they are played is mighty important, and now we know how they all fit together. 

At first glance, I think this is one of our more favorable schedules in recent years. 

For example, in 2014, the Raiders played two games on the East Coast and one game in London within the first four weeks. Brutal. 

This year, we have some tough matchups against the Bengals and Ravens to open the season, but both are at home. Then we get two beatable teams in the Browns and Bears on the road. With one home win out of those first two games, we could be in a position to establish some real momentum in the first quarter of the season.

Then we get the Broncos at home, the Chargers on the road, and the lowly Jets at home. The Steelers might prove to be tough on the road the following week, but then there is some real potential to make progress against the Vikings, Lions and Titans over the following three games. At that point we'll be 11 games into the season.

If the Raiders can get their you-know-what together this year and play hard, capable and competitive football, I see some opportunities to exploit this schedule and position the team for an intriguing run on the home stretch of the season.

Those are some big ifs, but at least the schedule is fair, if not favorable, this year, which means we're already off to a good start.

What say you?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Free Agency: Fizzle or Foundational?

The Raiders haven't exactly been very aggressive during this 2015 free agency (and trading) period marked by big names, loud headlines and major movements.

Now, whether or not that's a good thing is open to debate. 

The one thing you shouldn't do in free agency--and especially if you're a rebuilding team with tons of money to spend--is spin your wheels or actually get worse. 

That's a test that Reggie McKenzie failed last year, as the team didn't get better, and arguably took a step back, during last year's free agency period. 

Just consider the running back position. We lost our best running back in Rashad Jennings in free agency, and retained McFadden and signed MJD, both of whom are now gone. Despite a few fireworks from Latavius Murray, we were dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2014. Epic fail, and an awful way to support a promising rookie QB. And now here come Richardson and Helu. Yay! Or more like: Yawn.

Last June, I penned a take called The Skill Drill, questioning the obvious lack of playmakers on offense. I don't want to have to repeat that take this year. 

That said, Reggie had a questionable draft in 2013, and then raised his draft game in 2014.

If he can execute similar improvement on the free agency front (results pending at the moment, but I'm not exactly psyched right now), and continue to draft well, then he'll have the Raiders in a viable position for becoming a contender sooner rather than later. If not, the pace of improvement will continue to be glacial.

It's clear that Reggie's not overly anxious about making a splash in free agency, otherwise he would have done it by now (and don't give me this business that big-name free agents don't want to come here, if Reggie has this team on the right path, then prospective free agents will notice and buy in; if the Bills and Dolphins can get players, we can too).

You might rue some of the names that have passed us by so far, but it's pretty clear that Reggie is following the model of the Packers, Patriots, etc. Those teams don't make a habit of throwing big money at big names in free agency.

I think that this is the guiding vision of the Raiders right now. That's the only explanation for what has transpired (or not) so far over the past few years during free agency, short of some sinister secret shackles put on Reggie by Mark Davis.

So I think there's a definite plan at work. Whether or not it's a winning plan (and if it is, how long it will take to translate to wins) is up for debate. And that's where you come in. Fire away...

Monday, February 09, 2015

That's The Spirit, Jack

Jack Del Rio on the Jim Rome Show:

Q: At 3-13 it would seem like the team is a long way from where you want it to be. Is that the case or do you see this thing turning around pretty quickly?

Del Rio: I’m not very patient, so we’re going to need to turn it around quickly. I don’t expect to come in here and look for excuses why we can’t get it done. I’m going to look for reasons why we will. I was visiting with Kenny Norton, and obviously we got Kenny done and got him here and I reminded him of how we were in Dallas in ’89 when we were playing together and that team was 1-15. And if you look at how many players three years later were hoisting a Super Bowl trophy, a good number of those players were on that roster at that time. So you just can’t look and come into a situation like this and dismiss and say there are no players there. There are players on every team across the league that can play. Our job is to add to those players, some quality, some competition, some structure, and then strive for the excellence.

My take: LOVE IT. 

No excuses, no patience. It's about time for both of these things. 

I'm starting to feel bullish. Here's where it gets complicated, however. Was last year's team really a six-or-seven win team in disguise, done in by a tough schedule, some bad breaks and the inanity of retaining Dennis Allen for an abbreviated third year when it was clear he didn't have what it takes? Or was the team truly a three-win, clown-car edition?

Our expectations for Del Rio should be calibrated to the answer of that question. 

If the record didn't really reflect the truth of this team, then 8-8 or better is the minimum expectation, is it not? If the record really did reflect the truth of this team, however, then .500 would be a nice achievement.

The AFC West is due for a shakeup. Manning looked old in the playoffs, and Rivers isn't getting any younger. Their teams may still be tough to handle, but they sure don't look like they're poised to get better anytime soon. The Chiefs are who we thought they were: competent. Nothing more, nothing less. 

So now's the perfect time for the Raiders to bust a move and gain the divisional pole position within two or three years, as long as Del Rio has the ability to establish the right momentum

Based on his words today, he certainly has the mindset to do it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Welcome Jack Del Rio

I think I'm down with Jack Del Rio as our new head coach.

Look at this murderer's row since 2006: Shell II, Kiffin, Cable, Jackson, Allen (and Sparano, if you want to get technical). By those standards, Del Rio is an upgrade.

Now, those standards are pretty low, which is why I have no doubt that Del Rio is an upgrade. But how much of an upgrade? Hard to say at this point, but hey, at least the arrow is pointing up.

I don't necessarily consider it an advantage that Del Rio is an East Bay native who rooted for the Raiders back in his youth. I'm over this sentimentality business with the Raiders. It doesn't matter come gametime. An elite coach will find a way to win, ties or no ties.

There's a bit of "deja vu" with this as well, as it's our second time in a row that we've hired a Broncos defensive coordinator as our head coach. 

That said, Del Rio brings a bit of gravitas to the proceedings. Not necessarily a lot, but at least some. He's had tenure as a head coach, has been to the playoffs, and is still relatively young. There are worse starting points.

The Raiders' interviewing process seemed a little strange to me. If the reports are true, there wasn't much consistency to the various interviews, and it's hard to say how involved Reggie McKenzie was in the Del Rio hiring. We do know that Reggie didn't tag along on Mark Davis's trip to Hooters after the big Del Rio interview.

The choice of coordinators will be key. Trestman could be a good grab, his stock is low, but he's known as a cerebral quarterback guru. In the wake of his Cutler-hastened exit from the Bears, it's easy to forget just how well he had Josh McCown playing last year. 

Anyhow, let's see how this plays out. This isn't the most sexy selection, but it seems to be a solid one. 

I've given up on the Raiders taking quick, bold, innovative strikes toward a swift turnaround. They don't seem very capable of that, it's apparently not in the organizational nature. 

But if they're going to plod along, it seems to me that they're plodding in the right direction: upward.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Same Ol' Raiders?

Say out out loud: "John Madden, age 78 and 30+ years removed from coaching, sits in with Mark Davis on an interview with Mike Shanahan (!) for the Raiders head coaching job."

When you say it out loud, how does it sound to you? To me, it sounds friggin' crazy. 

What is it about the Raiders gravitating to the rear-view mirror instead of the windshield?

Look, I love John Madden. I also love Jim Otto, but I don't want him to play center next year. 

Of course, that's a little harsh. Madden has a ton of experience and perspective. I get that.

But at some point, we just need to make a clean, firm break from the past, don't we? If only to telegraph the right message to the rest of the world (ie: other top coaching candidates and coveted free agents). 

So no matter how helpful Madden might be, or how viable Shanahan might be as a candidate, what do you think when you hear "John Madden sat in on a Raiders interview with Mike Shanahan"?

You think the same thing you thought when the Raiders went 4-12, 4-12 and 3-12 under new ownership and new management: Same 'ol Raiders.

Yet the decks are still clear. The road is wide open. There's still time. No decisions have been made, and the candidates are aplenty. 

Let's hope that the windshield, and not the rear-view mirror, wins the day.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Broncos Gameday Thread

Well, here we go on the final leg of a quest to reach 4-12 for a third straight time. Let's keep the Clown Car on ice and break the Broncos. Go Raiders!