Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Wanted: More Interceptions

Kerry Collins needs to throw more interceptions. Okay, call me nuts, or worse. But hear me out first...

Considering their receiving weaponry, the Raiders should be wielding an awe-inspiring air game by now. Sure, the passing offense has racked up some yardage and stats. But I’m talking about touchdowns and domination. There’s nothing wrong with high expectations when you have Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and Doug Gabriel on your side. I’ve never heard Mr. Davis preach, “Don’t worry, be happy” when it comes to not scoring points, even in victory.

Which brings me back to my thesis regarding interceptions. The total lack of any interceptions this year confirms to me that Kerry Collins and Coach Turner are playing things too safe, to the point that their cultivated avoidance of mistakes is creating an unintended avoidance of touchdowns (I don’t want to play Dr. Phil, but do you think Kerry Collins might be especially anxious to get the “mistake prone” monkey off his back?). The Raiders are one of only two teams in the NFL that has yet to throw an interception, and the other, Pittsburgh, has played only three games so far.

That’s what happens when you don’t throw the ball to Randy Moss in the red zone. The other team doesn’t catch it, and neither does Randy.

The 2005 Raiders offense wasn't built to rely on the defense to save the day, week after week. It was built to score touchdowns. Lots of them. This may mean taking chances instead of kicking field goals. I am not suggesting that the Raiders just start recklessly winging the ball. But with the Chargers (86 points over their last two games) coming to town, Kerry and Norv had better stop driving their Ferrari like a Ford Escort.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true - Collins needs to be willing to take some chances. If he moves more than a step outside of the pocket this season you can wager next week's paycheck that he's just going to throw it away. Seems like his progression is: (1) primary receiver only if he's wide open, (2) dump it to Jordan for 3 yard gain, (3) get out of there and throw it away -- if of course you don't get sacked first.

I wish the officials would actually call grounding consistently and often instead of giving QBs the green light to throw it away. The biggest letdown in the NFL game is when you get a great chase from the DL and the QB takes two steps to the side and dumps it out of bounds. What a joke.

9:13 AM  
Blogger js said...

I have a different take on Collins's main problem. It isn't so much that he doesn't throw to Moss (if Moss continues catching at this pace, he'll have a career year), or that he doesn't gain yardage (Collins is 2nd in the AFC in yardage behind Tom Brady). It has more to do with the way Collins reads and his presence in the pocket.

A sportswriter for the Sacramento Bee called Collins about a half a second slow. He isn't as efficient as he needs to be in going through his progressions. When the Raiders play between the 35s, an unexpected change in coverage, like rolling the nickel DB to cover Moss, will rattle Collins, making him forget for a critical second that someone else--Whitted, Porter, Gabriel, Anderson--must have single coverage either outside or up the seam (depending on the defense). By the time Collins resets, whoever was in single coverage has run into the safeties covering over the top, leaving Collins nothing but the hot read to a back or a scramble (something Collins does about as well as an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping).

Lateness with the football and poor reads have also taken their toll on the Raiders in the red zone this year. Witness two red zone opportunities vs. the Chefs.

The first one, which resulted in the BS offensive interference call, would have ended in a touchdown easily if Collins had delivered the ball on time rather than forcing Moss to wait. Instead, Moss had to wait, there was some contact, and the refs threw a flag (wrongly, I know, but let's not dwell).

The second, which ended with a turnover on downs late in the game, may also have resulted in a touchdown if Collins hadn't insisted on throwing to a doubled-up Jerry Porter (probably his first read) when Moss was in single coverage. Sometimes, especially when under pressure, Collins forgets he has other options when the defense takes away his primary target.

So while I think Collins's reluctance to turn the ball over is a good thing, he seems to be going about it the wrong way. The best cure for interceptions is to make good, quick, efficient reads and to deliver the ball on time to the target.

Rich Gannon didn't go through multiple-game stretches without an interception by avoiding risks. (You can't throw the ball sixty times in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers without risk.) He did it by seeing the whole field and maintaining an awareness of where all of his eligible receivers on the play were. (His mobility didn't hurt either.) There's no such thing as a good interception, but there are good ways and bad ways to avoid them.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

I also implicated Coach Turner in this issue...Collins may be slow in his progressions, but I still hold that he and Coach Turner are also playing tentatively and conservatively, to the detriment of the cause. Maybe Kerry loves laudatory AP articles about shaking his mistake-prone rap. Maybe Coach Turner doesn't want to do anything creative that might backfire, which might add fuel to his own firing. That's just wondering...I'm at a loss.

At this rate, Moss may have a career year on paper, but I submit that it would be a most unsatisfying career year for him.

Although you, JS, are an official Raider Take Technical Advisor, I will ask you to step outside the technical and join me in the esthetic realm of football analysis. Have you seen anything so far this year, with your own eyes or in the stat lines, that just jumps out at you as truly exciting or aggressive or imaginative, in the vein of those 60 throws against Pittsburgh? Or the 162 points over the first four games to start the 2002 season, inclusive of that game in Pittsburgh? Or even just some gutsy or crazy moments that made you go, "wow," of which I saw several during Green Bay's failed comeback on Monday night (and look at the tools Brett Favre and Coach Sherman are working with!?). Where is the fire?

I just find the lack of offensive energy, urgency and excitement (and touchdowns) to be most mysterious, considering our receiving weapons and supposedly improved running game (also, why not Zack Crockett inside the five, it's worked about 100 times before, hasn't it?). I think the problem goes much deeper than QB progressions.

(The acrobatic long bombs to Randy Moss are exciting, I admit. But that's like saying a fish swims in water. That's what Randy does. He can't help himself)

6:59 AM  
Blogger js said...

You make a good point, but a coach's willingness to take risks depends, in large part, on trust--whether he trusts the player on the field to take chances without making things worse.

Before the season started, Turner made a joke that seems, in retrospect, very revealing. Rich Gannon was interviewing Turner on the NFL network and asked him why the Raiders hadn't gone out and grabbed Randy Moss while Gannon was still playing. Turner joked, "With you here, we didn't need him."

Everyone in the studio laughed, but somewhere I can imagine Collins pounding the arm on his sofa and screaming "All I can be is myself!"

The reason Bill Callahan had Gannon throw 60 times against Pittsburgh wasn't just that Bill Callahan was a pass-happy lunatic; it was that he knew that his line could protect Gannon, and that Gannon could get the ball downfield quickly enough that he wouldn't take a beating. (And given the way the Steelers blitz, that takes a lot of trust.) Why did Green Bay look so great trying to come back against Carolina? Because Mike Sherman knows, from watching over ten years of Favre, that letting the old man take risks is worth it--especially outdoors on a Monday Night. Favre gets picked a lot (especially indoors, for some weird reason), but historically he's put the ball in the end zone three times as often as he's thrown it to defenders. He's earned the trust of any coach who has brain and at least one good eye.

Now how can Collins earn that trust if Turner won't let him? Good question. Here's a better one. If Turner doesn't trust Collins to both produce and take care of the ball, why is he starting him?

The problem does go deeper than QB progressions. (I never said it didn't.) But that problem may help explain why, if Randy Moss isn't getting his share of catches, the other receivers are nearly invisible. If Moss is in double or triple coverage, someone's open, or in single coverage, somewhere downfield. As long as Collins can't find that someone consistently and get the ball to him--and, in doing so, punish the defense for keying on Moss--the offense will remain in the doldrums.

When you want to be begin analyzing an offense, the best places to start are at the line, and with the person who touches the ball every play. Is there more Turner can do? Of course. He can first make a decision--trust Collins to produce and take care of the ball, or bench him and go to a guy with more upside. (This would essentially mean the Raiders are giving up on the playoffs, unless Tui or Walter can do a Roethlisberger impression, but it might mean a happier 2006.) As it stands now, the Raiders are in a hard position. Collins's numbers are too good to justify benching (at least among sports press types), but they aren't good enough to win games. As Bill Walsh said of Steve DeBerg, "He's just good enough to get you beat."

12:45 PM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

JS, if you keep outwriting me like this, I might have to revoke your Raider Take clearance! ;)

A masters degree in Xs and Os isn't required to conclude that if something's not working, you should try something else. Right now, the offense really isn't working, but I don't see much evidence of them trying new things that might. That's the rub here at Raider Take.

You make great points about the trust and confidence (or lack thereof) that Coach Turner has in Collins, and the questions thus begged. Bingo!

So now what? Something, anything but more field goals and low scoring!

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey why arent you a NFL coach? Oh yeah because you probably have a very simplified view of things and dont have the expertise it takes to be a coach.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

That's right, I'm not a coach. I'm a blogger. But if Coach Turner wants to take over my blog, then I'll take over his team. I've always wanted to work for Mr. Davis.

This is a place for takes. Coming in here and dropping the "oversimplified" bomb is not a take. Sure, after a 1,500-word tussle here with JS, I boiled a few things down. But what, exactly, has been oversimplified, starting from the beginning, not the end, of this take?

10:00 PM  

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