Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Five Postgame Takes

1. I’ve been on the fence. I’ve been mincing words. I’ve been waiting and seeing. No more: it is time to bench Kerry Collins. Nothing personal, but it’s just not working. No mobility, marginal accuracy, zero magic. You don’t bring in a 10-year veteran QB with 117 career starts under his belt, hand him Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan, and then twiddle your thumbs throughout his second campaign, trying not to believe your eyes. I don’t want to hear about stats. I don’t want to hear about the offensive line. At some point, sometimes, a quarterback just has to find a way to win. It is time to stop waiting for the magical transformation, because it’s not coming. What you see is now officially what you get, and what we’ve got is apparently not enough to win (in contradiction to the team motto: Just Win, Baby). Therefore, it’s now someone else’s turn.

2. If you think I’m overreacting, look at it this way…I’ll bet you wouldn’t be in favor of hiring Jeff Garcia or Trent Dilfer to lead the 2006 Oakland Raiders, right? But do you think that either Garcia or Dilfer, if you put them at the helm of the 2005 Raiders offense, would have led the team to less than the three wins that Collins has managed? Honestly, I think Vinnie Testaverde or Doug Flutie could have put three wins on the board by now. We are on the downslope to 2006. The future is now.

3. Coach Turner and staff’s anemic running plan (17 rushes total) was inconvenienced briefly in the second quarter, when the Raiders ran the ball five straight times for two first downs and 32 yards, followed by a pass to Porter for eight yards and another first down at the Broncos’ 24 yard line. A perfect time for a quick air strike? Nope, just another run on first and 10 (for a loss of two yards), followed by a complete abandonment of the running game. Here is a summation of this coaching strategy: “Let’s use the run to set up the run, then totally abandon the run when that doesn’t work.”

4. You are down by 21 points, or three scores, with seven minutes left. Perfect time for a two-minute drill, right? Go for broke, a quick score or die, because you might as well die trying, right? Nope. Instead, the Raiders execute a five-minute, 15-play drive for a touchdown. Hey, man, nice stats!

5. Norv’s epitaph: “Wait ‘till next week!”

Bonus take: I hate to end on a negative. The defense continues to improve and is outperforming expectations. Bravo! Who would have thought that, at this point in the season, the defense would be outshining the offense? Kudos to Rob Ryan and the Raiders defense, keeping things close, and raising their game.


Blogger Doobie said...

I don't know man, I could see if they had a viable option on the bench, but they don't. Besides, if you put Tui or Walter in there and they don't perform well, we'll all be appreciating weeks 2-10 when Randy Moss *wasn't* talking. I would also expect Sapp to open up as well. This is a team led by veterans and to bench Collins for an unproven alternative could signal the white flag and cause rumblings in the clubhouse. I think we're stuck with Collins, whether we like it or not.

It's hard to fully blame Collins though...I think a lot of their problems relies on the poor play calling. As you mentioned before, they need to rely on the running game. Maybe also be a little more creative with the play calling...although Collins' limitations does restrict that however. Watching him try to throw a short pass makes you long for the days of Gannon and the dink 'n' dunk west coast offense.

Although I was only able to watch part of Sunday's game (family committments), the majority of what I've seen this year has resembled the late eighties - early nineties Jay Schroeder days when it was predominately run twice up the middle for 1-2 yards, throw a long incomplete pass, and then punt. Rinse, repeat. There's only so muh of that you can watch before you get the urge to pop in "Heidi" yourself.

5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that it's not all on Collins but let me ask this; why is he such a sacred cow that he can't be benched when he struggles? Flores benched Jim Plunkett in the '83 season, and he came back a few games later to lead us to another Super Bowl. Jim Plunkett! If you can sit him in a Super Bowl season, why not give Kerry a break when the team is 3-6? If you're really lucky you might find that you have something special in Tui or Walter. If not, having a break and watching the game from the sidelines might actually help Collins get his act together...

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's all Collins, I think Norv has been uneven in his playcalling.

There's no reason why it took LaMont opening up his mouth for him to get the ball more. He should have been used early and often in the season with a mix of Crockett for power and Fargas for change of pace/third down. Does anyone remember him? He still should get some playing time, he did fairly well last year before he got hurt.

Now I know people will respond that they were pushing the ball to Moss to show their love for him, and to keep him quiet, but that doesn't work. Never has, never will. Raider ball, the vertical game, NEEDS the running game to open things up. I think Giants football with a higher tendancy for long passes, otherwise, pretty similar. We'll beat you up then run past you when you're tired.

Norv needs to get a rythym going with his play calling. I hate all the talk of the West Coast scripted plays and all that, but maybe he needs that to keep in mind what he wanted to do when game planning during the week.

As for the QB, I'd like to keep Collins in there and I think he's the guy for the next few years, but maybe pulling him for a series, or a game, will get him on track. Don't put it past Uncle Al, however, to try and pry Carr away from the Texans in the off-season. I think his stock is down, but that he's still going to be pretty good.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

Doobie, I see your point, but while we may not have a viable option on the bench, we apparently don't have one on the field right now, either. The bench options, I think, should be considered viable until proven otherwise.

I'm basically in total agreement with Anonymous #1. He/she articulates my thoughts exactly.

I don't think it's all on Collins, either. It's never all on anyone. I agree with Doobie and Anonymous #2 about the playcalling and erratic commitment to the running game (I've got reams of earlier takes on this subject). What I liked about the game plan against the Bills was that it lowered the bar for Collins, and allowed him to play in his comfort zone, with effective results. Heaving the ball 50 times against a steady blitz is obviously not his comfort zone.

But QB is a galvanizing position, a nexus and a nerve center for your offense, and a leadership role, and at the end of the day, an effective QB will work with the hands he's been dealt, will show some magic, and lead his team to victory through sheer performance, grace under pressure, great timing or simply the absence of mistakes. I don’t think Collins is rising to the level of this responsibility right now.

7:59 AM  
Blogger js said...

"I don’t think Collins is rising to the level of this responsibility right now."

I agree. He can throw a pretty ball, but when the pressure is on, Collins is often not. It begins with little things, like failing to get the play off on time, and it ends with overthrows, passes that get receivers killed, missed reads, and interceptions at crucial moments. It isn't all Collins's fault, but he and the center are the only two guys who touch the ball every play. In a sea of variables, he's the constant.

The Buffalo game plan was good in that it protected Collins and kept him in a comfort zone. But Collins's comfort zone is a shockingly narrow place where no elite team would ever let him stay. The successful defensive formula against Collins is blitz him like crazy, roll the coverage to Moss, and force Collins to throw off his back foot. Even if it doesn't lead to interceptions, fumbles and all that fun stuff, it'll reduce his completion percentage to such a low level that the Raiders won't be able to advance the ball with any consistency. Sure, every once in a while Collins will hit someone downfield, but as long as your offense can score more than twenty points, who cares?

Try that strategy against any legitimate starter in the NFL--Peyton Manning, Brady, Green, Palmer, or (when healthy) McNabb--and you'll give up five touchdowns and four hundred yards passing. Those guys can adapt. Collins can't seem to. Maybe it's beyond Tui and Walter to adapt either, but we don't know that yet.

I don't think time on the bench will cure Collins of anything. He's been benched before, and he still is what he is. After ten seasons as starter, you either have it or you don't. Plunkett had it, lost it for a while, and got it back. Collins never really had it at all.

Also, just to play devil's advocate with doobie, if the Raiders lose against the 'Skins, a change in quarterback may be the only chance to keep them together after the disappointment of another lost season. It gives them something new to rally around and lets them feel like they're building for next year. It might be different if Collins had been winning for us only to be benched for an unproven starter, but for us Collins is an unproven starter. The team has endured twenty games with him as the signal caller with very little to show for it.

The veterans would anticipate the new guy would struggle at first--they were once new guys themselves, remember--but they, like the rest of us, would watch and cheer for signs of improvement. That's the thing about the unknown. It's scary, but it can also take you to better places.

I'd welcome Collins's benching just because it would change the conversation about the Raiders. I've grown weary of examining Collins's deficiencies vis a vis Rich Gannon, Jeff Hostetler, Jim Plunkett, Ken Stabler, Rusty Hilger, Bobby Hoying. (Okay, I'm kidding about the last two. Collins could beat them, but who is he going to brag to about that?). I want to change the subject, because I've written too many long posts about this guy already. Maybe someday I'll compile them into a Russian novel-style affair about two years of suffering in Raider Nation.

Clearly, Tom Coughlin knew what he was doing when he drafted Eli Manning and dumped Collins. He refused to settle for the mediocre and reached for the future. It looks like he has one (though Manning looked green last week). Isn't it time we set about getting a future of our own?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

JS is ON FIRE!!!

P.S. We have just witnessed the first take in history to invoke both Bobby Hoying and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Doobie said...

Guys, as much as I'm not thrilled with Collins, I think that he's still the best chance this team has at success. Prior to Sunday's relative blowout, this team was conceivably an Akers FG and a Larry Johnson TD plunge away from being 5-3. I think everyone's focusing on the last two games and forgetting how good Collins was statistically prior to the Chiefs game two Sundays ago. He's only had three games this year where he's sported a passer rating of less than 88.7. Granted, I think those stats mask an inability to consistently complete a short pass and his propensity to cough up the ball (he's fumbled in 7 of 9 games), but it's hard to deny his success. I mean, this team played tough against the two Super Bowl participants of last year. That in itself is pretty impressive and something you wonder if Tui or Walter could have done.

I don't think it's time to hit the panic button yet. And even if *we* think it is, I think it'll take a lot more to convince Al Davis to pull one of his high priced veterans.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

Doobie digs in and hangs tough. Excellent! Independent thinkers are crashing the Raider Take party...

12:31 PM  
Blogger js said...

Actually, a 3-6 record (6-19 for his two years as starter here) denies Collins's success fairly convincingly to me. He's a living example of the first rule of holes--when you find you're in one, stop digging.

Remember, neither the Patriots nor the Eagles are the teams they were a year ago, and they were still consistent enough to put us away. They made plays when they needed to; we didn't. Some of that fault belongs to other players, certainly, but a lot of it comes down to Collins's inability to maintain any consistency on offense.

The Raider offense will play well for a series or two to open the game, then disappear for entire quarters, allowing the other team to either pile on a lead or take the lead back from us. It spends the rest of the game in panic mode trying to score two touchdowns in seven minutes, most of the time coming up just short. Yes, we play tough. We lose tough too.

Could Tui or Walter successfully make the offense disappear for the 2nd and 3rd quarters of games? I think they could, for a lot less money.

Let's bear in mind while we're playing woulda, coulda, shoulda, that were it not for Drew Bledsoe's failing to spot an open receiver on the final play of the game, the Raiders would be 2-7 right now. If the Titans's secondary weren't a horrible, motheaten mess, we'd be 1-8 (and they still managed to pick Collins off and take it back for a touchdown). I agree that Collins gives us a chance to win--about a 33% chance, which is better than any state lottery--but I don't go into drives thinking, "Okay, here's Collins, let's score." I think "Okay Collins, please don't find another way to blow it when it counts. Please don't waste the effort of a defense that just got you the ball in good field position. Please just do better."

We had the same argument in Seattle a few years ago, when Holmgren benched generally-relaible-but-underwhelming Trent Dilfer for the largely untested Matt Hasselbeck. Dilfer was actually somewhat popular with fans here, for reasons that escaped me, but Holmgren stuck with his decision. Though things were rocky in the beginning, Hasselbeck developed and improved. He managed to win games even when his supporting cast spent half the season dropping catchable balls. By his second year, he was completing over 60% of his passes. By his third season, the Seahawks were in the playoffs. True, Sean Alexander can make a lot of teams look good, but Hasselbeck deserves his share of the credit. He distributes the ball accurately and well, and shows fire leading the team. When he plays, everyone around him improves.

The Seahawks are 7-2, running away with their division. and a legitimate Super Bowl contender in part because a few years ago they ditched the stiff for an unproven guy with potential. Will Tui or Walter pay off right away? No, but at this stage the only way the Raiders get to the playoffs is if two or three planes crash, so that's not a problem.

What is a problem is continuing with an arrangment that, even with the additions of LaMont Jordan and Randy Moss, just isn't working. And the guy responsible to getting the ball to those two is none other than...well, you know the rest.

It may be that Davis feels he's made too much of an investment to dump Collins right now--Schroeder hung on for a lot longer than he should have as well--but eventually we'll all be popping in the Heidi game in the VCR instead of watching the new stuff, and Davis'll realize that the Raiders need to tell a new story if he wants people to buy seats in his building.

1:41 PM  
Blogger js said...

Correction: I meant Collins has gone 6-16 (3-10 last year; 3-6 so far this year) as a starter since joining the Raiders. My bad.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Doobie said...

RE: the Pats and Eagles, yes they're currently a shell of what they were last year...but not in weeks one and three. In the season opener, the Pats came at us with just about the same defense they went to the Super Bowl with (sans Bruschi) and they hadn't lost their entire secondary yet. And in week three T.O. was still playing and McNabb wasn't completely beat up at that point.

And I'm not denying this team's failure to perform in the clutch. Collins is certainly responsible for a good deal of it, but the rest of the team...including coaches...needs to shoulder some responsibility as well.

As for Tui and Walter, there's always cases where the backup goes on and shines after the starter gets benched or goes down because of injury, even if that backup wasn't a highly touted prospect (take Tom Brady or Kurt Warner). But I think it's too much of a risk at this point. Sure, they no longer have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Sure I'd love to see a low-salaried prospect like Tui or Walter take over and see what they can do. (I mean, Christ, even letting them play in the 4th quarter to let them get a few snaps would be a start.) It's just that I don't see this ever happening on Al Davis' watch. Tui will never be handed the reins willingly...he's a Gruden pick geared for the WC offense. Walter, maybe, since he has a big arm and was picked by Turner.

However, as I mentioned before, the future QB of this franchise doesn't exist on this roster...it's sitting on another team. Going back to the seventies, aside from Stabler and Marc Wilson, I don't recall a QB drafted and groomed to be a starter by this franchise that lasted more than two seasons. Al Davis wants veterans at QB, and if they have Super Bowl experience, even better (think Hostetler & Schroeder). Even if Tui or Walter had some success in the final half, I doubt Big Al would be content with them starting the 2006 season...his eyes will be elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bledsoe, Warner or David Carr on this team within the next three years. And don't be surprised to see Tom Brady here before he ends his career.

That's where we should go with this conversation...what non-Raider is the "Davis-Turner-NeverDrive" currently ogling for the 2006 season?

2:34 PM  
Blogger js said...

You may be right that Davis won't allow it (the distance between what Davis wants at the QB position and what would actually be good for the franchise has often been vast lo these twenty years), but that seems to me to be a separate issue from the, "But I think it's too much of a risk at this point." You didn't say Davis thinks this is too much of a risk. You're saying you think it's too much of a risk. Why? What exactly would we risk, except the distinct possibility that the rubble would burn down?

Before we go shopping for what could be another high priced bust next year (Schroeder, George, Collins, your lives are calling), isn't it the larger risk to ignore what we have? Any free agent we're going to bring in is going to demand a huge paycheck, and the Raiders aren't exactly living like hogs in the fathouse. Big signing bonuses won't exactly be our bag these next few years. Does Davis really want to risk 49ers-style cap jail and stake the greatness of the Raiders on another big armed dunce who can't cut it when it counts? Wouldn't it be wise to at least take a look at what's behind door number two and door number three first, since we have seven weeks to go and nothing better to do? If we don't find anything there, we haven't really lost anything and we can go into 2006 knowing what we want. If we do find something worth developing, we can spend our money on linebackers, offensive linemen, and other cool things like that.

Let's not forget that the last great Raider quarterback was not in the Davis mold you cite. He hadn't played in the Super Bowl before he came here and didn't have the biggest arm in the world. He also saved this franchise from oblivion. We got him because the Chiefs were stupid enough to let him get away--committed as they were to the greatness that was Elvis Grbac. He made them pay for it for the next four years. Will we want that to happen to us, when Andrew Walter or Marques Tuiasosopo arrive in Broncos or Chiefs uniforms to do us in?

That's the risk that I see. I'm still trying to comprehend the one you see.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

A battle of philosophies rocks the blog! Don't let me interrupt. I'm enjoying the show.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Doobie said...

The risk is the clubhouse. The Raiders have always been a team committed to contending now and a lot of the veterans on the team expect that. Now, if they were the quiet leader types, that wouldn't be a problem. But we're talking about ouspoken types like Sapp and Moss who probably won't want to shift into what will seem a rebuilding mode. That, in turn may cause a poisonous atmosphere in the clubhouse, further exacerbating their losing season. That in turn, might impact the ability to sign people for 2006. So, things might get worse before they get better.

Of course, this is all assuming that Collins would be seated permamanently as opposed to a single game "get-yer-ass-in-gear" benching.

Good call on Gannon and that's a setiment I echo completely...I love Al Davis, but it's ironic that the best years recently have come when someone else was willing to impose discipline and a new style of offense. Funny how the last two people willing to do that left on acrimonious terms and won Super Bowls elsewhere (Gruden, Shanahan). But we can save that conversation for another time. :)

4:41 PM  
Blogger js said...

Admittedly, that's a risk, but if the season continues to go sour, a poisonous atmosphere may be unavoidable anyway. Indeed, that ship may already have sailed. I saw Moss on ESPN this afternoon. When the interviewer asked about his relationship with Turner, there was a long pause before he was finally able to come up with nice things to say. It's what I was talking about earlier. These guys need a distraction from the nightmare this season has become or they'll eat each other, Collins or no Collins. And one really good way to distract them and get their heads back where they belong could be to let someone else throw.

There is a way to sell it. If we start now, and we're lucky, we may contend next year. (This year's over. They may not say it publicly, but they know it. Moss and Sapp may be outspoken and brash, but they can read the standings.) If we wait, we'll have to break some new guy in and possibly spend another year or more in the wilderness.

Whether Al will do that or not is beyond my capacity to say, but it seems to me that life is risk, and it's the ones who take chances who end up with the Lombardi trophy. Davis remembers what that felt like, doesn't he?

I miss those days with Chucky and Gannon. Those were fun times.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Doobie said...

They were certainly entertaining. And, as RT pointed out a post or two ago, it's amazing how everyone forgot how good the Raiders were for that period of time. It's like the following Callahan season totally erased everyone's memory. Just goes to show you how well Gruden held that team together.

7:44 PM  
Blogger js said...

Yeah, funny how that amnesia set it. I kept the 2002 AFC Championship game on DVD. Sometimes, when the current cast is dying on the field, I pop it in the player to watch and remember what it was like to watch Gannon, Garner, Rice and Brown march on the field and know that they were going to score.

Glory days indeed.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guys, another point about the Gruden era. He found a way to win games with Donald Hollas and Wade Wilson at quarterback. Think Norv could do that?

By the way, I'm also "anonymous #1, I forgot to use a name!

7:02 AM  
Blogger THN said...

The quarterback situation is dire, but I have not seen anything from Lamont Jordan that leads me to believe he is a premiere NFL running back.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely disagree about Jordan. We're 3-0 when he gets the ball 20 times, period. He's a great receiving threat out of the backfield. He can pick up the blitz. And he actually takes responsibility on his shoulders like nobody in a Raider uniform since Gannon. My only disappointment in Jordan is that Turner left his commitment to the run game in Miami when he came to Oakland...

8:49 AM  
Blogger Doobie said...

For all we know, that Miami running game may be coming back to Oakland when they inevitably sign Ricky Williams (you just know it's going to happen).

On a separate note, it looks like ESPN.com has a lead story on Spike and the Black Hole. Being from cetral NJ, the Black Hole is something I hope to experience 1st hand someday...

10:30 AM  

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