Monday, November 21, 2005

Five Postgame Takes

1. The Oakland Raiders are starting to mimic the Chicago Bears. The expectations on offense are methodically being lowered, to the point that minimizing mistakes is becoming job number one. At the same time, the defense is emerging as a powerhouse that is counted on to win the game. It’s an astonishing turn of events, considering our personnel, but there are worse fates. It was certainly good enough for a much-needed victory on Sunday.

2. I am falling in love with coordinator Rob Ryan (no, my wife need not worry). In addition to leading the Raiders defense to unexpected heights, he’s making a big contribution to the aesthetics of the Raiders sideline. He’s going caveman this year, with that unruly hair and beard. He’s raising hell, barking orders and spitting nails. He’s becoming a chip off the ol’ Buddy Ryan block. At this rate, he’s going to turn into Ted Nugent. I say keep it up. Caveman is good.

3. The red zone is still the dead zone for the Raiders offense. That’s the sum of my take on that subject. What can I add? They're trying, but they just can't do it. It’s not a strategy issue anymore. It's a capability issue. It’s like telling my cat to recite Shakespeare. There's no strategy for that.

4. I believe that the defense literally saved Norv Turner’s job on Sunday. Allow me to explain. It’s first and goal on the one-yard line for the Raiders with 2:20 left in the game. From my perspective, they have two options: score the touchdown or chew up as much time (or Redskins timeouts) as possible before settling for a field goal. The Raiders did neither (and you wonder why I cited “time management” as a major issue in my pregame take?). Sure, they started off with two runs for no gain from Jordan (fair enough, although Zack Crockett might have been a better choice for one of those carries). But the next play was an incomplete pass to Crockett. Why is Zack Crockett catching, instead of running, in that situation? The clock stops, a timeout is spared, and the Redskins have 1:08 and one timeout to march down the field to tie or win the game. Based on past and recent experience, the Raiders are the last team that should be handing an opponent time to march down the field in the last minute. Luckily, this time, the defense saved the day. But if they hadn’t, if the Redskins had scored and eventually won, I think that the playcalling on that last possession would have been the final nail in Norv’s coffin (an extra wide coffin that would also accommodate offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye).

5. We in the Raider Nation are walking a fine line between agony and optimism right now, and that’s certainly better than simply being mired in agony. The Raiders have won a total of two games against teams with winning records, and none against division rivals. Without the surprising toughness of the defense, things would be even worse. And yet…and yet we are close. I’m dead serious. Many of the losses have been close. The offensive still has extraordinary potential (did you get a load of Jerry Porter yesterday!). The machine is still sputtering, and if I was a mechanic, I’d still run my first diagnostics on the coaching and the quarterback. Whether or not that means replacement parts or a tune up remains to be seen, but the fact is that the Raiders are not as bad as their record, and the near future may indeed be bright. Return to Glory: in the slow lane, but still going forward.


Blogger js said...

Minimizing mistakes is job one, but close behind that for the offense is to move the chains. If the Raiders are to have any future playing this way, that's what they'll have to do more of.

Successful defensive teams--the 2000 Ravens and the 2002 Bucs come to mind--had mediocre offenses; but they still managed to come away with victories because their offenses could at least pick up some yards, burn some clock, and help win the field position battle. The Raiders aren't quite in their league yet, but that may give them a template to follow. Move the chains, and use Lechler to keep the opposition pinned inside its own twenty. Eventually, the turnovers will come.

When they do, the Raider offense must start converting them into touchdowns. Coming away with three points when the opposition fumbles inside its own twenty is simply unacceptable. Teams that don't get the cheap points lose more often than they win. (I think Sun Tzu said that.) So the Raiders need to straighten their red zone offense out or all this defensive progress will be for nothing.

But to return to the positive I'll say this. It's good that this defensive unit has assembled such a solid core of younger players like Danny Clark, Derrick Burgess, Tommy Kelly, Kirk Morrison, Stuart Schwiegert, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Fabian Washington. If the Raiders can hold onto them, and maybe pick up a linebacker or two in the offseason, they could have a very special defense next year, one that could spread pestilence and terror over the cities of Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego.

For you see, as much as I like offense, what I really like to see are very large, very angry men pounding those wimpy offensive players into the dirt.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Doobie said...

While the defense certainly isn't the caliber of the Bears, they still did a fantastic job yesterday holding them just 6 points (with Collins contributing to the other 7 points).

Conversely, the offense is much more potent than the Bears, although it's hard to tell sometimes. Like many other Raider teams that relied on the long bomb to move the offense (pretty much every non-Gruden team), once that field shortens, the offense sputters. Yesterday's 4th quarter goal line performance was a perfect example. I can't necessarily argue with the 3rd down pass to Crockett, however. The Redskins had just stopped runs up the middle twice on 1st and 2nd down and had brought out the personnel for another run up the middle. As long as Collins didn't make any costly mistakes (gulp!), a pass to the outside made some sense. It may have sacrificed some time off the clock, but it also would have had a better chance of putting 7 points on the board instead of 3. Usually I'm a proponent of play action pass plays on the goal line on 1st down, but the fact they ran twice unsuccessfully probably helped. One thing that I did notice in this game, however, was the ineffectiveness of the offensive line to open holes for Jordan. Maybe it was just the superiority of the Redskins defense, but Jordan was getting hammered at the line of scrimmage almost every time, and that last goal line stand was the perfect example.

Also, Collins played pretty damn good in the 2nd half. Not to reignite this debate, but I don't know if Tui or Walter could have made some of the throws he did that put them back in game (although we'll never know since they'll probably never get a chance to play unless Collins is hurt). They showed a graphic that dispayed his 4th quarter passer rating which was considerably better that his rest-of-game rating. While that's reassuring, it would be nice to have a QB that doesn't dig himself a hole that he has to rescue himself from in the 4th quarter.

But I'd still take the Bears' 7-3 record in a heartbeat.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

Good points, JS and Doobie, thanks. The Bears comparison, of course, was a bit of hyperbole to oil the gears of analysis.

In the preseason, the media were essentially unanimous that the Raiders would score 30 points per game while the defense would give up 30 points. Thus, in a strange way, as a whole and despite their record, this team might be better than we envisioned. If the offense finds a way to play to the level of its talent (back to the coaching and QB discussion?), watch out for the Oakland Raiders.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points on all fronts. One of the things that frustrated me about yesterday's game is why are we running Jordan behind Crockett on short yardage? Crockett is one of the best short yardage backs in the game. On that goal line series at the end of the game I couldn't believe Turner didn't have Crockett behind Foschi. Which brings me to another thing: bring back Jon Ritchie. The concept of Crockett, Jordan and Ritchie is about as brutal and punishing of a running attack as you can get.

JS mentioned that the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs didn't have great offenses but moved the chains. This is Collins' biggest weakness. He has a great deep arm but lacks the touch on the short stuff and when flushed out of the pocket can not make a play. That stuff keeps drives alive. If there's one place to improve on offense, it's either adding this to his game or finding a replacement who does it better.

A big arm is great, but even a supposed vertical team throws short to mid range probably 70% of the time.

10:08 AM  
Blogger js said...

I think I said something about bringing back Ritchie a while ago, but how good an idea that would be at this moment is tough to assess. Is he in game shape right now?

Anonymous makes a good point about the short/intermediate game. Collins's pass to Porter was pretty, no question (though it was thrown over the wrong shoulder, forcing Porter to make a very good last second adjustment). But Collins's struggles in the short game are part of the reason why the Raiders don't put up 7s in the red zone. And let's face it, how many of those vertical passes did Collins miss before he got that one? How many 3rd-and-8-or-worse situations did that put the Raiders in? How often did the 'Skins get the ball in good field position as a result? Given our 3-to-1 turnover advantage, this game shouldn't have been this close.

The Raider offense as a unit has to perform better in the red zone, and Collins in particular has to find a way to put the ball in people's hands when they need the short pickup and the coverage is tight. The question was never whether Collins can make long throws, the question was, is, and will remain whether Collins can make all the throws necessary to keep the chains moving and put points on the board through four quarters. If Collins would like to keep his job past the end of the season, he'll need show us double-quick that the answer is yes.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it was the redskins are mark brunell for gosh sakes. when the raider defense stops a jake plummer or drew brees then come crowing. until then take a chillpill.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Raider Take said...

Sorry, but there will be no chill pills here about the defense.

Even after last Sunday, the Redskins are still ranked in the top half of the NFL in total offense. They were at home, in front of 90,000 people (some wearing dresses and pig noses). And the Oakland Raiders held them to 13 points.

Prior to the season, The Sporting News (and everyone else) said this about the Riaders: "For all the points the Raiders might generate, they probably will give up more. The Raiders ranked 30th in total defense last season, and they might not be a lot better." This was before the Raiders lost two key starters in the secondary to injuries.

So don't come in here and tell me to chill when my team's defense outperforms all expectations.

7:05 AM  

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