Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And Then Hell Froze Over

One of the major sports media outlets, Fox Sports, is actually giving the Raiders some love this week—while also referencing the wildly premature and inordinate media glee that has been dashed by recent events. They rank the Raiders at 25th in their Power Rankings (thanks to BlandaRocked for the tip), up from 32nd last week, and they don’t give all of the credit to the Cardinals and Big Ben’s headache. Here’s what they say:

“Hmm…After starting the season with five consecutive losses and a myriad of articles, TV segments, and wisecracks on the Internet about the possibility of being the league’s first winless team since the ’76 Bucs, the Raiders have ripped off two gutsy wins and are now suddenly one of the hottest teams in the NFL.”

Nicely put.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Five Postgame Takes

1. This didn’t happen overnight. For those who have been watching (as opposed to those who have simply been hating), the game against the Broncos in Denver was pivotal. The Raiders were supposed to get walloped in the Rocky Mountains, yet they kept it close. Around that time, our defense started to climb the charts as one of the NFL’s highest rated units against the pass. Then the Cardinals flew into town, right after carving up the Bears’ vaunted defense, and got shot out of the sky. At that point, the Raiders Haters held onto the “lowly Cardinals” angle for dear life. Now they are simply slack jawed, because they didn’t see this coming, because they weren’t paying attention to the progress of this team, particularly on defense. This victory doesn’t mean that the Raiders are suddenly playoff contenders. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do. But it does mean that a lot of pieholes—particularly those screaming the Raiders will go 0-16! The Raiders are the worst team in the NFL! The Raiders are one of the worst teams in history!—are now firmly shut, with a big plate of crow on their Monday morning breakfast menu.

2. When good news meets bad news: Chris Carr alone outgained and outscored our offense.

3. It was a blast to watch the big, bad Steelers defense lose its composure with two unsportsmanlike conduct calls for 30 yards on one drive in the third quarter. Our offense wasn’t exactly menacing. But Justin Fargas was pounding those guys, if not for big yards, then for extra yards. It was straight-up, smash-mouth running, and the Steel Curtain momentarily broke into tears. Priceless.

4. Ahh, the Raiders Haters in the media are so predictable. Here’s the lead paragraph (thanks to X for the heads up) to the Associated Press recap of today’s game: “As putrid as the Oakland Raiders
were to start the season, they're now at least as good—or is it bad?—as the Super Bowl champs.” Shortly thereafter, we read: “Pittsburgh did their best impression of the Raiders by committing four turnovers, four personal fouls and allowing five sacks.”

Of course, all the Steelers did over the previous two weeks was score 83 total points against the Chiefs and the Falcons. Of course, this same wire service wrote the following after the Steelers beat the Chiefs: “
The NFL now must be wondering how much better the Super Bowl champions can be after a convincing all-is-well performance.”

But no, in the wake of a second consecutive convincing victory in Oakland, we are simply reminded that the Raiders were (and by implication, still are) "putrid," and that the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly…the Cardinals reincarnated! Allow me, then, to correct our friendly wire service and rewrite their lead paragraph to today's game: “After scoring 83 points over their previous two games, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to further regain their championship swagger in Oakland today. But their hopes were dashed by a resurgent Raiders defense that forced four turnovers, including two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns."

Meanwhile, over at Fox Sports, they are no doubt diligently working on the New New Math after ranking the Raiders dead last in the NFL, two slots behind the Cardinals—after the Raiders trounced the Cardinals! They also ranked the Steelers at 14th prior to today’s game. Keep an eye on these guys. I think we just might slip to 33rd after today.

5. Our defense, special teams, running backs (Fargas for sure) and quarterback are definitely on track. I'm still concerned about our receivers and our offensive line, for reasons that are plain to see. Our playcalling still makes me wonder at times, too. Walter is still good for at least one huge blunder per game, which goes with the young QB territory. I can live with that. More problematic is the fact that his performance is still being sabotaged by dropped balls and alligator arms at precisely the wrong times (hello, Randy and Courtney). But why dwell on the negatives when Rob "Caveman" Ryan's defense has just delivered a masteful performance, both in terms of energy and execution? Simply epic. And credit goes to the entire team for stepping up, for erasing five weeks of sour with two weeks of sweetness. This is the stuff of character, of pride. The plot is definitely thickening.

Haiku: Raiders 20 / Steelers 13

The Champs destroyed, throw
in that Terrible Towel...The
Haters go slack jawed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Raiders Fans Rise Up

For years, the Raiders had a hard time selling out the Coliseum, and we were told that there simply weren't enough fans, and that these fans would only sell the place out if the team was winning. Yet this year, after gaining control of their own ticket pricing and marketing operations for the first time since their return to Oakland, the Raiders have managed to sell out each home game to date despite a woeful record. This is a remarkable achievement that speaks to the fact that the problem was not the team nor its fans, but rather the bureaucratic impediment known as the Oakland Football (Anti) Marketing Association. Yet this success story has been largely ignored by the media.

Last November, after it was announced that the Raiders would finally seize control of their ticketing operations, Raider Take’s favorite columnist was one of those who claimed that Raiders fans would only pack the Coliseum if the team was winning.

He wrote: “In fact, what the Raiders and the city and county agreed to do was remove one additional excuse to the many people who have successfully resisted the lure of Sundays at the Coliseum. There still is a much larger one. The team itself. You see, the sellout problem (56 of 84 games have been blacked out locally since they returned) wasn't a problem when the Raiders were winning.”

He also wrote: “The Raiders' appeal is solely and entirely based on their playing like the old Raiders. As for the new Raiders, the team that is 47-72 when you remove the three good years from their resume, you couldn't wrap tickets around Beyonce Knowles and move them.”

In other words, he claimed that the team’s appeal is “solely and entirely” based on winning. Paging Raider Take’s favorite columnist! How about a follow-up piece now that the Raiders have sold out each home game to date with nary a win on the books? To these three sellouts, you can now add the upcoming game against the Steelers.

At the time of his column, I wrote a rebuttal. I countered: “I’m not saying that winning doesn’t help, but it’s far from the whole enchilada. In fact, rooting for the underdog is a quintessentially American pastime—as is marketing. Thus, the potential of marketing should not be underestimated when it comes to the Oakland Raiders.”

The Oakland Raiders have proven me right. Through sensible pricing and strategic marketing, the team has empowered, rather than obstructed, existing fans. The results speak for themselves.

There is still room for improvement. The concessions are still a disaster, in my opinion. I think that there is room for creative gameday ideas that will bring new fans into the fold while entertaining existing Raiders fans. But Rome wasn’t rebuilt in a day.

I am satisfied that the Raiders mean business on the customer service front. On opening night against the Chargers, the parking was mishandled by a subcontractor, resulting in an epic, and frustrating, gridlock (it took yours truly and his cousin two hours to get parked after exiting 880). The correction was swift and thorough. Last Sunday, a literal army of attendants, clad in crisp new fluorescent green vests, was on hand to keep things flowing. It took about five minutes to get parked after exiting 880.

Sunday’s game against the Cardinals was, if you can believe it, one of the most personally exciting games I’ve attended. The great thing about everyone kicking the Raiders while we’re down is that it adds an extra level of incentive and excitement to even the toughest seasons. As Raiders fans, we understand that it’s not all about the glory, but also the return to glory. There is no fair weather in the Raider Nation. The Autumn Wind blows at all times, win or lose.

There are now 60,000 of us (and many more around the world) who can say we were there when the chips were down. This is our calling card. This is just the beginning.

P.S. The Raiders just announced the following: “The Oakland Raiders' last five home games for as little as $130. You'll want to be there for great games against the reigning World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, division rivals Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as matchups against the NFC West-leading St. Louis Rams and the first ever visit by the Houston Texans. Great locations are still available, call 1-800-RAIDERS today and reserve your tickets to this Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers! In addition to Season Tickets, The Oakland Raiders Sales & Service Department
has multiple ticketing options to meet any budget. Call 1.800.RAIDERS to speak directly with a Raiders Sales Representative, or email us at tickets@raidernation.com with your questions.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Clarification to The Nation

I am happy to report that Raider Take and the Raider Nation have made a new friend—Mary Buckheit, author of the ESPN story that I highlighted in my previous take. In writing to Raider Take and wanting to clarify her position to the Raider Nation, Mary has proven to be a class act and a stand-up journalist.

In her unsolicited email to me, she wrote: “I learned of the Raider Take community this morning when one email (of nearly 100 emails I received today) mentioned the discussion and pointed me to your blog. I’m very glad they did. It’s good to meet you guys…I would love to say a few words and try to answer the questions that keep coming up in the emails. First of all, I have read every single one that landed in my inbox and they are all interesting—some very witty…some very ‘colorful’…some a little aggressive—BUT, all are passionate more than anything else and THAT is something I can appreciate and most sincerely respect.”

She went on to say that her piece was largely misunderstood by yours truly and many in the Raider Nation—but she also took responsibility for this misunderstanding. She wrote: “It is no one's fault but my own. It could have been more clear = I could have been more clear. And I should have been.”

She continued: “I was being tongue-in-cheek at the beginning of the article, joking about preserving an 0-16 record. Of course no one wants to go Oh-and-16 and as you all so astutely remark, we in the sports media would surely have had a field day with the first 0-fer season in the books, so I was sarcastically poking fun at me/media as much as the next guy…But I hoped a different, overriding message would bleed through by the end of the article. And that is…that I realized that because the Raiders are so sturdy, and historic, and longstanding they are practically synonymous with the NFL and all that is revered in football. For that reason—for the Maddens and Upshaws and Super Bowls, etc.—I realized why you Raider fans are so loyal. And why no fan of a flash-in-the-pan franchise can understand what it's like to be in your bubble of time-honored success.”

In conclusion, she wrote: “I usually try to write back to all (emails) individually but I think Raider Nation has me beat. I wrote back to a bunch already, ones that I received the first day the story ran…but then, I guess since it was referenced on your site, the response became so overwhelming I all but gave up. It would feel better knowing that those readers (from your site) knew that they didn't email a ghost-mailbox. I read/am still reading every single email as they continue to roll in over here. I learned a lot from this story/its feedback. I wrote what was, in my mind, a spoof on the 0-5 media spinning sensation and ultimately a tribute to loyal fans. But, everything is, of course, a product of the corner you're standing in and observing from.”

I wrote Mary back. I told her that I stood by the points that I presented in my take, but also added that she was, in some ways, a victim of context. ESPN has been pounding on the Raiders for weeks, with employees such as Bill Simmons and Colin Cowherd obsessing over the team’s problems and predicting all sorts of fantastic scenarios, such as 0-16. Against that ESPN-woven backdrop, and in the immediate wake of the Raiders’ first victory of the season, it was particularly hard to swallow a new ESPN piece suggesting (or appearing to suggest) that the victory was expected and meaningless, and that Raiders fans were somehow bizarre and out of touch for enjoying it. At a network level, it was rather hypocritical.

Of course, I now feel a bit bad for calling her piece “sophomoric” and suggesting that she wrote most of it before her plane landed in Oakland. Let me say that I respect Mary Buckheit for respecting the Raider Nation enough to state her case and honor her many incoming emails with a response. It's very refreshing. I'm also proud of the Raider Nation for making sure our case was heard as well.

So does this mean I’ll go all warm and fuzzy and suspend my News You Can’t Use series? No. But it reminds me of why I make a point of not naming the writers whose pieces are featured in News You Can’t Use. We are all at our best when we avoid personal attacks. Our criticism of the media will make the most impact if we focus on the facts and on the points of discussion.

Along the way, we might just make some unexpected friends. In fact, we already have.

P.S. I have received a couple of notes suggesting that I'm letting Mary off too lightly. Please read my original take, which certainly wasn't sugar and lollipops. I stand by that take. However, I believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to respond to criticism.

As I've stated before, the goal of News You Can’t Use is to deliver a message: The Raider Nation is watching. We expect you to bring you’re “A Game” when writing about the Oakland Raiders. Check your facts. Back up your takes. Get it right.

I am willing to bet that Mary Buckheit brings her A Game the next time she writes about the Raiders and Raiders fans. Therefore, mission accomplished.

I see no reason to hold a grudge. Like most sportswriters, Mary could have ignored her emails. She could have said she has nothing more to learn about the Raider Nation. Instead, she responded at length and said she learned a lot from this feedback experience. For that, I applaud her.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

News You Can't Use

After Sunday’s game, I wrote: “The Raiders Haters will tell us not to get too carried away about beating up the lowly Cardinals. You know what?...You don’t tell me that the Raiders are the worst team in the NFL, and one of the worst teams in history, and that we’ll go 0-16, and then turn around and tell me that this victory is both meaningless and expected.”

I also wrote: “That scrambling sound you hear is the editors at ESPN trying to figure out how to fill the considerable editorial space that, until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, was occupied with 'Raiders Will Go 0-16!' stories.”

I now present
this piece from ESPN, which proves that the Raider Take Crystal Ball is operating at maximum wattage.

For the past six weeks, several ESPN writers and broadcasters have obsessively bleated that the Raiders won’t win a game, that they’re the worst team in the NFL, one of the worst teams in history, etc. They devoted reams of web pages and chunks of air space to the cause.

Their fixation on the Raiders, who are merely one of many NFL teams on the skids, was pretty revealing, wasn't it? These Raiders Haters always tell us that the Raiders’ winning legacy has been dead for decades—so why do they act like it’s earth-shattering news when the Raiders don’t win? You can’t have it both ways.

Then, sensing that their pet story of 2006 was slipping away as the Cardinals came to town, ESPN paid a “reporter” to travel to Oakland on Sunday to witness—and, of course, belittle—the victory.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins—whom 7 out of 12 of ESPN’s “experts”
predicted would go to the playoffs this year—lost to the Packers at home on Sunday, dropping to a record of 1-6 without an ESPN reporter in sight. But remember, it’s the Raiders who are the big story at 1-5, even though not one of the aforementioned experts picked them to go to the playoffs.

Suddenly the ESPN party line, as established in this latest piece, is no longer that the Raiders are the worst team in the NFL and that they will go 0-16, it’s that this victory is meaningless. The story is no longer that the Raiders don’t have enough fans to fill a stadium, it’s that the fans are stupid for filling a stadium while their team is struggling (talk about a twisted premise!). The Cardinals fan who travels to Oakland to watch his “inept” team lose to the Raiders is portrayed with dignity, while Jose, who celebrates the Raiders victory at Ricky’s, is mocked.

To top it off, this latest ESPN hit piece is so sophomoric, predictable and biased that it should be required reading in Journalism 101 classes as an example of what, and how, not to write. Most of the story was likely written before the author’s plane even landed Oakland.

And that, Raiders fans, is news you can’t use.

P.S. Thanks to Mad Stork 83 and HorsecollarJack for tipping me off to this ESPN hit piece.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Five Postgame Takes

1. Between the near safety and the recorded safety in the third quarter of yesterday’s game, a certain alchemy flashed through the Coliseum. Up until that point, the crowd of 60,000 strong seemed a bit on edge, a bit tentative. The bitter taste of the Browns game still lingered, reminding us that there is a fine line between a big lead and a blown lead, especially when you’re desperate and winless. But then the Raiders crushed Matt Leinart at the goal line, and the switch was flipped. The proverbial blood was in the water. The Raider Nation rose up as one. Sixty-thousand cells merged to become a singular animal, rabid and riotous and deafening. More than 330 days of pent-up victory-starved energy was unleashed at that moment.

Warren Sapp and gang started whooping it up during the subsequent official challenge, further provoking the crowd. The longest roar was interrupted only by a hail of boos when the zebras held their thieving ground. As the Cardinals lined up for the following play, our linebackers jammed their knuckles into the turf, kicking their feet backward like bulls about to be released from a pen. At that point, the crowd and the defense were mutually plugged into the same high-voltage outlet. A safety at that point was literally inevitable, you could see it, you could feel it, you could sense it. Sure enough, our guys jammed the line while Michael Huff, seemingly shot from a cannon, flew around the right side to seal the deal. The Coliseum erupted as a volcano of white noise, which receded a few minutes later into a long rumbling chorus: Raiii-derrrs! Raiii-derrrs!

2. That scrambling sound you hear is the editors at ESPN trying to figure out how to fill the considerable editorial space that, until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, was occupied with “Raiders Will Go 0-16!” stories.

3. This game was a testament to the loyalty of the Raider Nation and the recent ticketing improvements made by the Oakland Raiders organization. The house was sold out for a contest between two teams with one combined victory. Absolutely remarkable, considering the historical dearth of sellouts in Oakland. Remember last November, when Raider Take’s favorite columnist said that ticket sales were all about winning games, and
yours truly countered that marketing was equally, if not more, important than winning? What say you now, Raider Take’s favorite columnist? By freeing themselves from the punitive bureaucratic impediment of the Oakland Football Marketing (hah!) Association, and by implementing a sensible pricing/marketing program and improving gameday logistics (opening night excepted), the Raiders have enabled the Raider Nation to flourish, and the Raider Nation is responding. Simple as that.

4. In the wake of the game, Art Shell indicated that Andrew Walter is our starter, regardless of Aaron Brooks’ recovery. Great news—now if we can just keep Walter from getting killed by the guys lining up across from Robert Gallery. This is becoming a serious problem, folks. We can’t have our young QB getting crushed from the blind side, over and over again. Brute strength is useless at left tackle if you don’t have the quick feet and hands to go with it. The jig might truly be up with Gallery. He offers as much resistance as a pair of saloon doors. Let’s try Slaughter—with the caveat that we’ll slaughter him if he makes any more false starts.

5. The Raiders Haters will tell us not to get too carried away about beating up the lowly Cardinals. You know what? I will get carried away. You don’t tell me that the Raiders are the worst team in the NFL, and one of the worst teams in history, and that we’ll go 0-16, and then turn around and tell me that this victory is both meaningless and expected. On top of that, it’s our first win in the past 12 games. It’s been a long time coming. Damn straight I’ll get carried away.

Remedial Training in Progress

Raider Take has logged thousands of comments on the more than 270 takes published over the past 14 months. In this time, I have never deleted a reader comment (except occasional and accidental repeat comments). Raider Take is open to all viewpoints, including opposing viewpoints. Comments can be short, long, humorous, serious, critical and even vulgar (although I’m personally not a fan of the latter).

However, I draw the line at brain dead. Therefore, I am going to ban and delete all comments rendered by the child who has been recently posting jibberish pertaining to the so-called “faidas.” It’s not the taunting that bothers me, it’s all of his mental midget litter that’s starting to pile up on my web site. This is not a case of banning a Raiders Hater—we’ve logged plenty of comments from Raiders Haters who actually have something to say. It’s simply a little “time out” for one individual, as well as a public service and a bit of remedial training.

Our take-challenged prodigal child will be welcomed back to the adults' table if he ever strings some intelligent words together.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Reporting for Duty

On a brief layover with Cousin of Raider Take in San Jose. Will land on Coliseum asphalt within the hour. Ready to barbecue some winged desert rat and wash it down with the refreshing waters of victory. Looking forward to your takes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Giddyup, Raiders!

Some of you might accuse me of beating a dead horse with this take. Well, let me just say that I wouldn’t beat this horse if, in fact, I was convinced it was dead.

The horse of which I speak, of course, is our refusal to run a hurry-up offense while two scores down with less than five minutes left in the game last Sunday—and thus abdicating a basic function of football competition.

For every argument about what ails the Raiders, there is usually a reasonable counter argument. Is our playcalling truly horrible, or is it really matter of poor execution? Was the Jerry Porter situation mishandled or not? Is Art Shell making progress with this team, or is he losing control of it? I’ve heard good arguments supporting both sides of each equation.

But I defy anyone to offer a good excuse for allowing 45 seconds to elapse between a two-yard run and the next snap while two scores down, on the road, against one of the league’s most dominant defenses, with less than five minutes to play—right after burning another 45 seconds between that play and the previous one!

This, to me, is more egregious than merely losing games, dropping balls, calling bad plays or committing penalties. It is an abdication of a basic function of football competition. It has no place in the NFL, and certainly not in Oakland.

I watched with interest on Monday night when the Bears got the ball back with 7:20 remaining in the game. At the time, they were 10 points down—the same as the Raiders on Sunday night, but with a full two additional minutes on their side. They completed a nine-yard pass, in bounds, on first down. They then hustled to the line and took their next snap 22 seconds later (although the play was whistled dead by a false start). Their urgency was palpable. It was nothing special. It was just common football sense in action.

So why do the Raiders insist on defying common sense in similar circumstances? Amazingly, we experienced the same problem last year. For example, there was the infamous five-minute, fifteen-play touchdown drive beginning with seven minutes left in the game while three scores down against the Broncos. Later in the season, on the road against the Broncos, Tom Flores was heard audibly scratching his head on KSFO when the Raiders refused to get moving toward the end of another defeat. After that game, I wrote: It's a disgrace, this inability to enact urgency in the face of defeat, and thus to demonstrate any will to win. It is an affront not only to the Raider Nation, but to the game of football.

Let me say that the last thing I expected this season was more of the same. I thought that what I was seeing last year was a peculiar disease called “Norv Turner and Company.” How is it possible that this disease has become systemic, afflicting our new administration? This stuff should never happen. So why is it happening for a second straight year, across two separate administrations? How?

If you think I’m overreacting, that’s fine. I admit that this is a pet peeve. I simply can’t stand to see my team abdicate a basic function of football competition, over and over again. If I see one more instance like this latest one, I will literally freak out. I will protest in a manner heretofore unseen on Raider Take. No, I’m not going to douse myself with gasoline and set myself on fire in the Coliseum parking lot. But I will definitely freak out in a very creative manner—unless someone can come in here right now and tell me why I shouldn’t.

It’s an eight-hour round trip for me to the Coliseum this Sunday. That’s a lot of time, money and fossil fuel invested in supporting this team. Is it too much to ask that our coaches reward me (and all of you) with 60 minutes of common sense? I can be patient with this new regime. I can stomach losing. I can wait for a lot of our current issues to be settled. But I will not stand for a lack of urgency in the face of defeat.

So there you have it. Now I can get off my high horse, with hopes that I’ve finally beat this horse dead.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

One Postgame Take

1. We were outmatched. However, before this game, I said that the Raiders might surprise us. Well, they surprised me. They made a game of it, in hostile environs, against a team that was supposed to dominate. The issues were familiar (running, protecting, stupid penalties), but not nearly as numerous (except for the stupid penalties). I’m seeing definite progress. In the context of an inconsistent offensive line and an ineffective running game, Andrew Walter is playing quite well. But here’s why we weren’t going to win that game, regardless of Jordan’s fumble: Late in the 4th quarter, down by two scores, we completed a pass for a first down to Anderson. He hit the turf with 5:55 on the clock. We snapped the ball on the next play, a short run by Jordan, with 5:17 on the clock. Jordan hit the turf at the 27 yard line with 5:13 on the clock. We didn’t snap the next play, which resulted in the fumble, until the clock reached 4:35. In other words, it took us nearly 1.5 minutes to run two plays with the clock ticking, with the game on the line, down by two scores, with only two timeouts, against a team that has yielded one offensive touchdown the entire season. I’m sorry, but you don’t win this game without a sense of urgency in that circumstance. We had to score at least a touchdown and a field goal, and stop one Denver offensive series, within that time frame. That’s utterly impossible if you’re taking 1.5 minutes to run two simple plays. And that’s on the coaching.

Haiku: Raiders 3 / Broncos 13

You are killing me,
Chad Slaughter; zero out of
five, the plot thickens.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hot Seats and Clean Houses

Which NFL coach is sitting on the hottest seat? RaiderRealist wrote with a link to this article, which asks the question. Art Shell’s underwear, many say, is about to catch fire.

But RaiderRealist makes this point: If the "experts" had the Raiders pegged at going 4-12, it would seem we are meeting expectations. Therefore, how can Art Shell be on the hot seat if the Dolphins, whom many had winning the AFC East, are 1-3? Shouldn't Nick Saban be on the hot seat? Shouldn't Gruden with the 0-4 Bucs?

In other words, the Raiders Haters said they could see the train wreck from a mile off, yet now they’re rubbernecking in feigned shock.

As for me, I was wrong. I thought that replacing Norv Turner with Art Shell alone would have an immediate and positive impact. After all, the knock on the Raiders wasn’t talent, but rather purpose and execution—two things that Art Shell specifically hired to implement. So here comes Art Shell, with virtually the same lineup at his disposal (minus Kerry Collins, which was supposed to be a plus!), and we play worse compared to last year? It boggles my mind. I didn’t see it coming. I guess you could call Tom Walsh the wild card, but last week’s loss sure wasn’t his fault.

Regardless, four games does not make a season. I am willing to wait and see (do I have a choice?). I would like to see a bit more method to the current madness, but I must remind myself (and if I don't, BlandaRocked will) that I’ve got my face pressed against the glass. I’m not on the inside. Perhaps what I am really seeing here is a housecleaning, one that probably should have started much earlier, and more vigorously. When does your house look its worst? When you’re cleaning it. Same with this team, I hope. I'll wait and see, but we'd better have one damn clean house come 2007.

Matt Leinart, whom we passed on in the draft, looked better in his first start last week than either Walter or Brooks has looked so far this year. He was playing behind the Cardinals’ notoriously porous line, and against a Chiefs team that had destroyed Alex Smith and the Niners the week before. In the words of one observer, Leinart “called audibles with the confidence of a 10-year veteran.” He made some mistakes (for which he wasn’t pulled from the game, I might add), but rebounded to drive the team for a last-second game winning field goal (which, because they’re the Cardinals, their sure-footed kicker missed).

One game does not make a career, whether you’re talking about Leinart or Walter. But the Raiders and Cardinals are a fair comparison right now. Their offensive lines are dubious, but both teams wield top receiving talent. They both reinforced their defenses during the offseason. Both teams began the season with veteran quarterbacks with questionable gas in the tank, and both are now starting their presumed quarterbacks of the future. Is it safe to say that both teams’ fortunes will likely rise or fall over the next few years with the play of these two quarterbacks? Or will the Raiders revert to form, stick with Aaron Brooks and continue to ply the journeyman trade?

In this context, the Cardinals matchup will be good theater next week. In the meantime, we go to Denver. I’ve got a strange feeling that the Raiders will surprise us on Sunday night. We sure surprised the Broncos on that snowy night two years ago. If we can find a way, somehow, to be stout against the run, and if we call an end to kindergarten and put the newly chastened Jerry Porter in the game, who knows? Don’t lose hope, Raider Nation. Stranger things have happened.

P.S. I will be out of town and offline for a few days, but look forward to reading your comments and emails when I return.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Great Unstacking

Remember the good old days, say six months ago, when the Raiders were supposedly “stacked” at wide receiver? Well, we’ve become unstacked in a hurry.

This is fresh from NFL.com: Raiders WR Randy Moss has again reiterated on a FOX Sports Radio segment that he's not happy in Oakland and would be open to leaving the team, be it via a trade this season or after 2006. "If they're not going to use me right or if I'm not, depending upon what they want as far as what they're paying me, then trade me or get rid of me at end of season or during the season. It might be good for me to go elsewhere," Moss said. Moss added that he's not interested in voicing his displeasure to Raiders owner Al Davis, calling it a waste of time.

Let’s review the Great Unstacking: Porter goes into Shell’s doghouse, apparently never to emerge again. Doug Gabriel is traded just prior to the start of the season. Alvis Whitted, at age 32, is named a bona fide starter for the first time in his career. Randy Moss jogs around the field, drops easy balls, then claims, repeatedly, that the team isn’t using him correctly. Ronald Curry lingers in the background, and Johnnie Morant gets about as much action as Jerry Porter.

So Gabriel is long gone, Porter will apparently never wear a Raiders gameday jersey again, and Randy Moss has one lazy foot out the door.

Therefore, unless we plan on rebuilding the 2007 receiving corps around Alvis Whitted, I’d like to see a new receivers plan implemented on the field, effective immediately.

If you would like some icing on this bitter cake, read this story (thanks for the link, Damon and Mad Stork 83), in which Moss calls out Raiders legend Howie Long for stating the obvious.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Five Postgame Takes

1. This is not a rebuilding year, as some have asserted (mainly as a coping mechanism, I presume), because it did not start out as a rebuilding year. If it had been a rebuilding year, then we wouldn’t have started the season with Aaron Brooks throwing to Alvis Whitted. However, we might want to embrace the idea of a “forced rebuilding,” in which we don't really have a choice now that the whole craphouse has gone up in flames. Unless, of course, you choose to bench Andrew Walter in the midst of his second start, in a game that was out of reach, and in which he played relatively well. So much for rebuilding, eh? Why are we driving around in circles? What’s the plan here? Where’s the road map? I follow this team very closely, yet I can’t begin to answer these questions. Scary.

2. I take back everything I said about Justin Fargas (Brittle! No moves!). This guy has played like a monster over the past two games.

3. The Browns booted Trent Dilfer and handed the reins to Charlie Frye before training camp commenced. Frye was drafted in the third round of 2005, just like Walter. The Chargers booted Drew Brees in favor of Philip Rivers during the offseason. This is how you develop your presumed quarterback of the future. You give him a year or two to watch and learn, then you start him and stick with him until you have sufficient information on which to base his long-term prospects. In the cases of Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington, you find out that they don’t have the right stuff. In the cases of Eli Manning and Carson Palmer, you find out that they do have the right stuff. The jury is still out on guys like Alex Smith and Charlie Frye. But the only way to acquire the requisite information is to play them, for an extended period, through thick and thin. Bookending a second-year guy with Aaron Brooks and Marques Tuiasosopo within a four-game span is not the way to do it. Which leads me to believe that the Raiders do not consider Andrew Walter their quarterback of the future. Brace yourself for more Aaron Brooks to Alvis Whitted, because it’s coming soon to a Coliseum near you.

4. I liked seeing Madsen out there at tight end. After yet another absurd drop by Williams, it was nice to see a tight end with actual hands. I don’t know much about his blocking capabilities, but at this point I don’t care, as long as I don’t have to see Anderson and Williams putting easy balls on the turf.

5. Sorry to be so negative, folks, but a beating at the hands of the Niners will do that. To be honest, until Walter was benched, I was relatively chipper for a guy who’s team was getting blasted on San Francisco soil. I thought that, despite his miscues, Walter was looking pretty sharp for a quarterback making his second start. Fargas was on fire. Curry was involved. The offensive line was finding a measure of redemption. The playcalling was much improved. We were losing, but it was a more fertile way of losing, one in which you might plant seeds of hope. The forced rebuilding was underway! But then Tui got the call…

Blown Call: Walter Benched for Tui

Even after LaMont Jordan suffered from brain freeze on the incomplete backward pass, when it was clear that this game was out of our hands, I was relatively upbeat—because I had lowered my expectations and was generally encouraged by the play of Walter, Fargas, Madsen and others. Call it a forced rebuilding. I figured that a new way of losing at least beats the old way of losing.

But then I heard that Tui was warming up…My blood pressure started rising. Then Tui came in and threw an interception, after which he led a touchdown drive. Either way, what is the point? What is the plan? It’s Walter’s second start, and we’re already messing with his head?

If Moss catches that TD, if Williams catches that ball, if Madsen’s sideline grab wasn't thieved by the zebras, if Jordan hustles on that backward pass…Then Walter’s really not having such a bad day.

His reward: The bench. I’m pretty tweaked out with this decision to pull Walter. The game is still in progress. More on this later.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Raider Take Express for 10/8

Here is the latest edition of the Raider Take Express, our weekly roundup of input and observations around the turf of Raider Take. Please keep sending your ideas, tips and feedback to raidertake@yahoo.com.

1. I saw an amusing article in the Los Angeles Times entitled: “Raiders Still Winners—in Ratings.” The author scoffs at the Raiders v. 49ers game being aired on CBS’s Los Angeles affiliate at the expense of allegedly better matchups. Yet he also admits that there’s “a little logic” to the decision. You see, the Winless Bowl between the Raiders and Browns earned an 8.8 rating and a 21 share in Los Angeles, while the Chargers v. Ravens got a 7.5 rating and a 20 share. The Raiders game was the highest-rated program on television on Sunday in Los Angeles among men aged 18 to 49.

The author scratches his head and asks: “What’s the attraction?” The attraction, my friend, is loyalty. That’s how it is in the Raider Nation, win or lose. Yet the author further puzzles over the fact that “L.A. traditionally likes teams that win, and the Raiders haven't been doing much of that lately.” Mr. Los Angeles Times, I’d like to introduce you to your community. Surprise! You are living in the Raider Nation. You clearly need to get out more often.

2. Damon wrote with a link to
this article, in which some Raiders take offense to recent criticism from Tim Brown and Rich Gannon. Many in the locker room also contradict Randy Moss’s assertion that “no one cares about what's going on around here." Speak for yourself, Randy. But don’t you dare pass the buck for your half-assing. Don’t you dare insult the many Raiders who care deeply, guys like Cooper, Jordan, Carr and others who never jog with the game on the line. Our kickers are more physical than you, Mr. Moss.

3. A
blog piece by Phil Barber of the Press Democrat contrasts the situations of Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, concluding that they are a reflection of the Raiders’ “bizarre and self-defeating system of reward and punishment.” It’s a reasonable analysis. Porter, who is apparently working hard and keeping his mouth shut, remains inactive. Moss, who is not working hard while continuing to flap his negative gums, remains a supposed centerpiece of the offense.

4. The 49ers were showing serious signs of life until they walked into Arrowhead Stadium last week. The Chiefs noted that Alex Smith’s newfound success was coming from the comfort of the pocket. So they schemed to force him out of the pocket. Voila, a shutout. We must follow the Chiefs' lead and flush this guy out. Losing to the Niners is not an option.

5. I’d like to thank BlandaRocked, Raider00, AngelicRaider, Bama7, FreakingPope, Calico Jack and others who kept the lights on in this place over the past few days while I stumbled around in search of a take. Their comments can be viewed on my previous take. They waged a thoughtful debate about the root of our current problems, as well as the search for solutions. Good stuff. At the end of the day, we stand united. We may like little of what we've seen so far this year, but we all still bleed silver and black.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Moss Watch Begins

It’s officially time to start the Moss Watch.

I took Randy Moss to task in the preseason for his unproductive comments and behavior. On Sunday, I took it a step further, questioning his effort. I expected to get hammered, as I always have in the past whenever I criticized Moss. Not this time. In fact, most of you supported my take.

In other words, the Raider Nation gave Randy Moss a ton of leeway, and yet he has found a way to exceed it.

Now we have Moss saying the following in the wake of his dismal play during Sunday’s awful defeat: “I’m doing good man, I’m not even that too concerned with football right now. I’m just loving life.”

That statement is a slap in the face to every fan who punches a clock and sacrifices their limited disposable income to buy tickets (or NFL Sunday Ticket) to watch their Oakland Raiders.

Of course, Moss, who has become a master of doubletalk, also says that he doesn’t want to be a “negative” or a “cancer.”

Last week, LaMont Jordan took a vocal leadership role and called out his teammates, then proceeded to back up his words on the field. Randy Moss, who refuses to speak to the local media (ie: a Raider fan's best source for reporting and information on the Raiders), did just the opposite, jogging around the field and then lamely prodding young Courtney Anderson to say what he himself wasn’t man enough to say after the loss to the Browns.

The Moss Watch is now underway. Our blinders are off. In the Raider Nation, no one is above the laws of effort and teamwork. Not even Randy Moss.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Five Postgame Takes

1. While the score was close, I will declare no moral victory. I see no moral victory in yielding an 18 point lead to an 0-3 team. Our offense finally showed some life—at the same time our defense revealed itself as average. I'm not saying our defense is bad. But that doesn't mean it's great. We couldn’t stop the Browns when we needed to stop them. I like the interceptions. I like the energy. But in the end, we just couldn’t keep the Browns down. Sure, our offense went into a shell in the second half, forcing the defense to carry the load. But that’s what great defenses do, they carry the load. As for the offense, Jordan tore it up, and Walter was better than his stats, which were vandalized by dropped balls. It was nice to finally see some multidimensional playcalling, too. But our offensive line still stinks. Our tight ends are totally unreliable. And Whitted is still starting for reasons unknown. I think I saw some silver lining today, but a lot remains to be seen.

2. Randy Moss is getting on my nerves. I’m not seeing the effort. Sorry, I’m just not. He’s waiting for the game to come to him. The greatest players don't wait, they seize. Yes, that was a nice touchdown. No, that wasn’t a great effort on the long ball that went through is hands. No, I’m not seeing him fight for the ball. I know I’ll get hammered for this. So be it, I’m tired of tiptoeing around the subject.

3. The good news: our kickers are a couple of badass tacklers. The bad news: we desperately need them on kick coverage.

4. On the Browns’ first offensive drive in the third quarter, the zebras missed, to my eyes, a couple of blatant holds, enabling the Browns to steal yardage and score a touchdown. Then a zebra thieved a first down from us at a crucial moment in the fourth quarter, despite being right on top of the play. Once again, the zebras screw the Raiders. Still, how do we not challenge the spot of that ball? How!? This reeks of utter incompetence at the coaching level. A postgame report says: “Shell chose not to challenge the spot after consulting with the coaches upstairs.” Which coaches—and what is their excuse? Forget the question. There is no excuse. Incredible.

5. Accusations of the Raiders being the worst team by far in the NFL—and even one of the worst teams in NFL history—are greatly exaggerated. The Raiders Haters can now take a deep breath and come back down to earth. Yes, the Raiders are struggling. Go ahead, kick us while we’re down. But quit throwing us a pity party, because soon enough, based on what I saw today, we just might bite your team in the ass.

Haiku: Raiders 21 / Browns 24

Redemption falls short
by a stolen yard, a red

flag not thrown, hope Fryed.