Sunday, December 30, 2007

One Postseason Take

After the Raiders refused to show up in Jacksonville last Sunday, I decided to honor them by not showing up at Raider Take for the ensuing week. I considered it an extended Christmas vacation from gnashing my teeth over our so-called defense, which handed us our worst regular-season beating since 1961.

Being on the road, visiting family and friends for the holidays, made it particularly easy for me to play hooky. I appreciate all of you who kept the home fires burning during my irresponsible absence.

I finally emerged from my monastic zen state today to watch the Raiders lose to Norv Turner and the Chargers, and I'm not going to say much about it, at least for the time being, because I want to choose my words carefully, and I am at a loss for such careful words at the moment.

I look around the NFL and see the Falcons notch their fourth win today, putting up 44 points on the playoff-bound Seahawks. The Falcons endured the most cursed season in the history of the NFL, yet still managed to match our record. I see woeful Baltimore beat the playoff-bound Steelers. I see marginal Houston put up 42 points in routing the playoff-bound Jaguars, who routed us last week. I see awful Carolina rack up 31 points to beat the playoff-bound Buccaneers. You might say that these playoff-bound teams were taking the day off, but the other teams still had to really show up to notch those point totals.

Meanwhile, I see the Raiders fail to beat playoff-bound teams for the past four straight weeks, racking up a total of 49 points over that span (the same number Jacksonville put up on us last Sunday). Excluding the Browns, whom we beat with a last-second field goal, the three other teams we beat finished the season with a combined total of 12 victories. Thankfully, two of those teams were AFC West opponents, so at least that little monkey is off our back.

We have plenty of excuses for everything, including the last four weeks. But the fact is that only two teams won fewer games than the Raiders this year. If that's how we measure major improvement, then that only reveals how far we've fallen.

I don't mean to be a downer or drag. I just don't want this season to end amid a hail of excuses and "wait till next years!" I don't want us to get used to this. Ever.

A telling comment by Lane Kiffin was revealed by the CBS crew today. They said they asked Kiffin about what surprised him most about moving from the college ranks to the NFL, and he said that he'd assumed everyone would be a professional in the NFL, and he was surprised at how many players are, in fact, unprofessional (I'm paraphrasing here, but that's how I heard it). And we know he wasn't talking about the Patriots or the Packers.

Think about Kiffin's comment for a second. Then order up some TNT.

I believe that things are pointed in the right direction. I believe that this was a season of progress. I believe that our progress was limited, however, by questionable actions and inactions regarding our personnel, dating back to last year and through the offseason and regular season. I believe that our offense was quantum leap over last year's offense. I believe that our defense took an alarming step backward. I believe that our biggest problem is re-learning how to win. I believe that Kiffin is the man for the job, and hope that he remains on the job. I believe that he needs a few sticks of dynamite.

Best of all, one way or the other, I still believe. I don't need or want excuses. I want solutions. I can handle the truth. My loyalty and dedication will remain unshaken no matter what happens, and I think I speak for the Raider Nation on that point, so let's get down to business and build a winning team for 2008.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

First Three Minutes Take

Wow, how 'bout that run defense! Not.

Apparently, our secondary was briefly abducted by aliens. There was only one white shirt in view during the last 40 yards of that romp.

Not a good start.

UPDATE: Hiram Eugene, PLEASE TRY TO TACKLE LIKE AN NFL PLAYER! Just because you replaced Stu doesn't mean you should try to tackle like him. Jeez! This isn't soccer. You can use your arms! What's it going to take? WWTD?

UPDATE: I want to be sympathetic to Sapp and company, given all the junk food the zebras have fed us over the past few weeks, but they should know better. We need to focus on tackling and stuff like that. Getting tossed sure doesn't help. Losing one's composure to that degree just isn't defensible, and it makes Kiffin look foolish.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Out of Limbo, Into The Future

Rumors of Raider Take’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Immediately following last Sunday’s game, I simply came down with a rare case of writer’s block. I watched the game and just couldn’t find anything interesting to say about it. I think it’s just a matter of feeling like I'm in Raiders limbo or purgatory.

The game was a moral victory, but not a victory. Should I celebrate—or should I wonder how long it’s going to take for us to win one of these games we supposedly shouldn’t?

We played stoutly on defense, but again let our opponent march down the field after our own big score, and at the precise time we needed to shut them down. This stout defensive effort was also vandalized by another jaw-dropping special teams breakdown.

Justin Fargas ran hard, then got hurt. Again. He had a great year, but let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that he’s going to lead a lethal rushing attack for years to come. So who do we run now? Not our future running back Michael Bush, but the twin pine riders of Rhodes and Jordan.

We saw a lot of McCown and a little Russell, a ratio that will hopefully be inverted next season. I mean, this week. Russell looks like the real deal—but what’s it going to take to get a longer look?

The zebras again became a regrettable focal point. I can’t make excuses for them, but I’m sure waiting for the day when we can simply take the refs out of the equation by playing better and getting ahead on the scoreboard. Raiders fans complaining about the refs right now is like a prisoner complaining about the jailhouse food. There’s nothing we can do, and they’re going to keep feeding it to us until we figure out a way to get paroled.

I’m now reading that Stuart Schweigert is unhappy, and that he’s lost his “swagger.” He’s bitching and moaning about losing his starting job. Dude, cue up some game film and look at yourself, starting with the highlight where you got dragged down the sideline in Tennessee, followed by the 10-yard patty cake routine in Green Bay.

I know the team is improving. We’ve doubled our win total and probably tripled or quadrupled our offensive output.

And yet, with just a few breaks, we could have won four games last year, too. We lost a few really close ones in 2006. So, if I were to compare this year’s output to last year’s output solely on paper, I would be inclined to say that we would be a six or seven win team this year. We still could be if we beat the Jaguars and Chargers, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll jump for joy if we can get to five wins by the end of this season.

The bottom line is that the team is playing better but still needs to learn how to win. Or perhaps I’m being too harsh—playing the Packers, Colts, Jaguars and Chargers to finish the year isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Maybe the NFL will give us an extra game against the Patriots, just for giggles.

So there you have it, my existentialism laid bare. The Colts game just left me a bit cold and wondering about where we’re headed. Maybe I just need a vacation, because it was a relatively impressive performance, one that restored our dignity after the debacle in Green Bay.

I think I’m just anxious. At this point, I’d like to see more of Russell. Dude’s not a porcelain doll, let’s get on with it. I’d like to see Michael Bush, though I know I’ll have to wait until next year. Hiram Eugene replaces Stuart Schweigert? Jeez, what took so long?

Let’s get serious about this future business, let’s deliver ourselves from limbo, let’s shake the personnel tree and see where the fruit falls. And the next time we need to hold the opponent, let’s just do it for once. It’s time to win a game we shouldn’t.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

News You Can't Use

Mentioning an unsubstantiated rumor makes you a perpetrator of the rumor. Mentioning an unsubstantiated rumor in a major media outlet makes you a gross perpetrator of the rumor. This is a fact, there’s no debating it, case closed.

Which makes many in our local sports media gross perpetrators of unsubstantiated rumors. Nice.

Some weeks ago, Lane Kiffin was mentioned in a speculative report as a potential candidate for the Arkansas job. Not a single credible source was named, but the local media still ran with the rumor, and pestered Kiffin about it for two straight days.

Now the rumors of Kiffin’s wandering eye have resurfaced, thanks to a site that at least has the self awareness to put its unsubstantiated rumors under the banner of “Rumor Mill.” The site claimed that Kiffin was outraged at not getting the Arkansas job, and that he’s still anxious to jump ship for the college ranks.

So, this morning we are faced with more speculative palaver. This is how one Bay Area outlet poured gasoline on the fire while, of course, implying that we not shoot the messenger: “Still, the rumor persisted until Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino resigned Tuesday and accepted the Arkansas job. That prompted even more Kiffin mentions, though nary a single one cited a named source… When asked if he had any desire to take a college coaching job at any point, Kiffin said: ‘No, no. I'm coaching the Raiders and getting us ready to play. I don't have any idea where all that information came from.’”

This is how the media perpetrators cling to the illusion of occupying the high road. Of course it’s not okay to initiate unsubstantiated rumors, but, hey, if someone else starts one and we just report on and perpetuate the rumor, well, by golly, it’s all in a good day’s work. Is it 3 p.m. yet? I could use a good vodka tonic. I’m exhausted by all of my original reporting. I wore the leather right off my shoe today.

Let’s be clear about one thing: irresponsible and unsubstantiated rumors can later be proven true, but that doesn’t make them any less irresponsible and unsubstantiated. Could Lane Kiffin jump ship for Michigan? I guess it’s possible. It’s also possible that he might be a space alien.

The news about Bobby Petrino bolting Atlanta for Arkansas suggests that the previous rumor about Kiffin bolting to Arkansas was both harmful and wrong. Yet instead of feeling chastened by this revelation, the local media instead use this news as yet another excuse to pester Kiffin and speculate about his inner thoughts.

Just because a rumor exists doesn’t mean you have to report on it. Really. You could just ignore it. The previous rumor was dead wrong, and the new one doesn’t cite a single named source. You don’t have to bite on every piece of bait in the information ocean, do you? Get a professional grip, folks.

On one final hypocritical note, we should observe that the mainstream media are constantly trying to draw a distinction between themselves and mere “bloggers.” This distinction allegedly rests on the notion of journalistic standards (we know it has nothing to do with writing talent, that’s for sure), to which bloggers supposedly aren’t beholden.

And yet the mainstream media are more than happy to let the blogger tail wag their dog on a slow news day, biting on juicy internet-fueled rumors that should be ignored rather than perpetuated.

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

P.S. The editor of the aforementioned "Rumor Mill" site is featured in the current issue of Sports Illustrated, in which he admits that he is not bound by traditional journalistic standards (who is anymore?), and in which he is quoted as saying, "We don't report rumors as hard news. We trust our readers to know the difference." And yet we apparently can't trust some members of the local sports media to know the difference. Go figure.


Monday, December 10, 2007

One Postgame Take

As Lane Kiffin said, we got beat in every phase of the game on Sunday. I sure didn’t expect it. While the Packers were obviously going to be a formidable foe on the frozen tundra, I figured we could hang with them, and possibly even beat them. Boy, was I was wrong.

The close score at the end of the first half was an illusion. Our lone touchdown was one of many questionable jump balls thrown by McCown, who was as awful on this Sunday as he was uplifting the Sunday before. He’s the new Rex Grossman: Good Josh, Bad Josh.

The most surprising thing for me was just how un-physical our defense played. As we've observed on prior occasions, they were like Cirque du Soleil, a bunch of silly acrobats flying around, hitting nothing. Stuart Schweigert seemed to be playing patty cake with the receiver on that one touchdown. If I stepped out my front door and saw Michael Huff bull rushing me, I just might lower my shoulder and like my chances. Did you see Stanford Routt totally whiff on that airball by Favre?

It’s almost like we need to switch our receivers with our secondary. That way, we could gain some physicality in the backfield while implementing some much-needed speed in our receiving corps. I’d bet Porter could pop some people, and Curry’s no shrimp, either.

Think about it: Jennings crosses the middle, he catches the ball…No! Jerry Porter blows him up and the ball comes out!

Culpepper stands in the pocket, he throws deep, he’s got Fabian Washington wide open for a touchdown! No, wait, it's Philip Buchanon!

It’s depressing that our defense seems to be degenerating, especially after a strong showing in 2006, and certainly after serial drafting defensive backs for so many years. Ryan Grant put up 156 yards on the ground on Sunday. I don’t have the energy to look up the stats, but I’ve got to figure we’re about to set a record for most 150+ yard games by individual backs in a single season. The frequency of such performances against our defense is truly absurd.

The refereeing was awful, as has been well documented by Raider Take commentators in the previous take. It becomes a question of bias versus incompetence. I’d buy the bias theory more if there’d been a chance of us winning the game, but there was no chance of that. The only thing bias could have ensured in this game is a bigger loss. Regardless, there’s no excuse for either bias or incompetence at this level, and the perpetrators should be held accountable.

The mindless fawning over Brett Favre is starting to turn my stomach, and I’m actually inclined to like the guy, but there’s only so much I can take. Our defense is really adept at making Favre's lack of aim look like lethal precision on long bombs, a trend that was most evident in that Monday night game some years ago. Anyhow, the talking heads always have their pets, and Favre is the ultimate media pet these days. Thurman Thomas, Wayne Chrebet, Jerome Bettis, Peyton Manning, yada, yada, yada.

It’s not that I expected us to dominate the Packers. But after stout victories against the Chiefs and Broncos, I thought we’d turned a corner and would put up a good fight. Instead, we got manhandled on both sides of the ball and looked uniformly sloppy in the process. Errant kicks, untimely penalties, stupid fumble, missed tackles, coaching blunders, the whole nine yards.

Anyhow, I’m just rambling. I’m running around the keybord, missing assignments, unclear on my destination, unsure of my fundamentals. I think I’ll just throw in a word here, a word there. What happens if I press this key? Uh-oh. Wide right. Yellow flag but no red flag. Arm tackle. Patty cake, patty cake. Throw into triple coverage. Take over. Sound familiar?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Halftime Take

Watching the Raiders in the first half today in Green Bay, they reminded me of a beheaded chicken, flinging the ball up for grabs, patty-cake tackling, randomly flying around. The coaching staff missed a crucial challenge on the punt return for a touchdown, too. Just out of sync in general. And yet...It could be worse, and thanks to Porter's amazing grab, we're still very much in this game. A gut check at halftime could turn the tide in our favor.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

BFN Welcomes New Member

The Black Flag Network (BFN) enthusiastically raises a frosty Bass Ale to welcome the addition of Across the Silver and Black Pond as a new commentator on the Oakland Raiders experience.

Across the Silver and Black Pond brings a unique perspective to the life of a Raiders fan. Blogging passionately about the Raiders by way of the United Kingdom, LeighRaider wittily shows that the Raider Nation has no geographical boundaries.

BFN looks forward to continually building a positive rapport with the Raider Nation. The following Q&A is a means of introducing Raiders fans to Across the Silver and Black Pond and shedding some new light on how a Brit became a card carrying member of the Raider Nation.

Calico Jack: Tell us how an Englishman became a die hard Raiders fan? When did you begin to follow American football and how did you become a fan of the Raiders in particular?

LeighRaider: We first got the NFL broadcast in the UK in 1982, which was good timing because there was no soccer being shown at the time here due to a TV rights dispute, and we only had four TV channels at that time which gave us some terrible Sunday evening programming. So the introduction of this new sport had little competition for viewers, and it was obviously very new to us. It was fast and colourful, there was hard physical contact and there were Cheerleaders!

People picked their teams for various reasons, a lot would choose the first team they saw on the TV and that’s probably why the Dolphins have had a good fan base here because they were on the first show. I think some people picked from the name of the team or location. For me it was much easier, it was the sight of some bloke flying by on a highlight segment wearing Silver and Black, how can that not seal it for you?

Raider Take: When did you begin to follow American football and how did you become a fan of the Raiders in particular?

LeighRaider: The NFL took off in quite a big way over the next few years here and as well as the following of the game on TV every week with live games and highlight shows, teams sprang up here at an amateur level. On a personal level it all coincided with meeting a group of people who are our circle of friends today, and a couple of them were Raiders fans too. In those early days of the Channel 4 coverage here, it was rare to get the Raiders games, as they would try to spread games between all of the teams, so a lot of the time we would have to resort to listening to Armed Forces Network radio. The signal was weak and sometimes intermittent but we crowded around it every week in a bedroom because that was the only part of my house where it worked.

So with a combination of Sunday live coverage, weekly highlight TV shows, the radio, and the UK's weekly NFL magazine - First Down, we became big fans pretty quickly. We got to see the Raiders play in London in 1990, only pre-season I know, but we pestered someone at Wembley Stadium to let us into the Raider practice the day before the game, so got to see some of our heroes up close like Howie Long and an un-suited Lyle Alzado. We were also watching our Britball team Manchester Spartans home and away, and when the World League kicked off with the Monarchs we were there too. Following the Raiders got easier as the TV coverage got better, but its a lot easier post internet and satellite TV where we now have multiple NFL sources to choose from.

CJ: Please share with us one of the highlights of your recent trip to Oakland.

LR: We've been to Oakland three times now and each trip has had its highlights. To be honest every time we come over the a constant highlight to us is Ricky's in San Leandro, that’s our first port of call after the 11 hour flight, and generally our last too. That's where we first got a taste for what the Raider Nation is all about, we were supposed to be calling in there on our first trip as we'd heard about it, and ended up leaving a few hours later, very drunk, so much so that Tina had to take us back to the BART. In fact people we met on that first day in Ricky's are now old friends who treat us like family when we are in the Bay Area.

The game day is the ultimate highlight, after all those years watching on TV and listening to dodgy radio feeds. Everything from the tailgate to the game and just seeing the game live. We will ignore the fact that we have still to see a win though. The tailgate is always great for us, because there is nothing like it here, if you turned up at a soccer stadium with a grill they would look at you like you had gone mad. We have always had great company on our game days. We hang out with our good friend's from Hayward and this year were welcomed into the South Shield fold. The Raider Nation is as advertised and the hospitality and camaraderie is always great.

Another big deal to us, having been fans from so far away for so long, is meeting players who we had only seen on TV or read about. On our first visit we met Jim Plunkett in a San Francisco restaurant and Kenny King and Rod Martin in Ricky's. This time around it was John Vella, Mike Davis, Derek Ramsey and Mr. Rod Martin again. The ex players always have time for you and are usually surprised that they are known by a bunch of Brits.

P.S. Please click on "comments" to view more of our Q&A with LeighRaider.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Big Plays and Little Things

Sometimes it’s the little things. By now, you all know the story of Sunday’s game, and all the reasons to scream and shout, so I won’t belabor the obvious. Therefore, I’d just like to focus on an unheralded moment just prior to halftime, one that got me fired up nearly as much as the big plays and final score.

With 38 seconds on the clock, and the Broncos facing second and nine on their own 15-yard line, Lane Kiffin called a timeout. Then, after the Broncos ran the ball for seven yards, he called a second timeout with 31 seconds remaining. After Denver got a first down on the next play, he stopped calling timeouts.

But the strategy was clear—Kiffin intended to stop Denver, get the ball back with about 20 seconds left, and fight for a long field goal before time expired.

Conversely, he wasn’t worried about giving the Broncos extra clock stoppages that might aid them if they came up with a big play.

In other words, Kiffin was totally on the offensive, even on defense.

This little sequence had no bearing on the game and was quickly forgotten, but I am convinced that it signals a long-overdue shift in our collective coaching mindset. You would have never seen something like this under Turner and Shell, who never seemed to grasp the concept of playing to win, and who never seemed to ask the question “What do we have to lose?,” even when all they were doing was losing.

Those of you who frequent these parts know that, for two and a half straight years, I have been literally flipping out about countless time-management decisions that contradict the laws of both common sense and competitive football. Kiffin himself has been a perpetrator at times. But he seems to have turned an important corner, and not a moment too soon.

What do we have to lose? Kiffin has finally answered that question: nothing. And this moment of clarity and catharsis has netted us back-to-back wins over AFC West rivals. It’s obvious in the playcalling, and it’s obvious in the execution. But it’s also obvious in the little things, like those aforementioned timeouts.

Kiffin stopped the clock and dared Shanahan and his team to make the big play. Kiffin stopped the clock because he was convinced we could keep them from getting a first down. Kiffin stopped the clock because he thought we could respond by quickly getting into Janikowski’s generous field goal range. Kiffin stopped the clock because he was ready to kick some ass.

Much has been made about Kiffin getting animated on the sideline during the game and even talking some smack. I know that the players appreciate it, but they no doubt appreciate these quieter votes of confidence as well. They, too, must be rejoicing about our return to competitive sanity.

On a related note, Sunday’s game was more than a mere victory, it was a long-awaited return to grown-up, highly functional football. Four offensive touchdowns in one game! There was a time—say, last month—when we couldn’t score four offensive touchdowns in four games. There was time—say, last year—when four touchdowns represented 25 percent of our seasonal output. I can’t tell you how thrilled Cousin of Raider Take and I were to be watching an exciting, dynamic game of highly functional football inside the Oakland Coliseum. It seems like it’s been ages. In fact, it has.

The frosting on the cake was the debut of JaMarcus Russell, and the deafening roar that accompanied him. The zip on his ball was remarkable. Compared to McCown, it was like seeing Nolan Ryan after watching Phil Niekro, if you get my drift.

Still, McCown proved that you don’t need a cannon to make the big plays. I recall him performing well enough during his days in Arizona, including a brilliant last-second touchdown pass to knock the Vikings out of the playoffs some years ago. Finally, he showed the upside I’d initially expected from him. Perhaps he just needed time to get acclimated—not to mention the extra time provided by our improving offensive line.

In the span of eight days, we’ve seen a revitalized Culpepper and a born-again McCown. Coincidence? Maybe. But it surely has something to do with the supporting cast, too, including the coaches. But whatever the reason, we’re suddenly seeing some serious playmaking. We’ve gone from tricycle to motorcycle in a span of two weeks. I need not tell you that this bodes very well for the immediate future of Lane Kiffin and the Oakland Raiders.

When things really get going at the Coliseum, the crowd becomes a sort of collective animal, a loud, throbbing explosion of humanity. On Sunday, the animal was unleashed, and it was quite a magnificent sight to see.

Yet amid all the big plays and riotous revelry, we can’t forget the significance of those two little timeouts, for they, too, reveal the return of a winning attitude to Oakland.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Donkey: Tastes Like Chicken

Fire up the barbies, Raider Nation. It's time to grill some Donkey and start a new kind of streak. The hour is nigh on the Return to Glory. Revel and rejoice.