Sunday, October 28, 2007

Five Postgame Takes

1. Hey, nice defense! Too bad we lost because we couldn’t score a touchdown. Paging Art Shell.

2. Give me one good reason why a Lane Kiffin-coached team can only score a total of two offensive touchdowns over the last 12 quarters of football? Think about it. Right when we should have been hitting our stride, on the heels of two victories, we’ve gone straight down the offensive toilet. Different coaches, different quarterbacks, different wide receivers. But still the same old story. This is getting spooky. Halloween is nigh, my friends. Halloween is nigh.

3. I keep hearing that this is a rebuilding year. With the possible exception of Zach Miller, name me one player who played on offense against the Titans around whom we are rebuilding. How do you rebuild without promising new materials? Don’t give me JaMarcus Russell, Michael Bush and other holdouts, IR “stars” or benchwarmers. If we’re rebuilding, around whom are we rebuilding? You might say we will be rebuilding, but how can you say we are rebuilding? And if we’re not rebuilding right now, what are we doing?

4. I guess we’re finding out the hard way why Daunte Culpepper and Mike Williams were cast off by two of last year’s worst teams in the NFL. Remember, my job isn’t NFL talent evaluator. It’s not my fault. But I can assure you that it’s somebody’s fault that we’re in this perpetual personnel predicament, now spanning five years and four coaching regimes.

5. Fourteen penalties for 100 yards and 27 rushes for 92 yards. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Halftime Take: Back to The Future

The good news is that we're ahead. The bad news is that we've scored two offensive touchdowns in 10 quarters of football.

Gotta like our defense. Looks a lot like last year, minimal offense, shutdown defense. The difference is that we're in the lead, thanks to Janikowski and the Atkins diet.

Hang in there, Raiders. You owe us this one.

3rd Quarter Update: Run defense...failing...again. Time for some offense.

End of game summary: You would think that one advantage of having the same old lousy veteran personnel on offense would be that they could at least avoid making rookie mistakes. Guess not.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

News You Can't Use

Well, I’ve had my say about last Sunday's game, and now it’s time to circle the wagons and discuss this recent piece in the San Jose Mercury News. It begins:

Those shootings in the Raiders' parking lot couldn't have come at a better time for NFL fans in the Bay Area. See, the team's next home game is Nov. 4 against the Houston Texans. That's the only other game CBS is televising in the late time frame besides...wait for it...Almost Certainly Undefeated New England At Probably Undefeated Indianapolis.

Admit it. You're cheering for a blackout. Even if you're a Raiders fan, you're cheering for a blackout. A regular-season matchup like Pats-Colts, that comes along not even once in a decade. Probably once every 15 years, like the Steelers-Raiders "criminal element" game of 1976 or the 49ers-Giants Ronnie Lott-Mark Bavaro clash of 1990.

We aim to play on that fear. We want you not to buy a ticket. The Raiders no doubt disagree, but they shouldn't; heck, as a gesture to fans and a clever marketing ploy, they should give us this gift of Pats-Colts in return for a future game.

The article goes on to make five more jokes about the shootings, which I bet aren’t funny at all to the victims’ loved ones. On Saturday night, four men were shot because they were mistaken for gang rivals. Hah, hah, hah?

I understand that it’s meant to be humorous, but it’s just not. What’s more funny to me is that the “mainstream” media increasingly perpetuate what they claim to hate about the “new” citizen media such as blogs—personalized, sarcastic and disrespectful journalism.

Honestly, what’s the difference between this Mercury piece and this piece I’m writing, except that mine is more respectful (and, if I may say so myself, better written)?

Making light of shootings, openly rooting for fans to stay away from a local football team…I don’t know, it just seems in really poor taste, doesn’t it? Is this really the role of regional sports journalism these days, a sort of Letterman-Hater hybrid?

Sure, the Patriots v. Colts is a compelling matchup, one that many will want to see. But in an age when nearly every corner bar has NFL Sunday Ticket, allowing you to watch any game in the nation, the whole blackout “issue” is irrelevant. How about encouraging Raiders fans to support their team, and encouraging others to support their local taverns and restaurants that have NFL Sunday Ticket?

I don’t mean to sound too pious about this. Go ahead and mock the team’s performance if you must, but do we really need local media to irresponsibly hype the alleged danger of attending a Raiders game? I saw babies, toddlers and senior citizens at the last game, all of whom were wounded only by the performance of our offense.

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


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Five Postgame Takes

Here are my five postgame takes, totaling less than 200 words, meaning that my effort here is commensurate with the energy displayed by the Raiders offense…

1. Can y’all hear me now (regarding what I was saying last week)?

2. I look around and see relatively capable names like Culpepper, Jordan, Griffith, Rhodes, Porter, Curry, Miller and an offensive line that’s at least improving, and I think: how can this group lay such a boring, plodding 60-minute turd against a divisional rival at home? Honestly, televised chess has more fireworks.

3. Why are we so afraid to throw downfield, especially when it works the very few times we try it? Are we afraid of missing yet another opportunity to rush the ball for no gain?

4. On that final drive, on the final play, there was utter confusion, resulting in an interception. Some will blame Williams for the confusion, most will blame Culpepper for the interception, but the entire team looked unprepared for the exercise of a two-minute offense. Confusion equals turnovers.

5. The Raider Nation is perilously close to the third step of the three-step program: denial, anger, apathy. The fans seemed to file out of the stadium not outraged, and not shellshocked, just resigned, collective shoulders slumped. Stay angry, Raider Nation. Apathy doesn't become us.

P.S. Remember, as George “Aristotle” Atkinson said on the KSFO postgame show: “This is a game about points.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Upside of Anger

I’m typically a sunny bloke, as I’ve demonstrated over the past two years here at Raider Take. If a dog crapped on my birthday cake, there’s a good chance I’d call it frosting.

So when I published my tirade on Tuesday, many seemed taken aback. It was as if I’d gone from sipping a half-full pint of Guiness to a half-empty vessel of battery acid. For some, it was as if they’d discovered that their aunt was really their uncle, if you know what I mean.

I must confess that I, too, was taken aback by my riotous outrage after Sunday’s loss. Honestly, it took me by surprise. But rather than hide it from you, I laid my soul bare. I found it to be very therapeutic. If you haven’t thrown a tantrum lately, I highly recommend it.

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been psychoanalyzing myself, trying to locate the source of my rage. And my journey, oddly enough, took me right back to where I started: with optimism.

Allow me to explain (and to paraphrase my own comments posted on Across The Silver & Black Pond, a blog that I highly recommend)…

Coach Kiffin said that no one on the team should have slept soundly on Sunday night. Yet some suggest that we, the fans, should be sleeping like babies, with visions of sugarplums and "rebuilding" dancing in our heads. Well, not this fan.

Sunday's “effort” was nothing short of shameful and unacceptable in my opinion, and I think Kiffin would agree with me. Kiffin has said there are no more scholarships, and I would include the entire organization in this new radius of accountability, from Al Davis down to the water boy.

This isn't a Kiffin issue. It's an organizational issue, and I have no problem with holding the organization's feet to the fire with regard to acquiring the right personnel to get the job done (that means executives, coaches and players), and with expecting an accelerated timetable with regards to turning things around. Remember, as fans, we’re all shareholders in this organization. As such, we have a role and a responsibility to demand, and expect, a reasonably coherent performance on the football field.

People say, well, Kiffin just doesn’t have the horses to run the race, and that it’s going to take time to groom the right player personnel. Well, whose fault is it, after four losing seasons and numerous high draft slots, that we still have relatively mediocre personnel? Yours? Mine? Kiffin’s?

But I can assure you that it’s somebody’s fault. People say we are rebuilding. Okay, then tell me: around whom are we rebuilding the future of our weak offensive and defensive lines? Thirty-two-year-old Jeremy Newberry? Barry Sims? Tyler Brayton? Warren Sapp?

Defense was supposed to be our strength, right? It’s okay if we were wrong about that. But it’s not okay if the organization was wrong about it. It’s not my job to monitor every practice and every frame of every film and determine whether we’ve got the horses or not.

When is the last time you saw one of our guys really stick someone and deliver a devastating hit? Whose fault is that? Yours? Mine? Kiffin’s? Who will take responsibility for this? Our defense looks like Cirque du Soleil this year, a bunch of acrobats flying around, hitting nothing.

I’ve witnessed an astonishing 52 losses since September of 2003. Let that number sink in for a second. And after all that, you want me to shrug my shoulders, Kerry Collins style, about last Sunday’s remarkably dismal performance, which netted us our 16th straight loss against a divisional rival, and to Norv Turner no less? No way.

In this age of parity, it is really difficult to stay on the bottom (or the top) of the NFL for four straight years. Therefore, by year five, which is this year, we should be well out of the woods. You want me to give the team another two or three or four years? No way. The first four were plenty.

This is not a unreasonable expectation. In fact, we were coming out of the woods until this recent loss. Trust me, it’s not the loss, it’s the way we lost. There is simply no more wiggle room for Art Shell-type games anymore. None. Rather than say, well, that's the breaks, just hang in there, we’re rebuilding, etc., I'm saying: No. Unacceptable. Never again.

That's not crying or hating. That's sending a message, the same message the Kiffin is surely sending in the locker room, and which had better be bouncing off the walls upstairs in Alameda, too.

Here’s the crux of what I’m saying, and what fills my glass back to half full:

Perhaps I'm being so hard on this team, so early, because I believe more than ever before that the Kiffin era will be different, that we no longer have to settle for anything less than sound, motivated, coherent and competitive football.

That is my message. There will be no more unsound, unmotivated, incoherent and uncompetitive football out of Oakland from this day forward. Sunday was the last of it. Of that, I am very optimistic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Bad Case of Flashbacks

I’ve been staring at my computer screen, trying to think of something original to say about Sunday’s game, and all I can come up with are two words: See 2006. Or 2005.

Honestly, Norv Turner must have been having flashbacks, watching L.T. run over a lackluster Raiders team that was unmotivated, incapable and ultimately incompetent.

No one on the Raiders escapes this analysis, from the coaching down to the water boy, except for maybe Ronald Curry.

The one thing I liked—well, not liked, but appreciated—about our earlier losses is that they were different losses than we’ve seen over past three years. They were close games, played with purpose, and coherently, if not brilliantly, executed. Sunday, however, was just like old times, right down to our L.T. problem, which is verging on supernatural.

Honestly, I would rather lose to the Chargers by a score of 35-7 while limiting L.T. to one touchdown than to lose a closer game this way. I’m serious. If we can’t beat the Chargers, we at least need to find a new way to lose to them.

L.T. is really good, but he’s not that good. Prior to Sunday, he had scored two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in five games. On Sunday, he had four touchdowns.

We saw this coming. Earlier that week I said that I was sick to death of watching L.T. carve us up like raw fish in the hands of Benihana chef. I now present to you yet another fresh plate of silver and black sushi.

During the Chargers' current eight-game winning streak over the Raiders, L.T. has rushed for 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also catching one TD pass and throwing two.

Pro-rated over 16 games, you're talking about the greatest, most statistically rich season by a running back in the history of the NFL. That's how poorly our great defense has been dealing with this guy.

We had 2:43, a timeout and the two-minute warning on our side while down by two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Do you think it’s impossible to score two touchdowns in the NFL in nearly three minutes with two stoppages and a long thrower like Daunte Culpepper on your side? Of course not—unless you don’t try. We didn’t try. We ran ten plays that netted us 50 yards before time expired, including plays of 7, 8, 11 and 12 yards, including three consecutive “short rights” to Jordan. Not deep outs to Higgins or Curry. Short rights to Jordan. Shameful, my friends. Norv Turner must have been proud.

So I’m just going to pout this week. I figure, if the Raiders can’t be bothered to stop L.T., then I can’t be bothered to write about them. If the Raiders can’t be bothered to try to win the game at the end, I can’t be bothered to care for a few days. If the Raiders can't get geeked up about playing a hated rival, then I can't get geeked up about having a take. I’m suffering a bad case of flashbacks, and I need time to recuperate.

I’ll be at the Chiefs game on Sunday, and hopefully I won’t have to listen to the KSFO propagandists painting lipstick on another toad while coasting home on I-880 after the game. I’m still “in” and all that business, but I’m close to out of patience.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This Sunday: The Biggest Game in Four Years

Sunday’s game against the Chargers is the biggest game for the Oakland Raiders in four years. I’m not joking.

There is so much on the line on Sunday, not the least of which is first place in the AFC West. Will we have a winning record come Monday—or a losing one? Will we finally beat a division rival and get that monkey off our back, or will that little chimp still be chattering in our ears? Will we expose Norv Turner for what we know him to be, or will we give Chargers fans another week of false hope on their path to inevitable ruin? Will we turn the corner on the second quarter of the 2007 season on a high note, or with the clang of loss and doubt?

Not since our Super Bowl matchup with the Buccaneers have we faced such a crucial contest. That Super Bowl was the end of an era as the team began to show its age before backsliding into outright dissonance with head coach Bill Callahan. Rich Gannon started just seven games in 2003, a portent of changes to come. Those who had set the veteran tone were on their way out, and the fields of youth were not yet sown. The result was a lost season.

Three more lost seasons followed under Norv Turner and Art Shell. None of the games under their watch could be considered significant in retrospect. There was never anything on the line except last place.

Now, for the first time in a regular season since 2002, we are drinking from the fountain of momentum. Will our cup runneth over on Sunday—or will it go dry?

I have nothing against Norv Turner. It’s not his fault that people keep hiring him as a head coach, and I have to admire the fact that he keeps walking away from cushy offensive coordinator assignments and into the buzzsaw of the head coaching position. I don’t think it’s wise, but I can understand the impulse. Who among us wants to acknowledge our limitations and close the door on our dreams?

That said, the guy has no business being a head coach, and he wouldn’t be, if not for the astonishing arrogance of A.J. Smith and Alex Spanos. They thought that they were better than 14-2. They axed Marty Schottenheimer for losing to the three-time world champion New England Patriots in the playoffs with a first-year starting quarterback throwing to mediocre wide receivers. To prove that they mattered more than the coach, they hired a two-time failure who was last seen racking up a 4-12 record in their own division.

I had to laugh when, two weeks ago, Chargers fans were gnashing their teeth about unused timeouts, about poor clock management and misuse of the talent at hand. Where were they during those two years that Norv Turner was coaching a team right in their own division? Oh, that’s right, they weren’t watching, because their bandwagon hadn't yet left the station.

The Chargers organization could have avoided this fate by simply subscribing to Raider Take and reading my takes from the 2005 season. The seven-minute touchdown drives in the fourth quarter while down by three scores! The four straight unsuccessful running plays up the middle at the goal line! The inability to mount a two-minute offense! The mystifying clock mismanagement! The misuse of available talent! The unused timeouts! The clear lack of vision and leadership!

What, did they think I was making this stuff up? Did they think I was crazy? I wasn’t.

Anyhow, I’m not going to analyze the Xs and Os of this upcoming game. There’s plenty of good analysis from Raider Take regulars in the comments section of the preceding take. For me, it all boils down to three words: Stop L.T.

If we stop L.T., we win. Period. No more L.T. throwing touchdown passes. No more L.T. wandering around unattended by our defense. No more L.T. busting through lazy arm tackles. Okay? I'm sick to death of it. SICK! I've had enough of this guy slicing us up like raw fish in the hands of a Benihana chef.

Shut this guy down and we shut the Chargers down, and suddenly Norv Turner is throwing the ball into the middle of the field at the 50-yard line with no timeouts and 10 seconds left on the clock.

Our biggest game in four years is on the line. It’s time to win. It’s time to turn the tide. It’s time to truly launch the return to glory.

Monday, October 08, 2007

News You Can't Use

On Wednesday, October 3, a sportswriter sat down at his keyboard, ready to earn his paycheck from Fox Sports. It was midweek after week four in the 2007 NFL season. His canvas was blank, but thankfully storylines abounded across the league.

Preseason favorites like the Bengals, Chargers, Saints and Bears were suddenly circling the drain. The Patriots were off to a wicked start, but the specter of cheating still loomed. Quarterback controversies were brewing in Arizona and elsewhere. Teams that showed some measure of promise over the past few seasons were sliding back into oblivion, among them the Dolphins, Rams and 49ers. Unheralded teams like the Packers, Lions, Titans, Texans and, yes, the Raiders were suddenly on the rise. In fact, the Raiders had just steamrolled the Dolphins for their second straight victory and a share of first place in the AFC West.

Hmmm, what to write about today. Tick, tock, tick, tock…Wait, I’ve got it! The Raiders’ allegedly poor drafts of several years ago!

And so our sportswriter toils, typing away and gnashing his teeth. Robert Gallery! Derrick Gibson! He calls it “my story of how Davis missed in the draft, creating a team devoid of young talent that led to four seasons of misery following that embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.”

His story begins in 2001, which is six years ago according to my abacus.

Wow, talk about timely and relevant.

Also, how do you write a story about the Raiders’ recent draft record without mentioning names like Curry (seventh round!), Morrison, Howard, Asomugha, Washington, Williams and Miller? And Gallery is starting, is he not, on an offensive line that just sprung a 299-yard rushing attack? Fargas did pretty well last week, eh? Not bad for a third rounder. Jerry Porter, Shane Lechler...

Am I suggesting that the Raiders’ drafts have been exemplary? No. But is now the time to dredge up mistakes from six years ago while ignoring the aforementioned picks who are starting for our team today? Is now the time to single out the Raiders for questionable draft picks when you could pick apart most NFL teams for similar mistakes? Is now the time, after the Raiders got universally high marks for their 2007 draft as a precursor to a turnaround under the leadership of Lane Kiffin, to write the same old story about how Al Davis is to blame for everything, including global warming and taxes?

Yes, if you are a hater, now is apparently the perfect time.

Hating the Raiders remains an easy paycheck, but the haters might want to start some savings acccounts, because Kiffin and Company are going to start stealing their lunch money in the weeks and years ahead.

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

P.S. Thanks to FiveFiveNine for the tip.