Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Myths of the AFC West

The arguments against our pick of Darren McFadden are dropping like flies on the heels of Dominic Rhodes, who was released yesterday.

How many times have I already heard from the media that Al Davis couldn’t “resist” McFadden, or that McFadden was “irresistible” to the Raiders? In other words, the Raiders couldn’t help themselves. It sure wasn’t a sensible strategic decision, because…well, that just doesn’t fit the Hater Worldview.

So we hear all this bleating about how running back wasn’t a “need” for the Raiders. Really? We have two guys (I mean, one) who couldn’t crack last year’s starting lineup, a guy who’s never played a snap in the NFL, and a guy who, despite having a “breakout” year, scored a total of four touchdowns in 2007.

Such a running “attack” only becomes formidable when the media need to use it as a convenience to support their preordained assertion that McFadden was “irresistible.”

The problem is that some people are confusing moving the chains with scoring touchdowns. Yes, we racked up some healthy yardage last year. But in the red zone, we were a disaster, as we were the year prior.

Aside from Daunte Culpepper’s fluke trio of rushing touchdowns against the pathetic Miami Dolphins, the Raiders had a total of eight rushing touchdowns in 2007—four less touchdowns than Adrian Peterson alone scored in 14 games last year.

Fargas scored four touchdowns last year (one more than Culpepper), doubling his career total. LaDainian Tomlinson, meanwhile, scored four touchdowns against us on October 14.

It’s not just about moving the chains. It’s about making people miss on third-and-goal at the three-yard line. LaDanian Tomlinson passes for touchdowns. He catches touchdowns. He goes airborne for touchdowns. He jukes for touchdowns. He draws attention that creates open receivers who catch touchdowns. Does Fargas do that? Crickets.

Isn’t it time the Raiders scored some touchdowns, too? I’m not going to compare McFadden to L.T., but who wants to bet me that he won't match Fargas's career total of six touchdowns in his rookie year alone? Any haters in the media want to take me up on that? Didn't think so. So much for not having a "need."

Which brings me to the myth of the AFC West. I keep hearing how, particularly because we play in the AFC West, we should have focused on stopping the run instead of running the ball.

Yet in a bad season last year we still beat the Chiefs once and Broncos once. We easily could have beaten the Broncos twice if not for a botched field goal. And we lost to the Chiefs by two points not because we held them to 12 points, but because we couldn't score more than 10 points ourselves.

So watch out for those big, bad 4-12 Chiefs with Brody Croyle and Larry Johnson? So scary! They put up a whopping 29 points on us last year. And those 7-9 Broncos really ended the season on an up note with their fearsome rushing attack of...who, again? Come on. Quit running scared and start running the ball.

It’s not 2005 anymore, folks. We’re starting to turn the tables. Now they get to worry about our rushing attack. How can you not be pumped up by the thought of that?

Of course, San Diego and L.T. are still a problem (but not just for us, I can assure you), and our rushing defense was, indeed, a train wreck last year.

I believe, however, that our line will be improved this year on the basis of experience and cohesion. I believe that our linebackers are up to the task. I believe that DeAngelo Hall will free up our safeties in the open field. Gibril Wilson bumps Michael Huff to a more natural role, and Stuart “Patty Cake” Schweigert to the bench. You might get 12 yards on us. But the days of the unabated 30-yard romp are coming to an end on the defensive side of the ball (and just getting started on the offensive side of the ball).

The reality, not the myth, is that the Raiders now have the second-best running attack in the AFC West. The reality, not the myth, is that we have nothing to fear from the Broncos and Chiefs in 2008. The reality, not the myth, is that McFadden was a sensible pick who fills a dire need for scoring touchdowns and winning games.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Run DMC Has Haters on Their Heels

Good news, the media are already hating on our selection of McFadden, just as they were mocking us for considering McFadden prior to the draft.

You know you've done something right when the haters are nervous and chattering and making little sense, like saying the McFadden pick fits a typical Raiders pattern despite the fact that we haven't drafted a running back in the second round or higher for 13 years.

Witness this excerpt from the lead paragraph in the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial—I mean, report—about the pick: "The Raiders, who start and end with Davis, decided outstanding talent trumped obvious need Saturday by drafting Arkansas running back Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick of the NFL draft."

Ummm…We have an obvious need to score touchdowns, do we not? We're averaging 1.25 offensive touchdowns per game over the past two years, which is sub-pathetic. But that Al Davis, he’s just crazy for drafting a playmaker like Darren McFadden.

After all, in 14 games last year for the Vikings, rookie running back Adrian Peterson only scored as many touchdowns as our entire offense did in 2006.

I also love this argument about how we really shouldn’t have drafted an elite running back, and that we should have instead drafted a defensive lineman because…our top rivals have elite running backs.

In other words, remain scared instead of doing the scaring.

We’re stacked at running back? LaMont Jordan is essentially gone. That leaves us with Rhodes, who could barely crack our starting lineup last year; Bush, who is unproven at this point, and who couldn’t earn activation last year; and Fargas, who has scored six touchdowns for us in five seasons. Fargas has a history of getting injured, as does Bush. If you think any of our opponents was quivering at the thought of our running attack prior to drafting McFadden, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

So was re-signing Fargas a mistake? No. He'll still play. If you're looking for a money mistake at running back, look no further than last year, when we paid Jordan and Rhodes millions to not play.

The anti-McFadden crowd acts like we’ve done nothing to shore up our defense. How about Gibril Wilson for Stuart Schweigert? How about DeAngelo Hall for Fabian Washington? By putting more pressure on the pass, and by having a safety who can take care of business in the open field, we will, by default, make progress in stopping the run. Kelly, Warren, Burgess, Richardson and company aren’t chopped liver, either.

Another argument I’ve heard is that running backs don’t win championships. Yes, that’s a distinction reserved for defensive tackles, right? How about we stop this nonsense about championships, anyway? How about first do something we haven’t done in five years, which is win at least six games. Then we can talk about championships.

McFadden, Russell, Bush and Miller could help us build a young foundation and offensive identity that, as we continue to plug holes on both sides of the ball over the next few years, could eventually take us to the promised land. That’s how I see it, and I’m all for it.

McFadden will light a fire under this offense. Just watch.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rise and Shine, Raider Nation

Time to spike your coffee, it's draft day.

I love all these media-fueled lies about how Al Davis can't resist a home-run hitter, which means that he'll pick McFadden.

You mean like Huff, Washington, Gallery, Asomugha, Buchanon, Gibson, Janikowski and Stinchcomb, our top picks in descending order prior to last year? Guys who don't even play home-run hitting positions like DE, WR, QB and RB?

If we pick McFadden, it won't fit a pattern, it will break a pattern, no matter what the media would like you to believe. We haven't selected a running back in the second round or higher since 1995, but the media are bleating about Al Davis and his "patterns" with regard to McFadden. I'll grant you that selecting a DB would be consistent with a pattern. But McFadden? Liars.

Of course, Son of Howie is always welcome in Oakland, and if he's our pick, they should start stitching jerseys on Sunday for sale on the Raider Image, because demand will be high.

Trade down for more picks? Perhaps. But I'd rather have one great pick than a bunch of okay picks. I've had my fill of okay picks over the years. It's time for a home run.

On that note, let your draft day takes rip...

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Case for McFadden

I agree that we should draft the player who fits our most glaring need. However, my opinion is that our most glaring need isn’t a pass rusher or an offensive lineman, but rather a sense of identity. Hence, I’m leaning toward Darren McFadden as our top pick.

Think about it—when is the last time the Raiders had a sense of identity on either side of the ball? What, or rather who, is this team?

It’s time to light things up. It’s time to score some freakin’ touchdowns. It’s time to get the fans excited. It’s time to win some games by plowing through the red zone and putting points on the board.

I disagree with this notion that we’re “stacked” at running back. LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes could barely crack our starting lineup last year. What does that tell you? Michael Bush remains an unproven commodity who was unable to earn activation last year. As for Justin Fargas, don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but I’m not totally sold on him as a long-term feature back.

Fargas scored four rushing touchdowns last year, the same amount that LaDainian Tomlinson scored against us on October 14. It’s easy to forget that Fargas is not entering his prime, but rather his sixth season. He has rushed for a grand total of six touchdowns during his tenure with the Raiders.

Again, no disrespect to Justin Fargas. I love his attitude, his toughness and what he brings to our offense. He’s a true Raider. I’m just not convinced that he’s a game breaker or a game changer. He’ll move the chains, but will he blow them up? Will he change the game, like an L.T. or an Adrian Peterson?

It’s been too long since we’ve seen fireworks on offense. We’ve shored up our defense, so let’s light up our offense.

Which brings me to the topic of identity. With a promising new quarterback at the helm, fresh talent at wide receiver and an improving offensive line under Tom Cable, I would like to see us field a dynamic, multifaceted rushing attack that will not only torment our opponents, but take some pressure off of the passing game, fire up our fans (and our defense), and ultimately win games. A tandem of Russell and McFadden would go a long way toward achieving an identity on offense.

Here’s how Scott Wright’s web site scouts McFadden in terms of strengths: “An outstanding natural athlete...Has very good size...Excellent timed speed with a burst...Has great vision and instincts...Big play threat who can take it the distance at any time..Elusive with nice feet..Quick and agile...Real strong...Tough and loves contact...Runs hard and does not go down easy...Has decent hands and can be a weapon in the passing game..Plays with a nasty demeanor..Extremely productive… Pure football player with all the physical tools who is as good or perhaps an even better prospect than Adrian Peterson was coming out...A rare talent who should rank amongst the top running backs in the NFL very early in his pro career.”

When was the last time the Raiders took a running back in the third round or higher? That would be Justin Fargas in 2003 in the third round. When was the last time the Raiders took a running back in the second round or higher? That would be Napoleon Kaufman in 1995 in the first round. Since then, we’ve drafted seven DBs in the second round or higher, as well as a kicker and two tight ends in the second round or higher.

It’s time to explore a new priority. It’s time to try something different. It’s time to establish an identity. So if McFadden is still there at number four, he’s my pick.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Raider Nate's Mock Draft

By Raider Nate 75

I think Chris Long falls to us now that the Dolphins made their selection. If he doesn't fall to us, then we trade the pick with Cincinnati so they can pick up McFadden. The Raiders would get the #9 and Chad Johnson; and maybe, just maybe, we could make a run for Frostee Rucker (DE out of USC). But if Chris is there, and the Raiders don't take him, Kansas City will, especially if they lose Jared Allen.

1. Dolphins-Jake Long, OT, Michigan. No surprise here, the Dolphins need a lot of help at every level, and they go with the best player on the board. Second Option: Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. He could (and should) be the first overall pick, and he could help keep opposing defenses honest, and Beck or McCown upright and off their back the whole game. It wouldn�t surprise me if they chose McFadden, I just think they are going after Chris Long.

2. Rams-Vernon Gholston, DE, the Ohio State. They pull the first surprise here with this selection. It is long been speculated that the Dolphins would have gone after Chris Long or Vernon Gholston, and went with offensive help instead. Second Option: Chris Long, DE, Virginia.

3. Falcons-Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU. The Falcons need help at every level as well, and though they need OFFENSIVE help badly, they go with a strong DT. Not only do they need a QB, they need a playmaker, and that is what they find in McFadden. Second Option: Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas . Yes, they need a QB, but will reserve that pick for later with either Chad Henne or Ryan Carpenter (the sleeper QB in the Draft). They go for the upgrade on defense with Ellis.

4. Raiders-Chris Long, DE, Virginia. Yes Raider Fans, we get our man! Second Option: Trade with the Bengals for 9th overall pick, and Chad Johnson and Frostee Rucker, where we select Sam Baker, OT, USC; while the Bengals select Sedric Ellis, DT, USC.

5. Chiefs-Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee St. They need help against the pass. Help at the CB position is a start, and it will be okay if the keep Jared Allen. Second Option: Chris Long, DE, Virginia if the Raiders don't get him, the Chiefs will.

6. Jets-Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. They need help on offense, especially in this area to help out Thomas Jones. This will give them a 1-2 punch at this position. Second Option: Trade the pick.

7. Patriots-Keith Rivers, OLB, USC. What is the one position they are growing old in, OLB. They are also hurting for a CB after losing 2, and with Rodgers-Cromartie off the board they go with Keith Rivers, and get a CB in the next round. Second Option: Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas.

8. Ravens-Limas Sweed, WR, Texas. They need a big time receiver to help them out offensively, and that is what they will get in Sweed. Second Option: DeSean Jackson, WR, California.

9. Bengals-Sedric Ellis, DT, USC. They fill a huge void here, and give help to their defensive line. Second option: Trade pick and Chad Johnson to the Raiders

10. Saints-DeSean Jackson, WR, California. They need help at this position to give Brees some options, and to ease the protection against Bush. Second Option: Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas.

11. Bills-Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan. Another team that needs WR help. Second Option: Kenny Phillips, FS, Miami.

12. Broncos-Ryan Clady, OT, Boise St. The Donkeys need to protect Cutler, and help him mature as a QB. Second Option: Keith Rivers, OLB, USC.

13. Panthers-Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas. The Panthers need offensive help, signing Brayton may give them help for Peppers, but they need a playmaker on offense to help their struggling team. Second option: Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College.

14. Bears-Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College. They are looking for a QB to give competition to Kyle Orton because Grossman is not panning out. They need help at WR as well, but look for them to make that adjustment in later rounds. Second Option: Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon.

15. Lions-Sam Baker, OT, USC. They finally break the streak of choosing a WR. They fill a need at the O-line position. Second Option: Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois.

16. Cardinals-Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn. They need help here and at CB. So they go with the big pass rush. Second Option: Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt.

17. Vikings-Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville. They need help at this position. They could wait, and get a gem in the later rounds with Ryan Carpenter, but I think they go after Brohm. Second Option: Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh.

18. Texans-Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt. Their defense is solid, and they need pass protection help. They will swing for a RB in the later rounds, but they need to focus on O-line. Second Option: Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh.

19. Eagles- Sedric Ellis, DT, USC. The Eagles need a WR, but can get one in the 2nd round, or later. They also have defensive holes to fill, so they select Ellis. Second Option: Malcom Kelly, WR, Oklahoma.

20. Buccaneers-Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon. Cadillac Williams is a clunker. They need help on offense at this position, receiver, and O-line. Second Option: Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh.

21. Redskins-Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh. They need to protect their new asset in Jason Campbell. Second Option: Reggie Smith, S, Oklahoma.

22. Cowboys-Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas. Losing two CB�s they need help. Second Option: Mike Jenkins, CB, S Florida.

23. Steelers-Branden Albert, OG, Virginia. Replacing Alan Faneca. May be looking at an OT as well. Second Option: Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy.

24. Titans-Calais Campbell, DE, Miami. Need to help Kearse who is injury prone. Second Option: Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida.

25. Seahawks-Fred Davis, TE, USC. They need help here, and they will find their help. Second Option: Dustin Keller, TE, Purdue.

26. Jaguars-Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida. Losing Marcus Stroud is a HUGE loss for this team�s defense, and they need to fill it if they are going back to the postseason. Second Option: Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson.

27. Chargers-Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy. This is not a team with many holes, but CB and WR seem to glare out. They may also look to replace Turner at RB. Second Option: Andre Caldwell, WR, Florida.

28. Cowboys-Chauncey Washington, RB, USC. Losing Jones was huge, and though they have Barber, they need help in this area as well. Second Option: Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida.

29. 49ers-Chad Henne, QB, Michigan. Not satisfied with the play of Alex Smith, they need to bring competition in. Second Option: Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College.

30. Packers-Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida. Woodson and Harris are aging. Though they are solid, this could be a potential hurting place.

31. Patriots-pick forefeited for cheating.

32. Giants-Jerod Mayo, MLB, Tennessee. The best MLB in the draft, and a HUGE need for the Giants. Second Option: Kenny Phillips, FS, Miami.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Next Hour

I feel like an absentee landlord who isn’t taking care of the building, and who is thankful that the tenants aren’t pulling the plumbing out of the walls in protest. Thanks to everyone who is keeping the lights on while I abdicate my responsibilities.

Life is good, and so is my health, but I've decided to pursue a more rigorous diet. My concerns are genetic in nature, and unrelated to chronic exposure to Jerry Porter and Barry Sims, or to radioactive traces of LaMont Jordan. So I’m watching my salt and my caffeine and everything else besides oatmeal and leafy greens. No big deal.

Which, oddly enough, brings me to the Raiders. My diet for the team seems to be changing as well.

I’ve gorged on the Raiders here since September of 2005. Now, 425 posts later, my brain has unexpectedly urged me to go on a diet, for the sake of my mental health. So I’ve been playing hooky. I must confess I’ve enjoyed it. I haven’t been paying too much attention to the draft board, and I can’t tell you what Chris Long eats for breakfast or how many tattoos Darren McFadden has, and I must admit that my ignorance has brought a measure of bliss.

Of course, none of this helps my credibility as a Raiders blogger, but I’m just trying to be as honest as possible, because that’s what the regulars here have been with me. I could pretend that I’ve been wearing a Mel Kiper wig and analyzing round six by candlelight, but that’s just not the case.

I’m just flat tuckered out by the drama, the speculation and, quite frankly, the caring. It’s not that I no longer care. I just sent my first payment for season tickets. I’m still totally “in,” as some like to say. I’m just suffering from “care fatigue” at the moment. I’m not sure if you care about any of this, and I certainly understand if you don’t. I just don’t want to let the paint peel without an explanation.

Let’s be honest—this year got off to a terrible start. Lane Kiffin later confirmed the obvious and pretty much admitted to some serious internal issues, which thankfully seem to have settled down. Who’s to blame? Who cares at this point. What’s unavoidable is that we can’t afford to create new issues, because we’re already plagued with issues. The more error, the slimmer the margin for it. It's common sense.

But then the tide started to turn, at least on paper. Terminal scholarships (Porter, Sims, etc.) were terminated. Sure, we overspent on some guys, but it beats not spending at all. There’s no question that the personnel music is being faced, and that new talent and a new attitude are taking root in Oakland.

I heard a guy on ESPN Radio a few weeks ago, saying that the Raiders were the worst franchise in sports after the New York Knicks. Nice analysis. We’re not even the worst franchise in our division—the Chiefs are in the crapper again, and they’ve never really been out of it, have they? When’s the last time the Chiefs did anything significant in the playoffs, the few times they’ve reached them? Unlike the Raiders, I haven’t seen the Broncos or the Chargers in the Super Bowl in the 21st century, either.

Even as the Raiders rise from the dead, the Haters just can’t help dancing on our alleged grave. This is their hour. The next will be ours.

Anyhow, who cares? I guess I do after all.