Sunday, September 26, 2010

One Postgame Take

"Inept and disorganized."

Those were the words that Tom Flores used to describe our red zone performance during the postgame show. That about sums it up.

Examples include the delay of game on second and goal at the one yard line, resulting in a field goal; and holding on first down at the 13 yard line, resulting in a missed field goal.

But the mistakes were hardly confined to the red zone. We got caught flat footed to start the game, and were down by seven points after six seconds. At one point, we had players from the punting unit and field goal unit on the field at the same time. We committed eleven penalties for 123 yards. Janikowski was off target. Blah, blah, blah.

The upside is that we moved the ball on offense and didn't get run over on defense. We punched in a couple of solid touchdowns. But we kept short circuiting at the wrong time, and it ultimately cost us the game. Why is this team still plagued, after all these years, with disorganization and lack of discipline? It's mystifying. Are we just cursed?

I think I see signs of improvement, but they're just too subtle. We've been supposedly improving for several years now, yet the results are frighteningly similar. We need to beat the Texans next week, otherwise we'll be in very familiar territory: 1-3, and right on course for another 4 to 5 win season.

Are we really improving? Are we close to snapping out of this seven-year daze? Or has another coaching regime hit the wall? I'm interested in your take.

Raiders v. Cardinals Gameday Thread

Looks like the Chiefs are headed toward their third win to open the season. Meanwhile, the Chargers remain the team to beat in the division. In other words, we can't afford to stumble against a beatable team like the Cardinals. Time for Gradkowski to work his magic and for our defense to prove that it can mount a consistent attack from one week to the next.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Exclusive "Badasses" Author Interview

Okay, Raider Nation, we have a doozy here: an exclusive interview with Peter Richmond, author of the awesome new book Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden's Oakland Raiders.

Trust me, don't think twice, just go out and buy the book. It belongs on the bookshelf of every Raiders fan. Please forward this take to every Raiders fan you know, we need to reward Mr. Richmond for adding a remarkable new chapter to the lore of the Oakland Raiders.

Without further ado...

What prompted you to write this book?

My last book was The Glory Game, with Frank Gifford, about the 1958 NFL championship between the Colts and the Giants. It was totally cool to immerse myself in the days before football grew into such a corporate, high-money machine, with so many rules protecting the players. Back then, these guys played for the love of the game and the love of their teammates – definitely not money, because there wasn’t any. So when I was done with that one, I asked myself: What was the last team to play for all the right reasons? That played with wild abandon? That played for each other, and a coach who was one of the guys? It’s a no-brainer: Ken Stabler’s Oakland Raiders, whom I used to watch back east in college on the Sunday late games. I became a total Raider addict, from Davis on down, because they were so damned fun to watch. Then, as I began to cover the game in the 80s, and America’s Team emerged, and the money began to breed a whole new kind of athlete -- I realized that the ‘70s Raiders were special. And so I went back to rediscover that pure, elemental joy.

What surprised you most about what you discovered when researching the book?

How incredibly smart they were. I’ve interviewed thousands of athletes. I didn’t expect that most of the guys I talked to were not only smarter than most football players, but smarter than most people. Not just Davis and Madden, of course. But Hendricks wanted to talk about ancient civilization. Gerald Irons found out he was cut when he was taking a masters class in macroeconomics. Duane Benson was a state senator. George Atkinson and I talked more about zen philosophy and the nature of the universe than we did about football. Kelvin Korver owns three navigational patents. Bob Moore is a cerebral lawyer. George Buehler is a madman genius. Villapiano, when he isn’t using the word “fuckin’,” could be the best motivational speaker on the planet (come to think of it, he should use the word..) And that’s just off the top of my head. No wonder they won: Madden didn’t have to drill them endlessly; they picked it all up the first time around.

How much of the early Raiders culture was by design, and how much of it was just serendipity or alchemy?

Great question. The serendipity came first: the name Raiders; being a last-second addition to the league, playing in the shadows of Tony Bennett’s fantasy-town for an underdog city. The pieces were in place. Then, when Davis came in, the sinister/rebellious culture became more by design, reflecting his personality: us against them. Win with players other people discarded. Win any way you can, at any cost – and other than that, there are no rules. The partying was not only a reflection of the players – loose, oblivious to meaningless (NFL) authority – but the collective vibe of the team: have fun all the time, especially on Sunday. When other teams were tight, the Raiders were having fun. And when they realized that the collective image of being Badasses helped them win games, they fed off it.

Can you tell us something about a Raiders legend that we might not know?

That Jack Tatum would have been a farmer if he hadn’t been a football player. That George Atkinson collects Egyptology. That it was Willie Brown’s bed that Bob Brown fired his pistol into. That Ken Stabler is the most modest, self-deprecating star I’ve ever talked to. That John Madden’s ego-less office doesn’t have a single thing in it that celebrates his triumphs. That Al Davis is still as sharp as a tack. That Freddy Biletnikoff doesn’t leave any Stickum on your hand when you shake his. Dave Dalby was the nicest guy on the team, by universal acclaim. Ted Hendricks is no longer the wild and crazy guy who would lie on the floor of the Notre Dame bus, spit to the top of the bus, and catch it in his mouth on the way down. On the other hand, Villapino is as wild and crazy as he was in 1976. No, crazier.

Thank you, Peter! Let's show our appreciation and share our own memories in the comments section.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

One Postgame (Victory) Take

The word of the game was ENERGY. As in, we finally showed some on offense, courtesy of Bruce Gradkowski.

If we even pretend that we have a quarterback controversy on our hands, we're crazy. There is no controversy. Gradkowski is our starter. He is our spark. He is our ENERGY.

I really lost patience with Jason Campbell before halftime when he threw the ball away in open space, with ten yards between him and the nearest defender. I presume that's when Tom Cable lost patience with him as well.

We've been suffering a power outage at quarterback for years. Collins, Brooks, McCown, Walter, Russell...and now, I fear, Campbell. Shufflers, all of them. Questionable command. Little pep. Lack of ENERGY.

The Coliseum lit up like a Roman candle when Gradkowski entered the game, and so did his teammates. Murphy grew wings. McFadden meted out punishment. The defense stepped up its mojo. Even DHB was feeling his oats.

Now, before I get too excited, I should acknowledge that, at the end of the day, we simply turned in a two-point nail biter against a truly dreadful team that has now lost 27 of its last 28 games.

Frankly, I'm tired of baby steps. We need to lose the diapers for good. But this wasn't a moral victory. It was a victory, and I'll take it.

Both of our quarterbacks completed half of their passes. Both threw interceptions. However, Gradkowsi threw for twice as many yards and a touchdown.

At the end of the day, the stats don't include the phrase "Roman candle." The stats don't chant "BRUUUUCE" as the Nation did today. The stats don't reveal ENERGY.

But our eyes saw it, and our ears heard it, and the scoreboard confirmed it. Controversy over.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rams Pregame Thread

The Rams are fielding a rookie quarterback and have lost 26 of their last 27 games. This is our home opener. Team pride is on the line. And the season may be on the line as well.

So, in other words, we'll be 1-1 by late Sunday afternoon. Time to turn the tide.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Postgame Take

The exorcism of JaMarcus Russell was supposed to herald a new era on offense. Alas, the new era is on indefinite hold after today's bumbling performance against the Titans.

The numbers just don't reveal how inept our offense looked at times today, particularly in the first half. The pressure on Campbell was hellacious. Does that let our receivers off the hook for their collective invisibility? Thankfully, McFadden and Miller acted as a relief valve that allowed us to occasionally move the ball downfield. Unfortunately, many of our strides were made long after the game was decided, at a point when the Titans looked disinterested.

The overall upside is that McFadden looked sharp, Miller did his part and Campbell used his legs several times to avoid added trouble. I get the feeling this won't be the last time he has to run for his life.

Before this game, I said that offensive line and wide receiver were two big areas of concern. Well, I remain concerned.

If you think about it, what is our offense, in terms of personnel? It's basically the same as last year, minus Justin Fargas, with a little more inexperience along the line, and a different quarterback who may or may not have an edge on Gradkowski in the ability department. Calibrate your expectations accordingly.

As for our defense, well, it was deja vu all over again as well. Yes, I know that Chris Johnson is a beast. But this was a time to make a statement against the league's best, and we didn't. Not only did we give up more than 200 total rushing yards again, we got gashed by the all-too-familiar big run, a 76-yarder by Johnson for a touchdown.

That wasn't a run defense today. It was a rerun defense.

I also question the call to kick a field goal on 4th and 1 while down 24-3 right before the end of the half. I guess you have to get points where you can get them at that juncture. Still, it just struck me as unecessarily timid.

Anyhow, here we are at 0-1. The crystal ball just got cloudier, and the climb to .500 just got a little harder. Our record should be 1-1 after next week's game against the lowly Rams. But "should" has become a perilous word in the Nation.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kickoff 2010: Let The Good Times Roll

The 2010 regular season is upon us, and I'm excited to see Raiders turn the corner and return to being a force in the AFC West and beyond.

I am cautiously optimistic and naturally impatient after so many false starts that have resulted in 11 or more losses every season since today's kindergarteners were in the womb.

The Raiders did a nice job of positioning themselves for improvement in 2010. They maintained continuity at the top of the coaching ranks, while adding to the offensive equation with the appointment of Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator. They dispatched JaMarcus Russell and replaced him with Jason Campbell, resulting in a huge swing in the character department at the most important position. They drafted with purpose and reinforced the linebacking corps in an concerted effort to (finally) stop the run. For a second straight year, they resisted the temptation to bring in (or trade for) high-risk, low-character players.

In other words, we are witnessing some much-needed stability taking root and, hopefully, bearing fruit.

That said, areas of concern remain. For me, the main areas of concern are offensive line, the deep side of the defense opposite Nnamdi, and the wide receiving corps (I might include run defense, but I've got to think--or hope--that serious strides have been made on that front).

Stanford Routt, entering his sixth season, won the starting CB role over Chris Johnson. To say that the jury's out on Routt would be an understatment. As for the offensive line, well, let's just say that I'm glad we have some real depth at quarterback with Gradkowski, because Campell is already nursing some wounds.

The topic of wide receiver has been a hot one here at Raiders Take. I can't, for the life of me, understand the resistance toward acquiring a pair of sure veteran hands to shore up the ranks.
With Schilens ailing, our head coach actually mentioned Yamon Figurs (three career catches in four years) as a viable #3 receiver. Nick Miller? Jacoby Ford? Johnnie Lee Higgins? Step right up, ye unproven masses.

In that context, why wouldn't we want to see guy like Greg Camarillo or T.J. Houshmanzadah brought on board? I just don't understand the organizational complacency with regard to adding cost-effective depth to any position, let alone a position that has been a weak spot for several years running.

Remember, a dropped ball by DHB cost us a game last year. Drops were a problem in the recent preseason as well. Now, it's not inconceivable that eight or nine wins could win the division this year (eight was enough in 2008, right?). Connect the dots, and it's easy to see how our divisional fate could literally rest in the hands of our receiving corps.

Yes, the Raiders have taught me well when it comes to borrowing trouble. But right now, the slate is clean. The scent of football is in the autumn air. The trees are shaking and quivering and quaking. A new season is upon us, and hopefully a new era, too. I have my doubts, but I am putting them to rest. It's up to the Raiders not to re-awaken them.

Bring on the Titans, and (finally) let the good times roll.