I recently had the opportunity to read the 2010 Football Outsiders breakdown on the Oakland Raiders and I must say that I agreed with very little of it, but, when I contacted Bill Barnwell about some important issues, he was kind enough to answer some questions for me and his answers were spot on.
It was refreshing to get a different perspective.
If you are unaware of Bill's work and Football Outsiders as a whole, I can sum it up in one phrase for all of the true East Bay fans, "Football Outsiders is a Bill Jamesian or Moneyball look at Football". In short, they take a look at football from a numbers perspective and try to make predictions for on field performance and wins, or lack thereof, in the win column for every NFL Team.
So, without further ado, my e-mail interview with Bill Barnwell:
Intro: Mr. Barnwell, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about the Oakland Raiders.
After reading your rather scathing report card on the Raiders and looking at your projections, I have a few questions:
Raymond St. Martin: When you calculated the 2009 performance what did you think about the way that the team performed under Bruce Gradkowski?
Bill Barnwell: Well, they were clearly better with Gradkowski behind center. Gradkowski had a -0.8% DVOA, which doesn't sound all that great, but it's 24th in the league; consider that JaMarcus Russell had a league-worst -57.3% DVOA, while Charlie Frye was at -22.9%. Gradkowski's traditional statistics would look even better if he'd had the chance to play against some weak pass defenses. He saw significant action against the Jets (league's best pass defense by DVOA), Bengals (10th), Steelers (14th), and Cowboys (15th). The Redskins (20th) were the only below-average defense he faced.
RS: How would you compare Bruce Gradkowski to Jason Campbell?
BB: They strike me as remarkably different players. Gradkowski's good at the things Campbell struggles with -- he feels the rush better, he's better when he scrambles, and he's a better improviser. On the other hand, Campbell's got a far stronger arm, is significantly more accurate, and does a better job of staying tall in the pocket and making plays. Campbell's clearly the questionable player, but either is a significant upgrade on Russell/Frye.
RS: What effect do you think that replacing undersized speedsters Howard and Morrison with Wimbley and McClain will have on the Rushing defense?
BB: I don't think there'll be a noticeable impact. Wimbley's been a 3-4 linebacker his entire career, and he wasn't good against the run in Cleveland; it was one of the reasons they traded him. Our system always saw Kirk Morrison as an above-average linebacker, and I think that's something backed by what scouts have said; McClain's certainly talented, but the Raiders have utterly failed to develop their first-round picks over the past few years, so I wonder whether McClain will be any different.RS: What effect do you expect to see from John Henderson and LaMarr Houston replacing the pass rushing Greg Ellis and Gerard Warren?
BB: I don't think you'll see much of a difference as far as pass rushers go; neither Houston or Henderson would be someone I'd expect to contribute a significant pass rush in 2010. The rush is going to have to come from Trevor Scott and Matt Shaughnessy, who should see single blocking across from Richard Seymour.
RS: One name that was missing from your list was Tyvon Branch. How does Tyvon project in 2010?
BB: I'm not sure which list you're referring to?
We're projecting Branch for 113 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. I don't think that tackles here are a positive indicator for Branch's play; it's more that the run defense is so porous that Branch ends up as the first guy to the ballcarrier.
RS: How exactly did the Raiders outperform their Pythagorean Wins Projection in 2009? 5 victories compared to 2.9.
BB: Because they won a disproportionate amount of their close games. In games decided by less than a touchdown, the Raiders were 5-2. It would be nice to chalk that up to grit or something similar, but no team is consistently effective at winning close games; the Raiders were 1-2 in such games in 2008 and 2-4 in 2007. In other words, they got lucky.
RS: How do you gauge the effect of bringing in an Offensive Coordinator to call the plays instead of having the Head Coach call the plays, Coach the O-Line and be Head Coach?
BB: We've tried accounting for this in our projection system and haven't found it to exhibit a significant impact. I think it depends more upon the individual ability of the head coach/offensive coordinator than any other factor, and I don't think there's much evidence that Tom Cable is a particularly effective head coach or offensive coordinator.
RS: Finally, how will an improved rushing defense effect the overall performance of the defensive backfield? What effect would that have on the projected 4.5 wins?
BB: I don't think the rushing defense will have much to do with the play of the defensive backfield. It may put the team in better situations on third down, I suppose, but the Raiders were actually best on third down on defense a year ago. I think retaining an effective pass rush and hopefully getting some development out of Stanford Routt is the biggest thing the team can do.
RS: Thank you so much for providing all of the statistics that your outfit has compiled for the 2009 and 2010 campaigns and thank you for taking a moment to shed some light on the plight of the Oakland Raiders.