Week four is in the books, and that’s where it belongs. It should remain buried deep in the far reaches of the forgotten bookcase of dismal plight. Personally, I now feel that I have enough to look at in order to make my assessment of the 2012 Oakland Raiders and the way forward. This won’t be pretty. If you are squeamish, you should turn away now
Ok so here we are after week four heading into our bye week. Let’s have a look at some numbers shall we?
Stats compiled from NFL.com
Overall offensive ranking-22nd
Rushing-32nd –Yes that is DEAD LAST
Offensive line- 7th
Overall Defensive ranking- 28th
Total Yards- 28th
Interceptions- 31st- Tied for DEAD LAST
Well there it is in black and white. The numbers don’t lie and they accurately represent what we have been seeing on the field-garbage. Let’s start by addressing the biggest surprise to me and that is being dead last in rushing with a healthy Darren McFadden.
As I reminisce back to the days of starry eyed preseason hopes, I recall just about everyone saying that the success of this team depends on a healthy Darren McFadden. "The Division is up for grabs" they would say, If DMC can just stay healthy the Raiders are in the conversation. Well DMC is as healthy as he has ever been, and he is ranked 25th overall, averaging 3.5 yards per carry with a total of 201 yards and one TD thru 4 games. Man, that sounds horribly improbable, but it is the truth. No one saw that one coming.
So I guess it’s time to have the zone blocking scheme conversation and here is my take after the first quarter of the season-- It’s not going to work this year.
I will be surprised if DMC breaks 100 yards in more than 4 of the next 12 games. This is not because he is not an elite runner or that the scheme does not fit him. I believe it’s because this team doesn't have the offensive line to run it effectively. Add to that the fact that they are still learning it and you get the statistical outcome that was displayed above-- garbage soup.
This running scheme relies heavily on having a dominant front line that can push back into the secondary and eat up defenders with blocks to help create lanes for the backs. It’s supposed to be next level blocking and they can’t seem to get past the line consistently. They don’t seem to be getting the push and I believe two of the Raiders' three losses can be directly attributed to losing the battle on the front lines on both sides of the ball.
When all is said and done, I will not be surprised if the Raiders make some big line moves in the offseason. That’s right, the ZBS and Gregg Knapp are probably not going anywhere. While that can be perceived as a good thing from a continuity standpoint, this team doesn't have the personnel to run the ZBS effectively so they will need to get them. This means next year has the potential to also be defined as "rebuilding" since this team will probably have new line personnel for the way forward. They will have to learn the scheme, the playbook will once again be limited and the return on investment will be long term and there will be minimal dividends in the short term.
Long story longer-- worst case scenario is Knapp and the ZBS stay onboard for another year or two, and then he gets fired and we start all over again. Best case scenario is that the players adapt to the concept by the end of the year and show significant improvement, some of them keep their jobs and next year’s acquisitions adapt faster than any lineman ever has thrusting us to the top of the O rankings by rushing alone. I say "by rushing alone" because it’s not going to be through the passing game.
So, let’s talk passing and receivers shall we? Here are our receiver rankings for the first quarter of the season.
Stats compiled from NFL.com
Juron Criner-(tied) ranked 104th overall- AVG 14.5 YPC with 2 catches-Longest 16 Yards
Derek Hagan-(tied) ranked 104th overall- AVG 10.2 YPC with 10 catches-Longest 17 Yards
DHB-(tied) ranked 104th overall- AVG 10.9 YPC with 9 catches-Longest 21 Yards
Denarius Moore-(tied) ranked 104th overall- AVG 15.3 YPC with 12 catches-Longest 37 Yards
Rod Streater-(tied) ranked 104th overall- AVG 8.5 YPC with 8 catches-Longest 17 Yards
Now, I’m not sure how the NFL.com stats have them all in a 5 way tie for the highly coveted 104 ranked spot, but there they are in all their elite speed and glory.
On the positive sides is the two tight ends are ranked 11th (Brandon Meyers) and 44th (David Ausberry) which should be somewhat expected in the West Coast Offense.
The receiving corps of this team was drafted and built to "take the top off" of a defense. They were drafted to be speedy deep threats who can be home run hitters at any moment. Unfortunately that’s not what’s happening. The receivers are primarily being used in underneath routes in the short to intermediate range. In order for this to be successful it requires disciplined route running and the ability to get separation from the defender. I am not seeing any of these two requirements on a consistent basis. Add to that the dropped balls and the above stats are what you get-- more garbage.
I wrap up the offensive conversation with this: A healthy DMC does not mean a successful offense in contention of the AFC West title. Not in the first year of a ZBS with new coaches who are coaching players suited for the PBS.
Drafting WR’s who are faster than anyone else in the league is great. Unfortunately it does not mean they are going to get separation from defenders, nor does it mean they will consistently be disciplined in their route running. It takes more than speed to be successful at this level and that is applicable to the running back as well as receivers.
Moving over to the defensive side of the ball the conversation does not get any easier. I'll start out by saying THIS TEAM HAS NO PASS RUSH AT ALL!
Now with that out of the way, I think this defensive line is just a little above average, and I do feel that I am being generous here. As I said before I believe 2 of our losses this year were directly attributed to battles lost in the trenches.
I love Richard Seymour, but he is long in the tooth and it shows in the 3rd quarter. Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos showed our inability to stop the run late in the game. The run defense starts at the line, and when they are old and tired, they get lazy and undisciplined. I don’t mean undisciplined in terms of penalties, I’m talking about assignments and effort.
What is saddest about this situation is that this team needs some young/new blood on the line. Unfortunately that’s the same thing they will need for the ZBS on the other side of the ball. I don’t know if you noticed but the Raiders' draft situation is not looking that great. I pity Dennis Allen as he and Reggie will have some difficult decisions to make this year at draft time. But since DA is a defensive minded coach, I expect that’s where the resources will go first.
Moving on to the linebacker corps, the conversation keeps the same tone.
I personally love Phillip Wheeler. He plays with energy and tenacity. I think he is a shot in the arm for the LB's as well as Miles Burris.
I said I would wait to make an assessment on Rolando McClain and I’ve waited long enough. He still looks lost out there at times. He constantly over pursues and blows coverage assignments. He still displays undisciplined tackling techniques and does not seem to have the leadership qualities that a middle linebacker needs to command the defense. I will not call him a bust because he is an average player. So instead ill just call him an average player and will start saber rattling to expedite his exodus from this team. The Raiders should be able to get a 2nd rounder out of him in trade.
Next, the cornerback situation-- it’s absolutely disgusting. I have not seen such poor CB play from the Oakland Raiders in my entire 30 years as a fan. Injuries, Salary cap issues, draft pick issues and available talent on the free market are the primary culprits in my opinion. I said in the beginning of the year that CB was a huge weakness on this team and my biggest fear was that it would be exploited. Peyton Manning did just that. Short underneath passes over the middle killed them all day Sunday. It will be noted and exploited again in the future.
Finally, let’s talk coaches. Dennis Allen has charisma and drive. I can tell he is a man of conviction and principal, which is what this team needed after the last 10 years. I am ecstatic that the Raiders have solved the penalty issues that have plagued this team for decades. For that simple fact alone, they will be "in" more games with an actual opportunity to compete for a win. Unfortunately, not beating yourself is not enough in this league. I like what DA brings to the team from a leadership standpoint and he is a keeper.
Gregg Knapp, here we go. In the beginning of the season I professed that I was not a big Gregg Knapp fan. I still am not a big Gregg Knapp fan. My biggest complaint against the Knapp Offense has always been (and still is) calling plays that are by design short of the first down marker on 3rd downs. I saw this repeatedly last Sunday against Denver.
There were at least two times where Knapp called in a bubble screen on third down and the pass was behind the line of scrimmage and the receiver was tackled for a loss. Not to mention I think they only converted only ONE third down the ENTIRE game. That is not a result of Carson Palmer making improper reads or receivers dropping balls; its play calling pure and simple. Add to that the inability of this offense to consistently make the needed adjustments at halftime (or during the game) and you get what we have been seeing every week-- more garbage.
It's hard to say what is going to happen with Gregg Knapp and his future with the Raiders. It will be interesting to see what Dennis Allen does over the bye week and what adjustments (if any) are made.
So far this season I have been thoroughly unimpressed with Gregg Knapp’s performance as the offensive coordinator across the board. I thought there were better choices out there when they hired him and I still believe that. What is sad is if they decide to scrap Knapp, then this team is starting all over again from scratch.
I believe in the ZBS and the WCO. I think both are recipes for success. They also both take time to develop and the right personnel to be successful. As far as Gregg Knapp being the best person to implement and run those schemes effectively in this league, at this point he is definitely not the man for the job.
I said in my last post that good coaches have goals that include making adjustments to situations that dictate change. Last week at halftime was one of those situations. I saw practically no change in game plan and continued ineptitude on offense. Sadly, Gregg Knapp was the choice of the organization and he probably is not going anywhere. At this point all we can hope for is that he uses this rebuilding time to learn and improve. Maybe next year the talent that comes in will hide some of his incompetence as a play caller and as a coach.
Lastly, we have Jason Tarver "the mad scientist." The jury is still out on this one. From time to time the defensive schemes seem to work and we get to see a glimpse of what can be. I’m not sure how much of it is personnel, coaching, discipline or effort but I do know this; it all falls on the coaches shoulders no matter the end result.
At this point, Tarver still gets a pass but my patience wears thin. If we continue to see blown assignments, poor tackling and things that are generally concept/fundamental issues from the same players week in and week out, he will be given the thumbs down. We can let time judge this one.
It is sad the season is shaping up the way it is. I still don’t expect this team to be in any serious contention for at least two years. Still, it would have been nice to see something magical happen. We will just have to wait and see how the entire season plays out. I am still hoping for a winning record this year. As long as it’s mathematically possible, there is a shot, and as long as there is a shot, there is still hope.