The Oakland Raiders have just concluded the first quarter of what is shaping up to be a miserable 2012 campaign. Fortunately, for Dennis Allen and Company, the bye is the only hurdle for the Raiders to negotiate next Sunday.
The undefeated Atlanta Falcons present the next challenge for a coaching staff that is going into the week in much the same shape as they did prior to the first OTA's of summer.
It was no secret that the off season would be filled by answering questions about scheme, depth, discipline, and a real assessment of how much talent the 2012 Raiders would be able to field in the coming season. Most of these concerns remain today.
To coach Allen's credit, the issue of discipline, at least in terms of penalties, has improved a great deal. Scheme, not so much. Allen admitted as much in today's press conference.
According to the Twitter feed of SF Gate reporter @VicTafur, Allen stated that "We have alot of work to do. We have to evaluate what we're doing." When asked if this included the use of the ZBS run blocking scheme Allen's response was "yes".
This brings up one of the most critical decisions new GM Reggie McKenzie and Coach Dennis Allen made in the off season. While constantly reminding Raider fans that the roster had terrible problems relating to the salary cap, depth, and lack of draft picks, the new regime decided to further exacerbate these problems by scrapping a potent, well balanced offense by replacing it with an entirely new system. This took the teams only strength and drastically weakened it. This has not only affected the offense, but a less than talented defense that would also be undergoing "schematic" changes.
Hue Jackson should rightfully take credit for several notable changes that took place in Oakland over the last two years. He was instrumental creating a well balanced and often explosive offense. An offense capable of playing from behind or going toe to toe with the likes of the San Diego Chargers. He was also responsible for saving Darren McFadden from becoming the next high profile Raider bust.
Jackson was never able to instill the kind of discipline required to field a consistent offense. However, his success with McFadden is undeniable. This proved a much easier task. It started by simply saving McFadden from Greg Knapp's offense, scrapping the ZBS, and letting McFadden run plays that he liked. In other words, he got of the way and let his player's talent dictate the playbook.
To the shock and dismay of many Raider fans, the new regime decided to hit the rewind button and bring back not only the ZBS, but Greg Knapp as well. While the ZBS has been implemented to great success in many NFL organizations, it has never been so with Greg Knapp as acting OC.
Even though Hue Jackson was dismissed as head coach this did not require completely scrapping the offense. Last years OC, Mr. Al Saunders, was still under contract and remains with the team. To many in Raiderland this seemed to be one of the few areas the team needed to address. In fact, the offense was seen as the deepest, most competent unit of the team.
Now moving into the bye week the Raiders find themselves back at square one. The new regime has to come to grips with the fact that deciding to bring in Knapp and his offense has been a disaster.
However, this may be one of the only genuine problems this team can address without massive roster change. When comparing the Raider offensive and defensive units in terms of depth, talent, and health, the offense is clearly less of a concern for Reggie McKenzie. Al Saunders and his playbook are still on the payroll. Putting him to work will not only get this offense in gear, it will help keep a dreadful defense on the sideline where it belongs.
Speaking of defense.... Dennis Allen is starting to sound a little like Hue Jackson from time to time. Hue was not shy about telling Raider Nation what the team was going to do and then never following through (penalties anyone). Coach Allen and his "Mad Chemist" DC, Jason Tarver, have been touting a new Raider Defense that will be disciplined and "multiple".
The penalties are certainly down in terms of discipline. However, regarding assignments, this unit has been deplorable.
"Multiple"??? Sunday's effort in Denver was as vanilla as I have seen in 35 years of watching Raider football. The Raiders fielded a soft zone scheme for four quarters. There was very little variation and virtually no creativity. Down and distance seemed to have no effect on defensive play calling and the results were predictable.
It is commonly stated that the overhaul in Oakland will take years. This is looking to be the case indeed. However, one should not think that Reggie McKenzie and Co have a surplus of time to make things competitive. Each NFL player has a limited window of opportunity to succeed. The Raider roster is full of aging players that get older, slower, and more banged up with every snap. The young players get closer and closer to free agency. If things keep going at this pace, the veterans will simply run out of time and the young talent will have little desire to stay in Oakland. Sound familiar?
The good news is this team can be competitive. The bad news is that would require admitting to some bad decisions in the off season. Demoting Knapp and handing the offense over to Al Saunders would provide an immediate spark.
Dennis Allen was recently asked what lesson's he learned from John Fox. Allen complimented Fox for showing him that a HC has to make tough decisions. Demoting Knapp will prove to everyone that he has in fact learned that lesson.
If this doesn't take place soon, the next ten years in Oakland could look a whole lot like the last ten. A team full of unrealized talent and overpaid free agents.