Given the current state of affairs with this franchise and this team's record (0-1), I’d like to share with you all some perspective on hitting the panic button regarding the new offensive scheme/coordinator and play calling.
Let me start by saying that I am NOT a big Greg Knapp fan. I was not thrilled about the news when I heard he was coming back. Not because I don't think he can get the job done, but because I thought there were better options out there at the time. But I’m no General Manager or Head Coach so my talent evaluation skills when it comes to coach selection are unproven in the NFL (as is true for most people in the world). Let’s remember that there are only 64 of those two jobs (GM &HC) combined in the entire WORLD. The rest of us are just lucky fans of the game.
Now, some people will say Knapp had an opportunity in Oakland before and failed miserably. There is no real debate there, nor do I wish to contest that statement. But you can’t compare that situation to this one. Different players, different ownership, different coaching staff, and different philosophies all come in to play when making that correlation. I would urge you to let the season play out a little before calling for scalps based on one showing. Reality and realistic expectations tell me that he will not be fired any time soon, so even if you don’t like it, you are still going to have to watch it and see what happens. How you handle that is your decision.
Immediately following Monday's game the boards lit up calling for Knapp's "sack". Fans were saying that Knapp's offensive scheme was a bust and it was the primary contributor to the Monday night loss. I disagree whole heartedly. The first series of the game looked great. Oakland was moving the ball with effectiveness and showing a positive glimpse of what the season can look like under a Knapp scheme. All of this was done without key personnel and some players that didn’t even have a full week on the team. After rookie receiver Rod Streater fumbled, things took a bad turn.
San Diego had a great defensive game plan. They were obviously intent on taking away the deep threat, and they did just that. Playing safeties deep and dropping heavy coverage most of the game prevented Carson Palmer from deep passes which would have been seriously contested had he attempted them.
In hindsight, if I were the Chargers, I would have done the same thing. Drop heavy coverage and force CP3 to make contested throws in hopes that I would get a turnover from the interception prone QB. I also would have told my team that if you just don’t give them any big plays they will beat themselves, they are still the Raiders after all. Much to my surprise there weren’t really any forced passes into overtly tight coverage, and I thought CP3 did a great job taking what the defense gave him. And that was mostly underneath passes to McFadden.
McrFadden, McFadden, McFadden, McFadden. 33 out of 64 Offensive plays- that’s 51% of the entire offense. He was thrown to 18 times with 13 catches resulting in 86 passing yards and only 32 rushing yards. Ouch, when you say it like that it sounds like something went wrong. Or did it? Some will say that Knapp was calling check-downs to McFadden every other play. That’s not how it works. Don’t believe me? Let Carson tell you how it was done.
Taken from the raiders press conference Wednesday..
On throws to McFadden and using him as a receiver: "A little bit was game plan. We had certain plays really scripted for him where we wanted to get him the ball, but a lot of it was they were dropping deep underneath our deeper routes and we didn’t take a ton of shots down field just because of the depth the defense was playing. There is not anybody better to give the ball in an open field with one guy to make miss, to get 17 yards on one play he got, and he almost scored down there at the end of the half on a simple check-down where they were just straight dropping seven in the coverage and he almost gets in the end zone and made three or four guys miss. So some of it was play calls and design but if they’re going to drop underneath it were not going to force the ball down the field we are going to continue to give it to him and he’ll continue to move the chains."
That’s exactly what happened. I seem to remember that a lot of people on the boards were screaming all Knapp does is run, run, run before the season began. Apparently they meant to say that the check-down pass was his favorite option because a lot or people believe that it was Knapp's play calling that implemented the check-down as the primary play. But it is not Knapp necessarily calling the check-down pass as the primary play, its Carson making the reads, seeing that the downfield option is not there (or there is too much risk), going through the progressions, and making the decision to dump the ball underneath to our most powerful and dynamic weapon. Good choice if you ask me. I appreciate CP3 managing the game in the manner he did and not putting the team in a position to turn the ball over by throwing picks. Apparently he agrees.
Taken from the raiders press conference Wednesday..
On defenses taking away the long pass plays: "You can’t let it frustrate you, as long as you’re moving the chains. I think we had two three-and-outs that obviously you don’t ever want to happen but we continue to move the ball and those check-downs, you know it frustrates the defense. They cover everybody and then McFadden somehow gets nine yards out of it in the second and one. It seems like we got quite a few of those in the game but you can’t let it frustrate you because once you start getting frustrated that’s when you start forcing the ball into holes where they want you to throw it. They’re going to make us check it down and we got Darren to check it down then we are going to continue to do it."
Couple all of this with the long snapper leaving injured, 3rd down conversions by the Chargers from bonehead Raider penalties, and Raiders receivers not catching passes in their hands (this contributed to the loss more than anything else in my opinion)- and you get the end result. To blame this showing and the circumstances therein entirely on Knapp's system and play calling is ignorant and dismissive of the reality and fact that there is WAY more than one reason the Raiders lost this game.
We cannot judge how the entire season is going to play out on one showing without key pieces of our weapons arsenal in play. Not to mention that there are new systems in place in SD so game planning had to also be a factor as preseason tape showing generalized concepts and schemes was all Oakland had to look at to prepare for this division rival. There will be at least one week of film on Miami so I am optimistic that preparation will be better for the upcoming game.
Lastly, I’m not writing this to defend Knapp. More so to point out that all hope is not lost based on one game and game plan with extenuating factors beyond control. There are things I DID NOT LIKE that Knapp did. He is notorious for calling plays on 3rd down that are by design short of the 1st down marker. I understand that getting the ball in a playmaker's hands and allowing him to beat his defender is good in some cases, but it is unnecessary on 3rd down. Why not just call a 6 yard rout when you need 5 instead of a quick out for a loss? This is the one issue I have always had with Knapp.
In short, the Oakland Raiders beat themselves in this game. Poor depth at multiple positions, undisciplined penalties, receivers not catching balls, and SD defensive game plan were the primary contributing factors to this loss. Play calling and offensive scheme were the least of their problems. After all it does not matter what plays you call if your playmakers can’t make plays by catching the ball.
This was the first game of the season in the new regime. Knapp and the rest of the staff get a pass from me-- this time. The players played and the game is over so we move on to next week. The Raiders have already taken measures to fix some of the glairing mistakes from Monday’s game by adding required personnel.
There are more positives than negatives here, it just depends on your paradigm and how you want to see it. I am optimistic, but I am also a realist. This is by definition "rebuilding". I don’t anticipate this team being a legitimate SB contender for at least two years. I think they will need at LEAST that amount of time to fix what has been broken over the last decade. It could miraculously happen this year or the next, but I'll remain grounded and shoot for a winning record this year. That’s not asking too much is it?