Raiders Reflection Redux - This needs to change, or we'll be 0-5 at the Bye Week

Hey there, Raider Nation! It's been a while since I made a fanpost. You might recall my last one:

The Raiders' Failures Are at the Organizational Level

First, I had never tasted such delicious crow before. It was a thrilling end to the regular season last year to watch the Raiders make the playoffs with four straight wins. They had a 2% chance of making the playoffs before the first of those four games, and they fucking did it! Despite that fact, however, the reason we're sitting here is because most everything else I wrote in that article still applies. The organization still needs to dig itself out of its hole. It's too early to know if McDaniels and/or Ziegler are the answers to our organizational woes, but I want to take the conversation off the organization and bring it to the team level today. I want to talk about two specific issues: Derek Carr as the quarterback and Josh McDaniels as the head coach. So, let's forget about drafting and personnel outside of decisions on who plays in a specific game. I'm not going to talk about the transactions we should have made in the offseason or whether they did enough to address the offensive line. I want to talk about the lack of success thus far with the personnel that we have, specifically, Derek Carr and Josh McDaniels. As in the previous post, there is a TL;DR at the end. This is a six-page, single-spaced paper and I like to write – sue me.

Let's start with Carr. Last year I defended him, saying that he would succeed in a well-run organization. While I stand by that, thinking over what I've seen for the past nine years, I have to add an asterisk. He would succeed, but not right away. There would be growing pains like he has now. Because here we are again, and as usual, he's doing the things he did early on in Gruden's system: predetermining the receiver who he will throw to, checking down before the play has time to develop, and playing scared (with a stellar o-line, even)! All these things characterize his play in a new system. Each subsequent year under Gruden (with subsequently worse o-lines), he did this less and less. Last year, these things weren't issues for the first three and the last four games, as well as for a few in the middle while he had to keep adjusting to new realities (his head coach gone, his WR1 gone, etc.). But Derek Carr has issues that will plague him no matter how well-run an organization he plays for. It is these that I think will doom us to a 7-10 or 6-11 season if they don't get shit figured out.

1) When was the last time you saw Derek Carr play all four quarters? I'll tell you the last time I saw it - 2017 Week 2 vs the New York Jets. We led the whole game and never took our foot off the gas. We had 180 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs (one apiece for Richard, Patterson, and Lynch) to go with Carr's 260 pass yards, 3 TDs and no picks. In every game since, where we haven't gotten our asses completely handed to us (and there have been quite a few of those), Carr has either gotten us out to a lead and gone conservative, or has gotten off to a slow start and come storming back over the 4th quarter. Carr does not play all four quarters, and I'm not sure he'll ever change. Sure, he'll have a few games here and there where he plays all four quarters, but that will never be Carr's norm, no matter how good the pieces are on offense or how good the defense.

2) Carr does not escape sacks. As soon as a defender gets a hand on him, he'll be on the ground pretty damn quickly. It's frustrating to see.

3) He is among the easiest QBs to strip-sack.

Those are Carr's issues as a QB that will never go away. So, the question is, can we win a Super Bowl with Carr? The answer is yes and no. The first thing is they'll have to turn this around, and soon, or we'll be 0-5 at the bye. Because there are some things that Carr is doing now due to lack of comfort in the system - the lack of mobility, the bad throws, the constant checking down in the 2nd half of Sunday's game vs. Arizona. To illustrate how some of what you're seeing on the field is a function of his comfort in the new system, let's talk about the "lack of mobility," because when people say that Carr needs to "run" or "be mobile," I think people are so used to thinking in absolutes that they don't realize that, in fact, sometimes Carr is mobile. Let’s talk about what constitutes a "mobile" QB, and what we can best expect from Derek Carr in this area.

There are, for the most part, three different things a passer can do on a passing play to avoid pressure/a sack: step up in the pocket, evacuate the pocket to buy time, and scramble.

A QB steps up in the pocket when he just needs an extra second, and the interior defensive linemen are being handled, but there's pressure coming from the edge(s), either due to DEs that have mowed over the offensive tackles, or from safety and cornerback blitzes. Of the three, this is something Derek Carr has historically been most consistent about.

The second is evacuating the pocket, where the intention is still to pass the ball, but the pocket is collapsing and the QB just needs to get the hell out of there, to get a few seconds to find his open receiver and avoid being sacked/killed. Derek does this, however, not consistently. I've pored over as much game film from week 1 and from the past as I could. Part of the issue is that Derek needs some time in the new system to visualize and understand what the strengths and weaknesses of the O-Line are, and how well his receivers run their routes in terms of a game (not practice.) We can argue that he is used to Renfrow and Waller's route running skills and Adams's from experience in college. But there is a relationship between how much time the O-Line gives him to throw, and knowing where the receiver is on his route. When Derek is in a new system, it seems to me (I'm not in his head, so I don't know for sure) that early on in that new system, he decides before the snap to whom he is going to throw. This is why he is hanging in the pocket when he should be getting out of there. If you look at his second completion to Davante Adams from week 1, he moved out of the pocket to the right, and hit Adams downfield for a 21-yard completion. If what I am seeing is accurate, had Davante been on the left side of the field, Carr would not have moved out of the pocket to the right, despite that being the only point of escape. Because the receiver to whom he predetermined he would throw was on the same side of the field as the opening in the pocket, he fled the pocket to the right and completed the pass knowing he and Adams would coincide on the right side of the field. If all is not in alignment, however, he stands there and looks for the receiver without buying himself the time he needs, he takes the sack/pressure, and/or makes a bad throw.

The third one, scrambling, is something he does very rarely, and something that should be expected with consistency only from quarterbacks who are known to do that - Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes. That is something we should not expect from Derek except on rare occasions, but the first two absolutely are within his ability and things he has done more consistently in the past. As he becomes more comfortable in a system, you'll see him predetermining the pass recipient less, thereby moving in or out of the pocket where he needs to go more often, as he did in year 4 of the Gruden system that Bisaccia took over. And let's remember that Tom Brady has seven cocksucking motherfucking Super Bowl rings and he's no more mobile than Derek Carr is, okay? Being mobile is a great thing, but it's not the be-all end-all.

When it comes down to it, Derek Carr's biggest shortcoming is that he is inconsistent. He doesn't lack accuracy. He doesn't not know how to step up in or get out of the pocket. He doesn't lack the ability not to check down. Consistency is what Derek Carr lacks. I don't know if there is a way for him to get that. When I look back on my life playing football, I was a kicker who, in high school, could nail a 50+ yard field goal. Then I would shank the next two 25-yarders. The kicker position is not one that forgives inconsistency, but if you asked me why I was inconsistent, I couldn't tell you why. I practiced and practiced and still I would shank field goals probably 30% of the time. I wasn't even nervous. I'd go on hot streaks where I'd hit 11 in a row. Then I'd start sucking again. I had no explanation for it. Now, I was never a professional athlete, and truth be told, I didn't play at the collegiate level either - where I went to school, it was hockey, not football, that was the focus of athletics. But the point is, it's not easy to pinpoint the cause of inconsistency - especially when it's not you who is inconsistent. But, we've watched Carr with four years in the same system, and each year he becomes a little more reliably consistent. So unless McDaniels has the magic pill that will expedite Carr's process of increased consistency with time and system familiarity, I am afraid that we're in for a long season.

That's the other factor - Josh McDaniels. Unless McDaniels gets his shit together, and fast, we're not winning a fucking game of whack-a-mole with this clown. Now, I think most of us wanted to Mark Davis to give Bisaccia a chance as head coach. But I also understand why Mark Davis felt it necessary to look for new leadership. If you remember the movie Speed, Sandra Bullock's character, Annie, tells Keanu Reeves's Jack Travin that they should not get involved romantically after going through the day's events because relationships that start under intense circumstances never work. I think Mark Davis, right or wrong, felt that once the intense circumstances surrounding the team's 2021 ascension to playoff contention wore off, that they were a middling team. He had lost faith in Mike Mayock, and without Gruden there was no talent evaluation he trusted (not that I understand why he trusted Gruden's "talent evaluation" in the first place). So he went out and got Ziegler and McDaniels. I was cautiously optimistic, but if things don't change, then I've seen as much from McDaniels as I need to see. To illustrate how adjustments can make or break a season, I want to talk about the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

In week 1 of that season, the Ravens pantsed the Steelers by a score of 16-0. Brian Billick looked at his defense and said, "Holy shit, this is like the best fucking defense ever." Not only did they allow zero points, but they gave up less than 200 yards passing and held the Steelers to 30 rushing yards - that's with the Bus AND Slash Stewart. The following week they barely eked out a win over Jacksonville, but the story of the defense was different. They gave up 36 points, and the following week they lost to the Dolphins by a score of 19-6. The problem was, their starting quarterback, Tony Banks, was an INT and fumble machine. So they gave up a fuck ton of points to Jax, and lost the following week because their stellar defense, due to the ineptitude of the offense, was on the field too long.

To support the defense and compensate for the shortcomings of their QB, Billick crafted a game plan that focused on their two main running threats - Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes. That's a pretty fucking badass one-two punch. They were able to shut the next two teams out (Cincy and Cleveland, no tall task there) and then hold the same Jaguars team that managed 36 points against them earlier to 10. But what would happen when they faced stout run defenses? Their next three opponents, Washington, Tennessee and Pittsburgh, had excellent run defenses, and the Ravens lost all three contests - all low scoring games (10-3, 14-6, 9-6) none of which saw any individual Ravens rusher eclipse 100 yards (Jamal Lewis was the leading rusher in all three games - 34, 58, and 93 yards respectively) and 0 touchdowns, rushing or otherwise.

But, now 5-4, Billick made a change that would make a huge difference. With one quarter left in the Tennessee game, he replaced Banks with Trent Dilfer. While things didn't get better immediately, they had only one turnover in the Pittsburgh game - much better than Banks 3 INTs in three quarters of play against Tennessee. But that game vs. Pittsburgh was the last game that season they would lose, because they figured out how to use Dilfer's game management and ability to be careful with the ball to balance the offensive attack. The closest they came to losing another game was at Tennessee in week 12 when Dilfer threw an 87-yard pick six but Al Del Greco missed a 42-yard FG at the end, so they won 24-23.

Outside of that game, they spent weeks 10-17 running roughshod all over the NFL, beating teams with a balanced offense like the 250 rushing, 222 passing yard game vs the Cowboys that they won handily by a score of 27-0. The only time they allowed another team besides Tennessee to get more than 7 points in those last 7 games was when they played the New York Jets in week 17. They knew that no matter the outcome of the game, they wouldn't go any higher or lower than the fourth seed, so they eased up off the gas on offense and subbed in some of their second stringers on defense here and there, and instead of crushing the jets, they won by a score of 34-20. But it was how they beat the Jets that made me realize that if we had to go against them in the playoffs, we were fucked.

Vinny Testaverde threw for 481 yards. The Jets scored the first two TDs and went up 14-0. Trent Dilfer threw for 99 yards and the total number of rushing yards by Baltimore was 65. They still won by two goddam touchdowns! Let that sink in while you wonder to yourself, "How on earth did the Ravens win with those stat lines?" Well, Vinny Testaverde would throw a 98-yd pick-six, Baltimore would get a safety on Curtis Martin, one of the premier running backs of his era, and then they would cap it off with not one but two punt return TDs from Jermaine Lewis (no relation to Jamal.) They were barely trying! Now, we can argue that the 2000 Oakland Raiders were a complete team (they really were) and had it not been for that fat tub of shit Siragusa sitting on Gannon when the game was still scoreless, we might have had a chance against them in the AFC championship. But in truth, they could have sacked Gannon with a bag of feathers. Once Billick had figured out how make his team the juggernaut it had become, nobody was beating the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, not even complete teams like Tennessee and and our beloved Oakland Raiders.

My point is that Billick knew he had the team that could win it all, and he made some adjustments to ensure that end. Once he created a balanced offense, led by a relentless two-headed-monster rushing attack and a competent game manager in Trent Dilfer who minimized mistakes, the defense never tired out. They could stay off the field for much of a quarter, come in, dominate, and go rest for fifteen or twenty more minutes while the offense ate clock. This is the exact opposite of what McDaniels is doing right now. You can say that the Ravens had some luck - the fact that they had Trent Dilfer as the backup, we don't know if Stidham is comparable to him. We also know that our defense is nowhere near the level of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That said, our secondary has been surprisingly good, and they are much more cohesive a unit than any defense we've had since the early 2000s. Even if McDaniels does the right thing on offense, maybe we still don't experience the same success as the Baltimore Ravens did in 2000. But we can certainly avoid being beaten by the fucking Arizona fucking Cardinals!

We can argue semantics, that what I described in the Ravens is a season-long strategy, and we've seen McDaniels helm this team for two games. I'm completely aware of that. But I'm also aware of the fact that McDaniels believes he has a team that is talented enough to win a Super Bowl. I'm aware of the fact that McDaniels, a supposed offensive mastermind, had no answers for the Chargers' defense in week 1. I'm aware that McDaniels was unable to mastermind a way to extend the 20-0 lead that Las Vegas took into halftime. I'm aware that McDaniels did not prepare for the Cardinals' half-time adjustment. I'm aware that his lack of anything resembling play calling in the second half caused two quick three-and-outs that left the defense on the field for 58 plays and 40 straight minutes. FORTY MINUTES? Not even the 2000 fucking Ravens would have lasted that long on the field!

That's why I cannot place the blame for the week 2 loss on the Defense, and if you do, then you clearly don't understand the football games you're watching. Everything is interconnected. Sometimes a tackle misses his blocking assignment because the center miscommunicated a line call or failed to call a pre-snap line adjustment. (Other times, a tackle just fucked up.) Just seeing what happened on the surface doesn't always tell the story - understanding the intricacies of a game is what enables you to understand what is truly going on. It's fine if you have only a surface-level understanding of football, but maybe stay out of the comments section and stop showing your ignorance, m'kay?

Because the defense was on the field too long to be effective in the second half, I place the blame for the week 2 loss on McDaniels, and Carr to a lesser extent (although I blame Carr for the week 1 loss, and McDaniels to a lesser extent). The most frustrating thing about letting a team back into a game, squandering a lead of 2 TD+ and going into OT is that when you unnecessarily let the opposing team back into the game, any injury that occurs as a result of the extra time spent on the field in OT was avoidable and puts us at a disadvantage for future games. For instance, Hunter Renfrow is in concussion protocol now because of the hit he took on the last play in OT when he fumbled the ball. Now, I don't blame Renfrow for fumbling away the game, I blame McDaniels (and by extension, Carr) because we shouldn't have even been in OT. As such, any injury that Renfrow may have sustained is ALSO on McDaniels and Carr. Unnecessary injuries that happen because we couldn't close out a game in regulation occur with more frequency than we'd like to admit on this football team. In yet another in a long line of games where Carr didn't play four quarters, in week 18 of last season, we let the LA Chargers take the game to OT even though we led by 2 TD with four and a half minutes left in the game. During that OT period, Darius Philon, who had two amazing stops against LA, was injured, which meant he could not make a difference for us in the playoff game vs. Cincinnati. (Especially frustrating when you think of how it came down to the final drive.)

Now, with that said, do you honestly think that Josh McDaniels is going to be the kind of coach that will successfully make the adjustments in future games needed to keep his offense on the field and the defense off of it? Especially in THIS fucking division? To quote Dr. Evil, "How about Noooooooooooooo?" He has an elusive running back in Josh Jacobs and several complementary backs on the depth chart. Anyone boasting his offensive résumé should find a way to create a 2022 incarnation of 2000 Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes. Derek Carr is, most of the time, superior to a game manager. Maybe, instead of making him overly agressive one week and captain checkdown the next week, we can find a middle ground? A trent-dilfer-like balance with more accuracy and better wide receiver options? (The 2000 Ravens had Shannon Sharpe, but their best WR was Qadry fucking Ismail.) Like I said in my post last year, Carr is a more-than-serviceable QB with faults, but if you use him correctly, he can take you on a deep playoff run. It's becoming quickly and painfully obvious that McDaniels isn't the guy to do that. He has a QB who doesn't play four quarters. Either he must find a way to win in two or three quarters, or bench him when she shows signs of not playing four quarters. Carr will get the fucking message. He has a quarterback who is easy to take down and fumbles more than should be tolerated when he is sacked. McDaniels needs to invent plays around that. He needs to stop calling fucking PASSING PLAYS, like he did all second half vs. Arizona, when we should be running the ball. Even if the coach didn't call those plays - if Carr or the offensive coordinator changed the plays and they didn't work, that's also on McDaniels for either not taking Carr out of the game, or for not taking command of the offense away from the OC. Because when you give up your authority to someone who fucks up your game plan, you look bad. Then your only recourse is to throw him under the bus in the post-game presser, like fucking Ben McAdoo used to do to Eli Manning.

Brian Billick gave us the blueprint for making adjustments to win Super Bowls. In addition, McDaniels worked for a man who is considered by many to be the greatest head coach of all time. He showed McDaniels SIX TIMES how to maximize the talent on the roster. Maybe we don't have TB12, but that doesn't mean we should be blowing 20 point leads! FUCKING LANE KIFFIN, NORV TURNER, TOM CABLE, MIKE WHITE, AND JOE BUGEL NEVER DID THAT! You have a model for six super bowl championships and you lose in ways that these throwaway coaches never dreamed of losing? Holy fucking shit.

If they can get this turned around, I'll be happy to eat some more fucking crow. I'm just not feeling it.

TL;DR: McDaniels sucks so far, and Carr is inconsistent. Unless we can get Carr out of his "new system jitters," we’re in for a loooooooong fucking season.

On a positive note, at least we have some smoking hot fans: