Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Call

You will hear the cover up from the NFL officials this week about how the fumble committed when Vincent "Doesn't Know Bo" Jackson spiked the ball wasn't really a fumble. They'll call it a forward pass, and the NFL's fans will nod like Pavlov bobblehead dolls.

You will hear them spin the story to sound like they did a bunch of research and discussed their findings on the field, then interpreted the rule book correctly to the best of their zebraness, so help them Mr. Magoo.

We have heard these lies before, from The Immaculate Deception to The Snow Job. Incomplete passes are Frency Fuqua to Franco Harris touchdowns and Tom Brady never fumbles, he just tucks it. You know the lies.

The truth is, there is a precedent for a player catching a first down pass, going down without being touched, then celebrating in a Michael-Irvin-ass-clown manner by spiking the ball... only to have the other team recover their inadvertent celebration fumble. The difference is the receiver wasn't a Raider.

Here is your precedent.

"Plaxico Burress (a Pittsburgh Steeler at the time) spiked the ball at the end of a 19-yard pass play (vs. the Jaguars on October 1, 2000).

The rookie stumbled and fell to the ground without being touched by a defensive player. When Burress got up and slammed the ball to the ground, Jacksonville's Danny Clark scooped it up and ran it back 44 yards.

Burgess said, 'I thought the play was over. I learned a lesson. I'll never spike it again except in the end zone.'"

Would calling the Jackson play legitimately as a fumble have changed the outcome of today's San Diego game? Probably.

Is there one set of rules for the Raiders and one for the other 31 teams?

Ask Danny Clark. When he was a Jag this very same play was a fumble. Had Clark been wearing Silver'n'Black at the time - as he did years later - clearly it would not have been a fumble. It would have been an illegal forward pass. Those are the Raider Rules.

Nevermind the fact that receivers clearly don't pass after they have just made a first down catch; this is irrelevant to the matter at hand because it involves the Raiders.

For all those outsiders who think the Raider Nation is rampant with zebra paranoia, remember, just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. These plays happen every year to Oakland... such as Marquez Pope's fumble recovery in the Seattle rain that was called a... nevermind.

Do they happen to your team regularly? When's the last time the *Patsies or Squeelers squeeled about being ripped off on the outcome of a referee's decision on a game-deciding play?

Let the lies begin... again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What's Wrong With This Offense

We have all been scratchin' our heads wonderin' what in the hell is going on with this team on offense. It is a rather simple offense, as every Head Coach who has game planned against the Raiders this season has told us. "Vanilla" they call it. So if it is so simple, why is it so hard for the Raiders to execute successfully?

After careful study, I have come to the conclusion that all the stars have to be in the right alignment for Tom Walsh's offense to work. I'm not kidding. Almost as many things have to go right as there are stars in the sky. Without resorting to astrology hocus pocus or astrophysics explanations of black holes and such, here are five:

1. The Center --> QB exchange at the snap must be fluid.

It seems obvious there can be no play at all unless this happens. Nothing else matters if you screw up at the very beginning, not the play call nor its execution.

The Raider QBs have fumbled twelve times (Walter 9, Brooks 2, Tui 1) in the first eight games of the season. Granted, a few of these were the result of the ball being jarred loose during sacks, but the majority have been during the exchange. Verily, the images of Baltimore's Kelly Gregg and San Francisco's Melvin Oliver (who?) rumbling with fumble returns are burned into our retinas.

During the Seattle game, the Raiders tried a shotgun formation to alleviate the long drop Walter must take to pass. The result was a botched exchange, which only a lucky penalty kept from being yet another fumble returned for a touchdown.

What is the cause of this fumblitis? The QB leaves the Center too early. My guess is this results from a combination of the QB fearing for his life and so trying to get a head start on his pass drop, the lengthy amount of time the Raiders have taken to get the play off, and the inexperience of the Center, Jake Grove, who hasn't logged a lot of time at the position in college or the NFL.

2. The run game must be established.

The vertical offense is so-named because it stretches the defenders down the field, opening holes and spaces to attack. To do this successfully, the running backs must be enough of a threat to bring the defenders towards the line of scrimmage. If you can get eight in the box, it becomes much easier to fling the ball over the heads of the defenders cheating to stop the run. The idea is to make the defenders responsible for covering the entire field of play at all times.

Moreover, with a very young QB like Walter, the best friend he can have is be able to consistently fall back on handing the ball off when things are getting a bit squirrelly.

While the Raiders are averaging a respectable 4.2 yards/carry, they have frequently abandoned the running game. See Seattle as Exhibit A. The result is a league-worst two TDs scored on the ground in '06. This is one afternoon's work for LaDainian Thomlinson.

What is the cause of this lack of commitment to pounding the ball? Some of it has to do with an identity crisis. Which Running Back are we relying on? We have seen Jordan, Fargas, and Crockett each lead the team in carries during different games.

Most if it has to do with play calling. While some folks have tried to make the case that Walter is given two plays for each snap - one a run and one a pass - and that he is responsible for deciding which to use based on the defense formation, this does not sound plausible.

Down, distance, field position, game plan, as well as the formation and personnel on the field affect the available options on offense too much for such a binary run/pass QB call scenario. It just does not make sense to let the defense always dictate your play calling, especially since this is supposed to be an offense predicated on taking what you want.

More likely Walter is given a play by the offensive coordinator and a Plan B play to audible to, depending on whether say the defense shows blitz or is in a different coverage package than expected. Verily, the responsibility for the pass happy ways falls squarely on the shoulders of Tom Walsh.

3. The blockers must sustain their blocks for four or five seconds on most pass plays.

Unfortunately, though Art Shell or Jackie Slater could pull this off in their heyday, it goes without saying the current offensive line cannot.

The Raiders passing scheme typically calls for a five- or seven-step QB drop in a max-protect formation. This means in order to give the required time for the play to develop, the RBs and TEs are primarily blockers. They do not typically release to be outlet receivers for the QB when things break down.

Unfortunately, LaMont Jordan is one of the worst pass blocking backs in the league. Moreover, the Raider TEs are mostly converted WRs (Adkisson listed at 230 lbs., Madsen listed at 220 lbs., and Williams listed at 235 lbs.) with little ability to block.

The result is the Raider RBs have accounted for a pathetic 17 receptions (averaging two/game) and the TEs have logged an equally ridiculous 19 catches. In contrast, Jordan alone accounted for 70 catches last season.

Where is our Dave Casper or Todd Christensen? Where is our Marcus Allen or Charlie Garner?

Hence, Walter is left with just two WR targets to choose from on most plays. The defense has a rather easy time covering just two receivers with four DBs in most cases. Watch Walter's eyes. He locks on to one of his targets on most plays. Frequently the DBs know where the ball is going to go.

In the mean time, the opposing "D" sends blitzers. The scene resembles a great white feeding frenzy after the warm Pacific water has been chummed with bait. The offensive linemen, TEs, and RBs (except for ReShard Lee) are rather putrid at picking up blitzes, twists, and stunts, so frequently rushers come unabated to find the immobile Walter. A much more mobile QB than Walter is necessary for any chance of this scheme working with these blockers.

What is the cause of this problem? The coaches' expectations that their players can do things they, at this point, cannot. The coaches hold on to the scheme though it is obvious that different personnel are required to make it work. The adjustment Tom Walsh must make are to use shorter pass routes routinely with shorter QB drops, move Walter out of the pocket using rollouts, use three- and four-WR sets more often, and establish a receiving presence from the non-WRs.

4. The Wide Receivers must run good patterns and make catches.

It goes without saying that Alvis Whitted should not be starting. He has but 60 receptions in an eight-year career, a total we expect in one season from a starter. While Moss and Whitted were once two of the fastest receivers in the NFL, neither is in that category any longer. Even if they were, WR speed is overrated.

In the Raiders' first Super Bowl winning season of '76, Cliff Branch averaged 24.2 yards/ reception. Thirty years later, we see not one of the NFL's top thirty receivers averages twenty yards per catch (Indy's Reggie Wayne is the highest at 16.6). In today's NFL, there is such an emphasis on rushing the passer that teams just do not throw deep with success as often as they once did.

In effect, the Raiders have two long bomb WRs starting and no one to move the chains as a possession receiver. Where is Fred Biletnikoff to be the yin to Branch's yang? How 'bout Ronald Curry? Even Jerry Porter shows some toughness over the middle.

Speaking of Freddie B., he must throw up weekly watching Randy Moss half @ss his pass routes and drop passes. Biletnikoff was one of the most precise route runners in history and I do not remember seeing him drop a pass.

Now, as Moss' receiver coach, Fred must be chain smoking and pulling what's left of his long blond hair out seeing this. Moss certainly didn't learn any of this from Freddie, as Randy no doubt leads the NFL in drops this season.

A recent interview with Andrew Walter asked what Walter should when pass protection breaks down. His response was:

"The (nine Seattle) sacks. There was one in particular where I could have hit an under (outlet receiver). The rest it was waiting for guys to come open down field. I could sail it out of bounds and save a hit.

We don't get our running backs out, so there is not a quick hitter. A lot are them are read routes where we have to wait for the receivers to make a choice - determine what he is going to do. If that means I have to sail the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack, then that's what I'll do."

According to Walter, we are completely dependent upon Whitted and Moss to choose a route, run it well, and make the grab. Which begs the question, do they ever choose to change to a comeback route to help Walter out when he's in trouble? This seems a lot to hinge on two receivers...

The vertical offense is a high risk, high reward system. If the Raiders pass on three consecutive downs and one is a long completion, then all is well regardless if the other two are incompletions or sacks. If none of them are completions... well then, it is yet another three-and-out. At times this offense actually moves in reverse, losing more yards than it gains in a series.

5. There has to be some stability in coaches and leadership from the players.

This offense has not been potent since Bill Callahan's go-for-the-jugular style lead this team to the Super Bowl four years ago. The revolving offensive line coaches and coordinators have left things an utter mess.

If I can figure these things out, certainly Walsh has by now too. He's the professional coach. Hopefully Walsh find a way to implement changes before the Doncos come to town. The Doncos have the best scoring "D" in the NFL. At least Walsh has seen them before once, so if he does fail to make adjustments this time, there will be no excuse for not catching on.

While it is painfully obvious that Tom Walsh should never have been solely entrusted with the play calling duties in the first place, it seems doubtful changing coaches this far into the season will be the quick fix this "O" needs. There is no one on the current staff who inspires confidence.

Most of the offensive coaches - Ford, McElwain, Slater, Eatman, - are in their first year with the Raiders. The veteran coaches - Shoop, Biletnikoff, and Peete - are not long-term OC solutions.

Hopefully Art Shell or even Al Davis will start having veto power over the plays Walsh calls. Someone needs to have more input into the decisions. Shell is too loyal to fire Walsh now.

Maybe Marc Trestman or Rich Gannon will come back. Maybe Ken Zampeze will be brought in to tutor Walter like he did with Carson Palmer. A long-term solution in offensive leadership is what this team desperately cries out for... but the ugly truth is we probably won't see it until next season at the soonest.

On the player front, it says a lot about an offense when Randy Moss is named team captain. He plays as if he is much more interested in his juice stores or clothing line than in his on the field performance. It is hard to believe what we are seeing from Moss, the Raider, comes from the same WR who was a HOFer a Viking. Is it any wonder the offense looks lost when its leader shows up "once in a blue moon?"

This leaves us with the realization that until Walter is given time to mature into leadership (let us pray he doesn't become the next Marc Wilson, all potential and little production) and someone rises from this rubbish masquerading as an offensive line to hold the group together (Barret Robbins? Lincoln Kennedy? Help me...), this offense will not improve to be anything above less than mediocre.

The only thing I can advise for as us fans is patience until players with attitude and discipline are drafted on offense, a revised scheme is in place, and they develop some cohesiveness the way the defense has done the last three seasons. Until then, pray.

The only advice I have for the players comes from the other Big Al:

"If A is success, then the formula is A = X + Y + Z... where X is work. Y is play. And Z is keep your mouth shut."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Kick in the Groin

Here is visual proof that Tyler Brayton's act of nutcracking was simply retaliation for Jerramy Stevens' prior act of the same kind.

We all (those of us who are male, that is) feel kicked in the groin after this game, twice.

Is it time to hang Walsh high from the nearest oak tree? How can anyone explain running the ball a scant 11 times while passing 45 in the wind and rain without resorting to mental illness as an alibi?

Will the Raiders ever run the ball with authority again?

Will Randy Moss remember how to catch a pass?

Will Ronald Curry ever play possession receiver?

Will the O-line ever be more than a wet cardboard piñata?

Will LaMont Jordan ever discover that blocking is actually part of his job description?

Will Andrew Walters ever find a check down receiver or master the snap exchange or take less than a seven-step drop? Or will he be disabled from the pounding before we find out the answer to that question?

Will a TE ever become involved in the offense? Oh yeah, forgot. They do throw to Chad Slaughter once in a while…

I dunno the answer to these questions, true believers.

I do know the bottom line is the current Raider offense is the worst in the NFL in just about every conceivable category for a reason.

Is the reason for this impotence Walsh's playcalling... or is the players' lack of execution responsible for this mess?

The answer is "yes".

A sticky thanks to The Preacher for the visual evidence. Here's hoping Al Davis pays Brayton's fine.