Senior Bowl means Ryan's here to stay

Photo Credit: seniorbowl.comI’m going to go out on a limb and say that Rob Ryan and Lane Kiffin will remain at their respective positions.  As greedy and controlling Al Davis is, he knows how lucky the Oakland Raiders are to be coaching the North team in next Saturday’s Senior Bowl

Davis can’t be stupid enough to not make a decision on the future of his coaching staff before “Football’s premier pre-draft event.”  But I can see Mr. Davis forcing these two guys to coexist.  There have been numerous reports that Davis still has faith in Ryan, and that if there is anyone that’s expendable, it’s Kiffin.  But Davis has to like what Kiffin was able to do with the Raiders this season.

Kiffin’s hiring of Tom Cable was vital to the Raiders elite run game (5th in the league).  Deciding from day one that Barry Sims and Robert Gallery would be moving positions came as a surprise to me, but the quick timing told me he knew what he wanted.  Kiffin’s unorthodox decision to move a physically prototypical offensive tackle (Robert Gallery) to left guard with great success is the kind of stuff that even old man Davis can’t overlook; can he?

Staying with the belief that this whole thing is over, Ryan’s return leaves the Raiders exactly where they left off at seasons’ end.  Now as much as the defense declined this year, I spent all season pointing out how much they were similar to their last season form.  Like I mentioned last week, the Raiders might have been 3rd in overall defense last season, but they were 25th against the run.  There’s not too much difference between 25th in the league and 31st (what the Raiders ranked in rushing this season), but then there’s the pass defense.

This season the Raiders were 8th in the league against the pass, and #1 last year.  Being in the top 10 against the pass still shows that their secondary still played well, and the truth of the matter is that most of the secondary failed to play at the level they were at in 06’.

Michael Huff did well his rookie season, but progressed little this year.  Stuart Schweigert did not start the final two games of the season, and not due to injury (hint, hint).  Nnamdi Asomugha was one of the best cornerbacks in football in 2006, and although he played really well this year, he didn’t progress into the All-Pro player that everyone expected to see.  Fabian Washington intercepted 4 passes last season, yet only one this season- a number that kept Washington from keeping Stanford Rout from replacing him in the starting lineup.  Routt started the season strong, but lost playing time late in the season due to poor play, giving Washington time in the latter weeks to play more, with little good to come of it.  Many people could easily say that the Raiders pass defense would be ranked lower if the defense wasn’t so vulnerable against the run, and I agree with them, but that’s why I think there’s need for improvement all across their defense.

Here’s a quick recap of how the Raiders defense performed this season:

WEEKS 1-8: Raiders D surprisingly struggles against the pass, and gives up a hundred rushing yards to 6 out of the 8 teams.  Terdell Sands sees less and less playing time as the season progresses, and for good reason.  The defense’s biggest problems were giving up the big play (50+ yard pass or running play), and not stopping opponents on 3rd down, especially 3 and 8 (god, those hurt!).  Week 8 ends on Mike Williams’ last play/drop as a Raider (boy, does he suck), and the painful loss to the Tennessee Titans, and of Tommy Kelly.

WEEKS 9-17: The Raiders D finally got a hold of the momentum on 3rd downs (giving up a 3rd down conversion 35% of the time or less), and little to no big plays going until the final 4 games of the season (against Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and San Diego).  The week before the dreaded 4 game finale against 4 really good playoff-bound teams, the Raiders destroyed the Denver Broncos.  That game is the game this team should be going on.  JaMarcus Russell made his debut, and the Raiders had their most dominate win of the season.

With Ryan returning, and Warren Sapp retiring, the focus needs to change from this cover-2 dream that everyone was talking about, to a compromise.  If the whole Davis intervention is true then there must have been something that Davis gave Kiffin that made him wiling to stay in charge of the Raiders.  I’m thinking Davis told Kiffin that Ryan would play opposing offenses in more zone formations, and that Kiffin would have more of a say on who’ll come and go on both offense and defense.  I’m also thinking Davis told Ryan that the Raiders would focus this off-season on acquiring more defensive talent than they would in years past.  But no matter how this marriage was healed, they need to move on.

The best part is that we won’t have to wait until next season to see where Ryan and Kiffin stand, because for the next 5 days they must work together like they did all season: a week of practice, evaluation, and preparation.  But this week they have to focus on taking advantage of this up close look at approximately 50 men that will be drafted (on the North side alone).  Due to my birthday I was unable to get started with my day-to-day evaluation of the prospects in Mobile (Alabama), but I’ll have my analysis of each practice by Friday.

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