Back to the Bay with Rory Anderson is a weekly column posted every Thursday from JBB Podcast co-host Rory Anderson. For more of Rory’s views on the Raiders tune into the Just Blog Baby Podcast on BlogTalkRadio.com each and every week.
Back to the Bay
What do you do When You Fall off the Donkey?
A Rory Anderson column, follow me on Twitter @holistic_pickle
I am sitting here typing this column listening to an artist named Jamie N Commons and the powerful song “The Preacher” is playing. If you do not know the song I suggest you look it up. Anyway, as I am listening to the words absorbing the message, I feel inspired to write about what we saw from the Raiders on Monday night. I can say with no level of exaggeration that this is the first time I found myself wondering how to go about putting my thoughts onto paper and if you have heard me on the podcast, it’s pretty hard to have me at a loss for words. The issue for me isn’t explaining to you my thoughts or my opinions on the game, but rather how to demonstrate to you that it will all be ok.
That may sound a little bit extreme, but there is a segment of Raider Nation that is having trouble putting this game into its proper context. I understand that it’s the Broncos and that is a team the whole of Raider Nation wants to destroy, but this Raiders squad has a long way to go until it will be nipping on the heels of Peyton and company. I tried to make the case in my last column that there was a way for the Raiders to win, but I also tried to make it clear that there was also a significant chance the Raiders would get blown out. What is most difficult for me is that neither result occurred. They didn’t win, but they didn’t get blown out. That makes my job much more difficult.
The Donkey Bucks
As soon as the Raiders decided they wanted to take the opening kickoff when they won the coin toss rather than differ, I knew something was off. There are recipes to winning games like this, when your team is faced by an opponent that is simply better than you are, and diverging away from what you do normally or do best is not the way you go about it. Head Coach Dennis Allen is a naturally old school and conservative guy. I have likened him to Tony D’Amato, Al Pacino’s character in the movie “Any Given Sunday” and I will stick to that comparison. When Allen went off his normal routine it had my attention, because I thought the worst.
It did not take long for my fears to become reality. The Raiders received the opening kickoff and only returned it to the fifteen yard line and then proceeded to go three and out with quarterback Terrelle Pryor missing his first pass which was a relatively easy through. Before you could say the word “blowout” the score was 17-0 and the Raiders had punted on every drive. Peyton carved up the defense hitting receiver after receiver. For every look defensive coordinator Jason Tarver gave him he had the perfect counter. The Raiders eventually saw some life and scored a touchdown midway through the second quarter, but by the time half time came, it was already 27-7.
In the second half the Raiders continued to fight forcing two turnovers both fumbles and one was a strip sack from right defensive end Lamar Houston who got a decent shot on Peyton which made me feel better. At the end of the game it was 37-21 and in some circumstances if you took the Raiders at 16.5 points you had a winner. If you had them at 15.5, well let’s just not dwell on that compounded misfortune. It was tough to watch and listen to live, but it was even harder to relive on the All-22 cam (coaches film) when I charted the game. The Raiders and Raider Naiton were hoping the silver’n’black could go eight seconds riding that bucking donkey, but I think it would be hard to argue they lasted two seconds. That would be a rodeo reference…
How did it Happen?
That is not an easy question to answer, but if it was what would be the point of me writing this column for you to read? If I could boil it down to the most simple core issue, it was a loss of identity. The Raiders showed in the first two games that they wanted to run the ball on offense both in the option but also in a variety of conventional ways and couple that with a rhythm based passing game. On defense the name of the game was blitzing and blitzing exotically. The coordinators decided against going with the established Raiders identity that they had established the last two weeks and instead went for cute.
Yeah I said it they went for cute and cute sucks. On offense everything was about the option. I have been advocating that the Raiders adopt a heavy pistol offense that way all or most of the handoffs would look similar to option handoffs, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be an option run. The Raiders hardly ran power runs and never really tested the edges of the Broncos defense which is where they were weakest. Instead everything was an option handoff up the middle and defensive tackles Knighton and Vickers shut it down time and time again. It was very frustrating to watch seeing McFadden plow into a clogged up line of scrimmage and never seeing any adjustments until it was too late. The problem for the Raiders offensive gameplan was that the defensive gameplan was just as bad and it did not give them any opportunity to establish a running game.
Similarly to the failures on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive gameplan was also counter intuitive. Jason Tarver was not the same blitz heavy guru that existed in weeks one and two, instead he backed the dogs way off and when the Raiders did blitz it was so obvious that it had little effect. The strip sack from Houston did not come off a blitz, but rather a standard four man rush where he simply beat left tackle Chris Clark with a fabulous swim move and made a beeline to Peyton. The defense was very difficult to watch and at times I seriously thought that the Raiders were content with not having any pass rush at all and that wasn’t due to fatigue. It seemed schematic as if Tarver had plays that called for his lineman to just hold down their spots and try to knock the ball down and not even bother with a pass rush. Now I have a headache…
Look, I Understand
For all of my issues with the gameplan and the failures that derived from it, I get it. I understand exactly what Olson and Tarver wanted to do. Olson wanted to see the success he had against the Jags assuming the Broncos would try to shut down Pryor, but they went after McFadden instead, by not only the defensive scheme, but also by scoring quickly. Tarver got burned badly last season when he tried to blitz Peyton, so he backed off this year. The problem is, he got burned even worse this time. In fact, the times that they did force the Broncos to punt or were able to force field goals, was when they lined up in man coverage and did a little blitzing?
If I could tell Jason Tarver anything it would be to go down swinging the way you know how to. If Tarver were to bring blitz after blitz hoping that constant pressure would cause some errand throws and maybe even some interceptions and the Raiders still got burnt, I would not complain. In fact I would explain to Raider Nation that he did the right thing because he stuck to his guns. Just do you baby, that’s all I ask.
When it comes to Olson, instead of focusing on getting McFadden going, he should focus instead on giving the Broncos a little of their own medicine. The goal should be to get Pryor in a rhythm from the early moments of the game and to utilize wide receiver and running back screens along with short west coast style passes that are used heavily in college and by Peyton Manning. I saw Olson utilize these concepts in small doses. There was a screen to Jacoby Ford, a couple mid-range quick hitters, and one play where McFadden was in the slot and went into motion where Pryor faked a handoff to him while he was in his sweep motion and then through a short pass of it. It is those concepts that will benefit this team not only against the Broncos, but every other NFL team as well. Olson needs to take the focus off McFadden and the easiest way to do that is by putting the game in Pryor’s hands. Where are the ibuprofen…
Getting Back on the Donkey
Through the thick haze of muck that radiates off this game, there were some bright spots. Firstly, it was great to see Denarius Moore have a solid game. Yes lots of his yardage came off one play, but that what he is. He is a one trick pony, but when he decides to go off he can be one of the best one trick ponies around. People are not giving him enough credit for the play he made taking that deep in route to the house. It showed some pretty solid awareness on his part to realize that the safety was coming down to hit him and by turning back against the grain he could send his defender in the way of the safety. For all of his faults, he sure can be an exciting player.
Secondly, the performance of the offensive line on passing downs was pretty decent. There were several plays where Pryor had three or more seconds to throw the ball which is incredible considering the Raiders are starting their fourth string left tackle and a guy at right tackle they added only four weeks ago. When Veldheer and Watson get healthy, hopefully Barnes and Pashos will kick inside to the guard positions and this offense will start to take off. This can be a pretty solid offensive line and between the three young guys, there is a basis to be good for some years.
Thirdly, there is the defense. Overall the defense was torched, but I saw something in this defense that I have not seen in a long time. Heart. This defense was beaten and battered getting gashed by the running game, but every play each guy put his heart into it and his body on the line to do his job. I can remember through the last decade when a Raider team got down, the defense would just shut down. Not this one. This defense and these players played for Dennis Allen. There may be a large segment of Raider Nation that has little to no respect for Dennis Allen, but the team does and that’s what matters. I remember the Hue Jackson defense. That was a front runner defense if I ever saw one. Sure they were great if you had a lead, but the second they were down it imploded time and time again.
Lastly, there is Terrelle Pryor. Speaking of respect, this team respects Pryor immensely. You can see it in the way this team plays for him. He is truly a leader of men and I think there is a pretty good chance he will be the Raiders franchise quarterback after the year is over. In this game he showed immense growth and not only stunned me with several of his throws, but ex-GM Bill Polian as well who raved about his progress on Sirius NFL Radio this week. Not only that, but ex-scout John Middlekauf who has a robust presence on twitter, had lots of positive things to say about Pryor going so far as to say his footwork and presence exceed that of Cam Newton. That is high praise for a guy who many thought should have changed position. It is very hard not to root for Pryor. He has all the intangibles that a franchise needs in a quarterback and if he can continue to make solid NFL throws with solid mechanics then he will get the chance to prove Al Davis still had it until his very last draft pick. Those kicked in fast…
These are the times that try men’s souls and the Raiders have had their souls tested brutally. The question moving forward is how they respond. After a tough loss to the Colts, the Raiders took care of business dominating the Jaguars from start to finish and although the score wasn’t big it was decisive. The Redskins are coming to town this Sunday and they are 0-3 and looking for a win. The Skins have showed some amazingly terrible defense the last three weeks, but more importantly they showed it last year as well. The Redskins were a bit of an abnormality last season with a defense that really underperformed, but just so happened to get a few timely turnovers from time to time. So far in this young season they have been miserable in all aspects except pass rush.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan give a young and talented tandem of outside linebackers that are tremendous pass rushers. They are the heart and soul of the Redskins defense and if the Raiders can contain them they will be able to exploit the Redskins defensive backfield which features a Raider Nation favorite, D’Angelo Hall. This team will give up yards and points, count on that.
In order to ensure victory against the Redskins, the Raiders will want to try to jump out to an early lead and if that happens and the Redskins are forced to take the ball out of Alfred Morris’ hands, then they will have exactly what they want. Opportunities to take shots at RGIII. The Redskins offense does not scare me. They have played some very mediocre defenses and although the Raiders struggled against the powerhouse that is the Broncos, the Redskins offense is limited in its skill position players and offensive line play.
What I want to see from the Raiders is a return to what they do best, blitzing and rhythm offense. I expect Greg Olson to take the lessons he learned from Monday’s game and start applying them to his ever expanding playbook. Remember, the Raiders essentially scrapped their old offense and are building a new one from the ground up so it will take some time to develop. I saw Olson try to get Marcel Reece in a mismatch against a linebacker by having him run a wheel route, but his defender was in man defense and did not give Pryor the space to give Reece a chance. I expect more of this sort of creativity both on offense and defense. Most of all, I expect a win. This Raiders team has on opportunity to go 8-8. The time for licking our wounds is over, it’s now time to seize the day and for this team to show the NFL they are legit. I feel better already…