The Oakland Raiders came into East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the “New York” Jets knowing that it would likely be their last chance at a winnable football game. Playing a team that looked absolutely lost in recent weeks, with Geno Smith getting pulled for Matt Simms against the Miami Dolphins the week before the Jets presented the perfect opportunity to end a long East Coast drought and get a win before finishing off the season against three AFC West teams with playoff hopes.
That obviously didn’t happen on Sunday.
Instead Raiders fans were treated to a House of Horrors that included another missed FG from Sebastian Janikowski, a dubious use of switching QB’s, and some half hearted defense that saw Geno Smith have one of the best games of his rookie season, Kellen Winslow Jr. look like he was playing for the Miami Hurricanes still, and the hapless Jets offense crack over 50% in third down conversion rate. None of which will help the fate of Raiders head coach Dennis Allen as the Raiders now are looking at a very likely 4-12 season with games against the Chiefs/Chargers/Broncos left on the schedule.
Lack of depth played the biggest role in the loss, safety Tyvon Branch was thought to have an outside chance but couldn’t play and the Raiders were forced to use FB Marcel Reece as their feature running back. While Reece has the skill to play admirably the injuries to players like Branch, cornerback D.J. Hayden, Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, are even just the tip of the iceberg of the injury problems a team that has lacked depth in the first place with $70 million in dead cap space has faced.
The sole silver lining in this game was the second half response from the Raiders offense, who after starting down a 20-3 deficit after an Antonio Allen punt block TD stormed back under QB Matt McGloin who recovered from a change of pace move from Dennis Allen to put in Terrelle Pryor to finish with a statline of 18-for-31 for 245 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception to put the Raiders within ten points. Marcel Reece pitched in with 123 yards on 19 carriers while Rod Streater had seven catches for 130 yards, both totals were career highs for players who also scored touchdowns.
Still that offensive performance is exactly what it is, just a silver lining. A loss to the lowly Jets has raised eyebrows and was the final blow to a start to the season that began with the Raiders showing potential that could be built upon in the offseason leading into 2014. Now that potential looks a little less clear after a brutal five game stretch that included four road games decimated the Raiders already shaky depth and exposed some of their obvious flaws. Now with three games left the Raiders staff faces tough decisions on which players are worth being kept around for the rebuilding process. On a team with many players on one year deals, the debacle on Sunday won’t be helping much when it comes to faith in the current roster being built upon into a playoff team anytime soon.
Terrelle Pryor made the expected cameo Raiders fans have been waiting for since he healed from an MCL surgery, going out in the first half for a drive where he led the Raiders to a field goal in a similar early drive to starter McGloin who had a FG worthy drive denied by a familiar miss from Janikowski.
Pryor’s presence opened up the run and he marched the Raiders into scoring position, but you could still see many of the flaws that led to his benching on display. From little faith in his pocket to a terrible misplaced ball to Rod Streater on a rollout, Pryor still had the same limitations that he had before he lost his starting job after Matt McGloin’s performances during his absence.
I will get into the Pryor situation more this week and even later in this column, but it is becoming more and more clear that Pryor’s flaws can’t be masked in the NFL. Already given the time to develop, the now close to veteran quarterback is simply running out of time. A 2-5, 20 yard passing performance where he looked uncomfortable in the pocket before sitting on the bench for the rest of the game despite McGloin struggling in the first half is as damning as you can get. Pryor isn’t going to be the answer.
Depth Issues, Ineptitude on Coordinator Jason Tarver’s Defense
The biggest disappointment in the month of November for the Raiders has to be the crash to earth from a defense that early in the season was one of the more underrated outfits in the league and a unit that kept the Raiders in games on a weekly basis. That has now turned south as the absence of D.J. Hayden and Tyvon Branch in the secondary has stunted the Raiders secondary and as a result has turned a once stout defense into a leaky one.
Geno Smith had no problems finding open receivers in the flats on Sunday, moving the ball somewhat efficiently after it appeared early in the game the Raiders would be able to take advantage of Smith after an early Kevin Burnett INT. The Jets were 7-13 on third down conversions and put up 37 points on a unit that safety Charles Woodson bluntly stated “peed down its leg” in New York.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was given a lot of praise early on in the season for turning a unit that was undermanned into one that quietly earned an upset win over the San Diego Chargers and gave Phillip Rivers problems during the Raiders solid start. Now it seems like the challenge to keep the Raiders competitive has been too much for Tarver to handle recently as without two starting defensive backs and more injuries than we have time to hash out it is obvious the Raiders just can’t hide their lack of talent throughout four quarters on Sundays. Even against the Jets.
Dennis Allen’s Hot Seat Gets Warm
It was expected that Coach Allen would be given a season playing with house money this season, on a long term contract through 2014 and coaching a team that was projected to finish last in the AFC West expectations were for a rebuilding season that would end with Dennis Allen (and General Manager) Reggie McKenzie preparing for a 2014 push with high draft picks and boatloads of cash to work with.
While that seems to be the situation going into Week 15 of the season, the attitude towards Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie has been turning sour from a large minority of Raiders fans.
Sunday’s decision to put in Pryor was not a bad one, but the decision to throw Matt McGloin back into the game backed up on his own two yard line in an obvious running situation after Pryor just opened up the run game was unfair to his starting QB and was one that helped lose the Raiders the game. The drive ended with a third down interception from McGloin to Ed Reed and while the defense held the Jets from making them pay with a touchdown, it was a situation that was hard to justify and earned a long verbal lashing from former Raiders great Rich Gannon on CBS broadcast.
You can’t call out Allen for trying to see what he has in both quarterbacks in a losing season with nothing to play for, but you have to question the decision to reinsert his cold starting QB into the game backed up into his endzone. The end result made things worse, and it was a decision that very well could have cost the Raiders the game.
The case against Allen and even the GM in McKenzie can be made quite easily as both have some strikes against them on their report cards for 2013. McKenzie missed mightily on bringing in Matt Flynn and has seen second round draft pick Menelik Watson fail to crack the Raiders starting offensive line in his first NFL season while Dennis Allen has yet to win back to back games in 2013 and still has yet to conquer his East Coast demons. With the Raiders likely to finish 4-12 the end result for the second season under McKenzie and Allen is going to look a lot worse than projected at the start of November. With no winnable games left on the schedule, there is little opportunity for the HC to change the narrative of the end of the season barring an upset against an AFC West foe. A win in the next three weeks will save him his job undoubtedly, but for now the hot seat is significantly warmer than it was a month ago.
It is unlikely that owner Mark Davis will fire Allen, and Jon Gruden’s reported interest in staying in the MNF booth will surely help the owner stay patient in the regime that was brought in to rebuild the Raiders the right way. “The right way” involved not chasing the quick fix that has burned the Raiders organization so many times since their last playoff season, because of that I think Coach Allen will be back in 2013. Stranger things have happened, and in a season that is going down the drain quickly it is impossible to not recognize that the Raiders coaching staff and front office are on a “Warm” Seat with three games left in 2013.