Interim head coach Tony Sparano’s first game as the Oakland Raiders sideline boss nearly ended with a happy finish as the former Miami Dolphins coach nearly led the 0-4 team to a win over the heavily favored San Diego Chargers at the Oakland Coliseum. Unfortunately for Sparano and the Raiders a late game winning drive from Phillip Rivers would hand Oakland a fifth straight loss to start 2014 and leave the interim head coach searching for answers on how he is going to guide this team to wins despite being in good position up 28-21 in the fourth quarter at home.
On Monday Sparano shared some of those answers to the media during his post-practice press conference, also taking time to update on any injuries from Sunday’s game. Sparano discussed the improved ground game, Derek Carr’s four touchdown performance, defensive shortcomings, and how the team will respond to having a valiant effort fall just short.
Following is Sparano’s press conference transcript from the Raiders official website:
“After watching the film and getting a chance to do that this morning, and all the phases last night and this morning, all the phases, it’s pretty much what I told the team yesterday afterwards; there are a lot of things that we did really well in this game. There are some things that we didn’t do well enough, obviously, and most importantly, the outcome. We needed to be in that kind of football game. Our team needed to feel themselves in that kind of football game and we need to find a way to win that kind of football game, and we will. But, I was really proud of their effort. I thought yesterday, watching them, they played really fast in a lot of areas. Really fast, fresher and fundamentally we played better in a lot of situations. There are some things there that we’ve got to cleanup throughout this week here, which we’ll do.
We’re in the process of doing that right now, in the meeting rooms. We’re going to put this game behind us and get ready to play Arizona, but that was a conference game and it was a good divisional football game. It’s a game in your division that you would expect to be a tough fought battle, and it was, and unfortunately we came out on the wrong end of this one. If those guys give me that kind of effort going forward here, this thing is going to turn.”
Q: What are some things that you saw in this game that you either saw more of or showed up for the first time since the first part of the season?
“One of the things, there are several … I thought the way we ran the football in this game is something that in the beginning of the year, in training camp and some of the preseason games, I felt like that’s the way it was going to go. It comes down to giving yourself opportunities, and we had some opportunities in this type of football game to be able to do it. We had 20-plus carries in this game, Darren [McFadden] had 18 touches in this game, Maurice [Jones-Drew] was a factor in this game, carrying the football. I thought the guys up front did a good job of sorting through their stuff and blocking them. So, that was all done pretty well, actually. We were 71 percent efficient of all our runs called in the game, in this ball game, which is the best that we’ve had. Obviously, you guys know our average per carry and those type of things. It kept us in manageable situations which then led to the next thing that we did well, which was third-down conversions.
We converted well on third down, some guys made some plays. You’re up there in the 60s in third-down conversions, that’s really good, and that helped us a little bit that way. Our explosive plays in this game were up. It could have been better, should have been better, but that’s something that we’ve got to continue to work on. It’s not something that happens over night, but it’s something that we feel like can get better. I thought on the defensive side of the ball, I thought we tackled better and we had more people to the football in this game than we had in the last several games. So, we tackled well, limited the yards that way. They averaged, whatever, 3.5 yards a carry, or something to that effect. Short of the last drive there they were probably well under that. I thought we did some good things in that phase. I thought we challenged the ball in this game. When I say that, I mean, if you really go through the game, you’ll see Tarell Brown challenging the football in this game and knocking a couple balls down. You’ll see TJ [Carrie] knock a few balls out of there.
You’ll see Usama [Young] knock a few balls out of there. So, I thought we challenged the ball well. We have to be better at that. We let a couple of balls get over our head that we challenged, they were contested catches, but they ended up making the play, so we’ve got to be able to dig those balls out of there and be critical of ourselves in that situation. Then in a special teams game, we changed field position several times in that game. Going into the game, it wasn’t a secret that they were going to fake a kick. If you really take a look at it over the last five years, and you look at their numbers, that’s something that they’ve done, whether it was under [Chargers Head Coach] Mike [McCoy] or wasn’t under Mike, they’ve faked kicks. We handled that situation well, gave ourselves a short field and turned it into a score. It’s interesting, I was asked the question last night, which is always hard after a game, but about a timeout that was used prior to that.
I told you that timeouts were gold, and they are. But, we called a timeout in that situation to get the right people on the field, to make sure we had the right people on the field, we had 12 people on the field at one point. Called the timeout, they lined up to kick a field goal, Tarell Brown makes a great rush off of the backside, draws a hold on that play, they move the ball back, have to punt it and elect to fake it. We stop the fake and score in two plays to Brice Butler. So, that series, that sequence there, going back and forth, even that timeout, although it was used and I don’t like using them that way, believe me, I like to get it right the first time. I don’t want to do that, but to get it right there and to see the way the sequence kind of went in that phase, was really encouraging for us. Take advantage of the short field, stop the trick play, drew the penalty with a great effort play and then turn the field on them and score a touchdown, so that was good.”
Q: When you say 71 percent efficient on a blocking play, what determines efficiency for you?
“Amount of yards made. So, an efficient run in our league is four-plus. When you’re getting four-plus, you may get a second-and-three and make three and get the first down, or if it’s a third-and-one and you gain the first down, that’s efficient. Well, we’ve missed some third-and-ones that hadn’t been efficient in the past, obviously. But, mostly, it’s four-yard gains or better and that’s what you judge those things on. You’re gaining four yards on a rushing attempt like that, you’re efficient, well, 71 percent of the time in this game that was the case, obviously with our average.”
Q: You were able to get a lot of rushing yards on second-and-10, first-and-15, and get yards back that you had previously lost to a penalty or something…
“Yeah, either a penalty or maybe an incompletion, or in some situations it was a drop. That’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of. That’s a little bit of Oakland beating Oakland, where we had some balls that were not contested that we didn’t finish, we didn’t catch. Those are scenarios where we came right back and we ran the ball there, which is a little, obviously uncharacteristic right now, because we didn’t have those opportunities in some of the other ball games to do that with the scores being where they were. But, in doing that, we were able to flip it into a third-and-five, a third-and-three at times, and those were manageables for us, and now you can do a few more things there and it forces their hand a little bit too.”
Q: What kind of improvements did you see up front that allowed you to run better?
“I don’t know if it was improvements up front as much as I thought that we just had more opportunities. We did some different things, nothing different than we’ve done before. Quite honestly, we just went back to the bye, said, ‘What do we do good? Who does them well? And let’s put those people in positions to do them.’ And, our menu was much shorter this week, on both sides of the ball, and the kids played faster and that was a positive. If I were to say one other thing that we did well, besides the way that Darren [McFadden] and Maurice [Jones-Drew] ran, because I thought they ran hard, but I would say that our double-teams were pretty good in this game. I would think that when they’re watching the film they know that too.”
Q: How do you think Menelik Watson played?
“Menelik played pretty well in this game. He graded out well. He had one early pressure where he kind of sat a little too deep in the ball game, but short of that he played pretty well. He played with a lot of enthusiasm, played smart football, and I thought he did a good job from the protection end, and really actually, did a good job in the run game. An athlete like Menelik, you expect to be able to be in good position in protection, being in position and actually blocking your guy are two different things, but in the run game, that’s something he’s had to work hard at and I’ve seen a difference in this game. So, as I said the other day, he’s had two or three good weeks now, and that was good, to get 64 plays, whatever he played in the game yesterday, worth of work like that. It was really encouraging.”
Q: Derek Carr said afterwards on the pass to Brice Butler, “I would do it a hundred times, I trust my guy.” Is that what you want to hear?
“That’s what I want to hear. Derek has done some interesting things. This is two weeks ago, in another life for me, but I’ve been there on the sideline where he’s come over and he’s actually said, ‘Give me this guy. Give me this guy.’ And it would be a different guy, but in his mind he had a vision for the play. He knew what he wanted to do and where the match-up could be. I think it’s really important when a quarterback starts to feel comfortable with his people. The ball he throws to James Jones on the right sideline, which looks like a routine play, kind of looks like a routine play, James catches it in stride on the back shoulder and runs out of bounds down there around the 20-yard line, maybe 22-yard line. That ball was in the air three steps before James got out of his break on the back shoulder. That’s good trust. It’s trusting the receiver that he’s going to be in the right spot and it’s trusting the quarterback that the quarterback is going to be able to put the ball there. Both of those scenarios, the kid knew exactly what he wanted to do with the football. [Offensive coordinator] Greg [Olson] put him in good position there in both of those deals, but it’s about the players executing the play, and they did.”
Q: Philip Rivers was bottled in at times but was able to get out of the “phone booth” so to speak. What do you have to do to get to the quarterback a little bit better?
“He did get out of a phone booth. When you really watch the film and you see the creases that the guy got out of, and I said it before, I have all the respect in the world for Philip Rivers. He’s a tough, competitive guy and you’ve got to tackle him. He reminds me of [Steelers QB Ben] Roethlisberger and those kind of people, that if you don’t tackle them, they have a chance to hurt you. This guy hurt us in a couple different scenarios doing that. One thing we’ve got to do is our rush lane, we had good rushes, but our rush lane integrity if you will, where we need to fit, our gaps, those type of things, we’ve got to continue to work on. Some of them were stunts and twists and some of them were pressures. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t have two guys in a gap, or a guy, even the distance between the chairs here makes a huge different in your fit, and I think that’s something that we’ve got to continue to get better with. I think that that’s something that we have to continue to get better with. We’ll work hard on it. The guys are watching it now and we’ll work on it when we get back out there. We also have to win one-on-one match-ups. In the game, I always report to [offensive coordinator] Greg [Olson] and say, ‘Hey, we had this many pass rush opportunities in the game.’ For example, in the London Miami game, we had 252 pass rush reps. Individual pass rush reps, where you’re talking about five guys on one play. That’s five match-ups. In some of those scenarios, we are in the high 80s in winning those. We have to win on defense. We have to win that one-on-one match-up when it occurs. When you get that offensive lineman in a one-on-one situation, we have to be able to win a few more of those and convert a few more of those to get to the quarterback. There were some really good rushes yesterday, Khalil [Mack], [LaMarr] Woodley, [Justin] Tuck had a great rush at the end on a stunt that he came around and affected the quarterback. We had a ball broken up in the end zone. Those things are all good, but we have to get better because that’s going to be important. We can’t let them extend the plays; that’s where they got some explosives.”
Q: How hard is it to have all of this go right and it not equal a win?
“This thing is a marathon. As I said to the players, there are no moral victories here. We are 0-5. We know exactly where we are. We know the last time that we played a good football game that was a one-score game. It was against New England and we didn’t respond very well the next week when we came out against Miami. Our guys are well aware of that right now. I made that perfectly clear to them. From our end, we have to correct it. We have to demand it. The players have got to understand, also coaches and all of us, have to understand and take responsibility. As coaches, if we didn’t get it right, we go in there and we say we didn’t get it right. From a player’s standpoint, you have to be able to look at it and get it right. We’re going to get it right. We’re going to work to get it right. That part of it does hurt when you come out of it. It hurts me more for them than anything else. My goal here is to win football games and see that locker room, smile at the end of this instead of knowing that we played hard and didn’t win a game. We played hard and that’s a good start.”
Q: Justin Tuck snaps were down, too, I think. Was he OK? Were there any other injuries coming out of that game?
“There were a couple of injuries that are still being evaluated right now that came out of the game – not many, but a couple. Justin, obviously, had one where he left the game for a period of time and then he came back in, and then he was out, and then he came back in, so his snaps were a little bit down. I applaud the guy’s effort for coming back into the game. I had challenged those guys the night before the game – the veteran players – to come in there and play like veteran players play, and the guy came in there and really had – he played 20 plays in the game, but he had one of his most productive games to date so far. That way there, that was good. As far as the injury goes right now, we’ll see where it is here as we go forward. They’re doing some work now.”
Q: Have you noticed a different reaction from the players coming in today compared to after the New England game?
“One of the things I told them last night in the locker room is that these games should hurt. It’s not OK. They should hurt. In our business – and I’m stealing a line that I’ve heard over and over and over again from a Hall of Fame coach – the wins, they go by like that, but the losses, they last a while. Our football team needs to understand that when you lose a game like that, that it should hurt a little bit. The kids came in today and that was the general demeanor. But, that being said, they have two hours to get over that – they know that – and then we move on and we get ready to play Arizona. I liked their mindset today. They were wide-eyed, they paid attention in the meetings and they weren’t afraid to be critical of themselves, or to know that they were going to be criticized in some situations, and praised in some situations. You’ve got to be able to do that – from our end, we’ve got to tell them when they do it right and when they do it wrong.”
Q: You talked last week about keeping guys uncomfortable to keep them motivated. How do you negotiate that balance, because you want to let them know, “Hey, you did well here,”? How do you go about that? Is it more of a need-to-know basis?
“It’s more of a need-to-know basis. Sometimes what they don’t know keeps them uncomfortable and that’s OK. I’m fine with that. Quite honestly – I said this before – maybe there’s some people in this building that are pretty comfortable right now. I don’t know about that. At the end of the day, we all had a hand in what goes on out there on Sunday if we’re Oakland Raiders. I’m proud of what the kids did yesterday. I’m proud of the way they played and for me to sit up here and not tell you that, I’d be lying. But happy with it? No, the result wasn’t the right result. Our fans deserve for us to go out there and win. They were tremendous out there yesterday. I mean, it was a blast. I had a ton of fun out there yesterday and they were great, and were a difference in the game at times. Our players feed off of that and they deserve the reward, too. But more importantly, the 53 guys in that locker room, they deserve it.”
Q: Sio Moore’s missed a few weeks with injury and he was able to come back and play this week. How did he do and did he give the defense a lift with just his presence?
“Sio played pretty well yesterday. He was around the ball a lot. He was a factor in a lot of things. Him and Miles, they both got downhill in the run game, did some good things that way. There’s some pieces of film there when you watch them – guys getting knocked back and them flying around – that was really good. So getting him back was a positive out there. Obviously, a little bit sore today at the end of this, from not playing and that type of stuff and doing what he did on it, but our football team needs Sio out there and he did a good job answering the bell this week. It was good to have him back out there.”
Q: Is the plan still to start the clock on DJ Hayden on Wednesday?
“Yes, right now that’s the plan.”
Quotes from Raiders.com