Back To The Bay: *Shrugs*
There comes a time in any season for a team where you simply cannot do any real analysis because the process and results have been seen so many times, it simply becomes redundant. I was really hoping this was going to happen much later in the season, but here we are. I have a column to write in which I want to provide football analysis and insight, and I have absolutely no new insight to give. The game Sunday against the Cardinals was eerily similar to the Jets the game week one. Greg Olson called a tight game with no complex route concepts and predictable run game, while Tarver refuses to use press coverage or blitz the A gaps while mugging the line of scrimmage. Every change that needs to be made is not being made or at least not consistently maintained.
I have heard the argument that some in the media have made about the emotional boost of the football burial having worn off for the Raiders. The football burial has nothing to do with the poor performance the Raiders put out last Sunday. It is the exact same issue the team had against the Jets…and Patriots…and Dolphins. The playcalling and schemes make no sense whatsoever. This is not a talent issue. I have seen the outside pass rush force the quarterback to step up and nobody in the middle to get the sack. I have seen too many third and longs converted consistently to blame the players, because even poor players would actually make a stop eventually. Every time third and long comes I automatically assume it will be converted, not because of a lack of faith in the players, but rather because I know Tarver will only rush three or four men or do a delay/deep blitz, and play extremely soft on the receivers giving up an easy eight yard completion when the offense needs seven.
Moreover, I have watched this offense too many times to hope for a shallow crossing route against a defense calling middle linebacker blitzes constantly leaving space for those routes. I have also seen time and time again on third and long for the Raider offense, a multiple vertical route concept against “two man under” defense with no shallow outlet route in space. It is getting to a level of a psychosis with these coordinators and the only real hope we as fans can have, is that recent roster changes will cause just a small amount of sensible changes to the scheme simply due to a change in perception of the talents of those playing.
Out: Young and Woodley
Although the actual roster moves have yet to be made, reports are that both safety Usama Young and defensive end/Leo Lamar Woodley are done for the season. Raider fans are upset with the Woodley signing looking to his lack of sacks as a reason he had no business being signed. Considering the simple fact every young high priced free agent the Raiders wanted turned them down, the Woodley signing just like all of the older veteran signings makes sense. Consistently this season I have noted how the combination of Mack and Woodley have consistently created penetration against most offensive lines, but the issue arises when the quarterback steps up into the pocket and there is no interior pressure. The consistent use of Simms and Smith as pass rushers is maddening. The best interior pass rushers the Raiders have right now are Tuck, McGee, and Wilson, but the trio do not see enough snaps in those positions.
With Woodley out we will see more from second year defensive end/Leo Benson Mawoya who was added to the roster after final cut downs when he was waived by the Seahawks with the intention of him becoming a practice squad player. Although Mayowa has seen few snaps and has played well on special teams, he now sees his opportunity to start. Mayowa has the physical abilities to be a solid Leo although he may be slightly undersized. He is listed at 252 pounds by the Raiders, but I would not be surprised if his current weight was closer to the 265 pound range.
The other significant injury the Raiders will have to cope with, is the loss of Usama Young. After Tyvon Branch went down, Young stepped in and continued his solid play from last season. He played more of a free safety role allowing Woodson to play the strong safety more. With Young out in steps Brandian Ross for a second crack at the safety position. Many Raiders’ fans remember Ross from last year as the NFL’s worst safety, which he deserved for all intents and purposes. However, strictly speaking about his skill set and the way the Raiders should use him, he would do better as a deep free safety roaming the deep center. What got the Raiders in trouble last year was putting him in man coverage and asking him to be responsible for a tight end or receiver. Although he is an ex-cornerback just as Usama Young, he comes from a different background where he played mostly zone.
In: Hayden and Harris
With the two veterans hitting the injured reserved the Raiders will promote two players to fill their places. Most likely the two who will become part of the active 53 man roster will be second year cornerback DJ Hayden who was placed on the PUP list in camp, and rookie seventh round pick Shelby Harris. Every Raider fan knows DJ Hayden, and although many out there love to crush Reggie McKenzie for the pick of Hayden, many forget that in his six games played last season, he forced two turnovers including an interception to seal the victory against the Chargers last season. As I have explained time and time again about Hayden, he will never be a “shutdown” cornerback. He is a playmaker pure and simple. He will take chances in order to make plays and has the hands plus ball skills to convert any turnover onto instant points.
What is more important to remember about Hayden is a basic principle we are learning in regards to Menelik Watson. The much maligned second round pick has started two games and has performed admirably in both of them. In fact his performances have been very solid. The point here being, that draft picks are not made nor should they be viewed in the lens of one season. In the example of Watson, coach Sparano has recently said that Watson is getting reps at the left tackle position as well as right tackle the position at which he starts. I have been adamant since the day he was drafted that he had the skill set to be the future left tackle of this team. I also specifically said that he should be given time at right tackle and moved to left tackle the same way Tyron Smith did. It is a very similar situation and Watson has the ability to be an exceptional left tackle.
With that in mind, I am looking forward to seeing Hayden get back on the field in the very near future and grow. I do not expect him to come back and suddenly be Darrelle Revis, and I fully expect him to make mistakes, but what I do expect is to see a fiery young man making plays and learning the game. I stand by the claim that Hayden will be an exceptional starting cornerback in this league and this “injury prone” tag will be a product of a small sample size and plain bad luck. Unlike a guy like McFadden, Hayden’s injuries have no correlation nor do they necessarily effect the same body parts. The line of “He is a bust so far” may be the silliest comment that fans make and in due time I am confident that Hayden will prove he was worth the pick and is changing minds in Raider Nation the same way Watson is now.
The other expected promoted player is Shelby Harris. He is not the same type of player that Woodley is and we will not see him playing the Leo position the same way Mayowa can. In fact, the more precise comparison to Harris is Justin Tuck. This puts the Raiders into an interesting numbers game. I expect we will see the hybrid 34 look that we have seen mostly in base defense, but at times especially in nickel, we should see more straightforward four man fronts. The question is, how many linebackers with the Raider carry into gameday? At this point we will have to wait and see.
For those who do not remember, Harris flashed during the preseason but was forced to the practice squad in a late roster move due to some poor practice habits. Since those reports, Harris has kept his nose squeaky clean and I believe he has some solid skills. I doubt he will make a huge impact on this defense especially since we have no evidence that Tarver will change his coverage schemes, but if he shows some solid pass rush moves and can play the run well, the future will be bright for him. The biggest issue for the pass rush to see success is the coverage, and because Tarver constantly plays his corners far off the receivers, quarterbacks are able to get the ball out well before an actual pass rush threat gets close enough to threaten them.
Expectations Of The Browns
The Browns have become the mainstream media’s pseudo darling team, so much so that the geniuses at Pro Football Talk declared they would win three straight games including the Jaguar and Raider games. Of course we see now that the Jacksonville call was pretty bad. The Browns are another mediocre football team in a league that tends to trend towards mediocrity. Similar to several games so far this season, the Raiders are going into a game against a very beatable football team. The Browns are a run first football team and their passing game stems from that success. Without Alex Mack the Browns were not the same offense last week. Brian Hoyer is another mediocre quarterback in this league and the lack of weapons in the Browns’ offense is a solid help for the Raiders.
The gamplan is very simple, in fact it is the exact same thing I have said from week one. Firstly, the Raiders need to generate a pass rush especially on third down. Whether it is more sensible blitzing or even the most basic common sense change of utilizing press coverage, Tarver needs to for the sake of his own potential job opportunities, needs to make this change. Secondly. Greg Olson needs to open up this offense. Balance needs to be achieved in this offense and with a rookie quarterback that is not consistently feared, the only way to produce that balance is by opening up the play book. This does not mean the Raiders should throw vertical routes all day long, but they do need to be aggressive, attack every level of the defense, and utilize passing concepts that stretch coverage both vertically and horizontally. Lastly, the Raiders need to show pride and these young bucks need to take the reigns. I do not mind losses just show me pride and poise.
Prediction: Raiders 24, Browns 17. They have to win eventually.