Oakland Raiders: Performing Better, Still Losing


Raider Nation has this bizarre tendency to begin labeling fans or writers within the ethos of Raider’s football, and I am no different. Several fans of the team who I oft interact with on Twitter who are angry and are well within their right to be so, are pointing fingers calling me a “Reggie apologist” or something to that effect. If that is what you think I believe then you obviously have not taken the time to actually consider the words that I write on a near weekly basis. Let me explain this in the most simplistic way I can, I do not care about who is leading the Raiders or who is calling the shots as long as the organization goes through the necessary process, and at this moment it is.

I was as optimistic as anyone within Raider Nation for this team and this season, but for a multitude of reasons we have not seen what I had hoped to see. That is entirely upsetting and I understand how many fans who had similar hopes have become immensely bitter and want to throw their anger in every direction. Simply stated, that is not me nor is it what I believe. Regardless of my personal hopes or expectations, any organization whether it is a football team or business that goes through long terms of wholesale organization malaise must hit absolute bottom. That is where the Raiders are now and it is healthy to hit absolute bottom because it forces an organization to find ability in the most unlikely places while weeding out those who are willing to put in the effort long term to see out the eventual success. Think of this as NFL bankruptcy.

For those who do not know much about bankruptcy and how it effects businesses, in short when bankruptcy is claimed a business must restructure and shed all debt, operate in an extremely tight budget driven around getting through lean years with only safe long term investments, and take hits to the product while utilizing limited resources. Right now the Raiders have shed the debt (poor contracts), stabilized their operations by focusing on safe long term investments (draft picks), and are taking hits with their product. The next step is the one where an organization begins to move positively and for the Raiders that step is next season. Until then, we are seeing those who want to be a part of the solution and the good news for all Raiders’ fans is that the bulk of those players are very young.

What Am I Talking About?

I intentionally began this week’s column in a potentially confusing fashion. What I just explained to you is my philosophy and it has been since before I started writing for this site. I had always said the 8-8 years were fake and they were. They were built entirely on temporary bubbles not sustainable investment. In other words, having a team of vets while giving out draft picks to attain those vets is not a stable method to be successful and similarly to the housing crisis the only way to overcome those bubbles once they pop is to take it on the chin. The reason I am not calling for Reggie’s head is very simple. I signed up for this. I had been optimistic that it would have been different and included more wins, but I am not a hypocrite. I asked for this and even if the Raiders go 0-16 I absolutely stand by the claim that this is the best thing for the franchise. The night is darkest immediately before the dawn.

People try to ask me to justify Reggie’s choices in coaches or his free agents. My answer: I do not care. The only decisions of Reggie’s that I care about are his draft choices. In the 2012 draft where the Raiders first pick was number 95 overall, the Raiders drafted what is now a backup offensive lineman and a versatile backup linebacker who regrettably is forced to play out of position, even though he showed solid talent as a rookie in his proper position of weakside linebacker. The other four players are gone, but Reggie’s best find was undrafted free agent Rod Streater. I can live with that. In 2013, Reggie’s first two picks were much maligned as rookies, but in recent weeks both Hayden and Watson are showing the promise I saw on tape and was why have not wavered in my support of those picks. The Raiders also added a starting linebacker, tight end, a rotational defensive tackle, and special teams running back.

In 2014, Reggie drafted a stud outside linebacker who is garnering huge praise across the NFL, the best rookie quarterback, a stud left guard, a rotational defensive tackle who is getting better every week, a seventh round cornerback who has been significant both on defense and in returns, and a couple high upside project players. So, let me ask you the reader, if I personally only care about the draft picks and long term debt which the Raiders have none, why would I be clamoring for Reggie’s head on a pike? Like I said, I signed up for this and although I thought this would not happen I had considered this as a potential result this season.

Moving On

Now that I have taken the time to explain what I consider to be the obvious, let us now move into what the issues are. To me they are very simple and not so easy to fix. Raider fans love to blame the offensive line for the struggles in the run game, but that is both short sighted and over simplified. The Seahawks man to man have a less than average offensive line, yet they open up big lanes. Why is that? It is two things. 1) Consistency- they have the same group running the same scheme for several years. 2) They are unpredictable. The Raiders are the most predictable offense in the NFL and at times the defense is as well. If you are surprised that an offensive line either struggles or gets confused when they have nine or ten men in the box then you are hopeless.

When the Raiders want to run the ball they do it usually on early downs and do it from 21 or 22 personnel groups (personnel group numbers are made by using the number of backs “2” and number of tight ends “1” or “2” to create a two digit number). When I was watching the coaches’ tape of the game this week I was able to predict with regular accuracy run or pass and I had not yet seen the game. If I can do that, imagine what a defensive coordinator can do with a team of scouts and researchers to give him detailed statistics on tendencies can do. Want to know what is most shocking? The Raiders generally run the ball best when in 11 personnel.

Recently there has begun this attack on the Raiders offensive line after being praised by fans for several weeks. Yes Derek Carr struggles when blitzed, but let me ask you this question. When was the last time you saw the Raiders run a route concept on an obvious blitz situation that included a short crossing route or obvious moving checkdown guy? Answer: not at any time this year. Yes Watson got beat inside by Avril on a pass rush which occurred mostly because Watson’s pad level got too high, but Carr still had over four seconds to throw the ball. Early in the game, Carr chose to throw to Rivera when he had three wide receivers bunched together against three defenders. Had he done simple math and looked right, he would have seen Jones splitting the cover three and could have hit him for an easy touchdown.

Of course, I am not entirely blaming Carr. As far as I am concerned, Carr has had an exceptional rookie season so far and for all intents and purposes, it is one of the better rookie quarterback performances that the NFL has ever seen. Andrew Luck his rookie season had 23 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and a 54.1 completion percentage with a healthy Reggie Wayne and a much better offensive play caller in Bruce Arians. Carr has 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 60.1 completion percentage and if his numbers stay consistent through the last eight games he will nearly match Luck in touchdowns with less interceptions although his yards will be significantly less. Overall, I would call that a very successful rookie season.

I have been very critical of the offensive play calling recently and I have a working theory. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson was the play caller for Josh Freeman and he was very successful with him. Going back and watching some of those games, I see very similar playcalling. The key difference here, is the talent they are facing The Raiders have a much more difficult schedule and they simply are too bland for some of the more complex defenses or even more talented ones. What the Raiders desperately need is to open up the offense and utilize more spread looks. The Raiders have tried at times to use the college screen to long ball game, but that is not effective in the NFL.

What I Would Do

Firstly, I would design my entire offense out of the pistol formation. People hear pistol and they assume option but that is incorrect. The pistol is highly effective for passers as well because it allows them the advantage of not turning their back to the defense as the shotgun would, but also keeps the back behind the quarterback in order to get a downhill start. From there I would use a variety of three wide receiver formations and keep opposing defenses in nickel. This has two key advantages: 1) it takes the ability of the defense to overload the box with big defenders. 2) It simplifies assignments for offensive lineman while creating natural running lanes for the backs. Lastly, I would let Derek Carr be a quarterback. I once wrote on Twitter how Derek’s keeping of notebooks about coordinators reminds me of Peyton Manning who does the exact same thing, and it is time for him to be allowed to act like Peyton.

Simply put, this team will win or lose primarily because of Derek Carr. If he were allowed to come to the offensive line with three plays and then chose the play to run based upon what he sees from the defense then this team could be much more flexible and therefore unpredictable. Right now this offense is inhibited by Greg Olson’s tendencies, but he has to let go of control. Olson has worked miracles with Carr’s pocket presence and mechanics, it is time to let the player play. Let him decide what is best at the offensive line and give him the tools he needs to win, such as info to what looks to expect on blitz downs and what not.

Positive Thoughts

Although the Raiders have been losing, I have seen growth from several players that I look forward to seeing more from in the near future. To me Menelik Watson continues to play fine. Although he had a couple of poor plays, both of which came from his pads being too high which was his big issue when I gave him his draft grade, he continues to show refinement. His feet placement has become better and his pass set is looking much better. His hand fighting still needs to get better, but his punch is quality. All in all, he is about where I expected him to be and as long as the occasional mental mistake is fixed his future is very bright.

DJ Hayden played 71 snaps in Seahawks game. To see him drop an interception is bizarre. Hayden has always had great hands, but what is overlooked is the read and break he makes on that ball. That is the sign of a playmaker right there and it was great to see. I also think the second near pick he had was robbed from him. Moreover, the pass interference penalty was absolute garbage and the taunting penalty seemed weak as well. I have stood tall and taken loads and loads of crap for standing by Hayden, but I think we will continue to see great things from him. What I love most about him, his tackling.

Derek Carr had a mixed bag in this game, but what I loved most from him in this game was his resiliency. He went into a tough place to play with an underdog team and took several shots from defenders, but he kept getting up and nearly won the game. I like to gloat at times, but I stand corrected on my lack of faith in Carr and I see the clear makings of a franchise quarterback.

Mychael Rivera finally showed up big in this game although that may not be entirely his fault. The Raiders made a concerted effort to get him the ball and they were rewarded with two touchdowns. I still believe Rivera can be a solid starting tight end in this league and with the growth in his run blocking it may happen within a year or two. He and Streater can be two of the late gems that really give stability to this offense long term. They may not be franchise revolutionizing players, but they will be good.

Austin Howard continues to struggle at times and got beat bad by Michael Bennett, but I am also seeing more comfort with him at the guard position. In fact he had a couple very solid seal blocks that sprang a couple of decent runs. I am not sure if his long term future is at right guard, and I could see an offseason where the Raiders sign Iupati to play right guard and move Howard back to tackle. The question then becomes Watson. I believe Watson can be a franchise left tackle, but for some reason I cannot get the idea out of my head of him playing center when Wisniewski is no longer a Raider which will likely be at the end of the season.

Prospects To Watch

With the Raiders season more about draft position, I am going to start including five prospects a week that I am interested. Not every player will be an early draft pick, but they are all guys I have some interest in as potential Raiders.

Leonard Williams DE/DT USC: This is my early favorite for the Raiders’ first pick. He reminds me of JJ Watt and with a turn towards more 34 sets with one gap concepts he is a perfect fit and can provide an interior pass rush.

Jalen Strong WR ASU: Remember that bit about Carr and notebooks? Well Strong is that sort of football nerd but as a wide receiver. He actually interests me more than any receiver in this draft as of now because of his grasp of the mental side of the game.

Kurtis Drummond S MSU: I am not sure how much longer Tyvon Branch will be a Raider, but if we are looking for a young versatile safety to pair with Dowling.

Benardrick McKinney ILB MssST: True mike linebacker.

Randy Gregory 34 OLB/43 DE Neb: This year’s Khalil Mack and if I were to put together a duo of stud young 34 OLBs it would be Mack and Gregory

Prediction: Broncos 31: Raiders 27