Oakland Raiders Should Only Fix What Needs Fixing
When first hired, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie must have thrown his hands up and said, "What is all this mess?" upon learning the team's salary-cap situation. So he did what he had to do to get the Raiders under the cap, and I can commend him for that.
He cut Kamerion Wimbley, Aaron Curry, Stanford Routt, Kevin Boss, John Henderson, and Chris Johnson. That's about $25 million worth of salary the Raiders have coming off the books in 2013.
But, as new regimes usually do, he fixed things that weren''t broken. As we all know, fixing things that aren't broken usually leads to that very thing breaking.
That is what made the Raiders "regress" this year after barely missing the playoffs last year. Now that the great regression has happened, there should be some changes on the way. But if the team continues to fix things that aren't broken, the Raiders may not win a single game in 2013.
There is talent to build from on the team, but they need to let the players do what they do best. There are assistants on the coaching staff from last year who know how to use the talent on the team.
There are also players on the bench who I believe can help with an increased role. If the Raiders don't fix too much, add through free agency, then add through the draft, they can be competitive in 2013.
Turn the page to see what I mean.
Head coach Dennis Allen is safe, while offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Knapp and Jason Tarver plead their cases for their jobs.
At a post-practice press conference a couple of weeks ago, Knapp said (via Raiders.com), "Every place I've been it's usually going to take at least a year's transition time to get everything taught and the parts we've changed."
In his portion of the same press conference, Tarver said of his defense, "I want it now!" Knapp's plea seemed to be aimed at the organization and fans; Tarver's was aimed it his defense.
Tarver's plea was more effective,as he took his defense from No. 29 overall last year to No. 18. For his part, Knapp has the offense going backward from the Top 10 last year to No. 26 in scoring this year.
Tarver has improved a defense with worse personnel than last year and without the 3-4 scheme he prefers. Knapp brought his scheme in to work with the same core as last year's top-10 offense.
To dismiss Knapp's plea, Jackson took the offense to the Top 10 from No. 31 in his first year as offensive coordinator. The defense, which needed fixing, is progressing, while the offense, which didn't, is worse now.
The Raiders might still be playing with last year's offense and this year's defense.
After fixing an explosive offense that wasn't broken with a coordinator that didn't do well as a Raider the first time, it is broken now. The best way to fix it now is with the last coordinator that had it running well.
Al Saunders is that guy, and there should be no worry about continuity because he's still with the team as an assistant. Beyond that, the guy's resume is head and shoulders above Knapp's resume.
As an offensive coordinator, Knapp has never had an offense finish No. 1, and he didn't improve in Oakland the first time. The Raiders offense finished No. 25 in 2007, then dropped to No. 29 in 2008.
Remember all that talk about it taking a year to get better?
Saunders had No. 1 finishes in consecutive years from 2002-2005 in Kansas City, but more importantly, he had the Raiders offense in the Top 10 in his first year last year. Don't forget that he did it with an injured McFadden, and Palmer off the couch after starter Jason Campbell was injured.
All I've heard from Allen during the Raiders' time of ineptitude on offense is how he believes in the West Coast Offense and zone-blocking. Allen could really use the wisdom from an Al Davis quote on this one.
The Raiders' fallen owner once said, "Don't believe in schemes, believe in players." Letting players do what they do best would help, and Saunders knows how to do that.
Use Offensive Weapons Right
Saunders knows how to use Darren McFadden, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry last year before injuring his foot. Compare that to the 3.4 yards per carry he averages now with Knapp in the fold.
In the Chiefs game, McFadden's anger was about more than just losing yards on that short yardage play. It probably came from built-up frustration over Knapp force-feeding his zone-blocking scheme.
For his career, McFadden averages 3.7 yards per carry the zone-scheme vs. 5.3 in the power-scheme because he doesn't like to run parallel to the line of scrimmage, then make one cut. He likes to hit a gap, then do whatever his instincts tell him to do from there.
Off the run, Saunders' offense uses the Raiders' fast receivers like Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and injured Jacoby Ford in the vertical game. With that in place, opposing defense's would have to choose between stopping the deep ball or the running game.
It is impossible to stop the vertical game and ground game at the same time when you are good at both. The Raiders would be good there, because to go with McFadden and the receivers, the Raiders have a big-armed quarterback named Carson Palmer.
Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions for the 2012 season. He did the majority of that while not having his big arm used right, throwing screens and five-yard slants.
Saunders wouldn't waste an arm like that.
Tony Bergstrom is a player on the Raiders bench who should get an opportunity somewhere on the offensive line next year to help left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefan Wisniewski.
Brandon Myers has done well this year, but David Ausberry should get more opportunities at tight end next year.
Tight ends that threaten you down the field, like Tony Gonzales of the Atlanta Falcons, win games. David Ausberry is a 4.4-40-yard-dash-running converted wide receiver who could do that.
One guy that I can't wait to see get more opportunities in 2013 is Rod Streater. After seeing him this year, I'm no longer disappointed about Louis Murphy getting traded.
Hard-hitting Mike Mitchell should get more opportunities at strong safety, as he has the size, strength and speed to cover tight ends. Tyvon Branch could then use his speed and range to play free safety.
That keeps Michael Huff at corner, where he's the best on the team right now. He shut down some good receivers this season without even getting a chance to work at corner in the offseason or in camp.
The Raiders should run the 3-4 next year, re-sign Desmond Bryant, put 15 pounds on him, and put him at nose tackle. I'm not too sure what Tommy Kelly and his 1.5 sacks this year can still do.
For those of you who love outside linebacker Miles Burris, rushing the passer is what he does best. So switching to the 3-4 would allow him do what he does best, making him an even better asset to the team.
Speaking of opportunities, Terrelle Pryor for backup quarterback!
A big part of free agency is keeping players you need.
Many speculate that he has played his last game as a Raider, but I think Richard Seymour should be re-signed. Before he pulled his hamstring, the Raiders had the No. 11 ranked run defense.
After the injury, the Raiders run defense went down to No. 28, and finished the season at No. 18 in the NFL. Seymour's also just two sacks back from the team lead in sacks despite missing nine games this season.
Fellow defensive tackle Desmond Bryant needs to be brought back too. He is tough against the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year.
McKenzie has made quite a find in free agency with outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler. All McKenzie has to do now is make quite a re-signing to keep the man in Raider Nation.
Tight end Brandon Myers is another player that the Raiders need to re-sign for 2013. I know that I said that Ausberry should get more opportunities next year, but I didn't mean give him the starting position. Myers has done enough to go into the 2013 season as a starter, while Ausberry gets opportunities.
Mike Goodson should be on the keeps-list, as he has done well in spots for McFadden. As far as Mitchell goes, he can't get the opportunity I said he should get earlier if the Raiders don't keep him.
Let Them Go
The other part of free agency is letting players go, and I would be surprised to see right tackle Khalif Barnes and left guard Cooper Carlisle back in 2013. The Raiders offense goes nowhere if those two are retained as starters.
I've seen all the love Allen shows free safety Matt Giordano, but don't see why. He has constantly let bombs get dropped over his head and left corners on an island when they expect help over the top.
Don't you have to be able to tackle to play free safety, too?
If I hear one more person talk about how Matt Shaughnessy is a future superstar, I'm going to scream. The future was supposed to be this season, and he came up with 3.5 sacks as a rush end.
Shane Lechler may be the greatest punter ever, but his punting has slipped these last couple of years. He finished second in punting average in 2011 and fell to No. 11 this past year.
I don't think any punter should get $4 million—much less the No. 11 punter in the NFL. Marquette King looks like he has touch, a live leg and enough athleticism to be the safety of the coverage team.
If there are cuts to be made, the Raiders should start with guard Mike Brisel and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. For all the money that they're making, I only hear their names when there's a costly penalty involved.
The Raiders should take care of their needs on the offensive line and corner this offseason, then move to power-blocking. McKenzie is known for looking at players with checkered pasts or talented guys who haven't made it yet.
At 6'5", 325 pounds, right guard Chilo Rachal is a big, tough, physical guard who finishes his blocks through the whistle, as Chicago Tribune writer David Haugh reported.
Willie Brown has passed down that old Raiders bump-and-run technique for years. Stanford Routt and Nnamdi Asomugha haven't been the same since ditching that technique after leaving Raider Nation.
I want to see what Brown can do with Philadelphia Eagles corner Dominic Rogers-Cromartie. He is tall and long, just like his teammate Asomugha, but he has blazing speed.
Rogers-Cromartie is talented, but also disappointing, so I'm not sure what the cost will be. A corner that the Raiders would be more likely to get is Sam Shields from the Green Bay Packers.
Shields has ties to McKenzie from his days in Green Bay as a starter on their Super Bowl team in 2010-2011. He has recently regained his starting position after losing it to injury and will be a free agent at the end of this season.
I would love to see what Brown can do with this collegiate receiver's hands and 4.26 40-speed at corner.
Defense: The First Pick in the Draft
When you pick in the top five of the NFL draft, you're supposed to get a franchise-changing player. To me, the best way to know if you're getting such a player is seeing if he changed his campus' franchise.
Robert Griffin III put Baylor on the map, and because of Andrew Luck, no one looks at Stanford as USC fodder anymore. So we shouldn't be surprised that the Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts are contending for playoff spots with these two men at the helm now.
These guys are franchise-changers because they elevate the play of everyone around them. This is why the Raiders should definitely take Manti Te'o from Notre Dame in the first round.
Te'o brought Notre Dame's football program back from the dead to play in the national championship game this year. Defense is where the Raiders' culture change is needed the most, and Te'o can deliver.
He has all the leadership qualities to bring the entire Raiders defense together. And if the Raiders make that switch to the 3-4, he could even breathe life into Rolando McClain while playing next to him.
Te'o is an emotional leader, a big-hitter, diagnoses plays well and, with seven interceptions, is good in coverage.
McClain could be the solid inside linebacker while Te'o is the franchise-changer. Te'o making McClain better could give the Raiders two first-round picks for the price of one.
The Rest of the Draft
With their next pick in the third round, the Raiders should take Kyle Long from Oregon. Yes, I believe in bloodlines, and his father Howie (Long) was an absolute beast back in the day. We already see how his brother Chris (Long) came out in St. Louis, and the Raiders could use a right tackle.
The question is, is he actually coming out?
In the fourth round, Tyrann Mathieu has the makings of a great slot corner with his coverage skills and blitzing ability. The speedster is also a big-play threat as a return man. As I said before, McKenzie is known for going after guys with checkered pasts, so Mathieu's stint in drug rehab won't be a deterrent.
In the fifth round, the Raiders should take 6'2", 330-pound Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern State. The Raiders need depth at the nose tackle position, and he just might come in and start.
In the sixth round, the Raiders should get a big, physical corner. At 6'2", 215 pounds, Sanders Commings from the University of Georgia is that guy. Willie Brown could really help develop a big corner like this to jam today's big receivers at the line of scrimmage.
In the seventh round, the Raiders need depth at inside linebacker to make the switch to the 3-4. All Greg Blair did at the University of Cincinnati is make tackles, and the Raiders need guys like that.
The Raiders do need to spend the entire draft on defense.
Just Some Thoughts
Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Carl Nicks suffered a foot injury after getting a huge contract. Jeremy Zuttah was put in his place, and he played at Pro Bowl-level to keep the offense on schedule.
So, will the Buccaneers want to save themselves some money?
Asomugha is owed $15 million and he's been a disappointment since signing with the Eagles. Starting with head coach Andy Reid, the Eagles are going to blow the whole thing up and start over.
Will letting go of Asomugha be part of the process?
They are both California natives, with Asomugha coming from Cal and Nicks coming from North Salinas high school just down the street from Oakland. Asomugha has a relationship with the community's youth, sending them to visit colleges.
The change of scenery did the former Raider no good, and Nicks might like the idea of going home.
They're just some thoughts.
Rachal to go with Wisniewski, Veldheer, Bergstrom, and Long would get this offense going. My fantasy of Nicks in the mix would really help Al Saunders' power run with the vertical passing game off of it.
The Raiders' skill guys would absolutely flourish.
On defense, I would love to see Seymour back with Houston at the other end and a bulked up Bryant on the nose in a 3-4. From there, Te'o and McClain are inside, with Wheeler and Burris on the outsides.
Branch and Mitchell at the safeties with Huff, and either Shields or Rogers-Cromartie sounds good too.
Is it possible for Asomugha to come back home?
Really, the most important thing is getting Knapp out of there and Saunders in. I like what Tarver is doing with the defense, so there's nothing to be fixed there.
If the Raiders play their cards right, they can compete in the playoffs next year. All they have to do is fix what's broken and leave what's not broken alone.
Just win baby!