What's Wrong with the Oakland Raiders?
Following an embarrassing 28-point shutout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and a game where fans watched their team squander a 10-point halftime lead and lose by 14 points to the ailing Denver Broncos, many die-hard fans are wondering: What the hell is going on in Oaktown?
Coach Hue Jackson has maintained that he has not lost the faith of his players and that the solution to the Raiders woes is simply "winning." Well, that is a sufficient answer for most casual sports fans, but as we all know, the root of the problem is obviously much more deeply seeded than implied by the first-year head coach.
And since none of us are in the locker room or front offices, it's time to speculate. Here's my take on the four major issues contributing to the mess that has become the highly anticipated 2011 season.
Poor Play Calling
Let's face it, Chuck Bresnahan's play calling makes even the faintest of football fanatics scratch their heads. It's all about consistently putting players in positions to be successful, right?
Bresnahan has shown that the only thing he can consistently do is not make adjustments fast enough. The Buffalo and Denver games are perfect examples.
In both games, the opposition made simple halftime adjustments, and Coach Bresnahan didn't. Poor gap discipline, blown assignments, confusion and, dare I say, lack of a general understanding of the term "outside contain."
Basic Football 101 folks, yet for some reason, veterans continue to get days off following humiliating losses and stupid penalties.
Offensively, the team is constantly looking at third and long. Take a look at all of the successful teams in the league and you'll notice a couple things: They don’t take unnecessary risks, and they face a high percentage of third and three yards or less.
Oakland is a run-first team and needs to refocus on the power running and screen game.
Poor Personnel Decisions
There was no feasible reason for Darrius Heyward-Bey, the team's leading receiver, to be on the bench for the majority of Sunday's game against Denver. Heyward-Bey stayed in Oakland during the bye week to work on timing with newly acquired Carson Palmer so his benching is a mystery that defies common sense. It's clear to most that Heyward-Bey should continue to be the focal point of the passing attack and his continued development is imperative to the long-term success of the organization.
Bringing in and starting T.J. Houshmandzadeh will only stunt the growth of our young and talented stable of receivers. It is hard to imagine the psyche of the young men not being damaged by being forced to sit the bench for a slow, aging wide receiver who not only didn't participate in training camp but was also retired the week prior.
Where was the 14 million dollar man? Get Kevin Boss on the field, and keep him there as long as he is healthy.
Darryl Blackstock in the place of Rolando McClain? That's a head-scratcher.
How about Aaron Curry at MLB flanked by Quentin Groves and Kamerion Wimbley? That seems to make a little more sense, especially given the fact that Quentin was doing a stand-up job before being replaced by Curry.
Carson Palmer, for the most part, has come a long way in under three weeks. Never mind the fact that the three interceptions last week really should have been six.
It is so refreshing to see a man under center that actually has the ability to call out protections and change the play at the line of scrimmage without burning a timeout because he doesn't like the look the defense is giving him.
Only one small detail; the receivers aren't used to it and are still trying to find familiarity with their new quarterback.
If I was Hue, I would focus on audibles and finding who his top three guys are going to be this week and then stick with it moving forward.
The timing, communication and reads on option routes will improve, and the decrease in turnovers is sure to follow. My prediction: Carson Palmer will come along and be more than adequate to guide this team into the playoffs.
Lack of Discipline and Toughness
Like it or not, I think reality is it's time for Coach Jackson to have a "come to Jesus" meeting with his team. Anytime you have more penalty yards than rushing yards, you are going to be hard-pressed to find yourself walking back to the locker room a winner.
Hold your players accountable, and stop taking the blame. Pull players out of the game until you find people that can get it right. Joseph Barksdale and Bruce Campbell are sitting, waiting for their shot. Give it to them if the starters can't stop jumping prematurely.
It is concerning to me when I see that going into Thursday's game against San Diego, we have 11 players sitting out practice because of injuries. Let's hope that the players' reluctance to play with nagging injuries isn't an indication that they have lost faith in Coach Jackson's ability to lead them to the playoffs.
If ever there were a reason to play hurt, I would say this pivotal match-up for the AFC West lead would be at the top of the list.
The fire that fueled this team to victory following Al Davis' death has flickered out. It must be reignited. The time is now.
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