Oakland Raiders In First Place, But Haven't Won Anything Yet!
John Doublin – Nov 14, 2011On NFL Network's debut of Thursday Night Football in prime time, the Oakland Raiders earned a huge win over the San Diego Chargers to take sole possession of first place in the AFC West. Raider Nation is rejoicing, but should keep that enthusiasm tempered.
It was clear from the start this isn't the "same ol' Raiders" as the offensive and defensive lines dominated the Chargers all day long. Even without Darren McFadden, the rushing attack was hitting on all cylinders and the defense sacked Phillip Rivers six times and held the Chargers to just 75 yards on the ground.
The improvements are obvious, but so are the remaining weaknesses. That said, what are those weaknesses? Where do they still need work? Let's look at this from a coaching perspective.
Tacklingâ€”The tackling displayed against the Chargers on Thursday night was much better than it has been, but there are still some issues. There are times when the Raider defenders find themselves out of position or just, plain miss tackles in the open field.
Players like Mike Mitchell and Tyvon Branch always seem to make great tacklesâ€”when they get there in good position. The problem lies in getting there. It looks like the players that have good tackling technique are the ones that over pursue, while the players that don't over pursue show bad tackling fundamentals.
The secondary appears to have the worst offenders, but they aren't alone. Some of the defensive linemen and linebackers also have their problems and chip in with missed tackles of their own.
To fix this, head coach Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan must call upon the defensive position coaches to make improved tackling a priority. Once the tackling improves, the defensive numbers as a whole will improve as well.
Pass defenseâ€”As the game wore on last Thursday, it became evident that the Raiders were relying on their defensive front to cover up the failings of their coverage abilitiesâ€”or lack thereof.
In the second half against the Chargers, there were receivers wide open in the middle of the field for Rivers to target. This allowed the Chargers to move the ball and get back in the game. In some cases it was the linebackers getting beat, in others it was the secondary.
The most glaring problem is with the linebacking corps. Although the addition of Aaron Curry seems to have improved Oakland against the run, the pass coverage hasn't improved muchâ€”if at all.
The evidence of this was the touchdown to Jacob Hester. When Hester caught the ball all alone, Rolando McClain was pointing at him as if to say, "Who's man was that?" The nearest player was Aaron Curry, who ran with the tight endâ€”even though he was already double covered.
I'm not sure if this is a player problem, or a coaching problem. Bresnahan's system requires the linebackers to cover tight ends regularly, and even wide receivers occasionally. This may work against players like Ben Watson from the Browns or Derek Mason of the Houston Texans, but when Jermichael Finely and Donald Driver line up, this theory will fail.
This problem is not limited to the linebackersâ€”the secondary has plenty of room to improve as well.
The most obvious problem the secondary has shown isn't so much covering receivers, but making a play on the ball. A good example of this can be found on the touchdown pass to rookie Vincent Jones of the Chargers. There were two Raider defenders right with him, but he went up and made the play.
This is a theme that plays out time and againâ€”good coverage spoiled by poor ball awareness. The solution isn't as simple as identifying the problem. How do you tell a player, "you're doing great covering your man, but I need you to take a huge risk by playing the ball more aggressively?"
This section will be fairly short. The offensive line is playing out of their minds. Even without starting center Samson Satele, Carson Palmer was virtually untouched and the holes for Michael Bush were enormous. Speaking of Palmer, he's shown massive improvement and increased understanding of the offense. These areas are doing just fine and should continue to improve.
However, there is at least one, major issue the offense needs to improve upon.
Receiver separationâ€”This squad is making huge strides with the promotion of Jackson and the hiring of former wide receiver coach Al Saunders, but the job with this talented young team of receivers is far from complete.
The wide outs are still having trouble getting open on a consistent basis. The performances of Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford the last two games aside, it seems the receivers are having trouble gaining separation.
Getting into and out of their breaks would be the best place to start. There doesn't appear to be any urgency from the receivers to separate from defenders. They just aren't getting their balance over their feet, they aren't planting their foot in the ground like they should and it shows when they come out of their breaks with a defensive back still draped all over them.
For Oakland to take full advantage of Palmer's abilities, the receivers need to improve their ability to get open.
Adjustmentsâ€”This season, Oakland has taken big leads into half time, only to have a huge let down in the second. It happened against Buffalo and Denver and resulted in losses. It happened against San Diego, but the Raiders managed to pull out the win.
Part of the reason for these comebacks is the coaching staff not showing any changes or adjustments at half time. Jackson just calls the same plays on the same downs as he did in the first half. The other team however, looks at the film, figures out what the Raiders are doing, adjusts to it and stops/exploits it.
This goes for the defense as well. Bresnahan relies on what worked in the first half to work in the secondâ€”and it usually doesn't. Teams are adjusting to the Raiders defense as well. This is why fans are seeing teams come back in the second half and out-scoring the Raiders.
Sustained intensityâ€”This is something that must begin with the veterans on the team. Players like Richard Seymour, Michael Huff, Tommy Kelly and Stanford Routt must become cheerleaders on the field for the defense while Palmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Khalif Barnes have to be there for the offense. This will help keep the young guys pumped up.
The fact is, the Raiders did finish against the Chargers better than in several weeks, but they still got out-scored 14-7 in the second half.
In closingâ€”This team is much improved, but not enough to be considered real playoff contenders. At best the Raiders are "up-and-coming," at worst, they're playoff pretenders. While it's true that Oakland has a legitimate shot at winning the AFCÂ West, they can't do it if the issues discussed in this article aren't addressed. If they do manage to win their division without fixing these problems, it will be a very short playoff run.
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