Oakland Raiders Week-1: Five Fatal Flaws!
John Doublin – Sep 11, 2012
The Oakland Raiders opened their 2012 NFL Season at home with a resounding thud as the San Diego Chargers came to town and graciously accepted the win that was served up for them with a nice little bow.
The evening wasn't a total loss however. The Raider Nation showed up in force and sold out O.co Coliseum and Jason "The Mad Chemist" Tarver had the defense ready to play—the same could not be said for Greg Knapp's offense or Steve Hoffman's special teams.
Let's get to it, then.
Special Teams: To say the special teams was bad would be a gross understatement. Pathetic is more like it.
Pro Bowl long-snapper Jon Condo left the game with a concussion and was replaced by back up linebacker, Travis Goethel. Apparently, there's a reason Goethel doesn't snap the ball. Number 50 launched two dirt-skimmers to Shane Lechler and then missed the call on a protection that allowed the Chargers to block a punt—and nearly get Lechler killed.
Beyond the fact that Oakland failed to have a "Plan-B" in case an injury took Condo out of the game, it also gave the Chargers fantastic field position all game long. In the second half, the Chargers average starting position was the Raider 47 yard-line. No team can win under those circumstances, but the Raiders' defense stood up to the test and only allowed five Nate Kaeding field goals.
If you add these problems to the fact that Oakland still doesn't have a legitimate return man for punts or kicks, and you're left with the Chargers winning the battle of field position.
Zone Blocking Scheme, (ZBS): As has been reported by every Raiders' fan site, every football talk show and every social media report, the Raiders have hired Greg Knapp to switch the Raiders to the now imfamous zone blocking scheme...again...because it worked so well in 2008, right?
Before going down with injury, Darren McFadden was averaging nearly six yards per carry in 2011 running in the power blocking scheme. In this game, McFadden carried the ball 15 times for just 32 yards. Please Mr. Knapp, explain to Raider Nation how this is an improvement.
The lack of running game in the ZBS took away the single most effective and explosive play in Carson Palmer's arsenal—the play action pass. It's not clear what Knapp's fascination with this scheme is, whether it's pathological, sociological or neurological, but it boils down to illogical!
Good coaches scheme to the strengths of the players—Knapp is forcing players who are good at one thing to play in a system that does not fit their talents. Good coaches adjust to the flow of the game—the Chargers kept stuffing the "zone stretch" run, but Knapp kept calling it—and it kept failing.
Of course it's going to take time to get the ZBS running at full effectivness, but at some point a coach needs to see that it's failing and call something else until the new ideas begin to work. Knapp never did that.
Untimely Penalties: Yes, it's true the Raiders committed just six penalties for only 35 yards, which is a huge improvement from last year, but the timing of those penalties was crucial.
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly handed the Chargers a free first down on third and four, then Tyvon Branch handed the Chargers another free first down and five yards on a defensive holding call. Later in that drive, there was yet another first down on yet another penalty on a "12 Men in the huddle" call.
In all, the Raiders essentially handed the Chargers the momentum of the game by allowing a 90 yard drive for a touchdown that was kept alive with three penalties for un-earned first downs.
Conservative Game Management: Every game presents a tough decision for a head coach. In this game, the Raiders were staring at a fourth and a half yard at the Chargers two yard-line. Rather than going for it at the Black Hole's behest, Allen chose instead to go with the conservative call—kick the field goal.
This is one of those times a coach needs to weigh the options. The best case scenario would be a tie game with less than five seconds left until halftime. The worst case would be trailing by seven, and the Chargers having the ball inside their own two with less than five seconds until halftime.
Why not just go for it? Getting the touchdown would seize momentum and tie the game. Considering the Raiders defense had be playing STELLAR all day long, the risk was minimal, but the reward would have been huge for morale and momentum.
McFadden had been averaging about three and a half yards per carry to that point, take your shot...energize the fans—and more importantly—the team! Failing to make it costs almost nothing.
Sometimes the coach has to make the hard choice, sometimes he has to take a risk. Dennis Allen played it safe and allowed the Chargers to retain momentum and gain confidence.
Injuries to Key Players: Obviously, one or two players shouldn't make or break a team, but when those two players are your best deep threats and play-makers, it can.
With Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford out with injury, the Raiders had virtually no legitimate deep threats to keep the safeties honest. This is part of the reason the running game was stagnant, and why most of Palmer's passes were check-downs to McFadden.
While Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rod Streater and Derek Hagan have good speed, they are not deep threats. They are possession type receivers. Knowing this, the Chargers were able to gamble on coverages and cheat close to the line to stop the run.
The Raiders simply didn't have the players to fully test the Chargers' secondary. This caused a ripple effect that forced the Raiders to "take what the defense gave them" rather than dictating the game and play "Raider football!"
All is not lost: As previously stated, the Raiders' defense was fantastic all game long—outside of those three, costly penalties on the long drive by the Chargers. There was almost no running room for the Charger backs as they were held to just 32 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Of course, there is room to improve, but Raider Nation should be happy with what they saw from the Silver and Black defense.
The Raiders also out-gained the Chargers 321 to 258, but due to conservative play calling, an uncomfortable running/blocking scheme and no real deep threats, the Raiders couldn't muster a touchdown until it was too late.
Now, as usual, there are fans that will point to one or two players and attempt to place blame for the loss. Let's nip that in the bud, shall we?
Carson Palmer played extremely well going 32 of 47 for 297 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. There were no "bone-head" throws or decisions from Palmer. There were some errant passes, but because the Chargers knew he had to pass, they were pressuring him constantly as the game wore on. This was NOT Palmer's fault.
Brandon Myers played great. He caught everything thrown to him—even when the ball was behind him or he was blanketed and in traffic. Myers made five catches for 65 yards, The Raiders do NOT need a new tight end, so just drop it.
Matt Giordano did NOT blow the coverage on the touchdown pass to Malcom Floyd. It was very clear in the replay that Floyd pushed off illegally, it just wasn't called.
This game came down to special teams—which weren't anything but "special." Losing your long snapper shouldn't cost you the game. You should always have a "Plan-B" for losing a specialist like Condo. Oakland needs to give Goethel snaps at long snapper in practice and find reliable and permanent return men.
To Close: Raider Nation needs to remember that Dennis Allen is a rookie head coach and is going to make mistakes and play it safe more frequently than many would like. However, this will change and improve as the season goes on. Allen hasn't even revealed his "coaching personality" yet. This will reveal itself in time; Raider fans need to be patient.
There were problems, but there are silver linings to be had. Rod Streater had his "rookie moments," but made some plays, Derek Hagan was a good addition, McFadden is healthy and explosive, Myers is asserting himself as a legitimate tight end in the NFL and the Raiders run defense is VASTLY improved from last year.
The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. There are 15 games remaining; plenty of time to get guys healthy, fix the problems on special teams and get comfortable in the new ZBS system.
The bottom line is that the Chargers didn't beat anyone. The Raiders beat themselves...again. Of course, this won't stop the "haters" from saying the Raiders got their butts kicked, but eight points does not constitute a "butt-kicking."
In the end, there is still a good base from which the Raiders can build.
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