Oakland Raiders Week 2 : Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
Justin Smith – Sep 14, 2012
Hello everyone, and welcome to the second edition of 2012’s Oakland Raiders PHK. After a lack luster and uninspired performance against the Chargers on Monday night, the Raiders had some things to work on this week in practice before travelling to Miami to play the Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST.
Against San Diego, Carson Palmer was accurate but surprisingly conservative, Darren McFadden was effective early but smothered late as the Chargers keyed on him, and Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Condo proved in absentia he is, in fact, the Raiders MVP.
There is plenty of pressure to go around this weekend as the Raiders really shot themselves in the foot on Monday by not being prepared for an injury to Condo – Dennis Allen and Steve Hoffman I’m looking right squarely at you both – committing less but ill-timed penalties, and by getting categorically eviscerated in a field position “battle” as lopsided and ugly as me stepping into the Octagon against “Bones” Jones, GSP and “Spider” Silva at the same time.
So as we sift through the detritus that was the Raiders performance on Monday, who or what is under the most pressure this week? And what did we learn about the Raiders that we didn’t know before, or that turned conventional wisdom around?
I can hear everyone now: thanks Captain Obvious! Well, sometimes obvious is obvious. Oh, and that's General Obvious to you, punk!
Kidding aside, the Raiders special teams play has been so bad since the opening kick return of the preseason that it’s time to put them on notice.
Hoffman, how the heck do you not have a backup long snapper? And in what logistical sense does the backup LINEBACKER become a long snapper? Could Alex Parsons have not snapped it four yards further back than the flawless shotgun snaps he was firing to Palmer all game? Had none of those big hogs ever snapped a football before?
Was it worth putting Travis Goethel’s mental stability and football confidence in a blender simply because he’d “snapped a few times in high school?”
The irony is that the play Condo was injured on didn’t even count. It was a long punt return by Eddie Royal – a Raider killer for some reason yet invisible to 28 other teams – that was negated by a block in the back.
The other piece of irony is how most football fans, casual or serious, don’t realize how important someone like a long snapper is. The Raiders, and Al Davis personally, were often criticized and ridiculed for paying Condo over $1 million per season as a long snapper who played few plays a game.
After Goethel’s first ground ball I can guarantee you Reggie McKenzie would’ve paid a rabid Colobus monkey $1 million to stand in if they proved they could snap the ball.
The Raiders also couldn’t return the ball. Taiwan Jones flubbed the opening kickoff and went six yards. That was the only kickoff return. Philip Adams had a decent punt return of 15 yards; also the only punt return. Lechler, despite the botched snaps and violent punt block, still averaged 57.0 yards per punt on the two he actually kicked.
Under previous coach John Fassel the Raiders were at or near the top of many special teams categories such as takeaways and turnover differential (led NFL in 2009 & 2010). Jacoby Ford flourished under Fassel, returning four kicks in his first two seasons for touchdowns. But Fassel left after last season to join the Rams and his influence is now obvious in his absence.
Hoffman and the special teams are under enormous pressure just to ensure that the ball is snapped properly. Beyond that, better blocking in the return game and gap discipline in the coverage game is imperative. This thing needs to get fixed; or Hoffman needs to go by the boards.
The Raiders on the East Coast
It’s well documented that the Raiders struggle when they travel to the East Coast for games scheduled for 1 p.m EST early Sunday afternoon. In fact, they have lost 7 of their last 8 in Miami alone.
So what does the NFL do? Schedules the Raiders for more travel miles than any other NFL team and sends them to Miami for the early Sunday game the same week they played the late game on Monday night, which ended around 2 a.m EST; 11 p.m PST.
Let’s say a team gets a full week off – they play Sunday @ 1 p.m and again the next Sunday @ 1 p.m.
Breaking it down, the game ends at 4 p.m. That means they now have six days, 21 hours to rest, practice, and get ready for the next game. Or 165 hours.
Just to compare, the Raiders game ended at 2 a.m Tuesday morning. They play Sunday @ 1 p.m. This means the Raiders had 5 days, 10 hours to prepare. Or 130 hours.
That’s a full day and a third less time than a normal week. It has become more frequent for many teams as the NFL tries to invade every night of the week and continue their in-your-face omnipresence on television. In this situation, though, you have a West Coast team playing the latest game of the previous week and then travelling East for an early Sunday game. Which sadist in the scheduling office did Al Davis have naked pictures of anyway?
Thanks, NFL. Al is shaking his fist in Purgatory right now. Couldn’t have left them at home or on the West Coast for this particular week? Nope. Welcome to Miami!
Allen said he was trying some things to acclimate the players to the heat and humidity they’ll face Sunday, but California weather has been uncooperative, hovering in the mid-60’s all week with nice, light breezes and little humidity.
West Cost teams all struggle on the East Coast and particularly when the kickoff is at 1 p.m EST (10 a.m PST). The Raiders themselves have a dismal 16-37 record since 2005 in East Coast games, and a measly 12-23 in games kicking off at 1 p.m EST (10 a.m. PST).
Bottom line: this is a must-win game for the Raiders. The Dolphins are starting a rookie quarterback who doesn’t look ready for prime-time, and if they want any hope of making the playoffs the Raiders will have to win the winnable games on their schedule and probably steal another one or two aside.
This is a winnable game in everything football-related. The Raiders are a better team on paper in every aspect – with the exception of special teams, as we know – but the fact that they are 1-7 in Miami in their last eight trips and have a .343 winning percentage in early games on the East Coast since 2005 puts pressure on the team to ignore the travel, exhaustion, heat and humidity and beat the scales off the ‘Fins.
Darren McFadden struggled during his rookie season under the guidance of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his zone-blocking scheme. McFadden, quick and agile but also big and tough, seemed to be more of a straight forward runner than the one-cut and go style that is most effective in the ZBS.
He flourished under Hue Jackson the last two seasons as a power running game was implemented – still with elements of zone blocking but mostly straight forward hogs pushing and getting hats on hats – primed to lead the NFL in rushing before a foot injury ended his season in Week Six.
Re-enter Knapp. Re-enter McFadden’s struggles.
Knapp likes to run a true West Coast offense, with many short to intermediate passes, roll-outs and bootlegs that are set up by the stretch runs made possible in the ZBS.
Only the Raiders have personnel ill-suited to the West Coast offense. Carson Palmer is not a dink-and-dunk quarterback; he’s a let it fly and make big plays downfield quarterback. This offense has yet to show much, if any, of that element.
Palmer averages 8.4 ypa in his career which is a high number that speaks to his aggressiveness and ability to throw deep. On Monday, Palmer averaged 6 ypa. Injureis to Raider receivers is partially to blame, to be sure.
But it is more likely due to checking the ball down to McFadden THIRTEEN times, or waiting until the fourth quarter and times were desperate to throw the ball more than fifteen yards downfield. Many people put this on Palmer. Those people would be wrong.
Knapp stubbornly stuck with the ZBS and West Coast attack during his first stint with the Raiders despite having a talented back suited to the power game in McFadden and a big armed quarterback in JaMarcus Russell – who would’ve failed in any scheme, but still.
When you have a runner who excels in the power game and an aggressive quarterback with a strong arm it only makes sense to play to their strengths. You know what doesn’t make sense? Doing the opposite.
McFadden averaged 2.1 ypc on Monday because by the third quarter the Chargers had both safeties in the box and the Raiders were refusing to throw the ball downfield. Knapp has been roundly praised for his work inHouston, but Arian Foster is a ZBS runner; Matt Schaub is a West Coast quarterback – and he was only the QB coach. It was a perfect marriage.
McFadden is a power runner. Palmer is a deep thrower who likes to take chances. If Knapp and Houston were a perfect marriage then Knapp andOaklandare thus far a 3 a.m. hook-up under a downtown bridge with homeless people watching.
Despite his fumble on the first drive Rod Streater did prove that he’s a keeper. The kid was trying to do too much and didn’t go down soon enough; he’ll learn.
- “Lisfranc” has become a four-letter word inOakland, as Jacoby Ford may be lost for the season after undergoing surgery on his left foot
- Denarius Moore is back and flying around practice after missing all of the preseason and some training camp with a hamstring injury. He is set to be full-go on Sunday inMiami
- Speaking of DB’s, Shawntae Spencer and Patrick Lee in particular played very well in coverage on Monday night. Philip Rivers was accurate but made only one big play, and that was a throw to Malcom Floyd with Ron Bartell in coverage
- Bartell struggled with deep coverage, seeming a step slower than the receivers, until he broke his shoulder blade. He is thought to be out for six-eight weeks.
The Raiders Will Be More Disciplined
This is kind of unfair, as the Raiders on Monday were a more disciplined squad as a whole unit than in years past. The stat sheet reads they only had six penalties for 35 yards, a vast improvement over the average of 10 penalties for 80+ yards they put forth last season.
However, it was the timing as much as the penalties themselves by the Raiders on Monday that showed their continued lack of discipline and propensity to beat themselves.
The defense played well all game despite being sandbagged repeatedly by special teams and an uninspired offense. They had the Chargers on third down twice duringSan Diego’s only touchdown drive; but they couldn’t get off the field.
Tommy Kelly, a great player but one with a lack of wherewithal and unfortunate habit of jumping the snap incorrectly jumped offside. On both occasions. These penalties extended a drive which should’ve either ended in a punt or field goal, and the Chargers eventually capitalized with a touchdown.
The Raiders lost by a touchdown and a two point conversion.
Not to be outdone, the offense was moving in the third quarter and poised to go for it on fourth and inches around midfield. However an inexcusable 12 man in the huddle penalty backed them up five yards, which made going for it far less feasible.
Enter the punt team, with Travis Goethel now snapping. He threw a perfect practice ground-ball to shortstop; unfortunately Shane Lechler is not Steven Drew and this was not the A’s. It didn’t go over well. Lechler was hammered by about eight Chargers and the Bolts took over on downs.
The lack of attention to detail on the coaching staff and within special teams in particular is staggering. No contingency if your long snapper – who snaps on punts, extra points and field goals and is one of only three major components in the kicking game – gets injured is inexcusable, undisciplined, and the heaviest contributing factor to the loss.
I do think the Raiders will be more disciplined as a whole going forward; Dennis Allen has a good attitude and the players respond to him well.
However, and unfortunately; for the first week of the 2012 season the Raiders same old issues rose to the forefront, and the lack of discipline and attention to detail so emphasized in the offseason as a point to fix was still very much broken.
Raider Linebackers are a Weakness
That was the thought coming into the season. But rookie Miles Burris led the team with 12 tackles – including three for loss – and shot running gaps all night.
The maligned Rolando McClain was solid in the middle, making seven tackles, two for loss, and stiffening well in the run game. He showed excellent poise and leadership and you could often see him directing teammates pre-snap while encouraging everyone. He’s growing into a leader and it’s fun to watch.
Philip Wheeler is aptly named. Dude’s got wheels. Whether it’s covering his gaps in the run game, getting off blocks, or running with tight ends in pass coverage, Wheeler is often seen flying all over the field. He was special in the preseason, and continued that play from the Weak side on Monday.
In all the Chargers gained a measly 32 yards on 20 carries for 1.6 ypc. That is a far, far cry from the past decade in which the Raiders have given up over 125+ yards per game on the ground and a staggeringly high 4.6 yards per carry (over 5.0 ypc last season alone!).
This linebacking corps, though thin at the moment, will get bolstered when Aaron Curry returns from the PUP list and Travis Goethel gets over his PTSD after Monday’s debacle.
Thought to be an area of weakness, for the first game at least, the Raider linebackers were one of the greatest areas of strength by holding fast in the run game and allowing little to no plays in the middle of the field in the passing game.
The Raiders played well at times on Monday but after Condo went down, the game became almost comedic, but more nightmarish comedic than actually funny comedic.
Despite having a short week and a long trip, this team believes it is a playoff contender and have spoken all week about what needs to be done to shore up their issues. Teams that believe they are playoff contenders do not lose to the Miami Dolphins when Ryan Tannehill is their quarterback.
If they do, panic buttons throughout Raider Nation will be smashed to bits with heavily spiked silver & black gloves.
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