Why is the Oakland Raiders Offense so Offensive?
John Doublin – Sep 19, 2012
Raider Nation is in an uproar over the Oakland Raiders offensive performance...or lack thereof. Some are blaming players, like quarterback Carson Palmer. Others are blaming head coach Dennis Allen, and a small percentage are blaming general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Social media has been bristling with calls for Palmer to be benched in favor of Terrelle Pryor, the logic being, "if we're going to lose, we might as well be developing our future quarterback." There are also calls for general manager Reggie McKenzie to fire Allen, citing that it's the head coach's job to get these issues fixed. Still others are calling for Mark Davis to fire McKenzie because, "this never would have happened under Al!"
Uhmm...yes it would, and it did...several times.
All of these suggestions are misguided and acting upon them would only make things worse.
It is true that Palmer has played extremely conservatively and hasn't looked like the "Franchise quarterback" he was touted to be, but benching the best quarterback on the team in favor of a player who has admitted publically that he's not ready would solve nothing.
No one is denying that Palmer looks tentative and unwilling to take his shots down the field. He's missed some open receivers and made some bad throws. But, he's not turning the ball over and he's been moving the chains without the benefit of having any semblance of a running game.
Palmer can only work with what he has. He has to run the plays that are called. If the plays are flawed; if the plays are predictable, the defense will snuff them out regardless of how aggressive Palmer is.
Palmer is not the primary issue.
It is also true that Dennis Allen is responsible for the performance of the team...offense, defense and special teams. However, there is only so much a head coach can do. He can make suggestions to the play caller, but he can't fire him on the field, during the game.
Allen is allowing the play calls and scheme to be dictated by the men he hired to run their respective squads...this includes the offense. This is exactly what he is supposed to do; explain the philosophy he wants to employ, make suggestions on how to implement those philosophies, then get out of the way and let the coordinator do his job.
If the coordinator fails to do his job adequately, that cannot be blamed on Allen. If Allen doesn't help get it rectified, then he can be blamed...but, not until.
Allen is not the issue.
McKenzie is letting the coaches to do something that previous coaches in Oakland have not been allowed to do—letting them coach. This is something Raider Nation has been demanding for decades, and now that they have it, they're ready to lynch the very man that's allowing it to finally happen.
McKenzie made some serious changes to the coaching staff at the end of last season, including firing the power-hungry Hue Jackson, who most credit with the offensive resurgence of the Raiders offense over the previous two season. This change was necessary because it was clear that Jackson had no qualms about throwing players under the bus, making decisions that put the team in a hole for the future and was completely unable to instill any discipline, as evidenced by the record-setting number of penalties last year.
McKenzie is not the issue.
So, what is the issue? What is responsible for the offensive failures? What accounts for the most explosive running game in the league turning into the second worst? How did the 16th ranked scoring offense drop all the way down to 31st?
To answer these burning questions, first we have to look at what is different from last year to this year.
Well, Samson Satele is gone, Cooper Carlisle has moved from right guard to left guard, Stefen Wisniewski has moved from left guard to center and free agent Mike Brisiel has been added to the team as the starting right guard. The tackles are the same.
Carson Palmer was the starting quarterback after Jason Campbell got injured, and he is the starter in 2012. The starting running back was Darren McFadden in 2011, and he is again. The starting wide receivers were Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, and they are both back this season. When Kevin Boss went down with injury, Brandon Myers was promoted to starting tight end, and he is the starter again in 2012.
This means that all but one of the players on the starting offense are in place from last year, with the lone exception being Mike Brisiel, who most would consider an upgrade over Satele at any position.
Player personnel is clearly not the issue.
Most all of the offensive coaching staff is different this year from last. This is where the problems arise and manifest themselves on the field.
Another major difference from last year is scheme. Saunders/Jackson employed a power blocking scheme. Man on man, best man wins, good, old-fashioned Raider football. The back knows where the hole is, he takes a single step and explodes up field as quickly as possible into the predetermined gap. Simple enough.
Knapp is attempting to run the now infamous Zone Blocking Scheme, (ZBS) in which the entire offensive line runs right or left to a spot on the field and blocks any player that attempts to enter his space or cross his face. The back is required to run laterally at a more controlled, (slower) pace, read the blocks and look for a cutback lane to run through.
The power scheme requires big, strong linemen and quick nimble running backs to be effective. The zone scheme requires fleet-of-foot linemen and a more powerful back with patience. The Raiders are clearly built for power at these positions.
Last season, Al Saunders was listed as the offensive coordinator, but Hue Jackson called the offensive plays on game day. This season, Greg Knapp is the offensive coordinator and he is also calling the plays. The major difference here is predictability.
Under Saunders/Jackson, the Raiders were totally unpredictable. Sometimes the plays called were ill-advised, but the defense was never able to get a clear bead on what the Raiders were going to do.
This year it seems the play calls from Knapp are being deciphered by opposing defenses before the ball is snapped. Stretch run left, stretch run right, medium deep crossing routes and curls, punt.
This is the cycle; a cycle that isn't working.
Square pegs+round holes=failure
Dennis Allen, Jason Tarver and Reggie McKenzie all come from a 3-4 defensive history. They would all like the Raiders to be a 3-4 base team. However, they recognized that Al Davis drafted and acquired players with the 4-3 in mind. Therefore, rather than forcing a bunch of 4-3 guys into a 3-4 system, they chose instead to stick with the 4-3 until such time as they can get the right players to run their scheme.
Why can't Knapp apply the same thinking to the offense? Why is he forcing a bunch of power guys into a ZBS system?
Jared Veldheer, Khalif Barnes and Stefen Wisniewski are great run blockers that come from power systems. Cooper Carlisle was in a zone scheme in Denver early in his career, but couldn't get the job done so he was cut; he then flourished in the power scheme with Oakland. At present, Mike Brisiel is the only player on the Raiders offensive line who has ever played in a zone scheme with any success.
If need be, Brisiel could come out, "Wiz 2.0" could move back to left guard, Carlisle back to right guard and Alex Parsons could come back in at center until Brisiel was brought up to speed.
The same goes for the running backs. Darren McFadden is not a zone runner. He is a "here's the ball, there's the hole, get up field" type of power runner. Part of what makes him so good is his ability to hit the hole so quickly. Now, Knapp is telling him to slow down, run laterally, read blocks and THEN go. That isn't his game.
While it's true that Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones have run the zone scheme with success in college, who would you rather have on the field most of the time? Goodson, Jones or McFadden?
To illustrate and confirm this point, former Raiders' fullback, (and future Hall of Famer) Lorenzo Neal addressed this situation in an interview on 95.7 The Game. The entire interview is interesting, but Neal addresses this point at about the 7:53 minute mark with the quote, "...it's been a set back because of the fact that they've changed the system."
Neal goes on to discuss why asking McFadden to run in the zone scheme is a mistake. He also addresses the issue of not properly using the weapons they have, like Marcel Reece. Unfortunately, there isn't enough time to get into Reece's lack of use in this article, but Neal's point is essentially, "...how can we not get this guy involved in a consistent package? Because Marcel Reece is one of your game-changers on this Raider team."
Neal and former Raiders' linebacker, Bill Romonowski further discuss how McFadden and the Raiders are not suited to run the zone scheme on CSN Live as well.
Much has been made about Knapp's experience and previous success. While it's true the Houston Texans had an explosive, almost unstoppable offense the past few season, Knapp was the quarterbacks coach, not the offensive coordinator. Why people assigned the success of the Texans' offense to Knapp is completely unfathomable.
The fact is, Houston's offense is designed by Gary Kubiak, (under-study of the inventor of the ZBS, Mike Shanahan) and Rick Dennison, their offensive coordinator. Their play calls came from Kubiak on game day, not Knapp. Why give him credit for something he didn't do? If anything, Knapp should be given tons of credit for developing Matt Schaub into an elite quarterback, but he had nothing to do with Arian Foster or that offense in general.
Don't mistake this article as a "bash on Knapp" rant. It's not intended to be anything like that. It was written for the sole purpose of pointing out to all the Palmer, McFadden, Allen and McKenzie haters what's really going on.
Knapp is a great quarterback coach, not a great offensive coordinator. In all of his previous stints as coordinator, the teams he coached regressed in rushing, scoring and wins. This all culminated in his previous coordinator job with the Raiders from 2007 to 2008; years in which the Raiders saw some of the worst offensive football in the history of the franchise.
Of course, a lot of the uninformed fans will say this was because of "that dude from LSU" being under center. Really? How do those same people explain the deterioration of the 2009 Seahawks who had Matt Hasselbeck? Or the 2002 49ers who dropped from 3rd in scoring in 2001, to 13th in 2002...and had Jeff Garcia leading the offense both years?
It is not unreasonable to suggest the Raiders could benefit from bringing back some of the offensive plays they ran last season to mix in with the new system. It would also make sense to allow Al Saunders to have more input on scheme and play calling on game day. Saunders was here last year; he knows the strengths and weaknesses of the players and Knapp could benefit greatly from that.
Rather than scrapping everything that worked extremely well in 2011, why not make the playbook half power plays and half ZBS plays? This will do three, critical things.
- It would keep the offense on track. The running game would be much more effective, which in turn makes the play action more effective, which leads to big plays, which leads to points, which leads to wins...and isn't winning what it's all about?
- It would give the Raiders the ability to teach the new ZBS without having to rely on it completely. Players could get their feet wet, so to speak, rather than being thrown in the deep end. It would give them confidence in the fact that they know they can compete and can learn the new system at a more reasonable pace, rather than all at once.
- It will keep the offense on the field longer, which will tire out the opposing defense, rather than the Raiders' defense as has been happening thus far. When one side of the ball isn't carrying its weight, the other side gets frustrated and you have division in the locker room. (See the 1999 Buccaneers for reference...or the 07-08 Raiders for that matter!)
Whatever McKenzie and Allen decide to do, one thing is clear: The offense as it is, isn't performing well enough to win. Something must be done to rectify this before the season is too far along to salvage a decent year.
Most would agree the talent is there to win now and make the playoffs this season. Heck, the Raiders were one of three defensive meltdowns away from winning the division last year. The personnel is virtually the same and the defense is better. Why not "dance with who brung ya," rather than dumping your date at the door for the pretty new girl?
At this moment, Knapp is parking his Ferrari to race his F-150 at Laguna Seca, but parking his F-150 to haul lumber in his Ferrari. It makes no sense. If this writer can see it, if the fans can see it, McKenzie and Allen can see it.
This begs a couple questions: Is Allen going to get Knapp locked in before McKenzie is forced to do it himself? How long will McKenzie wait to force a change if nothing improves?
The upcoming game against the Pittsburgh Steelers could make or break the Raiders' season. If the offense steps up, there's no reason why they can't win. If the offense performs like it has been, there's no chance for anything, but more losing.
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