Oakland Raiders Coaches: 1st Quarter Report Card
John Doublin – Oct 10, 2012
The Oakland Raiders' bye week is over and preparations for the Atlanta Falcons have begun. There are injured players returning to practice, and Raider Nation is filling with hope and expectations are rising once again.
Looking back on the first four games, one can't help but find problems with this team. There are issues at every level of the team, from the third stringers, to the coaching staff.
As the Raider get ready to fly to Georgia, it's time to grade the performance of the coaching staff. Some of the follow grades will surprise you, some will not.
Johnny Holland-Linebackers: B-
The most improved squad on the Raiders' defense is the linebacking corps. There are two new starters and a new scheme, but Holland has most of the linebackers playing much better than last year. If Rolando McClain were showing some desire and willingness to actually put in an effort, this could easily go from a "B-" to an "A-." Unfortunately, You can't coach desire.
Terrell Williams-Defensive line: C-
The rush defense is better, but there is virtually zero pass rush. Last season, the Raiders defensive line tallied more sacks than all but one defensive line in the entire NFL, (Steelers). The reason for the drop off is partially due to a new scheme and a new coach, but there's no time for excuses. When you consider what former Raiders' defensive line coach, Mike Wafule is doing in St. Louis, it's clear the Raiders' front four could be doing much better.
Clayton Lopez and Johnnie Lynn-Defensive backs: C-
Lopez and Lynn get a bit of a pass due to losing their two starting cornerbacks to injury. The Raiders are playing too soft on every down, but Lopez and Lynn can only call the coverages they're ordered to by Jason Tarver. However, there is still the matter of coaching better fundamentals, like ball-awareness, pursuit angles and tackling.
Jason Tarver-Defensive coordinator: C-
Again, the rush defense is better, but the pass coverage and pass rush are much worse than last year. Fundamentals such as tackling and pursuit angles aren't much better either. The Raiders are still making a lot of the mistakes fans saw last season.
Perhaps the most glaring weakness right now is coach Tarver's inability to adjust on the fly. This must improve if the Raiders hope to deliver on the promise of a "new era of excellence," rather than a "new era of ineptitude."
Steve Hoffman-Special Teams coordinator: D
After the debacle in Week-1, this grade was an "F." However, Hoffman has gotten to work and improved the special teams from where they were on that horrible day. The return game and coverage teams are more consistent, but still not anywhere close to as good as they were under John Fassel, (now in St. Louis as well).
John DeFillipo-Quarterbacks: B+
The only reason DeFillipo doesn't get an "A" is because he was handed a talented, experienced quarterback that is making him look good. That said, DeFillipo still has to coach Carson Palmer on the concepts of the offense and on getting all of the reads right. He's done that.
Kelly Skipper-Runningbacks: C
Last year, Skipper was given an "A+" for his work with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. However, Bush is gone and McFadden is simply not catching on to the new zone scheme, (not surprising). The scheme is simply not suited for McFadden, but it is still Skipper's job to teach the proper way to run the scheme to the runningbacks—that isn't happening. This "C" will improve if McFadden suddenly "gets it," or if the scheme reverts back to what McFadden does best—get up field.
Mark Hutson-Tight ends: B-
Last season, the Raiders tight ends were almost invisible, partially due to scheme. However this season, Hutson has taken an unproven group of players and made them perform better than most expected. Brandon Myers has come into his own, David Ausberry is finally starting to show his potential and Richard Gordon is improving by the day. All three are performing better than Kevin Boss last year, and that is a result of solid coaching.
Ted Gilmore-Wide receivers: C
Honestly, Gilmore has been put in a position to fail. The running game is floundering, which takes away the play action pass, which in turn limits the effectiveness of the passing game. Add to this a squad that has been plagued by injury and bolstered with unproven talent like undrafted free agent Rod Streater and journeyman Derek Hagan, and it's clear that Gilmore has done much better than expected.
Frank Pollack-Offensive line: D-
Thus far, the only think keeping this grade from being even worse is Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski. Both have shined and given the Raiders' offensive line some credibility. Granted, Pollack is working with players that are not at all suited for the scheme he is expected to run, but that should affect pass protection. Mike Brisiel has not been nearly as good as expected, Cooper Carlisle has reverted to his 2010 ways, (not good) and with Khalif Barnes out with injury, Willie Smith has been pretty bad in pass protection. Pollack was supposed to come to Oakland and teach the players the zone blocking scheme. He has failed to do so.
Greg Knapp-Offensive coordinator: F
What is worse than an "F?" If there is such a thing as a "G," Knapp deserves it. His continuing calls for patience from a fan base that is witnessing the complete and utter destruction of a Top-10 offense from a year ago makes it abundantly clear that Knapp has no clue about the expectations of Raider Nation.
This was the 7th-ranked rushing attack a year ago, (without McFadden for most of the season) that now averages just 60.8 yards per game, to rank dead last. The only difference is one player on the offensive line and the installation of Knapp's precious zone scheme. That's it. Everything else is the same—well...except the production.
This zone scheme that Knapp is pathologically clinging to requires certain skills from the offensive linemen and running backs; skills the Raiders' players simply do not possess.
To run it successfully, the linemen must be quick and agile and be capable of blocking in space; the Raiders' linemen do not excel at this. Oakland has big, physical, mauling type linemen that excel in one-on-one drive blocking. Asking them to play any other way is setting them up to fail—and they have been.
The runningback in a zone scheme is required to be patient and calculating, run laterally, look for an opening that is never in the same place twice, make a cut and go. This is not McFadden's game. McFadden's strength are his speed and ability to hit the hole quickly, accelerate through it and get up field. Forcing him to run sideways at half speed is counter-productive.
Knapp claiming that "progress" is being made is comical. The running game was just as impotent and ineffective against Denver in Week-4 as it was against San Diego in Week-1. There has been zero improvement from day one, and there doesn't appear to be any in sight either.
It's no secret that Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver want to run a 3-4 scheme, but they realized they didn't have the personnel for it, so they stuck with the 4-3. Why couldn't Knapp do the same with the offense?
There was no reason in the world that Knapp couldn't have come in and eased the Raiders into the zone scheme, rather than doing it all at once. By running a 70/30 ratio of power to zone scheme, the Raiders offense would be able to stay "on schedule" and learn the new scheme at the same time. As the team improved it's execution of the zone scheme, then the ratio could have been changed to include more zone plays until such time as they were running zone plays exclusively.
Knapp's arrogance and unwillingness to adjust to the talent on the roster gave him this grade. If the running game suddenly explodes against Atlanta next week, this grade will not change. The lack of a legitimate rushing attack has cost the Raiders three games already; one good performance isn't going to change that.
The only thing that will improve this grade is consistency.
Dennis Allen-Head Coach: D+
There is more involved in this grade than simply the record of the team. There are decisions to evaluate and individual performances to grade.
Coach Allen should call Carson Palmer into his office and thank him personally, because if not for Palmer playing fantastic, this "D+" would turn into an "F" pretty fast. Palmer has kept the Raiders in games, despite being saddled with a horrible running game and some rookie coaching mistakes.
In fairness, the penalties are down and that has turned a "D" into a "D+." This is perhaps the most significant improvement Allen has made in Oakland—and the only improvement thus far.
Most expected, due to Allen's pedigree, that the secondary would be playing much better. It isn't. The Raiders have yet to intercept a pass and teams are able to throw the ball all over the field, and march down field at will.
Consistency is an issue as well. The Raiders seem to fall apart in the second half of games. They look flat and uninspired at times, and that comes down to the head coach motivating the players—or failing to do so.
Allen made a bad decision to re-hire offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, but rather than seeing the obvious short-comings in the zone blocking scheme, and the fact that the scheme doesn't suit the players, Allen simply supports Knapp blindly as the Raiders continue to lose.
This grade can be improved if the players come out and play hard for 60 minutes, and if he forces Knapp to adjust with a scheme that suits the talent, rather than continuing to force-feed them a system that doesn't fit the skills the players possess.
The players are losing faith in the system and in coach Allen. That must be fixed for this "D+" to improve as the season goes on.
When the "new era of excellence" was promised to fans, their expectations were raised. Raider Nation was lulled into a false sense of security in many ways. They were promised a winning team and a brighter future. While most of the personnel decisions have been good, some of the coaching choices are suspect.
Defensive line coach Mike Wafule had the front four playing fantastic last year, why the change? The running game was ranked 7th without McFadden, the offensive line was ranked 4th and the offense as a whole was ranked 9th last season. Why the complete dismantling? Why are we "fixing what wasn't broken?"
Fans are angry, and they have every right to be. Some are even comparing the 2012 Raiders to the 2009-2010 Broncos when Josh McDaniels came in and took the No. 2 ranked offense and scrapped everything to start over, only to have it blow up in his face and cost him his job.
It honestly isn't quite that bad in Oakland, but it's close.
At this point, changes need to be made—drastic ones. It's time for Allen to step up to the plate, admit his mistakes and take steps to rectify them. The season is not over and no team in the AFC West has emerged as the class of the field. No one is running away with this division, so the Raiders are still in the hunt.
At 1-3 however, they won't be in the hunt for anything but first pick in the draft if the running game, pass rush and pass defense don't improve dramatically and immediately.
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