Wednesday, February 23, 2005

How Not To Run A Football Team

Obviously the NFL season is well over, and we have certainly gone the extra mile in attempting to demonstrate similarities in successful football philosophy and successful political/cultural/economic philosophy. I did not anticipate writing any more football-oriented screeds at least until the draft in April, but something occurred just a couple hours ago that requires I rescind this unofficial moratorium.

Apparently Vikings wunderkind/malcontent Randy Moss is being dealt to my beloved (and evidently punch-drunk) Oakland Raiders. Don't get me wrong; Moss is a prodigiously talented wide receiver, probably the best in the entire league. (Just ask him, he'll tell you that himself.)

The problem is, while the Raiders have many pressing needs, WR isn't one of them. They just spent big bucks retaining budding superstar Jerry Porter (a very wise decision), and they have several exceptional young WRs coming up the ranks, in Doug Gabriel, Ron Curry, and late-season addition John Stone.

The real need for the Raiders' offense is an every-down running back; last year's attempt at RB-by-committee with Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue, and Justin Fargas was abysmal, with Wheatley and Fargas injured most of the season, and Zereoue rather streaky. (In defense of the RBs, I hasten to point out that the troubles at QB after Rich Gannon broke his neck took much longer to fix than they should have. That placed an inadvertent amount of pressure on the running game, and all their opponents stacked the line against them, knowing the obvious.) With the banged-up Wheatley probably either retiring or getting cut, the theory was that the Raiders would try for a quality free agent like LaMont Jordan of the Jets, or Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks (who was tagged a franchise player by Seattle, thus probably putting him out of Oakland's price range). Or they could use their high draft pick for a quality RB.

Having said all that, offense isn't even their biggest need; the defense is leaking like the USS Candy Crowley, taking on water at every spot. Last year's overpriced additions of Warren Sapp and Ted Washington did little to help a porous line (then again, it didn't help that Sapp was moved out of position, and playing in a mostly 3-4 defense for the first time in his pro career).

The secondary is an even bigger mess, especially the cornerbacks. Free agent signee Denard Walker was a bust. Phillip Buchanon isn't half as solid as he thinks he is. For every play he breaks wide open with his blazing speed, he either gets burnt in coverage or fumbles a punt. Charles Woodson, whose college and early pro career seemed to herald the second coming of Night Train Lane, had his bump-and-run skills severely undercut with the NFL's five-yard "chuck" rule instituted last season. He's a great tackler still, but held out through training camp (with a new coach, and thus a whole new playbook to learn), and missed the last four games due to yet another injury. He would be far more effective at safety. Bottom line -- Nnamdi Asomugha (yeah, I can't pronounce it either) is the one in this unit that really wants to play. Great tackler, improving coverage skills. Safeties are okay in this secondary (though "Big Play" Ray Buchanan got burnt a lot more than he used to with Atlanta or Indy, when he was a CB), but the corners need to be totally overhauled.

Which brings us to our final team section, and our biggest mystery in this (impending, and hopefully false) Moss deal -- linebackers. There was no reason to get rid of Napoleon Harris; he hadn't developed quite as quickly as the Raiders would have liked, but a lot was asked of him, and he was generally doing pretty well. Danny Clark was a standout at LB last year, and may turn out to be their most solid FA acquisition since Rod Woodson. But in a 3-4 setup, you simply can't have too many linebackers. Period. (Especially someone who is very likely to be a star player, like Harris.) The Vikings chronically need to beef their own secondary; the Raiders would have been far better served by dealing Phillip Buchanon and his bullshit attitude -- which, since he is younger and a higher pick than Harris, would probably have meant a lower draft pick to go with him.

And that's the final part of this travesty, that draft pick. That pick needed -- needed -- to be used on either an every-down RB or a stud pass rusher. Nothing else militated the use of that pick, certainly not another WR in a well-developing corps led by a future star in his own right.

The problem with having money offenses at the expense of defense was demonstrated quite handily by Oakland's 4-12 1997 campaign. The offense featured QB Jeff George (who, by all accounts, is apparently a complete tool, but threw some of the most amazing passes I've ever seen in my life) and speedy wideout James Jett to complement the masterful Tim Brown. This was a very high-powered offense that could score any time, from anywhere on the entire field.

And that, as the current Colts and Chiefs have found out, is a problem in its own right. Defenses get exhausted more quickly when they're back out there more quickly. In the age of parity, most games are won near the end of the fourth quarter, so stamina is more critical. There is very little "garbage time" anymore. A tired defense lets the offense control the tempo of those late drives.

Last year's collapse was qualitatively different than that of the previous season, in that the players accepted responsibility for their dismal play, rather than blaming the coaching staff. But Moss could monkey-wrench this fragile situation enormously, if he wanted to. He certainly hasn't gotten the Vikings very far into the post-season in some time; indeed, the last two seasons have ended on temper tantrums from him. The Raiders do not need any more locker-room cancers.

I hope I'm wrong about all this. After watching Oakland put on a stellar 2002 season, then get embarrassed badly in Super Bowl 37 (fuck that XVLCDIXEIEIO bullshit), the team has only won nine games in two full seasons. I want them to win, and Randy Moss is the ideal receiver for Norv Turner's vertical offense. But they need a running game more than they need another WR, and they need better defensive players even more than they need that running back. So unless they think they're dealing C-Wood to get that 1st round pick back, they fucked up.

Sorry, Randy. Prove me wrong, and I'll plunk down for a jersey. Hell, I might even come down and attend a game. And I will most definitely apologize in print. If I'm wrong.

1 comment:

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