Sunday, November 18, 2012

Raiders Fading

After a decade of utter futility, the Raiders seem to be determined to continue down that hole. Despite having a top-10 offense last season, even with Darren McFadden out the last ten games, the new management/coaching regime decide to overhaul the offense by installing a zone-blocking scheme (ZBS), even though key players on the o-line are better suited for power blocking. The defense, especially the secondary, was completely blown up, thanks to outgoing DC Chuck Bresnahan's inability to finish a game.

To say the least, this has made watching this team a frustrating opportunity at best. The defensive secondary is woeful, the running game non-existent, and even special teams are largely inept; the season-ending injury to kickoff returner Jacoby Ford, at the beginning of the season, has left them unable even to get decent field position, in the instances when the defense is actually able to force opponents to punt.

The Raiders have been beset by a multitude of woes for quite some time, as any football fan knows, and one of the biggest problems has been a lack of continuity. Since their Super Bowl fiasco after the 2002 season, they have gone through 6 head coaches and 9 starting quarterbacks (including Dennis Allen and Carson Palmer, respectively). By way of comparison, in the 32 seasons (1963-94) between the tenures of Al Davis and Art Shell, the team had six head coaches and eight starting QBs, including short-timers such as Mike Shanahan and Cotton Davidson.

So despite fans baying for Allen's head after just ten games (and he does seem to be in over his head so far; if the team's miserable 3rd-quarter performance is any indication, he has no clue how to make halftime adjustments), it won't do any good to can him (though the OC, DC, and ST coach should all be put on notice to get it together or get gone). It would just tack on another season of "rebuilding". Even as it is, half of the current roster is likely to get blown up in the coming offseason, meaning that a tight, well-thought out mix of free agents and draft picks will be necessary to move them forward.

I'm sure this sort of commiseration is stupid to many people; I think it's fairly dumb myself. (And in fact, it's not unfair to compare diehard sports fans, with their frequently irrational quirks and characteristics, to holdouts in a political party, people who keep voting for silly or reprehensible people just because that's what they're used to.) But I've watched the Raiders since I was in second grade, nearly 40 years now, and old habits die hard.

More than just the athletic competition itself, football more than most other sports shows a great deal about strategy, management, leadership, execution, and even the element of luck. Fans want their teams to win, of course, but just as important, they don't want them getting embarrassed, clowned by inept play. And Oakland's last three efforts have made mediocre opponents look like Tecmo Bowl all-stars. (And next week takes them to Cincinnati, where deposed HC Hue Jackson is the Bengals' OC.) Carson Palmer has been the only thing consistently carrying the team, week after week, and even he is plagued by bad decisions with alarming frequency and timing.

Every fan, being an armchair general at heart, knows What Allen Should Do, which players he should bench or start, which schemes to deploy, what adjustments to make. His main problem seems to be an unwillingness to adapt, to recognize when things aren't working, and to change accordingly. Jon Gruden was an effective HC in Oakland because his players understood he demanded discipline and execution; sloppy play on any side of the ball was 100% certain to get someone's ass benched or cut.

Once Allen learns how to enforce that level of accountability, players will either motivate themselves or be gone. The rest of the season now is just about evaluating what talent they have; rookies such as LB Miles Burris and WRs Rod Streater and Juron Criner look to be keepers, especially as some of those players' positional counterparts (such as LBs Rolando McClain and Aaron Curry and WR Jacoby Ford) look to be either too ineffective or too injury-prone.

Maybe next year. Again.

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