Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Welcome Back, CWood

A big, hearty return welcome to the one and only Charles Woodson to Oaktown!  I am somewhat surprised and ultimately thrilled that CWood24 was available in the open market and that the rebuilding Raiders were able to secure the services of arguably the best defensive back of the past 15 years. 

Woodson is a winner (NCAA Champ; SB Champ), an inspirational leader on the field and in the locker room, and future hall of famer.  He is an ideal fit as the Raiders Free Safety whereby he can utilize his vast experience, acumen and knowledge in a role that matches up nicely with his fine tuned football instincts. 

I equate CWood to a valuable Swiss Brand Army knife in terms of his elite and versatile football skills.  He brings the full package to include not only his supreme coverage skills but his ability to rush the passer, is a solid tackler in the open field, and his overall playmaking prowess (2nd in INTs with 55; 2nd in INTs for TDs 11). 

I'm excited about how our secondary has been rebuilt with talent and depth this past offseason with the acquisitions of Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, CWood, plus 1st round pick DJ Hayden.  The entire Raiders team will benefit from the addition of a proven performer and leader who exudes a winning mentality.  The CWood swagger is back in Silver and Black! 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Perfect Shit Storm

My take on the disastrous Raiders' 2012 campaign is that it is truly a unique year in many ways -- call it the perfect shit storm.

New owner, new GM, new coaching staff, new systems, a depleted roster lacking talent and depth, key injuries, makeshift bargain basement replacements, etc.  

The biggest X factors in this shit storm equation is what our new GM inherited.

Reggie inherited a payroll that was by far the most over the cap of all 32 teams.  Going into the 2012 off-season, the Raiders payroll was at $145.7M (or approx. $25M over the cap).  To put some perspective on these numbers, Denver was $50M under the cap. 

It isn't just that he had a shoe string budget to fill out his roster.  It is the fact that he had to go bargain hunting with band-aid 1 year replacements in addition to not having the luxury of re-signing a few players.

I'm not suggesting that Bush, Wimbley, Routt, Boss were necessarily 'world beaters' or that their salaries weren't out of whack ... but this is the type of depth and talent that would have rounded out the roster.  Reggie's hands were tied to retain players but more importantly, to identify upgrades in the open market.  

He inherited the fewest draft picks of all 32 teams.  The 1st Raiders pick wasn't until the end of the 3rd round (OT Bergstorm).   Finding players in the late rounds that can make an impact is challenging to say the least.   Before Reggie came on board, this is what our 2012 draft board looked like:

1st round: Traded to Bengals for Carson Palmer

2nd round: Traded to Patriots for 2011 3rd- and 4th-rd picks

3rd round: Exercised in 2011 supplemental draft (Terrelle Pryor)

4th round: Traded to Redskins for Jason Campbell

5th round: Still own pick

6th round: Still own pick

7th round: Traded to Seahawks for Aaron Curry

This transition has been very difficult to say the least.   How does a GM build a team without coin or picks?  In my opinion, Reggie did a lot of the necessary "dirty work" this year to put the Raiders in a better position in subsequent seasons.  In 2013 he will have the cap space and draft picks to construct a team from the ground up with players that he identifies as building blocks. 

I expect to see tangible progress and an improved performance year over year as the Raiders rebuild from the ground up.   Or as another Raider fan (Raider 00) opinionated on RaiderTake,

" I would like to give Reggie a couple of drafts, where he actually has some draft picks, to see what he can do.

I also would like to see DA coach the new players Reggie brings in.

I am all in for 2 more years. By the 2014/15 season, I expect the Raiders to field a contender."

Concur 100% with this grounded and reasonable opinion.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gaining Traction

Raiders 26 - Chiefs 16
Over the past 3 weeks, the Raiders have made steady, incremental progress towards gaining traction with the new systems installed by the new coaching staff.  Although there has been inconsistency shown throughout this period of time, the defensive unit has made the most noticeable positive strides.  Run D, QB pressure, and pass coverage have made tangible improvements. 
Starting with the Atlanta game (20-23) where LB McClain was substituted on passing downs and CB Huff became more comfortable playing CB, the Raiders D has given up only a small handful of explosive plays to the opponent.  The lack of mental errors, blown assignments, and better overall execution is a sign that the techniques, instructions, and coaching during the week leading up to game day is starting to take shape and most importantly sink in. 
The 2 defenders who have really excelled are first year free agent LB Wheeler and rookie LB Burris.  Both men have been flying to the ball.  Other notable defenders who seem to be improving from week to week are CB Lee and CB Hanson.  It is interesting, to me at least, that some of these low cost additions to the roster are beginning to pay off.  I give GM McKenzie credit for identifying players that can contribute on a shoe string budget in 2012. 
After playing solid football yet losing to the Falcons on the road at the last tick of the clock, the Raiders came home and took care of business vs. a struggling JAX Jaguars team.  Getting off to a slow start vs. JAX in the 1st half demonstrated the "work-in-progress" mode the Raiders are in.  What impressed me the most about this victory were the adjustments and execution in the 2nd half. Down 17-6 at half, the Raiders outscored JAX 20-6.  The Raiders defensive unit gave up a mere 2 1st downs the entire 2nd half. 
In the contest this past Sunday vs. the Chiefs, the Raiders had difficulties in the red zone but dominated the game from start to finish.  Both the OLine and Dline won the battles in the trenches.  The OLine kept CP3 clean all day and were able to wear down the Chiefs by pounding the ball with McFadden who racked up 114 yards rushing.  The offense had a nice rhythm and was balanced.   Winning 2 games in a row after arguably the best overall performance of the season (ATL),  gives the Raiders an opportunity to build confidence in the players, systems, and coaches going forward.   Although we are only 7 games into the new era and there is a long ways to go, I like the course that DA and McKenzie are paving for long term success. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Turning The Corner?


Raiders 20 - Falcons 23
The expectations were low for Raider fans going into the hostile Georgia Dome facing the undefeated Falcons.   The Raiders offense had been sputtering and the D got torn up 3 consecutive weeks by the Dolphins, Steelers, and Broncos.  My biggest concern was the secondary getting exposed by Jones & White and a listless pass rush.   I was hoping for a competitive game and upset victory but wouldn't have been shocked by a blowout.

Although this was a tough loss to swallow, I was very encouraged, and quite frankly, surprised by the level of execution of the players and shrewd gameplanning by the the coaching staff.  The defense did a tremendous job creating 3 interceptions, getting off the field 7 of 9 times on 3rd down conversion attempts, and creating constant pressure and disruptions for QB Matt Ryan. 

One of the key developments in the gameplanning was getting LB McClain off the field in obvious passing downs and going to a very effective nickel package.  First the Raiders needed to shut down the run (55 total rushing yards).  Second, the DBs in harmony with a strong pass rush, needed to play more aggressive coverage and take a few chances.  Huff, Hanson, and Branch had critical interceptions that created excellent field position for the Raiders.  The Raiders defense did an excellent job holding the Falcons to 7 total points in the 1st half.

One part of the game that truly sticks in my craw is the end of the game.  After playing aggressive, effective D for 59:00 minutes, why on earth did the coaching staff put the D in a prevent, Charmin Soft D with :58 and a tied 20-20 game?  When the Raiders rushed 3 men and played soft zone, I knew the Falcons would have a better than decent chance to win the game at the end. 

The other part of the game that is hard to digest is the Palmer pick 6.  The Raiders were in the driver's seat, facing a 3rd and 6 from the Falcons 28 with 2:55 in the game, tied at 13-13.  This was a 10-14 point swing and game changer.  Instead of the Raiders taking the lead, the team faced a 7 point deficit with 2:40 on the clock.  Clearly this was a throw and decision that CP3 wished he had back.  What I admire about Palmer was how he responded to this setback by marching the team down for a game tying TD drive.  This showed leadership and character.  Palmer was highly accurate and poised throughout the game (23-33, 353) and the offense was balanced, potent, and diversified (474 offensive net yards). 

The best takeaway from the game, in my mind, is the passion and warrior spirit demonstrated by the team.  The key question moving forward is whether or not the team can build on this performance and continue to make progress.  The sign of true progress will be more consistent efforts from week to week.  Does the team build on the positives or was the overall performance, effort, and preparation an aberration? 

Next Week:  JAX Jaguars visit Oaktown

Monday, September 24, 2012

Victory Six Pack

Pittsburgh 31- Oakland 34

A six pack of Guinness Beer -- observations for a stout, full-bodied Win.

1. Total Team Effort
A much needed and well deserved team victory was achieved with an efficient offense, opportunistic D, and solid execution by the special teams unit.

2. Carson Palmer - Field General
CP3 did a nice job using the no-huddle offense and audibles at the line especially in the 2nd half. His efficiency and command of the offense resulted in 34 points against one of the better defensive units in the NFL. CP3 Stats: 24/34 (70%) for 209 yards, 3 TD passes, 1 INT.
3. Opportunistic D
During critical junctures of the game, when it could stretch to a 3 score deficit, the Raiders defenders kept the game close or within striking range. Raider defenders Wheeler, P. Lee, and Bryant accounted for 4 stripped fumbles with the Raiders recovering 2. On the Steelers last 2 possession of the 4rh quarter, the D raised their game to cause a fumble and punt.

4. Run DMc and Raiders Offense Back On Track
Going into Sunday's contest, many Raider fans were rightfully concerned about the newly installed west coast offense and zone blocking scheme. OC Knapp has been getting hammered by many fans as a guy who is a poor playcaller and how his scheme doesn't fit the personnel. The biggest change to the Raiders productive offense on Sunday was a balanced, diversified, less predictable offense. 9 different players had at least 1 reception (3 TEs, 4 WRs, 2 RBs). Part of this change was #20 finally getting into open space on both runs and passes. The other significant change seems to be Palmer having more latitude to change the play and utilize the no huddle offense more to change the tempo.

5. Scoring More With Less
The Raiders only had 4 possessions in the entire 2nd half. The Steelers had a nearly 2:1 ratio of time of possession. In spite of few possession and a paper thin margin for error, the Raiders scored on all 4 2nd half possession (TD, TD, FG, FG). The key to the offensive efficiency in the 2nd half was committing only 1 penalty, ball security (0 turnovers), pass protection (0 sacks allowed) and converting crucial 3rd downs.

6. Wild, Wild West
It is difficult to get a handle on the Raiders this year let alone the ups and downs of the NFL as a whole. One week folks are crowning the Donkeys the King of the NFL (after beating Pittsburgh in week 1) and the next week writing off the Raiders as done (after a listless beat down by the Fins in week 2). The AFC West was completely re-calibrated after week 3 as 2 win less teams (Raiders & Chiefs) had stirring comeback victories while the "favorites" (Chargers, Donkeys) came back to earth.
Chargers 2-1
Raiders 1-2
Chiefs 1-2
Donkeys 1-2

Up Next: Raiders go to Mile High vs. the Donkeys. Let's see if the Raiders can establish a consistent level of effort and execution from 1 week to the next.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Special" Teams Lays An Egg

Chargers 22 - Raiders 14

The Raiders special team's catastrophic errors tipped the balance, momentum, and game context on it's proverbial head. A tightly contested game concluded the 1st half with the Chargers in the lead at 10-6. When Raiders regular long snapper Jon Condo got his bell rung and wasn't able to answer the call in the 2nd half, 3 blown punts led to 9 cheap points.

MAJOR kudos to the D in preventing the Chargers getting into the end zone on 5 occasions working from a short field and little rest.

The question that I have that has been BUGGING me all last night and today:

Why isn't Parson or Wiz the backup long snapper?

Think about it ... both these guys are PROFESSIONAL centers who are experienced at snapping to include shotgun snaps, experienced at line calls, experienced at blocking, etc.

Tell me this: Do you honestly think a backup LB is more suited or qualified to take on this duty?

This is so painfully obvious that it make me violently ill.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Our 2012 Raiders - A New Era

The new era in Raider football is upon us. With the passing of Al Davis last year and a wide range of organizational changes, this year has a different vibe. From the perspective of a fan, I've noticed how the Raiders have become more accessible and media friendly. It has been a breath of fresh air to have an entire offseason without any hint of drama, soap-opera episodes, or controversy. The focus has been where it should always be -- on football.

Front and center in leading this team into the new era are Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen.

McKenzie has seamlessly transitioned the Raiders into the new era while spearheading a drastic overhaul of personnel. With his hands tied due to serious cap restraints and limited draft picks, McKenzie has done a remarkable job in assembling the final 53 man roster.

Allen in a few short months has demonstrated that intangible "it" leadership quality where the players respect and buy-in to his vision of a smarter, tougher, more disciplined and accountable football team. With a new offensive and defensive system installed and many new starters on the field, it will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively the Raiders get up to speed in executing the game plans.

One of the more exciting elements to the new era is the brand new, modernized, aggressive and dynamic defense. The vanilla, predictable D has been tossed on it's head for mixed coverage and blitz schemes and multiple fronts.

For the 1st time ...

- The Raiders have a new GM
- Hired a Head Coach with a defensive background since Madden
- Won't rely on man to man as it's base coverage
- Head Coach has complete authority of what happens on the field and with his staff
- Head Coach, who signed a 4 year contract, isn't look over his shoulder

I'm jacked up to open up the new era, new season at home on Monday Night Football vs. our rivals San Diego.

I'm feeling minty fresh about the possibility of the McKenzie/Allen partnership leading the Raiders to a successful, sustainable new chapter in Raiders football.