Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Defending Lane

The Wonder kid has stumbled out of the gate for the Raiders, and some of the fans are getting restless. Opinions seem to be split just about down the middle on Raider boards I frequent on if Kiff is just out of his league or just has no talent to work with.

The issues raised by the detractors seem to fall into one of the 3 following complaints. Kiffen's play calling sucks, he is a poor judge of NFL talent and the Raiders have not improved from last year.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I cannot find fault in Kiffen’s play calling as a whole. He is willing to take risks (goes for it early and often on 4th down, Jano's attempt at history) and he seems to throw in some wrinkle each week (McCowns scramble to start the Bears game). The problem that Kiffen has is he is stuck with piss poor talent all over the field. He has 1 QB who can scramble, but can't fit the ball into tight coverage. One QB who can't move and fumbles if a stiff breeze hits him. A WR core that cannot create openings on a regular basis. And an offensive line still learning a new system, without all the parts needed to compete.

This is a talent issue, not a play calling issue. If you look at the Raider's infrequent big plays, they have either been set up by the play calling earlier in the game, or are the result of something the Raiders have seen on tape preparing for the game. This is indicative of good play calling, not bad. Which brings us to the 2nd complaint.

Kiffen’s lack of ability to identify NFL talent: McCown, Culpepper, Moses and Rhodes are plastered to the wall as poster children for Lanes lack of scouting acumen. McCown is a career NFL backup. He was hardly the organization's 1st choice to come in and hold down the fort until JRuss is ready. Once the organization was unable to sign any other Vets to lead the talent deficient Raiders, they pulled the trigger on draft day to ensure they at least had enough warm bodies in camp to get through the year.

Culpepper was a good NFL QB before his knee got shredded. After almost a full year of rehab he showed enough in a workout to get a shot with the Raiders. A shot that never would have happened had JRuss showed up to camp. In his 1st game starting with the Raiders he looked good against the Dolphins, due to the fact the Raiders ran at will. However it seems that his knee cannot stand up to the rigors of the weekly NFL schedule, and he has reverted to his post-Moss Viking form being unable to deliver the ball without his safety blanket when having mediocre receivers. Once again, he was brought in as a desperation move, not a long-term solution.

Moses stands out as an embarrassment to the Raiders drafting staff. Taken with the 1st overall pick in the 3rd round, there is no excuse for him not to make the team. But pinning this on Kiffen seems more than a little naive. How many times did Kiffen face Moses at USC, how much tape did he watch on a 3rd round defensive prospect leading up to the draft? This is on the Raiders scouts and defensive staff, not Kiffen.

Rhodes is a classic Al Davis free agent pick-up. Have a big day in the Super bowl and become a free agent and Al will try to sign you. Lets not forget Larry Brown and Desmond Howard, on second though lets try to forget. But Al needs to remember as he is proving the old adage "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it".

Now lets look at those who Kiffen most likely had a hand in picking-up or leaving alone. Leading up to the NFL draft, Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, and Ryan Kalil (USC players) all to a man all claimed, on Sirius NFL radio, that they felt that there was no chance that Kiffen would pass on them if they somehow fell to the 2nd round. As the draft unfolded Alan Branch fell (whom Kiffen did have to game plan against) fell into the Raider's lap.

Did Kiffen and the Raiders select any of these highly touted players whom Kiffen had experience with. No, they selected another Pac-10 product, Zach Miller out of ASU, who Kiffen had seen 1st hand. At this point in their careers would you select any of the guys the Raiders passed on for Miller over Miller? To me that is understanding the system you will be trying to run, and knowing who will fit the system.

The Failures of the Raiders to bring in players that fit Kiffen's scheme is a product of an undesirable team (no talent for a QB to lead) and the continued failure of the Raiders front office to resist reaches and projects. When you look at the draft, the player who most represents Kiffen's handiwork, is also the best player the Raiders have gotten out of that draft so far this year.

The 2 wins to date for the season, with the points that I've already laid out, what more did you expect Kiffen to produce? The Raiders have been competitive in almost all their games this year. Something that could not be said of last year's squad. Kiffen has realized the team's limitations and has tried to keep them in the game long enough to eak out a win. So far this has only worked once (Cleveland) however the signs are pointing to this team learning the system and being ready in a year or two to explode, should the Raiders be able to find some playmakers.

Id the play calling conservative, at times yes, but it has to be, unless you want to go back to 7 step drops for sacks all day. Is the talent level up to NFL par, no, but neither Kiffen nor any other HC could turn that ship around in one year. And that’s not the HC's job, finding the talent is the GM/front office's job.

So back off Lane. Sure we all wanted a quick turn around, but the Raiders needed a complete overhaul, not some touch-up paint. The Raiders need to stick with one system and build a team, they need to give Lane the time to build, not plans just as the foundation is being poured.

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