Friday, November 9, 2007

Rehab is for Raiders?

Sometimes you just have to admit when you have a problem. I have friends who have gone through rehab programs, and according to them admitting you have a problem is the 1st step. Unfortunately I don't know what the next step is, since we were usually getting drunk when they would be telling me about these steps.

My problem is not alcohol, unless of course I'm out. My problem is that I watch every Raiders game, often multiple times. Except for the Gannon years, most of my time as a Raider fan this has been an excruciating experience. Sure there have been highlights here and there other years, Bo Jackson, Curry's catch in the snow. But for the vast majority of the time I've been watching, the Raiders have not been a dominant team.

The Raider's problem is that they have neither a dominant defense or play makers on offense.

Watching the rest of the NFL, I've come to the conclusion that a team needs one of two things to dominate. Either a dominating defense with a ball controlling offense or a play maker (or group of play makers) who tilt the field and keeps defenses up at nights.

Looking at the teams who have won the Superbowl the last ten years proves this fact out.

2006 - Indianapolis - Payton Manning with his ability to dissect a defence, was until this year, the guy who caused the most lost sleep among D-coordinators
2005 - Pittsburgh - Dominant D coupled with an incredible run game that kept the pressure off of the young QB.
2003, 2004 - New England - Tom Brady may not have the best physical gifts, but he has an uncanny knack for finding the open receiver. The Pats D was bordering dominant.
2002 - Tampa Bay - Dominant D coupled with an offense who gave them time to rest and didn't turn the ball over.
2001 - New England - The closest to breaking the trend as Brady was just emerging, but this was their best defensive year in the playoffs as they just shut down everyone.
2000 - Baltimore - Dominant D, power run game.
1999 - St. Louis - Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt, play maker, play maker, play maker, play maker
1997, 1998 - Elway and TD

I could go back further, but it would just be belaboring the point. So instead lets look at the most successful and disappointing teams this year.


New England - Tom Brady now has another bona fide play maker in Moss (more on him later) the result is a scary good team. The D is no slouch either and the return of Seymore may see them return to borderline dominance.

Indy - Payton just continues to get it done, and the D continues to play at last years playoff level.

Dallas - Romo is emerging as a play maker, and the D is up and coming.

Tennessee - The defence has begun to dominate, hiding the fact that the offense is pedestrian.

Green Bay - The old play maker is making 1 last run with new targets and top D.

Pittsburgh - The D is dominant giving up only 98 points this year


Chicago - Last years dominant D has been ravaged by injuries

Baltimore - The team with the best record last year has suffered a letdown on D and can no longer make up for the lack of offense

NY Jets - Playoff team last year, no longer fooling anyone.

SD Chargers - New D coordinator unable to keep the dominant tag, Norv Turner effect (once again more later).

Phily - Old play maker no longer making DC's sweat, D no longer dominant.

San Francisco - Looked to build on Gores emerging status, instead find him injured and the team is now pitiful.

Which brings us back to the Raiders problem. While I don't know what the next step in a traditional program might be. The next step for the Raiders is obvious to me.

They need to either get the final pieces to make the D dominant (see my plan here) or get some play makers on the offensive side of the ball.

The Raiders have not had a nightmare inducing play maker since Bo Jackson. He only played part of the season and his career was ended early by injuries.

Tim Brown, while a great player, did not keep DC's up at night and never had the advantage of a Pro bowl caliber QB until...

Rich Gannon, he was a play maker, in the sense that Tom Brady was until this year. He scared teams due to his ability to always find the open man, more so than for his physical prowess. "Death by paper cuts" is a term I've seen thrown around, and is a perfect description of the team he helmed.

That's it, since Jackson's injury in 1990, the Raiders have lacked the kind of play maker that tilts the field. There have been players whom flashed potential (Porter, Kaufman), players who came in for 1 last hurrah (Rice) and players who shined brightly in the system (Garner).

Then there are the what could have been guys. Some will point to Marcus Allen, but IMO his best days were behind him by the time Jackson's injury occurred. And the reason he had some productive years as a Chief is that he sat so much in LA resting his body.

Randy Moss should have been the guy that the Raiders have looked for, for so long. Moss is proving this year that he is still perhaps the biggest game changer there is. But the Raiders don't have Tom Brady, and Norv Turner and Art Shell aren't the kind of disciplinarian coaches that can reign Moss in.

By the time Moss's first season was over and Turner was done proving Once and for all that he is not head coaching material (wait, he got another HC job in SD...HAHAHAHA sorry LT2, sucks for you) there was no salvaging Moss's stint in Silver and Black. Davis further exacerbated the situation by hiring Shell, who never showed any ability to provide discipline to any player not named Porter.

The Moss experiment failed, the Raiders cupboard was left completely bare. You go down the Raiders offensive roster coming into the past off season and their wasn't a proven player let alone play maker.

Porter - more disappointments than flashes
Curry - Injuries seem to have ended the game changing potential, still a good player
Jordan - Talks the talk, but can't seem to walk down the street without getting hurt
Fargas - Has been teasing teams since he was a Freshman at Michigan
Walter - beaten down and perhaps broken from the previous year

So with the trade of Moss looming over the Draft the Raiders had a choice to make. Instant gratification in the form of Calvin Johnson or take a chance on long term greatness in Jamarcus Russell.

The Raiders, in a move that somewhat surprised me, went with Russell. I was convinced that Davis wouldn't have the patience to wait for a QB to develop, let alone one with the huge hit or miss potential of Russell. I thought Davis would look to correct the Moss mistake with Johnson. However, the selection of Russell may well show that the Raiders brass has finally admitted that they are not 1 player away from greatness. They may have finally admitted they have a problem.

Which finally brings us to this season. The playmakerless Raider offense is slogging its way through yet another season. They have tried patching things up enough to get through the season without suffering the embarrassments of last year with limited success. (The struggles of Miami, St. Louis and San Fran have kept the spotlight off the Raiders). Leaving Raider fans to once again look to the future, with its dim light at the end of the tunnel.

Russell is currently the only Raider offensive player who is providing that light. Thanks to a unfathomable holdout he has yet to step on the field this year, and due to the current condition of the team probably shouldn't. So where do Raider fans look for the team to take the next step out of the abyss? FA and the draft?

Free agency is evolving due to two factors. 1st being teams are continuing to get better at handling the salary cap, and 2nd being the huge increases in the amount of money available due to the new CBA.

Ask yourself, who was the last offensive play maker to switch teams via free agency? Drew Brees was available due to AJ Smith's ego. You have to go back to Priest Holmes signing with KC to find a true offensive play maker who changed teams, and he was unproven at the time. Others like Gannon and Rice were either journeymen who just came to the right system, or aging Vets getting one last day in the sun. Not the long term answer this team needs.

So while the Raiders need to add players through free agency this off season, don't expect a game changer to come to the Silver and Black. This is where the Raiders can get the complimentary players who fit the system or can get another Rhodes, who doesn't fit the system and just wastes a roster spot.

Then there is the draft. The Raider draft history is the definition of crap shoot. Can they find that elusive play maker here? I've advocated using the 1st round to fix the defensive problems, but I'll admit its way to early to try and predict who will be there or when the Raiders will pick. Its long past time for the Raiders to trade down and stock pile picks. It looked like they had a chance last year with 11 picks, but too many of them were late round picks or reaches to help this year.

So the Raiders are left at the bottom of a long tunnel with the dimmest of lights flickering at the end. The positive is that they have admitted the problem, can they discover the elusive next step? Or will they relapse into old habits, overspending for free agents and drafting reaches?

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