Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hall and the return of the good old days

It looks like my protests have fallen on deaf ears and DeAngelo Hall will be added to the Raiders roster today. The faithful are celebrating the return of the dominance of the Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes ‘80’s. Well, let me provide you a wet blanket for your celebration.

I’ve already expounded on my feelings on Hall and his shortcomings, I’m not even going to start on the contract he received until the real numbers come out. But, if you plan to run out two shutdown corners, well both corners should be shutdown, not one shutdown and one takedown after the catch, but I digress.

It seems to me that we always look back at the old days through rose-colored glasses. Small successes are viewed as huge accomplishments, and shortcomings are glossed over. Billy Joel once sang “the good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrows not as bad as it seems”. I agree whole-heartedly on the 1st point, and hope to hell he is right on the 2nd when it comes to the Raiders.

When waxing nostalgic about the dominance that the Raiders exhibited with Hayes and Haynes on the field, the nation tends to forget that the Raiders won only one Super Bowl with this tandem on the field. In 1983, the first year that the two were on the field together. When the Raiders spanked the Redskins.

So sure any Super Bowl win looks good when compared to the complete garbage that the Raiders have fielded the last two seasons. Hell most fans are just looking for competitive right now; greatness is still a year or two away in even the most optimistic outlooks. But when you look back at those glory years with Hayes and Haynes you have to bring some realities to the table.

Hayes and Haynes benefited from an incredible pass rush. Sure pass coverage and pass rush are a symbiotic pairing, when one is good the other improves and visa-versa. However, Hayes and Haynes had Hall of Famer Howie Long, multi-pro bowler Greg Townsend, and in the Super Bowl year both Lyle Alzado and Bill Pickel contributing. This group collected 13, 10.5, 7 and 6 sacks respectively in that Super Bowl year. When your front 3 is putting that kind of pressure on QB’s (that right front 3, the Raiders ran a 3-4 there last two Super Bowl wins) it’s easy for your CB’s to look dominant.

Then you look at the offense. The ’83 offense sputtered a couple times, but still managed to get themselves ranked 3rd in the NFL by the end of the year by riding the back of Marcus Allen and the Arm of Jim Plunkett. Once again, a symbiotic relationship exists here. The high flying offense puts pressure on the other team to match, forcing them to pass more, playing into the Raiders hands.

Now what many don’t remember about this season is that Haynes didn’t join the team until there were only 5 games left. So credit does have to go his way for pushing the team over the edge, leading to their wildcard berth and eventual Super Bowl win. So while fulfilling Al’s dream of having two shutdown corners worked, it only worked once since ’83 and that was in its 1st season.

Now you look at the Raiders of today, and start to address those symbiotic relationships. First the pass rush/ secondary relationship. There are no Longs or Townsend’s on this team. Burgess puts up some good sack numbers, but we will delve into why those are misleading when it comes to his overall impact in the pass game another time. For now lets just say he isn’t in their league.

Now, if I were you and you were one of the ardent supporters of this move, I’d rebut, “Townsend was only a Rookie in ’83, don’t you think that the Raiders could have the same success with a Rookie DE this year, either Long or Gholston?”

Short answer, no. While either one of these players would be a marked improvement over the current situation on the D-line, the 2nd symbiotic relationship that we have to take into account will limit the impact, that relationship being that between the offense and defense.

The Raiders offense has way to many growing pains still ahead of it to overcome, to take any pressure off of the defense. You have essentially a rookie QB (sorry 2 games doesn’t make you a vet yet), a 2nd year of upheaval all along the offensive line (at least the system isn’t changing for once), and huge question marks at the skill positions.

This offense is more likely to be ranked 23rd than 3rd. Which will allow teams to do what they do best against the Raiders, run the ball and play keep away. To date no significant upgrade has been made to the run defense, well there was one, Warren Sapp retiring, but no addition-by-addition.

Which leads me to what I see as the next, and maybe most glaring, issue with this signing. 1983 was the end of an era in the NFL. Bill Walsh’s west coast offense was already taking the NFL by storm, Joe Montana made it to his 2nd pro bowl that year, and already had 1 Super Bowl under his belt. The shift was on to timing offenses. Two shutdown corners were no longer enough to stop a passing attach. You needed to deal with TE’s, RB’s & FB’s out of the backfield, and slot receivers.

Fast-forward to today’s NFL and every team has elements of the west coast offense in their playbook, along with the vaunted vertical stretch and even the spread and run and shoot. When a team tries to go old school and ignore the progress made in the last 15 years, the result is the bed and breakfast offense run by Shell, an abortion.

Having two shutdown corners isn’t going to help you when a team like NE just eats away at you with their slot receiver. Patiently waiting for you to adjust so that they can burn you deep, when you “shutdown” corner is left 1 on 1 with Moss. You think that this is limited to NE? The NFL is a copycat league; every team is now looking at the little quick guy on their roster and planning to send him on endless crossing routes and slants. The Raiders are not addressing this by adding Hall, they are addressing offenses from 25 years ago.

So in the end, adding Hall makes me feel better about the defense when the Raiders are facing a team running 2 WR’s and a TE and two backs or two TE and a single back and the Raiders have at least a 10 point lead. Honestly, how often do you expect that to happen? Lets just hope that Billy Joel was right on his 2nd point and I’m just being too negative. I’ll be more than happy to admit I’m wrong on this one, but as the aforementioned Joel once said, “maybe I’m wrong, but I may be right”.

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