Del Rio calls out Raiders' lack of confidence, didn't show any himself

Del Rio calls out Raiders' lack of confidence, didn't show any himself

Jack Del Rio thinks that the Oakland Raiders’ fortnight-long freefall is in considerable part a matter of diminishing confidence.
But that’s probably giving the fellows all the best of it. In getting handled by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, 30-17, the Raiders demonstrated that if their 2-3 record is a matter of confidence, they didn’t have much to begin with, and that it isn’t just the players giving off that vibe.
That they were worked by the stuttering Baltimores from start to finish is clear. Gaining only 245 yards in a mere 54 plays is a hint. Having only one offensive player – Michael Crabtree – stand out speaks a medley or two. Having its secondary reinflate Joe Flacco’s sense of self-worth from the game’s first scrimmage play is not surprising given the preseason analyses that pinpointed that as a clear weakness.
But even Riverboat Jack, the man who lent this team an additional air of panache by defying the precepts of doctrinaire football, emitted a sense that even in a moment where gambling was defensible, he didn’t believe that the reward outweighed the risk.
In other words, he punted the ball away with 8:58 to play, down 10 and facing a fourth-and-three from the Baltimore 44 – very not Riverboaty McRiverboatface by anyone’s standard.
The crowd, already conditioned to be in foul humor by early mistakes that gave the Ravens a 14-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game, booed lustily as they saw their guy muck the few cards he had.
Not that it would have made a lot of difference given the way Baltimore’s offensive shoved the Raiders in any desired direction. As Del Rio said in his autopsy report, “Is that the difference today? I don’t think so.”
And he’s right. But then, he had always cast himself as the guy willing to die a gloriously frantic death, so his character as defined by the customers (and maybe by the players as well) demanded that he have backup quarterback E.J. Manuel try to convert that fourth down.
“It’s not easy (to call for the punt),” he said. “Hindsight is always 20/20 on things like that. You’re thinking you’re going to pin them inside the 10 and we didn’t (a touchback). You’re thinking the defense will give us a stop and get us the ball back, and we didn’t (the Ravens eat up 6:26 of the remaining 8:50 with a 13-play/10-run drive that resulted in a safety-first field goal). We get the ball back after having to call timeouts on the plus side of the field. It didn’t go anything like what it needed to.” 
That’s sort of when you expect him to double down, but he seemed to have lost some belief as the game went on as well. Not having Carr seems to do that to this team.
But this is not Manuel’s fault, either, for he is who he is. He had only one reliable weapon, Crabtree, and while Marshawn Lynch had his moments, Baltimore committed stoutly to the run in an effort to make the Raiders win by air power. It didn’t come close.
The defense had far fewer moments – Sean Smith beaten on the game’s first play by a Mike Wallace fly pattern was instructive, and the only time the defense impressed was when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh chosen to protect rather than fortify a two-touchdown lead in the second half.
In other words, this may be about confidence as Del Rio claims, but it may also be about overconfidence in what the Raiders are, and conversely, are not. Their offense is not “high-powered,” and their defense was eminently blockable for the second time in three weeks.
Moreover, they have stopped creating turnovers – two in the last three games, which explains in part why they are averaging 51 plays per game, last in the league. But they are also 29th in total yards, 30th in first downs, 29th in third down conversions and only the win over the New York Jets away from averaging less than two touchdowns per game.
They are not, in short, as advertised, which is why Del Rio answered a question about Carr’s availability next week, either for the Chargers or Chiefs games, by saying, “Yeah, I have that feel.”
After all, Carr’s healing gifts aside, the Raiders are already spending their margin for error too early. Whether that is confidence or underexamined shortfalls, the time for soul-searching is already nearing its end. They either do, or they do not. And time, she’s a’wastin’.

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Ken Norton Jr.'s time with the Raiders is up.

With the team underperforming, Oakland has fired Norton as the defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. John Pagano will handle the play calling duties when the Raiders take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Head coach Jack Del Rio issued the following statement regarding the news:

“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator. I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”

The Raiders defense under Norton this season ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allow per game (367.0), is allowing 24.7 points per game and has yet to record an interception through 10 games.

"We played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences," defensive lineman Justin Ellis told reporters shortly after the news broke.

"The axe fell on all of us. We love Coach Norton. We didn’t want to see this happen," safety Reggie Nelson said.

Norton joined Del Rio's staff prior to the 2015 season.