Gutierrez: Raiders' First-Half Recap


Gutierrez: Raiders' First-Half Recap

Nov. 12, 2010

Paul Gutierrez
CSN California

Its been a rough ride, I know. But guess what? Its over. Raiders coach Tom Cable, to fans at the preseason Raider NationCelebration in downtown Oakland on Aug. 27.

Label him a soothsayer. A prophet. A visionary. A fool? Because really,who, besides the Raiders coach, honestly thought this team, after anightmarish past seven seasons, would find itself and put thingstogether so succinctly? Improvement was expected, sure. But in thisdominant a fashion, as the Raiders enter their bye weekend?

Indeed, in going 5-4 and holding a winning record this late in a seasonfor the first time since 2002, the Raiders resemble a totally differentoutfit than the one that started the season 1-3.

As such, beware falling streaksand a few team records:

-Riding its current three-game winning streak, Oakland has won three straight for the first time since 2002.

-The Raiders are 3-0 in the AFC West for the first time since 1990.

-In dropping 59 points on the Denver Broncos, the Raiders set a franchise record for most points scored in a game.

-In following the 59-14 blowout of the Broncos with a 33-3 beatdown ofSeattle, the Raiders won consecutive games by a combined 75 points forthe first time since 1967.

-The Raiders beat San Diego for the first time since Sept. 28, 2003,ending the Chargers 13-game winning streak in the rivalry.

-The Raiders beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Oakland for the first time since 2002

Following, then, the positive call it the Silver and Black Division and the negative the Silver and Blechhh Division in recounting theRaiders first nine games.

Silver and Black Division
MVP (Offense): So this is the player the Raiders thoughtthey were getting when they drafted Darren McFadden fourth overall inthe 2008 draft. Yes, the running back has missed two-plus games with astrained right hamstring but he is healthier than hes ever been as apro. As a result, he is running harder than ever before and the resultsare impressive. His 108.1-rushing yards per game leads the NFL and his757 total rushing yards are second in the AFC. Plus, hes caught 24passes for 242 yards. He has six touchdowns. We also saw himeffectively running the Wildcat offense last week.

MVP (Defense): Defensive tackle Richard Seymour already has 39tackles (he had 31 all of last season) and 4.5 sacks (he had 4 in2009). But beyond his improved stat line, the five-time Pro Bowler andthree-time All-Pro may be more valuable for the unity-building sense ofindividual responsibility hes fostered on the defensive line.

Biggest Surprise (Offense): He had the look and feel of aproject when he was taken in the third round out of Division IIHillsdale College. But there was Jared Veldheer, starting at center asa rookie in the opener in a hostile environment in Tennessee. And therehe is now, claiming the left tackle position from Mario Henderson.Veldheer still gets called for too many false start penalties, but hehas shown flashes of dominance protecting the QBs blind side.

Biggest Surprise (Defense): Tommy Kelly dropped 50 pounds andthe heftier tag of underachiever this offseason and has taken to theteachings of fellow defensive tackle Seymour. Kellys five sacks aretied for the team lead and are already a single-season high for theseventh-year pro. He has also become adept as a run-stopper, asevidenced by 22 of his 33 tackles being of the solo variety.
The folk hero returns: He would never admit it publically, butBruce Gradkowski was miffed he was never allowed to compete for thestarting QB position. Plus, offseason injuries made it a non-issue.Until Jason Campbell struggled early and Gradkowski came off the benchto chants of BRUUUUUUUUUUCE! to lead the Raiders to a comebackvictory over St. Louis in the home opener.

Campbell wins the crowd: He may never win a popularity contestwith Gradkowski, but Jason Campbell won fans respect by pulling aGradkowski. That is, he came off the bench to relieve an injuredGradkowski and lead the comeback victory over San Diego. Campbell hassince won Cables trust and three games in a row. Since hitting bottomat San Francisco, Campbell has a passer rating of 104.3 in completing57.5 of his passes for 743 yards, five touchdowns and oneinterception. Its led to Cable reversing field on earlierproclamations that Gradkowski would resume the starting gig whenhealthy. A gentle nudge from upstairs, perhaps?

Asomughas Arizona clinic: Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomughasshut-down of Arizona All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald was one for thebooks. Fitzgerald, who was targeted seven times, caught just one passthrown his way while Asomugha was on him; the eight-yard TD receptioncame in zone coverage.

Millers big day: Not much went right for the Raiders in their31-24 loss to Houston, a game they trailed 31-14 in the fourth quarter.But tight end Zach Miller served notice to the Texans and the rest ofthe NFL with a career-high 11 catches for 122 yards.

Best special teams play I: The Raiders got the jump on San Diegoby blocking the Chargers first two punts. Rock Cartwrights blockknocked the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety andBrandon Myers block was picked up by Hiram Eugene and returned fiveyards for a touchdown.

Right place, right time: With the Chargers in field-goal rangefor a potential game-winning field goal, a blitzing Michael Huff sackedPhilip Rivers and knocked the ball loose to an alert Tyvon Branch. Hescooped the ball up and returned the fumble 64 yards for thegame-clinching touchdown. Branch was sprung free by a crushing block byChris Johnson on Randy McMichael.
Mitchell making his mark:Rumored to be on the chopping block on the eve of the 53-man rosterbeing announced, second-year safety Mike Mitchell has played like asecond-round draft pick. A knee injury to Thomas Howard opened the doorfor Mitchell to play a hybrid linebacker and Mitchells coverage of SanDiegos Antonio Gates and the 49ers Vernon Davis was lauded.

Defending the run: The Raiders front seven are playing with apurpose against the run of late, giving up an average of just 95 yardsper game on the ground. They limited the Chiefs, the No. 1-rankedrushing team in the league, to 104 yards.

Quick start: Thanks to a mind-numbing opening drive deftly ledby Jason Campbell, a pick-six interception by Chris Johnson and afumble recovered by Lamarr Houston at the Denver 21-yard line, theRaiders led 21-0 before the Broncos had run three offensive plays. TheRaiders eventually ran out to a 38-0 lead before calling off the dogs.They entered the fourth quarter leading, 59-14, the eventual finalscore.

DHB has breakthrough: The much-maligned Darrius Heyward-Bey maynever live up to his billing as a No. 7 overall draft pick but he hasalready had a more productive sophomore season than he did as a rookie.In the Raiders 33-3 blowout of Seattle, the receiver caught fivepasses for 105 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, and added a30-yard run on a reverse. Still, he has been shut out in three games.

Reece emerges: Fullback Marcel Reece, who has spent most of hisfirst two seasons on practice squads, has emerged as a hybrid threatwith punishing blocks and soft hands. Perhaps no play illustrated thisbetter than his 30-yard TD reception against the Seahawks as he split apair of defenders on a slant pass on 4th and 1.

Best special teams play II: Shut out by Kansas City at halftime,10-0, rookie Jacoby Ford jumpstarted the Raiders and electrified thesold-out Coliseum by returning the opening kickoff of the second half94 yards for a touchdown.

The big man gets his: Khalif Barnes fashions himself more thanan offensive tackle but no mere novelty. No wonder he playfully rippedCampbell for the wobbly pass he picked out of the air for a two-yardtouchdown reception on a tackle-eligible play against the Chiefs.

Ford drives it home: Not only did Ford spark the Raiderssecond-half renaissance against the Chiefs, he led the comeback withsix receptions for 148 yards, all after halftime. The big catches the29-yard pick-up that set up Sebastian Janikowskis OT-forcing fieldgoal as Ford ripped the ball away from Brandon Flowers on what seemed asure interception; a 47-yard bomb on the Raiders first play of OT inwhich Ford showed his world-class speed to set up Janikowskisgame-winner.

Silver and Blechhh Division

Biggest Disappointment (Offense): Can you be a disappointment ifyou havent even stepped foot on a field yet? When youre as highlyregarded as wide receiver Chaz Schilens, whose talents and injurieshave teased the Raiders and their fans for the past two yearsyes. Lastyear it was a foot injury that limited him to eight games. This season,a knee injury has kept him inactive through nine.

Biggest Disappointment (Defense): Disappointment is probablytoo harsh a term to describe Rolando McClain, what with his stepping inat middle linebacker from Day 1 and wracking up 42 tackles. But he hasonly a sack to his name and the rookie is still over-pursuing the runtoo often, has trouble shedding blocks and is not blowing up plays likeyoud expect a No. 8 overall pick to do. Still, he is an important cogto the revitalized defense.

A bad omen?: Return man Yamon Figurs fumbled the seasonsopening kickoff at Tennessee after bringing it out from five yards deepin the end zone. And while the Raiders did not lose possession it wasrecovered by Ricky Brown the gaffe cost Figurs. He was waived threedays later.

Rough start: Acquired in a draft weekend trade with Washingtonand anointed the next Jim Plunkett by Al Davis himself, quarterbackJason Campbell looked skittish and unsure of himself behind anespecially porous offensive line early on. So much so that he wasbenched after just six quarters. With Campbell at the helm, the Raidershad been outscored by a combined 45-16 by Tennessee and St. Louis.Shades of JaMarcus Russell? Not really. But the cascading boos suresounded JaMarcus-esque.

SeaBass shanks it: It was a historically bad day in the desertfor Sebastian Janikowski, who missed as many field goals in one game ashe did all of last season. The third miss against Arizona, though, wasthe most painful. Having already pulled two misses wide right from 58yards and 41 yards the left-footed Janikowski overcompensated andshanked the potential game-winning 32-yarder wide left as time expired.The Raiders fell to the Cardinals, 24-23.

Red-zone issues: Janikowskis issues revealed an epicover-reliance on the highest-paid placekicker in the game (a guaranteed9 million over four years). In their first three games, the Raiderswere a woeful three for 13 in red-zone efficiency. The most gallingexample? Oakland having a first-and-goal at the one at Arizona andsettling for a field goal.
Stop, stop, BOOM!: Thats how defensive tackle Tommy Kellydescribed the defenses propensity for stopping the run before givingup a long run. Tennessees Chris Johnson (76-yard TD, 142 yards total),Houstons Arian Foster (74-yard TD, 131 yards total) and the 49ersFrank Gore (64 yard-sprint, 149 yards total) proved Kellys point well.

Penaltiesagain: They wouldnt be the Raiders if they werentpenalized with aplomb. Oaklands 718 penalty yards are the most in theNFL and its 70 penalties are second-most, behind the 72 of St. Louisand Baltimore. The Raiders season highs came against Kansas City lastweek, when they were flagged 15 times for 140 yards.

Worst special teams play: Arizonas LaRod Stephens-Howlingreturned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, setting thestage for Janikowskis game-ending meltdown.
Bottoming out at Candlestick: A week after the feel-good defeatof San Diego, the Raiders reverted to their early-season ways acrossthe Bay. They should have blown the 49ers out of the water but couldmuster only a pair of Janikowski field goals despite getting insidetheir 10-yard line in each of their first two possessions. Instead, theRaiders fell, 17-9, and Campbell had a sickly passer rating of 10.7.

Broncos name new starting quarterback ahead of game vs Raiders


Broncos name new starting quarterback ahead of game vs Raiders

ALAMEDA — It’s time to see conclusively if quarterback Paxton Lynch is a bust or just a late bloomer.

The Denver Broncos’ former first-round draft pick will make his first start this weekend at Oakland, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Denver coach Vance Joseph won’t announce his starter until Wednesday.

General manager John Elway moved up in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft to select Lynch with the 26th overall pick, but the former Memphis QB proved to be a project.

Trevor Siemian, a 2015 seventh-rounder from Northwestern, handily beat out Lynch in 2016 and again this season. Shortly after coming up short in Denver’s quarterback competition for the second time, Lynch bruised his throwing shoulder against Green Bay in a preseason game.

That led to the re-signing of Peyton Manning’s longtime backup, Brock Osweiler, who had been released by Cleveland following a trade from Houston.

Osweiler supplanted a turnover prone Siemian (10 interceptions, two lost fumbles) three weeks ago but went winless in his three starts, including a 20-17 defeat to Cincinnati on Sunday in which Lynch was active for the first time.

On Monday, Joseph fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

McCoy raised eyebrows with his overly complex game plans and stubbornness in sticking to three-receiver formations despite a flurry of sacks, flags and turnovers that resulted from a porous line and lack of depth at tight end and wide receiver.

Joseph said he wanted Musgrave, who guided the Raiders’ offense from 2015-16, to simplify the game plans.

Although no team has ever recovered from a 3-7 start to reach the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how Lynch’s promotion is met in the locker room.

Teammates have been effusive in their praise of the work ethic and leadership displayed by Osweiler and Siemian and they usually speak in terms of promise and potential when talking about Lynch, who’s never been known to get to work first and leave last like so many quarterbacks do.

Last week, when Lynch worked as the backup at practice for the first time and even handled some passing plays with the starters, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders praised Osweiler’s energy and experience that he brought to the equation and said what Lynch brings is a promising upside if he ever buckles down.

“Brock, he’s been there before, he’s been groomed by Peyton, so he understands the ins and outs of how to play quarterback,” Sanders said. “Paxton has a big-time arm, big-time talent. He has all the intangibles. It’s all about going out and getting more and more comfortable with the playbook, learning and growing as a player, becoming a pro.”

Lynch went 1-1 last year in place of an injured Siemian, losing to Atlanta and beating Jacksonville. He completed 49 of 83 passes for 497 yards and two TDs to go with an interception. He was sacked nine times.

He had to learn a new system when Gary Kubiak stepped down and was replaced by Joseph, who brought in McCoy to replace Rick Dennison.

With Musgrave’s promotion, Lynch will be working under his third system in less than two years in the NFL, albeit one that will be pared down for him.

He’ll face a Raiders defense going through its own shakeup . The Raiders fired defensive coordinator Ken North Jr. on Tuesday and coach Jack Del Rio handed those duties over to assistant head coach John Pagano.

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.