No days off: Raiders offense looks to align stars on offense with bye week


No days off: Raiders offense looks to align stars on offense with bye week

ALAMEDA – The Raiders beat the Miami Dolphins 27-24 Sunday night, flew across country and were back at their Alameda training complex around 6:45 a.m. Monday morning.

The bye week technically started then. Vacation, however, did not.

The Raiders put in work through Thursday, with two practices and meetings to refine operations before starting the stretch run Nov. 19 against New England in Mexico City. Their main focus, however, was on rest and recovery.

The offense is under a microscope. It was supposed to be a juggernaut. A unit that finished sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring now sits at No. 15 in both categories. That isn’t good enough, and must be better if the Raiders (4-5) are to make a legitimate playoff run.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing knows it. He’s squarely focused on improvement, and is using the bye to find ways his talented unit can consistently do better.

“(We’re) diving into a really, really extensive self-scout and looking for efficiency,” Downing said. “(We’re looking at) what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, seeing if we need to tweak some things we’re doing schematically.

“Also, it gives us an opportunity to emphasize some of the things we’re doing well or possibly even eliminate some stuff that we’re not doing so well. We’re definitely looking forward to diving into that and being able to come out of the week with some hard information that we can use.”

Offense must key a second-half run after causing first-half troubles. That unit averaged 13.4 points in five losses this season and 32.3 points in four wins, proving how reliant this team is on putting up points to win.

“It’s obvious that in some of the games that we lost, we were not able to put up some points,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a Friday meeting with local press. “We definitely need to get better there and find a way. We have some guys we feel like can get that thing done and that’s what they’re working on. We’ll get it done. We just have to be consistent in the way our approach is.”

The talent is there, however, it doesn’t always show up.

McKenzie didn’t want to evaluate Downing publicly on Friday, though it’s become a common occurrence on the outside. The rookie play caller has been criticized, though he deserves praise for excellent game plans in wins over Kansas City and Miami that seem like efforts to build on. Those victories sandwiched a disappointment in Buffalo, which points again to consistency issues.

The Dolphins plan was especially impressive, with encouraging signs that the Raiders may be able to crank things up for good down the stretch.

That’s mandatory in McKenzie’s mind, though the other units must also pick up some slack.

“We need to get better offensively and score some points and move the football and help the defense out,” McKenzie said. “And vice versa, the defense has to get the ball back for our offense. We have to continue to work together in every facet of our game, starting versus New England.”

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice


Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing


Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”