Raiders struggle in first year of new regime


Raiders struggle in first year of new regime

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) When the new regime took over the Oakland Raiders last January, they inherited an 8-8 team that fell one game shy of the playoffs, featuring an offense that could be prolific at times and a defense that was historically bad.

Ten games into the first season under general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen, the offense has taken a decided step backward, the defense has somehow regressed and the Raiders (3-6) are nowhere near being a playoff team.

The situation McKenzie and Allen entered was not an easy one despite the presence of a capable quarterback in Carson Palmer, a big-play running back in Darren McFadden and a handful of other playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Late owner Al Davis' team had fallen into disarray in the final years before his death in October 2011, missing the playoffs for nine straight seasons and often failing even to be competitive.

A run of botched draft picks, over-inflated contracts and questionable personnel moves left McKenzie with a major rebuilding job when Davis' son, Mark, hired him to run the football side of the franchise that had been in Al Davis' control for nearly a half-century.

``I know that we didn't have the talent, at the beginning of the year, to be a Super Bowl team,'' Mark Davis said. ``I thought that we had definitely potential to get maybe in the playoffs and beat our division. Obviously, that hasn't happened.''

After years of being run by the famously impatient Al Davis, who ran through seven coaches in an 11-season span, the biggest change in a year full of them may be at owner. Mark Davis has delegated the football decisions to McKenzie, who has a job that didn't exist for the franchise until this year.

But three straight losses capped by last Sunday's 38-17 home defeat to New Orleans left the younger Davis so frustrated that he made a rare public appearance in the postgame locker room to express his frustration, as well as his belief in McKenzie and Allen, who will get more time than predecessors to get the Raiders back on the winning track.

``I'm patient. But I want to see progress,'' Davis said. ``I don't want to see regression. Nobody does. And that's why I'm unhappy today. But as far as a pass, I wouldn't call it a pass. They've got contracts, they're going to be here.''

McKenzie came in with a long view for building the Raiders under a similar model to the one he worked with during years in the front office with the Green Bay Packers.

He quickly shed some ``out of whack'' contracts for players like cornerback Stanford Routt and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and set out to find cheaper alternatives who could fit under a tight salary cap.

With no draft picks until No. 95 overall because of previous trades, McKenzie was unable to make many big additions and the results have shown up in the lack of depth on the current roster.

Free agent linebacker Philip Wheeler has had the biggest impact of the offseason additions. Cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer have struggled to stay healthy, guard Mike Brisiel has failed to solidify the offense line and the only regular produced in the draft is linebacker Miles Burris.

But Allen said he firmly believes the talent is there to be better than they've shown.

``When you look at it the other way around that's an excuse, that's a crutch to say you can't get it done,'' Allen said. ``I don't believe in that. I believe that we have professional football players and I believe we can win games in the National Football League. That's what we get paid to do, that's our job. I'm not going to use anything as a crutch to say that's the reason why.''

While the lack of talented depth is a legitimate excuse, some of the problems in Oakland were self-inflicted.

The Raiders had developed into one of the NFL's better offenses in two seasons with Hue Jackson running that side of the ball, ranking 10th in the league in scoring and first in rushing over that span.

With a full season from Carson Palmer and a healthy Darren McFadden, that should have only improved this season despite the decision to fire Jackson as head coach and bring in a new offense under coordinator Greg Knapp.

Oakland switched to a zone blocking system and West Coast offense that were not ideal fits for Palmer or McFadden. After a slow start, Davis had the coaches seek McFadden's input about the running game and more power blocking schemes were added.

But the Raiders have fallen to 22nd in the league in scoring, averaging 3.2 fewer points per game, and are second-to-last in rushing with a drop of more than 62 yards per game.

The changes on defense were more necessary after Oakland had franchise worsts last season defensively in touchdown passes allowed (31), yards per carry (5.1), yards passing (4,262) and total yards (6,201), while giving up the third-most points (433) in team history.

After years of running Al Davis' preferred system of bump-and-run coverage on the outside, Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver implemented a more varied defense that the players immediately embraced.

But somehow the defense has gotten worse, allowing five more points per game, recording less than half as many sacks per game, and allowing opponents to increase their completion percentage from 53.9 to 66.8.

Oakland has allowed 135 points during the three-game skid, the fourth most since the merger in three games and most for the franchise since 1961.

``It definitely hurts,'' defensive back Michael Huff said. ``From Day 1, I've looked forward to playing in this defense. I've been the one that said, let's be a top five, 10 defense, when we play all together. But for some reason, things haven't gone right. We'll play in spurts and we'll be great here and there. But when we're bad, we're real bad. We're horrible.''


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Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

Max Scherzer grits his way through broken nose in stellar outing, win vs. Phillies

WASHINGTON -- With a broken nose, pronounced black eye and seven shutout innings, Max Scherzer provided a striking capper to the Washington Nationals' day-night doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Scherzer himself? He shrugged off his work in the Nationals' 2-0 victory Wednesday night as business as usual.

"Trust me, this thing looks a lot worse than it actually is," Scherzer said. "I felt zero pain. There's been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain and I've had to pitch through. I'll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain. This is part of what you have to do. You take the ball every fifth time.

"That's my responsibility to the team, to make sure I always post, and I knew I could post tonight."

Brian Dozier and Victor Robles hit solo homers to support Scherzer (6-5) as Washington won for the 16th time in 23 games. Philadelphia has dropped seven of its last nine and 12 of 18.

In the first game, Patrick Corbin struck out eight while allowing one run over seven innings as the Nationals earned a 6-2 victory in the delayed series opener after the teams were rained out Monday and Tuesday.

Scherzer bunted a ball off his face during batting practice Tuesday, but it didn't stop him from making his scheduled start. His injury may have provided an extra layer of intimidation in the form of a black eye more worthy of a boxing ring than a baseball diamond.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner sported a pronounced bruise arcing beneath his right eye, adding another hue to a glare that already featured one blue eye and one brown eye.

"Going out there and throwing, the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye," Scherzer said. "It was kind of jiggling around, and so in warmups I just had to get used to knowing what it was feeling like to throw the ball and just have that swelling."

While he wasn't at his most efficient on a humid night, piling up 117 pitches, Scherzer was rarely threatened. He struck out 10, yielded only four hits and permitted just two runners to reach scoring position. And he finished strong, striking out three in a row after Cesar Hernandez led off the seventh with a double.

"It really is one of the most impressive things I've seen in a while," Dozier said. "He's probably the best pitcher in our generation, and you don't get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day, no matter if you're doing good, doing bad, you got a broken nose. You always want the ball."

Bryce Harper, Scherzer's former Nationals teammate, was 0 for 4 with four walks in the doubleheader and was loudly booed before each plate appearance -- especially in the better-attended nightcap. This series is his second trip back to Washington, where he played from 2012-18, since signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia in March.

Dozier belted a two-out solo shot in the second off Jake Arrieta (6-6), who allowed two hits and struck out three over six innings and had the misfortune of matching up with Scherzer on the wrong day.

"Max is just one of the best to ever toe the rubber, honestly," Arietta said. "We have ran into him a couple of times. That's just what he does. He is tough to square up, and he is throwing three or four pitches for strikes with electric stuff. Just a tough one."

Robles homered off reliever Pat Neshek in the eighth. Neshek departed two batters later with a left hamstring strain, and manager Gabe Kapler said he was likely to land on the injured list less than a week after returning from an absence of more than three weeks caused by a shoulder strain.

Wander Suero pitched a perfect eighth for Washington, and Sean Doolittle worked the ninth for his 15th save in 18 tries.

Philadelphia was 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position between the two games.

Corbin (6-5), whose start was pushed back twice this week, allowed a solo homer to Scott Kingery in the first inning of the opener. But he let just one other runner to reach third while ending a personal three-game skid.

"It's not ideal, but you have to deal with it to make sure you are ready," said Corbin, who is one strikeout shy of 1,000 for his career. "I was glad we got that one in today."

Dozier and Gerardo Parra had RBI doubles against Phillies starter Zach Eflin (6-7). They later hit back-to-back homers in the eighth inning off Cole Irvin to seal the victory.


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Ovechkin voted an NHL first-team All Star for the eighth time

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Ovechkin voted an NHL first-team All Star for the eighth time

Las Vegas always treats the Capitals well.

One year after winning the Stanley Cup at T-Mobile Arena, Alex Ovechkin was once again named a first-team All-Star at the annual NHL Awards ceremony and John Carlson took second-team honors. The event was held at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.  

The Pro Hockey Writers Association voted Ovechkin onto the first team for the eighth time – seven of those at left wing and one at right wing in 2012-13. He had 63 first-place votes and 459 total points to beat out Boston’s Brad Marchand (402) and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (324) at left wing. It is his first appearance on the first team, however, since the 2014-15 season. Ovechkin has four times been named to the second team.  

Carlson’s second-team selection was the best showing of his career. He received the third-most points (428). Only San Jose’s Brent Burns and Calgary’s Mark Giordano, the Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman, received more to garner first-team honors. Carlson finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting. He was fifth in 2018. 

Ovechkin was seventh in the Hart Trophy voting for league MVP. He has won that award three times. He was presented with his eighth Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. Ovechkin had 51 goals in 81 games. No other player has led the league in goals eight times. His eight 50-goal seasons trail only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, who accomplished that feat nine times during their Hall-of-Fame careers.