Battered, bruised, and 2-4, the Oakland Raiders head back home for a much needed bye week. So far, this season has seen moments of Terrelle Pryor dynamism, instances of Charles Woodson‘s assurance, and a defensive front that refuses to roll over and take their preseason label of Jadeveon Clowney’s new home. But for every facet of optimism comes a reality checking, collection of follies and frustrations that begin to explain why this team has four losses along with a litany of questions. Will Daren McFadden regain health and the ability to run the ball? Will Jacoby Ford be a viable receiver? Will Matt Flynn spend his $6.5 million parting gift on a non-profit that raises awareness for awful backup quarterbacks looking for a home? Before you cue the Sarah McLachlan music next to your slow motion image of Matt Flynn deflated and encased in the Coliseum’s dirt, the Raiders have more important issues to address.
With an extra week to rest, study, and revamp, the Oakland Raiders must use their practice sessions at Alameda to great effect by focusing on these three problems:
What the hell? This unit is so bad that I have gone from being fervently angry with them, to accepting their play as a bad joke, causing me to laugh maniacally. I can take a joke and contribute often to my self-deprecation, but in this case, being a fan of this punch line is nauseating. Right now, I can, and I am sure Raider fans will agree, will have a more pleasant time watching a donkey show in Tijuana on Sundays instead of seeing Khalif Barnes feebly attempt to protect Terrelle Pryor’s blindside.
Yes, this unit has suffered injuries fast and furiously. Center, Stefen Wisniewski has gone down with a knee injury. His replacement, Andre Gurode, suffered a knee injury as well during the Kansas City game. Matt Briesel, who is a career right guard, slid over to center and got steam rolled. Tony Pashos, our veteran yet mediocre right tackle, went out of that same game with a groin injury. Has your cerebellum shutdown yet Raider Nation? Having to mix and match an already questionable o-line was always going to be a tall order for offensive line coach Tony Sparano. But that is no excuse for giving up 10 sacks against the Chiefs, seven sacks against the Redskins, and forcing Pryor to run for his life against other teams not featuring a Native American caricature.
The Raiders need to get healthy on this front (which is a colossal challenge), learn how to block in a new setting, keep their penalties to a minimum, and show some confidence at the line of scrimmage. While the previous sentence sounds like a diatribe from some sniping, know it all, it is not. This is the NFL, so be a professional and wear the Silver and Black with reverence. There is plenty of time to improve and prepare for a Pittsburgh team who still has great defensive players despite struggling this season. The Raiders currently have Matt McCants playing offensive tackle. He literally has “cant” in his last name. For the sake of bad puns and the sanity of Raider fans everywhere, please fix this unit before I actually do make that trip to Tijuana looking for Hermano the Horse.
What is in the vodka? Has Seabass switched from the potato based variety that comes slathered in Eastern European letters and the side effect of chest hair for the colored, noxious syrup often seen on the top of Sorority kitchen cupboards, lined-up, in a confounding display of one semester’s prideful regrets? After seven weeks, Janikowski who has a history of being automatic, not afraid to kick from NASA range, and a source of pride for this Raider, has missed four field goals. Acceptable for some resumes but not his. His most recent was a 51-yard miss against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was an unfortunate kick that had the distance, but narrowly missed wide of the uprights. That kick was probably one Janikowski was eager to have back considering that the Raiders’ offense was unable to provide him with another opportunity. If the Raiders did not fold so rapidly in the second half and provided some semblance of a team with brass amidst facing a deficit, Janikowski’s miss could have really haunted the team.
Janikowski will need to use the extra time to practice constantly with new punter Marquette King and establish the sense of cohesion, timing, and comfort he experienced under Shane Lechler. Lechler and Janikowski were a team unlike any other in the NFL, loyal in kinship and clinical on the field. But Lechler is on the Houston Texans now, watching reels of pick sixes from the sidelines. King is shaping out to be a solid punter for the Raiders, making booming kicks his vocation. Something has got to give. There in no doubt in my mind that Janikowski and King will work tirelessly over the break to build their relationship and prevent further shanks this season. Seabass can be a deity when kicking the ball: a mix of Ganesh’s robust limbs, bearing Jesus’ sandals, and adorning a scalp and gut to make Buddah’s smile widen. And I say all of that as an atheist. Right now, Janikowski’s play is akin to a Gorgon head’s, it is ghastly, erratic and turning me into stone.
Although I felt compelled to find questions regarding Oakland’s defense and put them under the microscope, taking a look at the Raiders’ offensive stats threw that notion out the window. The defense of the Raiders has items that need addressing, such as DJ Hayden’s constancy in the NFL, but they are a unit far more in sync than the other side of the ball.
After 6 weeks of football, the Raiders are in the league’s dungeon when it comes to offensive production. They are 28th in the league in terms of point average with 17.5. Greg Olson’s unit averages 320.8 yards for 27th in the league. And then there is the crème de la crap, the dysentery of destruction, the rancor of rank: 191 yard average in the air, thus placing the Raiders passing game 31 out of the NFL’s 32 teams. Only the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers are behind the Raiders in this category by one, single, solitary yard. Being locked in offensive solitary confinement stinks. I watch Nat Geo’s Lockdown when I am in the mood to see men tread wearily nowhere for hours.
No matter your beliefs about this offense, about Pryor, and about that Denarius Moore shirt-jersey you purchased from the Raider Image, this offense has plenty of work to do because the statistics do not lie.
That opening, electrifying bomb down the field to Rod Streater in week 5 against the Chargers looks lonely when compared to the rest of the production in the air. Streater, Moore, Jacoby Ford, Marcel Reece, Mychal Rivera, and the rest of our receiving corps must do a better job at doing the little things such as catching the ball and giving Pryor a viable option downfield. Some have been more productive like Moore who leads the team with four touchdowns while others, like Jacoby Ford, have been nonexistent.
Pryor is not invincible toward criticism either, his decision making during games can use more work. Given that his arm strength is not the most robust, Olson could dial up bootlegs for him, allowing the 24 year old to use his legs and the option for a short pass downfield. The spirit of Al Davis and a high-flying offense will never leave the Raiders, but considering the talent in the air and their current numbers, being productive is simply too important to ignore. When Pryor was given the call to be more of a pocket quarterback this Sunday against the NFL’s best defense while standing behind a ravaged and terrible offensive line, it makes you wonder why Pryor’s strengths were not at the forefront of Olson’s playbook. The Raiders’ 3rd down conversion rate is decent, but certainly can improve. Fortunately the bye week provides adequate time to rectify these ills.
It is worth mentioning that the Raiders are 9th in the league in rushing with 129.8-yard average. Not bad, until your realize that our quarterback is the team’s leading rusher with 289 yards on the year. Pryor is an absolute freak in the open field and elevates the Raider nation when he takes off on the ground, but don’t we want Darren McFadden and the running team ripping down the field for long gains too? Run DMC has reverted back to his injury ridden woes, but before that he did not get rolling. The zone-blocking scheme is long gone, yet the running game is stagnant. Rashad Jennings has stepped into the fold with mixed results and no touchdowns.
The NFL is a no excuses kind of league, every team has issues but at the end of the day, there are only 16 games in a season to prove your mettle. The Oakland Raiders must address the aforementioned issues over the bye week in order to improve in the win column.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @jermg11.