You could easily claim that this Raiders team is lifeless. The Raiders, still a part of the NFL, could barely put up 10 points against one of the leagues weakest teams. That is pretty close to lifeless.
However, there are clearly signs of life on the team, specifically on defense, where Raiders draft picks and free agents are actually playing tough. Is the rush defense still suspect? Absolutely, but there are signs of life all over the defensive side of the ball.
Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis have brought life the defensive line, even if Tommy Kelly and Gerrard Warren aren’t the answer inside. At least Kelly and Warren have shown flashes.
Nnamdi Asomugha is still a great player that no one dares challenge and Chris Johnson makes his living making plays and getting burned from time to time.
The emergence of Tyvon Branch has been a bright spot and Michael Huff looks like a serviceable player.
As much as I love Kirk Morrison, he needs to move to SAM and the Raiders need to bring in a new MLB that can play the run.
The defense has far fewer weaknesses to address than the woefully bad offense.
The offensive line is 2/5 solid and 3/5 suspect. As a unit, they get the job done, but aren’t inspiring greatness.
Then comes the last three first round draft picks. JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
What can you say about these three that hasn’t already been said?
I still support Russell. Say what? You heard it right. No, I am not defending Russell’s play, because doing that would be certifiably insane.
I support Russell because his failure means team failure and it takes five years (not three), for a team to recover from a poorly drafted quarterback.
So while we can tell the scouting department to gear up to scout other quarterbacks, we will live and die with Russell at least until the end of 2010. The only hope is finding a suitable quarterback for cheap that can be the main cog until Russell gets a lot more learning under his belt.
The thing about it is this, Russell has a lot of raw talent, but had a lot of learning to do. He should have been drafted to a team that could have him learn for two or three years on the bench before he became the man. Based on his draft position, Russell could never be a bench warmer for long.
Even starting right away could have worked for Russell for a different team, with a veteran line and veteran receivers, with an established coaching staff.
The environment created by Al Davis and the position he took JaMarcus set him up for failure. Great draft picks aren’t always a product of their own ability, but often a product of what is around them.
A good example would be a good kid who grows up in a bad neighborhood and a bad kid that grows up in a good neighborhood. The chances are actually better that the bad kid is more productive than the good kid.
Al Davis has created the bad neighborhood and it is killing Russell and will every other Raiders draft pick until Davis cleans it up.
So what about McFadden? The thing about McFadden is he has been hurt, and there is no telling what he would be without those injuries, but because runningbacks usually show what they are by this stage in their NFL career, it may be safe to assume McFadden will never be an every down back.
I will defend him in this way, he isn’t just a physical freak, he is a football player, so you can’t blame Davis for picking the guy. It made sense and unfortunately injuries and a poor team has hurt his chances of being that impact player for the Raiders.
Now, the third stooge. Darrius Heyward-Bey. I will preach patience with this kid. He has shown he can block and appears to be learning how to run good routes. I’d say he needs to spend the entire offseason learning how to catch with his hands. It is possible for hands to develop, despite what many people think. I’ve seen it first hand.
The Raiders may yet get what they wanted out of DHB, but the indicators are that Al Davis has setup a slum neighborhood and the odds DHB can turn into a MVP drop ten-fold with every passing day.
It doesn’t matter what coaches and kids players move into Al Davis’ neighborhood, because just like good parents and good kids they may not flourish in a such bad environment, good coaches and good players will not flourish in a bad environment.
People like to knock Al Davis for scouting and drafting, but he has had some success in that area. People like to knock his ability to run a team and he has proven success in that area as well (financially).
Few people knock Al Davis’ football intelligence, because it is as good as they come, like him or not.
The one thing Al Davis never had success with? Creating a good environment. He makes enemies, both internal and external. One thing Al Davis always had was coaches that knew how to create a good environment.
These men knew Al Davis and were able to handle him with poise and with the aid of wins. Created a good environment for players and Davis.
That very delicate environment started to crumble as Al Davis began to crumble. As the 80’s came to a close and the 90s emerged, no coach has been able to take Al Davis’ invisible hand and turn it into wins, except Jon Gruden.
Was it Jon Gruden’s incredible acumen? No, it was the environment of accountability and the existing talent. Leadership was high and so was accountability. Gannon, Brown, etc. The list of players goes on.
Al Davis is aging and so is the neighborhood he created. Older bad neighborhoods are much more difficult to turn around, because there is so much damage done and it takes so much more effort to rebuild.
If you ever wondered why it is so hard to pick just a couple issues with the Raiders? It is because it is the environment. Elevate the same players and put them into a positive environment and you will see more success.
I guess the reason Al Davis can’t see his own deficiencies is because he doesn’t have to, there is just him, the all powerful dictator of the Raiders and nothing can remove him from power but death.
Al Davis is also more stubborn than he used to be, which means it makes it that much harder for the peons that work for him to get their way.
With the current formula and environment in place, it would be near miraculous if the Raiders turned into a winning franchise again.
My passion for the Raiders runs deep and I love Al Davis, but when looking at the problems with the Raiders, he needs to look in the mirror and ask himself if he needs a change something more fundamental.
Al Davis has changed coaches, scheme (offensive), players with no success. He hasn’t changed scouting, scheme (defense), GM, or the culture rich Raiders tradition.
Davis needs a fresh and new environment and it isn’t possible while living in the past.
To start, stop playing Hells Bells at every home game, because Raiders fans are hearing them loud and clear.