Monthly Archives: January 2017

Oakland Raiders: The D is for Development 

Say it with me, “Development.”
That’s the keyword headed into the Raiders offseason. 

Many of us wish Oakland was playing in the upcoming Super Bowl, but they are not. A lot of that blame falls on the Raiders depth. 

At the end of the season, they cycled through three quarterbacks. The left tackle and tight end positions saw multiple starters in 2016. The receiver and running back packages rotated at various times, due to minor inconsistencies and injuries.

On defense, the Raiders cycled through three starting middle linebackers, three starting strong safeties, two nickel backs and multiple defensive linemen.

This is not a bad thing. Good teams use a variety of players for any given situation. They also rely on depth when injuries happen.

Not to mention, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has preached competition at every level since he took over. He is also a proponent of the next man up theory, as are most coaches.  

Hence, many of us will spend time addressing position upgrades via the draft and free agency. There is nothing wrong with that, because it is better to have one dominate starter than a few solid role players at any position.

Still, the Raiders need development from their recent draft picks. Players like Justin Ellis, Menelik Watson, and Denico Autry need to make up for the steps back that they took in 2016. Meanwhile, younger players like Vanai Alexander, Karl Joseph, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and Cory James need to keep building towards their potential. 

Even young stars like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson and Amari Cooper have room for development into superstars.

Oakland has no room for steps back in 2017. In order for the Raiders to keep ascending, they must maximize the experience of players already on the roster. That’s how you build a perennial Super Bowl contender. 

Everyone who watched NFL football this season can tell you that the Raiders were close to being the best team in the league. Now, they must prove it by continuing to develop the talent already on the roster. 

Forget adding any one free agent or top draft pick. Sure, the Raiders could use an infusion of playmakers all over the roster. However, they’ve also accumulated enough talent and experience to have one of the deepest rosters in the league.

The Raiders have already built a foundation for continued success via their farm system of finding bargain free agents and solid late round draft picks. 

Therefore, capitalizing on the development of Oakland’s young players is the key to this upcoming offseason. As these young players get better, they will perform better when they step in for injured starters. They will also force older players to improve or lose their jobs. 

This how the Raiders can continue developing the competitive culture that will make them into one of the best teams in the entire NFL.

Simply put, the Raiders need their young players to get better after making the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons. 

Oakland acquired the winning experience in 2016. In 2017, he Raiders’ next step requires development of young players across their roster.

Just Develop Baby!

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Oakland Raiders Regular Season Awards

The Oakland Raiders regular season ended way earlier than any of us had hoped.

We would all rather watch our team in the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Instead, we’re forced to review the regular season. Here is my take on the key players for the Raiders season, as well as a bonus award.

MVP

Derek Carr is the MVP and it is not even close. Oakland’s score in the combined two games without Carr did not surpass the Raiders’ per game total.

Added, he was the emotional leader of this team via multiple fourth quarter comebacks. Carr may also have a claim to the league’s version of this award. He is also the obvious choice for Offensive Player of the Year too.

DPOY

Khalil Mack was one of the lone bright spots for a Raiders defense that ranked towards the bottom in most categories. Mack graded as the best defensive player per Pro Football Focus. He also registered 11 sacks and four turnovers.

Rookie of the year

Jalen  Richard wins this award for his contributions to the running game and return game. He provided sparks for this offense in the playoff game via a return and during a touchodown that occured on his first professional carry.

Moreover, Richard started the year behind fellow rookie DeAndre Washington but Richard finished the season with more rushing yards.

Best Newcomer

Kelechi Osemele came over from the Baltimore Ravens. He brought a nastiness to the guard position and the entire offensive line. Osemele is the one of the biggest reasons the Raiders had a top offense. He should anchor one of the best lines for a while.

Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin also contributed as newcomers. However, Osemele completely changed the culture of the offensive line. This earns him the row. Not to mention, the offense was superior than the defense.

Biggest Flop

Dan Williams deserves this award, despite being one of the best character guys on the team. Williams was one of the Raiders most consistent players in 2015. This year, he entered the season as a backup behind Justin Ellis. Williams eventually got his spot back, but he was not a gamechanger.

The Raiders cycled through multiple players at defensive tackle all season. A lot of that was Williams’ inconsistency. The Raiders struggled generating rush and stopping the run. Williams deserves a lot of the blame.

I published a similar version of this article on Inquisitr. You can read more about the Raiders awards on the website.

 

 

Oakland Raiders: Why the Silver and Black should keep defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

It is pretty easy to list off the reasons why the Oakland Raiders should not keep defensive coördinator Ken Norton Jr. A recent Just Blog Baby article makes a compelling argument for firing Norton Jr.

Additionally, head coach Jack Del Rio called out the defense it in his closing press conference.

“There were far too many explosive plays allowed this year, whether it be run or pass,” Del Rio said. “That’s, you know, that’s an area that must be addressed. That might be the number one thing that we must do better going into 2017.”

Not to mention, the Raiders gave up the most yards per play in the league. They also gave up the 13th most points per game. Oakland ranked No. 4 in penalty yards for defense. The Raiders also gave up the No. 10 most rushing yards per game and the 9th most passing yards per game. They also finished last in the league with 25 sacks.

All that said, Ken Norton Jr. deserves to keep his job for another season.

Placing the blame on him for the poor defensive play is irresponsible. Norton Jr. is merely the figurehead, coordinator and collaborator. He is not out there to execute plays, although he did once roam NFL fields.

Now, let’s look at why Ken Norton Jr. should stay another season in Oakland.

Defense played well in stretches

We all remember the horrible outings versus the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. It has also been cited that the Raiders gave up more points than any other team during the third quarter.

However, the Raiders played well in stretches. Quarterback Derek Carr led many fourth quarter comebacks but the defense put him in a position to do that. The defense clinched victories versus the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.

Not to mention, the team led the league in turnover differential. That is precisely the culture Norton Jr. was supposed to bring with him from the Seattle Seahawks.

It is not all Ken Norton Jr.’s fault

Ken Norton Jr. earned some criticism for his play calling this season. There were times where he needed to blitz and didn’t. There were other times he made questionable coverage calls.

However, Norton was not out there missing tackles on big plays. He was not out there holding receivers and committing pass interference. That is execution.

Something all the Raiders defenders could have done better.

Not to mention, Jack Del Rio is a defensive mind. Therefore, I’d put some blame on him too. I’m sure Del Rio hired Norton Jr. as a first-time coordinator so the defensive head coach could still have some say in the day-to-day operations of the defense.

I don’t want to overlook the Raiders terrible defensive standings. However, let’s remember this team played with a ton of defensive linemen and linebackers. On-field adjustments are difficult when you go through three starting middle linebackers and play callers via Ben Heeney, Cory James and Pat Riley Jr.

It is hard to do anything when your interior players are either true defensive ends or out of shape. Denico Autry, Jihad Ward, Mario Edwards Jr., Dan Williams, Justin Ellis, Darius Latham, and Stacy McGee all took turns playing injured and inconsistent.

As for coverage, the Raiders lost their nickel corner to injured reserve and went through three starting strong safeties. You can blame play calling for poor coverage assignments, but corners David Amerson and Sean Smith are paid well enough. They should cover anyone via any scheme.

I’m not saying Ken Norton Jr. doesn’t deserve any blame, but he does not deserve all of it. This team featured new starters at both safeties, corner, two linebackers spots and two defensive line positions. Give Norton Jr. a break. These guys should improve with playoff experience and another year in the scheme.

There is no better replacement

Don’t give me your Wade Phillips rumors. No disrespect to him, he is a great football mind.. However, the Raiders need a coördinator who is more connected with their players like Norton Jr.

The only name that might be better is Gus Bradley, who also has a Seahawks pedigree.

Remember, Del Rio has maintained that he is building a winning culture. Part of that culture includes updating the facilities and playing music at practice. Another part of it is winning.

Phillips may know about defense and winning, but they do not know about this new Raiders culture. Del Rio does not need the old heads stepping on his toes.

Further, Norton Jr. and Del Rio played and coached together. Entering a third season with the Raiders, the duo will develop more chemistry and make better adjustments next season.

The team could roll the dice on an internal candidate, but you’re still talking about a team adjusting to a new leader and play caller. Let the defense continue to develop under Norton Jr. in 2017.

The defense will improve in 2017

I get the frustration. The defense did not make a sack in the last three games. They failed to rise to the occasion in the last regular season game versus the Denver Broncos and against the Texans.They also did not recover a couple of fumbles versus Houston.

Plus, the defense did not grow enough in year two of Norton Jr. This is especially true when you factor in offseason additions like draft picks Jihad Ward, Karl Joseph and Cory James and free agents Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson.

Still, championships are not won in free agency. The Raiders should finally address the middle of their defense with the No. 24 pick in the NFL Draft.

Expect them to take a linebacker and/or defensive tackle with the first couple of picks, like I’ve said for three seasons.

Del Rio even admitted that the team did not get enough push in the middle via ESPN. He called out the whole defensive tackle group for not being factors this season.

Therefore, this team will get better when they get some consistency at middle backer and defensive tackle.

Plus, the Raiders should see Aldon Smith finally reinstated. That could allow Bruce Irvin or Khalil Mack to concentrate more on linebacker duties.

Further, Smith’s presence on the edge may slide Jihad Ward or Mario Edwards Jr. into full-time defensive tackle play. Both players could use some bulk to better anchor against the run, but they both have the god-given traits to terrorize guards in a pass rush situation.

Additionally, I expect Joseph and James to improve with another year in the system.

In the end, I believe Ken Norton Jr. deserves some blame for the poor defensive play. However, firing Norton Jr. will not solve all the Raiders problems. Give him one more season so this unit can develop together.

Good teams do not fire their defensive coordinators. The Raiders are finally a perennial playoff team and firing Norton would only set them back.

Oakland Raiders: There are no moral victories after 2016

“We want more,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said at his final press conference of the season. “As an organization, our goals are higher. So, that’s not going to change.”

Del Rio continued to talk about his teams’ good accomplishments. The fact that the team won 12 games, six-games in a row, and  made the playoffs.

However, the Raiders leader is right. This team should not be satisified. They were a broken leg to Derek Carr away from at least playing in the divisional round of the playoffs.

So when we look back at the 2016 season, there are no moral victories.

It doesn’t matter that the team averaged more points per game than they have in a decade. It doesn’t matter that Derek Carr was an MVP candidate and his offensive line gave up the least amount of sacks. It doesn’t matter that Marquette King led the league in punts of more than 50 yards, or that the team lead the league in turnover differntial.

All that matters is that this team got bounced in the first round. All that matters is that this team lost a tie for the AFC West due to head to head losses via the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sure, the Raiders have a lot to be proud of. However, they also have a lot to improve. The 2016 season was merely a series of lessons to learn from.

Carr said it himself. The whole team has to work to be better next year. That is the only way they can take the next step as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

If the Wild Card loss to the Texans showed us anything, it proved how valuable a single playoff experience can be to a team. Last season, Houston got spanked by Kansas City in the same round.

Hence, Oakland will benefit from their own whooping on ESPN.

Therefore, I don’t want to hear about brightsides or silver linings. The Raiders are building a winning culture and they can not be satisified with moral victories or advanced statistics.

What is tangible is that the Raiders will be sitting at home next week. They need to remember that and come back for more next season.

Forget, the moral lessons and sports cliches. Oakland must move forward and prepare to win more next season.

Further, it is time for us to expect more from our Raiders. It is time for the Raiders to expect more from themselves.

Only winning matters. No moral victories.

 

Oakland Raiders: It is time to believe in Reggie McKenzie

Just a few seasons ago, you could scroll through a Twitter search to find lots of fans calling for the job of Reggie McKenzie.

Now, the Oakland Raiders General Manager seems poised for his first executive of the year award. It is well deserved considering he helped this team develop from 4-12 seasons to 12-4 seasons.

Guess, what Raider Nation?

It is time to put even more faith, hope and positive energy towards the efforts of McKenzie.

Oakland will be without quarterback Derek Carr. Plus, they will be without left tackle Donald Penn. Both players have been cornerstones in the Raiders return to greatness.

Therefore, it seems easy to say our team is done. I’ve already written a piece that says the Raiders are not dead, yet. Meaning the team must belive in themselves and not make excuses.

Beyond that, Raiders fans must believe in the personnel skills of McKenzie.

Rookie quarterback Connor Cook and tackle Menelik Watson must both fill in for the crucial Carr and Penn.

Cook will become the first rookie to make his first pro start via the playoffs. Therefore, he is a dark horse. We know he won a lot of games in college with Michigan State. Otherwise, we must believe that McKenzie saw a starting quarterback when he traded up in the draft to get Cook.

As for Watson, he has started 17 games. He made five starts this season at right tackle, but he will start on the left side Saturday.

Watson has been a mixed bag. He has battled for the starting posistion, and he has fought injuries since coming into the league.

Per Pro Football Focus, Watson has played 255 snaps this season. The subscription service gave him a 70.0 grade, which ranks him around the 40th best tackle in the league. Hence, Watson has proven to be capable.

Now, we will see him in a playoff setting versus Pro Bowl defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney was taken No. 1 overall in the same draft as Khalil Mack and Carr. He has six sacks this season.

Therefore, Watson has a good chance to prove himself. on Saturday.

Either way, we got to trust McKenzie’s selection of the second round right tackle.

McKenzie selected Watson and Cook for a reason. It is time for both young players to prove themselves.

Don’t lose the fiath in Cook, Watson or McKenzie. Keep the faith Raider Nation.