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Posted on: September 23, 2008 7:15 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2008 9:56 pm

Fire Lane or Can Ryan?

For almost three quarters on Sunday, the Raiders dominated the Bills defensively. The Bills first 10 drives yielded just 157 yards and one touchdown, with the Raiders forcing five punts, two fumbles, an interception, and a missed field goal. The touchdown came off a JaMarcus Russell fumble that gave the Bills the ball on the Raiders 23. We were aggressive and never let Trent Edwards get comfortable in the pocket by effectively utilizing different blitz packages. Basically, it seemed like Rob Ryan had finally heeded calls from Raider Nation to ramp up the pressure on opposing QBs.

Then the Raiders backed off.

The result? Three straight Buffalo scoring drives, the first of which started on their own 4 yard line and lasted almost 9 minutes. That was a demoralizing, backbreaking, tiring blow to a defense that had played well the entire game. There were missed tackles and penalties for sure, but the reason that drive was successful was because we backed off. Instead of keeping the pressure on and going for the jugular, we went out and invited them to make plays. This game was gift wrapped and delivered to the Bills, a team that is starting to get recognition as perhaps the class of the AFC this year. They certainly seem to be a balanced, patient group, with good leadership that quickly took advantage of the opening we gave them.

The Raiders had the ball for three minutes and 10 seconds in the fourth quarter. The offense was not able to run off any of the clock - but they only had two chances. At least they scored a touchdown (awesome Russell bomb to Higgins) on one of the possessions. I still can't fathom how we managed to lose this game by one point on a last second field goal. We had this one in the bag and let it get away. The coaching staff let the team and the fans down this time around, but there are still some positives to take away from it and build for next week and beyond.

We dominated what looks to be a very good Bills team in their own house for almost three quarters. I have no doubt we could have shut them out if Russell doesn't fumble and the defensive calls remained aggressive throughout the entire game. Kiffin's excuse (for Ryan, I suppose) that the Bills "went from a normal 50/50 play/pass to more of a hurry-up, spread-out situation" doesn't quite cut it. The worst thing a QB wants in a hurry-up situation is blitzes coming from all over. They drool over defenses that back off and allow plays to develop.

It's just the most confusing thing in the world to me; why can every fan and media pundit see that the prevent defense only prevents winning? I can understand it only in "Hail Mary" situations with seconds left on the clock. Otherwise, play the defense that got you the lead and force their offense to make adjustments. We adjusted first, and it was nothing other than coaching folly.

I still think Lane and Ryan are capable. I know the team is. We may very well end up 1-3, and that may cost Kiffin his job - but if he sticks, look for some good things after the bye week. Our remaining home schedule looks fairly inviting after we get San Diego out of the way... Jets, Falcons, Panthers, Chiefs, Patriots, Texans. I'd personally love some revenge on the Patriots and Texans - I was at the Houston game when we lost a few years back. Turns out it was the Texans' first ever winning streak (2 games in a row!), and you would have thought they won the Super Bowl with it coming against us. What a horrible experience that turned out to be, not a pleasant experience for anyone wearing Silver & Black. I think the Panthers are the toughest home game left after the Chargers.

The road schedule is certainly a lot tougher - Saints (defensive test), Ravens (offense likely to get stifled, defense will have to keep us in it), Dolphins, Broncos (we won't go there), Chargers, and Bucs (hope we have a chance to knock them out of playoff contention). Let me put it this way, even with the tough road schedule I think a monkey could guide us to eight wins. If these coaches have any skill, we'll get 10 and a possible playoff berth. Maybe that's a little too much optimistic homerism, but I think I've been fairly critical of this team - and I'm still very impressed. The coaches have turned this team into a competitor, digging us out of a horrible funk, and now they just need to take us to the next level. Yes it was a heartbreaking loss, and yes we're 1-2. I'm still in.
Category: NFL
Posted on: September 17, 2008 2:19 pm

Kiffin's Challenge

Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin has had a tumultuous start to his NFL coaching career. He took over the reins of the Raiders in 2007 as the 4th different head coach since Gruden's departure following the 2001 season. The team had endured four consecutive losing seasons, and Kiffin would lead them to their fifth with a 4-12 record in his first season as head coach. In the following offseason, Kiffin would clash with Al Davis over the retention of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.

Kiffin wanted to fire Ryan, and Davis blocked the move - Kiffin was under the impression that he would have the power to hire and fire his own staff, just like every other NFL head coach. This discord led to Davis sending Kiffin a letter of resignation to sign; Kiffin refused. After losing badly at home to Denver in week one this season, Kiffin moved to distance himself even more from Ryan's defensive play calling and schemes. In a press conference, he also hinted that Davis had a role in Ryan's defense. Ryan's media response came in the form of a profanity-laced tirade, defending his players and proclaiming his defense free of Davis' influence.

The Raiders week two victory over the Kansas City Chiefs came in dominating fashion on the road, amid rumors and reports that Kiffin's job was in jeopardy. Whether the Kiffin-Davis-Ryan spat would be a distraction to the players seemed to be put to rest, if anything it seems like they may have been invigorated by the drama. Winning can cure everything,  but the Bills are up next on the road, and they will provide a much tougher test than the Chiefs. Can Kiffin survive another ugly loss? Nobody knows, but this Raiders fan hopes Lane Kiffin is a Raiders coach for a long time. He is just trying to assert his power as head coach over his staff and on the field.

Most Raiders fans believe that Rob Ryan hasn't done enough with the talent he has on defense. He is often far too conservative and if he would be more aggressive then the defense could be taken to another level - like it was against the Chiefs last Sunday. Granted, there is a big difference between Jay Cutler and Tyler Thigpen, but the Denver offensive line is not as good as we made them look in the opener. They were often max protecting and Cutler had all day to throw because we didn't bring extra players to pressure him - even on 3rd & long passing downs.

It doesn't matter how good or bad the Raiders secondary is, they can't cover receivers indefinitely. The Raiders' talented linebackers running around in coverage would be much more effective if they were instead knocking the quarterback to the turf.

Given all that, Ryan still is a great motivator which means he could still be a great coach. I'd like to see him remain with the Raiders and learn from both his mistakes and successes. I think Lane Kiffin is a potentially brilliant head coach that just needs some elbow room. I think Al Davis needs to relax and let his coaches do their jobs. Davis is a hero to me because of the success he brought to the Raiders organization, but he is interfering too much with this young team.

The Raiders coaching job is not something big name coaches want, and it's because they know Davis retains and wields too much power and influence. Fire Kiffin, and we'll have to try and find another young, aspiring college coach or NFL assistant that will be learning on the job; we're ahead of that curve with Kiffin now. We already know he isn't going to lay down and do Al's bidding, and he isn't going to run away from the job. Let's see what he can do to turn the Raiders back into winners.
Posted on: September 2, 2008 8:21 pm

A fan without a hometown

My favorite professional sports teams are the Oakland Raiders, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago White Sox, and the Dallas Stars. For collegiate sports, my favorite teams are from the University of North Texas (I am an alumni) and the University of Tennessee (grew up cheering for the Vols). I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and have lived in Virginia, California, and Texas. My teenage years were shaped by constant relocation and sports became a haven of distraction for me, as it was difficult to make friends changing states and schools so often. My first "hero - athlete" was Bo Jackson. That explains my loyalties to the Raiders and White Sox.

I wasn't much of an NBA fan as a young teen, but it eventually grew on me. I remember watching the NBA Finals with my grandmother back when the Bulls were running with Jordan. I enjoyed watching him, and I also enjoyed Charles Barkley and the Suns - I remember when, at a Spurs game in San Antonio, I was disappointed when Joe Klein didn't give me a "high 5" as he ran past me towards the locker room at half-time. After Barkley's retirement and the Klein incident, I evolved into a Spurs fan. That city really knows how to support their basketball team, even before all the championships.

I am admittedly not much of a hockey fan, but I'm now living in the Dallas area and have attended a few Stars games. I've grown into at least a half-fan (cheering for them but really not following them all that closely). I attend UNT football games as often as possible and WISH they had a baseball program.

I am often jealous of people lucky enough to grow up in a single area, running into people they know at grocery stores and having many lifelong friendships. I was never in the same place long enough to develop those, and growing up just before the Internet revolution, the phone and snail-mail were the only ways to keep in touch. I wasn't about to sit around chatting on the phone with long-distance friends, that just wouldn't be masculine. I'm also jealous because I didn't get to grow up as a fan cheering for a hometown team, and I can tell that other fans view me differently since I've got alligiences to multiple cities (i.e., I'm an Oakland Raiders fan, shouldn't I also be an Oakland Athletics fan instead of Chicago White Sox?).

Am I less devoted to my teams, am I not a "true" fan? I don't think so. Even standing up and saying I'm a Raiders fan these days is enough of a test of loyalty. We have been a "Shell" of a team for quite awhile, and I've been here, watching every game and cheering at the local Hooters, proudly wearing Raiders Jerseys and caps. This is in Cowboy country, and those guys love to tease Raiders fans - especially when our team is playing poorly. They'll even team up with fans of other teams, even fans of their divisional rivals, just to pick on a Raiders fan... and I still can't wait for gameday.
Category: General
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com