If you had to give the team and season any sort of overall grade, it would have to be Incomplete. There were still just too many holes to fill, that were not taken care of by free agency or the draft. So there are some common themes running through this analysis of all the positions.
It’s tempting to keep this one short and sweet, and say F or Incomplete right across the board. But it turns out there are details worth reviewing.
Pass Offense: The entire offense was completely inert until the Rams were so far ahead, they could afford to let up a bit. By the time the Raiders got a first down, they were already behind 21-0. On that possession, they finally got past midfield, and stalled at the Rams’ 38 on 4th & 1. They were going to go for it until a false start made it 4th & 6. Even then, the decision to punt spoke volumes about the confidence the coaches have in this offense — and more importantly, the players’ ability to execute properly. Both of Carr’s interceptions were incredibly poor throws, and he got more reckless and desperate as the game got further away from him. Amazingly, Schaub was even worse, fumbling twice (one recovered by the Raiders), and throwing a pick-6 directly to Rams CB Trumaine Johnson. Unless Carr gets injured and the coaches inexplicably don’t turn to Matt McGloin, Schaub’s stint with the Raiders will end with 5 completions on 10 attempts for 57 yards, 2 fumbles (1 lost), and 2 INT (1 returned for TD). Remember, he cost $8.5M and a 6th-round draft pick. To be fair, with the complete absence of a ground game, and no true #1 receiver, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady probably wouldn’t have much more success than Carr or Schaub. Grade: F
Rush Offense: 20 attempts for 60 yards, total. Jones-Drew had one nice run, a 13-yard gainer for his season-long. It should be noted that in a narrow loss today for the Giants, the Raiders’ 2013 season rushing leader Rashad Jennings had 26 carries for 91 yards and 2 TDs. By himself. While neither Jones-Drew nor McFadden are in their prime anymore, it doesn’t help that the scheme of running them straight up the middle has never favored their strengths, as both backs have done their best work getting to the edge and making a cut. Even in garbage time, up 45-0 and expecting pass, the Rams still stuffed the few Raiders run plays effortlessly for the most part. In a theme consistent with the rest of the team’s performance, Marcel Reece fumbled away his best carry of the day. Grade: F
Pass Defense: Not quite a tale of two halves, but aside from the Rams sitting atop a 38-0 lead to start the second half, the Raiders defense did come out of halftime looking sharper and more focused. Unfortunately, their play in the first half was so dreadful, it didn’t matter. The Rams scored on their first six possessions (five TDs and a field goal) to go up 38 points at halftime, and did not have to punt until the second half. Shaun Hill exploited the defensive weaknesses with ease, burning them with quick screen passes for Tre Mason and Stedman Bailey to turn upfield and make tacklers miss. Don’t be fooled by the measly 1 for 8 allowed in third-down completions; in the first half, the Rams barely needed a third down. Grade: D-
Rush Defense: The 89-yard TD run by Mason was the backbreaker, and exposed the entire unit. Mason’s other TD run went right through Hayden, Burris, and Woodson in quick succession. Even QB Hill, who will never be mistaken for Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick when it comes to running, had a bootleg keeper for a 2-yard TD run. With very few exceptions, the Rams ran at will all day. Grade: F
Special Teams: Since Denarius Moore is a liability as a returner, and on his way out the door, it made sense to give George Atkinson III a shot at returning kickoffs — until he actually returned a few. Atkinson was fortunate that his muffed return in the first quarter, with the Raiders already down 14-0, was recovered by Kenbrell Thompkins, but it still affected field position, as did his second muff, as well as Atkinson’s poor decision to run a return from deep in the end zone to the 14. Obviously, with their offensive woes, field position is absolutely critical for the Raiders, and they haven’t had a halfway decent returner since Jacoby Ford. Marquette King’s 8 punts were generally serviceable, though two were very nearly blocked, and considering all the three-and-outs, more distance on some of them might have helped. Then again, maybe not. Grade: D
Coaching: After their encouraging performance against Kansas City, and with ten days to prepare, it was reasonable to speculate that the Raiders would give a solid Rams team a fair run for their money, maybe even squeak out another win. Right from the very first three-and-out, it was clear that it was not to be, and after the first couple Rams possessions, it was clear that the defense would not keep them in the game until the offense got going. The lack of talent on this team is always going to be an issue until it improves, but a blowout of this degree has to also be attributed to poor preparation. With absolutely no chance at the post-season, a journeyman backup QB, and no proven running back, the Rams came out playing crisp, focused ball on offense and defense, while the Raiders seemed bewildered at every turn, always a step behind.
When the Raiders did have opportunities — such as when a great King punt forced the Rams to start a drive from their own 5, an encroachment call on Antonio Smith handed the Rams enough breathing room for Tre Mason to break off his monster TD run the very next play. Receivers colliding into each other, QBs throwing the ball up for grabs in desperation, poor execution and tackling and fundamentals, the continued inability to generate anything resembling a running game, week after week after week, all of these things reflect on the coaching staff’s ability to get the players prepared and focused, and give them plays with a better risk/reward ratio. At one point, they went for a 3rd-and-1 in a shotgun formation. Who does that, except an offensive play-caller who doesn’t trust his line to get a decent push?
Ironically, the Raiders had their best time of possession of the season so far, just under 37 minutes. And the Rams had the ball for four minutes toward the end of the game and just chewed up the clock. So what that really means is that with just 19 minutes of possession time, the Rams rolled up 45 offensive points and a defensive touchdown. Up to this morning, Sparano and his staff had actually done a fair job of keeping the team on track, even as their record spirals downward. It’s difficult to imagine them finding a way to melt down any worse than they did today, but not at all difficult to see them repeating it once or twice more in the last four games. Grade: F
Holy crap. Did that just happen? That just happened.
Whatever hopes that last game’s comeback drive and win against the Chiefs would translate into positive momentum for the Raiders were dashed on the field at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. I said that the Rams were the best 4-7 team in the league, given the elite opponents they had beaten. And one of the key differences between good teams and bad teams is that while bad teams might win one once in a while, it doesn’t matter whether the team they beat is good or bad, they’ll just squeak by on luck or circumstance, a good drive at the right time. But a good team will punish bad teams.
And that’s what happened here; the Raiders were historically awful today, in all phases of the game. The offense is a dead fish, unable to get a first down until they were already down 21-0. They barely got across the 50-yard line, forget the red zone. McFadden and Jones-Drew ran hard, as usual, but mostly got stuffed (as usual), and once the score got out of hand the running game was abandoned (as usual). Matt Schaub finally got in the game in the fourth quarter, just long enough to fumble the ball away, and then throw a pick-six. That was $8.5M well spent.
The defense was slow and listless, looking like they were running uphill, underwater, through snow. Tre Mason ran through multiple tacklers, over and over again, racking up yards and touchdowns, looking like Jamaal Charles last year, as the D looked like they had never seen a screen before. While the defense did play tighter and better in the second half, by then the Rams were up 38-0. Too little, too late. By that point Shaun Hill, a career scrub, looked like Kurt Warner. Rookie WR Stedman Bailey rolled up nearly 100 yards receiving in the first quarter.
Special teams was a big fail also; George Atkinson III returned kicks as if he had never done it before, running indecisively, fumbling the ball away deep in their own territory. T.J. Carrie almost broke off a nice punt return, only to be flattened by Ray-Ray Armstrong. This is how teams end up 1-11 (or 1-15, at the rate they’re going); this is how they get pounded 52-0.
There’s no way to sugar-coat this one, no way to put a positive spin on it. This is literally the worst loss for the team since 1961, just three points off their record 55-0 loss to Houston over half a century ago.
Three years into the Great Rebuild, this is the team we have — listless, indifferent, undisciplined, incompetent. On the one hand, successful teams are built on continuity and stability and consistency, which would seem to indicate that it might be best to stay the course on management and coaching, or at least not replace anyone until someone better is available. On the other hand, 52-0. And like so many of their blowout losses this season and the previous two seasons, it wasn’t even that close; the Rams just let off the gas in the second half. Amazingly, it could have been even worse.
But the contrast was stark right from the beginning. St. Louis played tight, focused ball on offense and defense, taking their game right to the Raiders, daring them to punch back. And the Raiders were having none of it.
One of the more disheartening moments was seeing Carr and Schaub on the sidelines, down 45-0, chatting and smiling and laughing. News reports from the locker room afterward said the locker room demeanor wasn’t “angry” or “disgusted,” but rather “disappointment” and “surprise”. Frankly, I want them to be angry and disgusted. They embarrassed themselves and their fans, once again. It’s becoming a habit with this team and these players. They played like shit, ineptly, without passion or purpose. It’s unbelievable that they had ten days — after their first win in an entire year — to prepare for this game, and came out so flat and incompetent in every single phase. It’s unacceptable to fans, and it should be unacceptable to players and coaches.
So we’ll see what happens next — the Niners, reeling from their own embarrassing Thanksgiving loss to their arch-rival Seahawks, come to Oakland next Sunday. Speculation about Jim Harbaugh coming to coach the Raiders next season has been rampant all weekend, and there are pros and cons to that (like anything else). San Francisco’s visit across the Bay Bridge comes sandwiched between their Seahawk games; they have to travel to Seattle the following week, for a must-win game if they are to make the post-season.
Will the Raiders step up, use this humiliating experience to take their jobs seriously and play hard and well, against a team that may be looking ahead to a game they desperately need to win? Or will the Niners use an incompetent Raiders team as a punching bag for their own frustrations, as a warm-up and an easy win before they have to play a division rival? It’s up to the Raiders players and coaches to decide which way they want to go, to start fighting back and playing like the team that shocked the Chefs, or continue to be the team that other teams’ fans don’t even hate or laugh at any more, because they feel sorry for them.
Three years (with 9 wins and 25 losses) into the rebuild, and they are basically an expansion team at this point. If the NFL had English Premier League rules, the Raiders would be relegated. Losing but being able to see tangible progress is one thing, but there has been no progress — they get blown out every few weeks, just suffered their worst beatdown in 53 years, are on pace to have the worst running game in 70 years, have no kick/punt return game at all. How many times this season have you seen receivers bumble into each other on crossing routes, struggle to get separation, drop easy passes, how many times have they failed to get a simple push for a single yard on 3rd down?
Reggie McKenzie refuses to talk to media at this point (which will probably have to change after this most recent embarrassment), but the only question for him is where is the progress? There are glimmers of hope here and there in the potential of rookies like Mack and Carr, but not nearly enough to overcome the chronic dysfunction that seems to plague this team and organization. So many areas need change and improvement, it’s hard to know where to start. But after three years and regular blowout losses, it doesn’t even seem like it’s been started yet.
Al Davis built this team’s greatness and legacy on the premise that “we’d rather be feared than respected,” but at this point, the team and fans have been relegated to where they’d just rather be hated — or even ridiculed — than merely pitied.
It started off well enough — for this team, you could say it was a first quarter for the ages. Peyton Manning looked flustered, throwing two early INTs that translated into 10 points and a rare lead for the Raiders. But the wheels came off shortly after that, and between Derek Carr turning the ball over several times deep in the Raiders’ own territory, and the defense’s inability to stop someone named C.J. Anderson, the lead and the optimism were short-lived.
Oakland’s performance has to be assessed on something of a curve here, the Broncos are simply that good. Where the Seahawks have muddled their way to a 5-3 midseason record, find themselves two full games behind Arizona, and may not even make a wild-card slot, the Broncos (aside from last week’s pummeling in New England) have performed like an elite team throughout, beating up on solid teams such as San Francisco and Arizona, and nearly beating the Seahawks in Seattle. They have an edge and a sense of urgency to make up for their dismal loss in the most recent Super Bowl, and should be considered one of the odds-on favorites to at least be in the next one, if not win it outright.
And that’s frustrating to watch, where a team picks up a few key free agents (yes, one of them just happens to be one of the two or three best QBs of this generation, but still) and steamrolls the rest of the league, while the Raiders throw record cap money at players who, I’m sure they’re good guys and want to win and have had great track records, just aren’t getting it done. There’s no running game. Only two pass plays went for over 20 yards. One of the wide receivers (James Jones) had 8 receptions for 20 yards, with a long of 10 yards. Twenty yards. That is not a typo.
What were the bright spots? D.J. Hayden got a sweet early pick, which the Raiders scored a field goal from. (Of course, Hayden was on the sideline by the end of the game, getting what appeared to be a groin or hamstring pull worked on.) Hayden’s coverage and tackling are solid, the question is just whether he can stay healthy or not. Justin Tuck had a great tip and pick, deep in Broncos territory, to set up a short TD for Oakland. Carr had a nice hookup with Brice Butler for a late garbage-time TD, as has been this team’s main consistency. Scoring late TDs long after the game is out of reach at least makes things more respectable and builds confidence for some of these young players, but it does not address the fact that this offense is incapable of doing those things when the game is closer in score.
Next week’s matchup in San Diego is the Raiders’ final chance to prevent going an entire calendar year without winning a game. Their last victory was a squeaker in Houston on Nov. 17, 2013 — where, as you might recall, the Texans were in meltdown mode for the season. Matt Schaub got pulled from the game and argued on the sideline with Andre Johnson, Arian Foster was not in the game to begin with, and the Raiders saved themselves with an end-zone interception of Case Keenum at the end of the game. Oh, and Matt McGloin threw for 3 TDs and no INTs, and some guy named Rashad Jennings had 150 rushing yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run. (For even more perspective on how miserable the running game has been, even though Jennings has been out with a sprained MCL since Week 5, his 396 yards and 2 TDs would lead the Raiders right now. Darren McFadden leads the team with 372 yards and 2 TDs, and the Raiders’ season rushing total is only 559 yards and 2 TDs. This includes Derek Carr’s 81 rushing yards.)
The plan was to have Schaub throw today, to evaluate his elbow. Guess the decision to start Carr for the season opener on the road against the Jets tells us how that went. Carr’s preseason playing time was limited, but he did great against Seattle’s starting defense, including throwing a TD pass to Denarius Moore with Richard Sherman coming.
Carr seems fearless, decisive, and poised in the pocket, and has mentioned that he has seriously studied pro film since age 12, when he studied film with his older brother David. The team and fans are excited about this move, and while that still leaves questions about bringing in Schaub in the first place (for $8M and a draft pick), Schaub was probably the best available free agent quarterback in this past off-season.
This is going to be an exciting start to the new season. While they have a tough defensive front seven, the Jets are already experiencing chaos in their secondary, quickly signing former Raider CB Phillip Adams after he was cut loose by the Seahawks. Adams is fast and had some decent special teams plays last season, but was frequently a liability in coverage. If Carr can score on Sherman, he should have fun with Adams.
Solid performance all the way around, even for preseason. Carr executed well against Seattle’s starting D, not only leading the team on a full TD drive, but capitalizing on the opportunities given by special teams (forced fumble/recovery and punt return), with two consecutive single-play TDs on short fields. As Schaub was completely unable in last week’s Packers game to make anything out of several great field position opportunities early on, this has to factor into what fans and even the coaches are thinking right now.
I’m still inclined to think that the starting job is Schaub’s to lose, because he has far more experience, but also because this management regime has proven itself remarkably inept at managing and developing the quarterback position for the team all along, and dumping Schaub for Carr to open the season would be admitting yet another high-dollar, high-profile whiff.
That said, Carr made a hell of a case for himself, while McGloin mostly face-planted against the Seahawks aggressive D. It’s hard to say no to four touchdown drives, including three TD passes to three different receivers, and a nearly perfect QB rating. But you also want to give him a fair chance to develop, and not just throw him in the deep end.
In the end the decision may be made for them, sooner rather than later. Schaub has shown little arm strength or zip on his throws, and if his elbow is already bothering him that much after only 47 pass attempts in three preseason games, how is he going to last an entire regular season?
Lot of good things from tonight’s game for the team to build on — the o-line is starting to jell, Murray had some nice carries, as did Atkinson, and both Atkinson and TJ Carrie had nice returns.
And, of course, Derek Carr. Already the Nation seems ready to throw him in against the Jets, and as long as they’re willing to commit to him for at least those first four games, what have they got to lose? Hang on, Nation, it’s going to be a wild ride this season!
Interesting conversation over at Raider Take on the rapidly brewing Schaub vs. McGloin controversy among the fan base. Plenty of good points to be made on either side, but there are a few worth considering before we lose too much perspective:
- McGloin performed as the starting QB for six of the final seven games last season, winning his first one at Houston (ironically), but dropping the next five, including the 56-31 blowout at home against the Chefs, where McGloin turned the ball over 5 times (4 INT, 1 fumble). The Raiders’ O-line appears to be an upgrade from last season, but the fact is that McGloin has started a few games already. He’s looked great the last couple weeks against second- and third-string defenders, but may just as easily revert to last year’s form against starters.
- While Schaub’s performance after three preseason games has been underwhelming, there has been no real chance to get in much of a rhythm with the full offensive team and playbook. Jones-Drew and McFadden play only the first few series, as has Schaub himself until last night in Green Bay. He’s had some bad and questionable throws, but multiple receivers, including Jones, Holmes, Little, and Reece have had multiple drops of catchable balls. There’s enough blame to spread around.
One of the biggest concerns with the McKenzie/Allen management/coaching regime is the handling of the quarterback position overall, right from the very start. They let Carson Palmer go, rather than pay him more money, and then brought in Matt Flynn, for way too much money, based on Flynn’s record. They failed to bring in a true #1 wide receiver to complement their choice at quarterback. When Flynn couldn’t get healthy in camp, and couldn’t get it done in preseason, they started Pryor. When Pryor got hurt, they finally started Flynn, and gave up on him — and the $6.5M and draft pick he cost — after a single game, against a Washington team that ultimately went 3-13 and fired their coach.
So they go back to Pryor for the next five games, winning just one game — and that one only because the Steelers somehow managed to miss two easy field goals — before giving McGloin his shot. Then, only after the season is long-lost and they feel the need to see if they have anything in Pryor, they start him for the final game against Denver, which of course wasn’t nearly as close as the 34-14 score indicated.
We’ve all heard the old saw about how when you have two (or more) quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. Nowhere has this been more true than the last couple seasons for the Raiders. They could have found out whether they wanted to keep Pryor by letting him start the final three games of the lost 2012 campaign, instead of waiting until just the very last game. They could have done a better scouting job on Flynn before throwing money at him, then cutting bait after just one game.
Panic and chaos seem to be the prime factors in identifying, developing, and managing QB talent in Oakland these days, and it’s hard to understand exactly how this keeps happening. But one sure way is to insist on switching from one QB to another after a couple of preseason games, which by definition are not very useful in analyzing the entire team picture. Schaub has to push the ball downfield with more decisiveness and fire, yes, but his receivers also have to run their routes and hang on to the ball. And if they can’t, then the management team needs to have more to show for its $65M of cap money in the receiving corps.
It’s not time to panic yet. It won’t even be time to panic if they lose to the Jets in Week 1, unless it’s a blowout and Schaub has a case of the pick-sixes again. In fact, Schaub — or any quarterback — needs to know that he has more than one chance to do the job. The bye week (Week 5) is early this season, probably too early for a team with some key veteran players that need to stay healthy later in the season, but in this case it’s an opportunity to get an honest look at their 17th QB to start since Rich Gannon.
This season’s schedule is notoriously tough, and particularly the first four games — at the Jets, home against Houston, at the Patriots, and against Miami in London (considered a “home” game). If Schaub can’t beat his former team for the home opener, and at least the Jets or the Dolphins, then you have an argument for changing horses and using that early bye week to give either McGloin or Carr a chance. Pushing the panic button right now would just continue the ongoing problem.
No matter who is starting at QB, the regrouped linemen are learning to work together, and the receivers need to do their part as well and seriously improve their end of the game. This falls as much on the coaching and management as it does on who’s actually throwing the ball.