Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stumbling into Competence

The Oakland Raiders have been the model of an incompetent NFL franchise for the last decade. Al Davis has been called everything between senile and a cancer, and in at least one case, both. They held the worst NFL record for a five year stretch after losing the '02/'03 Superbowl, and have yet to win more than five games in a season since that season.

And yet, all of a sudden, in one off-season, they look like a team not only interested in contending, but smart enough to actually build a contender. Now admittedly, Jim's already blogged about this. But let's take a deeper look at how they're doing it the right way.

For now, at least, the coaching Merry-Go-Round seems to be on hold.
Tom Cable was on thin ice. He was virtually every media-mogul's top "Hot Seat" candidate going into last season. The punching incident aside, Cable looked like a questionable hire when made, but has seemed to be a legitimate coach with the ability to get his players to respond. He toed the company line and went along with cutting Garcia to keep Russell the unquestioned guy under center, and it was assumed he'd get the ax and Russell would get to continue anchoring the team at the bottom of the ocean despite Cable benching Russell about half way through the season. Once it was learned which of them was really getting shown the door, the Raiders were truly showing they might not be as dumb as everyone assumed.

But not just that, they signed former Ravens QB coach Hue Jackson in what could be a terrific move. Jackson did a terrific job with Joe Flacco, and was a fairly hot commodity this off-season. Many in Baltimore hoped he could fill in at OC if Cam wound up with another head coaching gig in the near future.

They befuddled the draftniks with a solid draft class.
I lost count of the number of mock drafts that had the Raiders picking Bruce Campbell at #8 overall. "Love the guy with the measurables" was the common statement. And they did draft him with the 8th pick...of the 4th round. Before him, they took the draft's best LB Rolando McClain and solid DT Lamarr Houston to shore up what was a horrendous run defense, and Jared Veldheer as well to give them a pair of mid-round high-risk, high-reward prospects on an offensive line that Football Outsiders ranked as 23rd in run blocking and 31st in pass blocking and desperately needs some help. Across the board they got players that both filled needs and represented solid value.

They've cut loose the dead weight.
Google "JaMarcus Russell biggest bust ever" and you get over 1.1 million hits. Now, this may not say all that much, given that googling "Peyton Manning biggest bust ever" gives almost 4 million hits. But the difference is that there's legitimate discussion of whether Russell's the biggest of all time. Finally shedding him has truly turned around the biggest negative this team had over the past few years. In addition to releasing Russell, they also cut Cornell Green and Gerrard Warren.

They've retained good talent, and brought in solid players.
Last year, Patrick blogged what we were all thinking, that Richard Seymour would represent a "one year rental" for the Raiders as he would inevitably go elsewhere after another dismal '09 season. While he hasn't signed a long term extension, he has already signed his franchise tender and will be back for another season. To further plug up their NFL third worst run defense, they brought in Kamerion Wimbley for an undisclosed pick from Cleveland and recently signed former two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson.

In addition, they've addressed their weakest position - quarterback - by bringing in two players at least capable of playing the position better than Russell. Kyle Boller certainly isn't a good starting quarterback, but he does at least qualify as a capable backup. And while I'm not a Jason Campbell fan, I do believe he can play quarterback at least at a mediocre level. Over the past two seasons, he's completed 63.3% of his passes, thrown 1.6 TDs per INT and thrown for 6.8 YPA. They aren't numbers that'll ever put him in the top ten at the position. But he brings competence and - dare we speak it - stability to a position that has been lacking it since Rich Gannon's magical emergence from journeyman to Superbowl quarterback. I don't believe Campbell will morph in the same fashion, but I do believe he'll provide the team with solid play under center, which by itself could lead them to drafting in the bottom half of the draft rounds for the first time in years.

With all of these off-season moves, the Raiders may have taken themselves from laughing stock to contenders. They're certainly in the right division for it. San Diego no longer has a strangle-hold on things, as Tomlinson has disappeared (figuratively at first, literally more recently) and Vince Jackson threatens not to join the team until the second half of the season. And between the Chiefs who barely look like they're pretending to care about winning, and the Broncos who look like they care but don't look like they've got a clue how to do so (someone should tell McDaniels that they don't give out playoff spots based on which team has the roster with the highest moral standards), there doesn't look to be much standing in their way as the team that can give the Chargers a run for their money.

Last year they certainly lost their fair share of ugly games. But they also played the Chargers tough twice, and beat the Steelers and Bengals while both were making playoff runs, not to mention gave the Ravens a scare until Russell was forced into action and essentially closed that door. I wrote somewhere that I can't remember and can't find back after Russell cost them their first match vs. SD that this was a team a quarterback away from contending for the division. This off-season, they've done far more than that to allow themselves that opportunity.

It should be interesting to see if it comes to fruition.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the beat the playoff-bound Iggles in one of the ugliest games ever. With Russell.


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