Saturday, November 10, 2007

The R Word

As John has pointed out, it's clear that the Raiders are rebuilding. On a daily basis, Kiffin now utters the telltale phrases rarely heard in past Alameda administrations, such as:

"We're still trying to figure out this team. It's our first year together, we've played (eight) games together, and we're still learning about players. That's what you do your first year."

So what are we learning, and do we have reason for optimism next year? A week ago I would have said yes. Now my answer is, "Ask me again on Sunday night." The Houston game was such a step back that I've been searching all week for reasons why we should throw it out as an anomaly. Each drive was so tenuous that it could be destroyed by one false start. Small mistakes led immediately to big ones as McCown struggled to throw down field and was intercepted repeatedly. The run defense flat-out never showed up, and stopping the Texans on third down seemed impossible. It was not fun to watch. But in the context of this rebuilding year, one play made me stand up and tap the "I'm in" sign: Janikowski's record-breaking FG attempt. Sure, it led to a short drive for Houston to extend their lead by 3 before half, but the upside was huge. Even watching the towering kick bang off the right upright was inspiring.

Is it sad that our bright spot is the kicking game? Yes, although to be fair the sport is called "foot" ball.

What is clear from Kiffin's handling of the rest of the roster is he was not at all impressed by the talent level he inherited. The receiving corps was gutted. The O-line was completely remade. At QB Kiffin started over, and now even Jordan has landed on the bench. The defense got a free pass on the basis that it was rarely challenged last year, but this year has exposed the deficiencies against the run that were feared. Rebuilding will take the draft, free agency, and signs of growth through the rest of the year.

Kiffin's first draft, as McDonald describes, gets an incomplete grade at best. Free agency (including trades) has not gone well: Dominic Rhodes, Terdell Sands, Donovin Darius, Mike Williams, Josh McCown, Travis Taylor - ouch. Those led to panic moves to sign Culpepper, Warren, and Dwight, with mixed results. Even Justin Griffith is losing some reps to Oren O'Neal. One might argue that the O-line moves brought success with Newberry, Carlisle, and Green - but while a significant improvement over last year, this group has had plenty of ups and downs.

So what do we look for in the wake of the Texans game? There are a lot of individuals auditioning for next year, but the Raiders have to make progress on the basics this week. Establish the run, stop the run, and cut out the mistakes. As for everything else? Ask me again on Sunday night.


john said...

No picks?

Dan Hauenstein said...

Picks will come tonight, along with more optimism. That Houston game truly was a killer, and I'm still trying to grasp how this rebuild will come together.