Lane Kiffin is obnoxious and disloyal, but I’ll give him this: He was spot-on with his recent assessment of the current situation in Oakland. The presence of Al Davis really does make it “almost impossible” to win.
Last year, Tom Cable (amazingly) steered a team that hadn’t won more than five games in a season since 2002 to an 8-8 record, including a 6-0 record within the division. Cable captured the locker room, built the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack despite a rag-tag O-line and had this young squad headed in the right direction. Logically, Davis gave him the axe. Why? Was Cable’s zone-blocking scheme too modern? Not enough ill-timed fifty-yard bombs to Cliff Branch Darrius Heyward-Bey, maybe? Defensive coordinator John Marshall was also given the boot. His crime? Inheriting the NFL’s 27th ranked defense in 2008 and, working with Nnamdi Asomugha and a motley crew of veteran cast-offs and youngsters, turning it into the NFL’s 11th ranked defense in 2010. Cable and Marshall were making real progress in Oakland. When you live in the past, as Davis obviously does, progress of any sort is the enemy.
New HC Hue Jackson is the classic Al Davis “yes man.” His talk of “bullying” other teams is music to Davis’ ears, but all that he’s really doing is setting the Raiders up to be a punchline when other teams begin kicking sand in their face this season. New defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan held the same post the last time the Raiders went to the Super Bowl, which in Davis’ world, makes him a logical hire. Forget that Bresnahan was last seen roaming the sideline for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL, or that the Cincinnati stop units that he coordinated from ’05-’07 finished 28th, 30th and 25th in yards allowed before the Bengals fired him. Look at the new positional coaches. Steve Wisniewski, Greg Biekert, Rod Woodson…all inexperienced, but all ex-Raiders. That makes them great hires. In the vacuum that Davis lives in, excessive penalties equals “old-school, outlaw image,” Jason Campbell to Darrius Heyward-Bey equals Jim Plunkett to Cliff Branch, Bruce Cambell and Langston Walker equal Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, Tommy Kelly equals Otis Sistrunk, and Stefen Wisniewski equals Steve Wisniewski. For the better part of the last decade, Davis has spit in the face of change and, in a way, his own mortality, by stubbornly piecing together familiar parts in hopes of creating a fascimile of what he believes a great Raiders team should be, ignoring the the modern realities of the NFL and the simple fact that many of the once-revolutionary aspects that comprised those legendary Raiders teams have become comically outdated. Instead of making needed concessions to his advanced age for the good of his beloved team (like doling out some of the personnel decision-making to younger, sharper minds and bodies), he’s been knitting a cozy blanket of nostalgia to keep himself warm during the harsh winter of his years. This is the season it (and the organization) completely unravels.
The O-line is in a shambles. The run defense is non-existent. Penalties keep piling up. Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley, John Henderson, Stanford Routt and Michael Huff will regress after being financially pacified with inexplicable contracts this offseason (book it). Campbell is mediocre and inconsistent, with gritty Bruce Gradkowski no longer around to bail the Raiders out for a game or two when Campbell gets yanked from the lineup. The receiving corps is painfully raw. Asomugha and Zach Miller, arguably two of the four best players on the team, are gone. There are new philosophies on both sides of the ball (again) and an unproven, inexperienced coaching staff (in a unique season where continuity and experience could prove to be crucial). This is a four-win team…tops.
A Week Two trip to Buffalo, in which the Raiders will be making a trek across the country coming off a Monday Night rivalry game at Denver, could prove to be the Andrew Luck Super Bowl. The Bills will win the game, leaving the Raiders at 0-2 and staring a three-game stretch against the Jets, Patriots and Texans in the face. Let’s go ahead and make that 0-5. There’s no way that Campbell, who’s already been concussed this preseason, makes it out of that stretch in one piece with the current group of pass-protectors. (Mauling second-year OT Jared Vedheer, who gave up 7.5 sacks and commited 15 penalties in 11 starts last season, is widely considered to be Oakland’s best offensive lineman…if that tells you anything.) That means Kyle Boller or maybe even Terrelle Pryor under center…and a whole lot of fantasy owners dumping their team defense so they can play the weekly matchup vs. the Raiders. Then it’s tailspin time, with the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft the eventual crash site. In 2012, Andrew Luck will bring his once-in-a-generation skill set (not to mention his Bill Walton circa 1977 beard) to Oakland…and fans will finally get to see what Pryor can do at wide receiver.