After the Raiders 26-23 win over Jacksonville last weekend, here are some thoughts about what the Raiders organization should or shouldn’t do for the coming week and beyond:
-No Huddle: The Raiders struggled mightily in the first half of the Jacksonville game and at half-time one of the biggest adjustments was the use of the no-huddle offense to tire out the Jacksonville defense. This allowed the Raiders to be much better both running and passing the ball in the second half.
Because of this success, there has been some suggestion that the Raiders go more frequently to the no-huddle offense. Head coach Dennis Allen is not in favor of that believing the no-huddle is better used as a change of pace offense to fire up the team instead of a base package.
I agree with Allen in this regard. The no-huddle offense is great for change of pace and the team should not hesitate to use it if the offense is needing a jolt. Carson Palmer is a savvy veteran and he does a good job of making calls at the line of scrimmage to great effect.
However, the no-huddle has some big limitations. First, the strength of the no-huddle is the fact that the defense cannot substitute quick enough to get the extra bodies on the field. If the offense substitutes, however, the defense is given time to do the same. So, the more the offense uses the no-huddle the more limited the play book because the same players are on the field back to back.
The no-huddle playbook is limited itself in order to allow speedy play calls and not require the QB to memorize as many plays. The more the no-huddle is used the less the offense is varied. The offense makes up for the lack of variation by the pace they go but it does limit the offenses ability to vary a bit.
The Raiders are right to want to continue to hammer away at their regular playbook so as to get their base plays improved. If they can get those clicking it will add to their arsenal. They should use the no-huddle at need, however, and not wait until the second half of games to decide that their offense needs a spark.
-The importance of bye weeks: The Raiders showed, in back to back weeks, the importance of the bye week in the NFL. Not only does it allow the players to rest their bodies a bit, it also allows extra days to prepare.
The Raiders came out looking much more fresh than their opponents, the Falcons, two weeks ago when coming off their bye week. They played the unbeaten Falcons – in Atlanta no less – to the final minute, losing on a 55 yard field goal with 5 seconds left in the game.
Then, last weekend, the situation was reversed. The Raiders played a presumably lesser team in Jacksonville who lost their star player almost immediately in the game and their starting quarterback not much later. Still, the Jacksonville team looked much more fresh, much more energetic and had a better game plan against the Raiders – pointing again to the importance of the bye week.
The Raiders play Kansas City, in Kansas City, this weekend and they’ve done very well at Arrowhead in recent seasons. In fact the last time the Raiders lost in Kansas City was in 2006 under head coach Art Shell. Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable each won their twice and Hue Jackson won in his only venture, there, last season.
However, Kansas City is also coming off a bye and so the Raiders should be prepared to see some new defensive and offensive wrinkles thrown their way. They will likely need to make some solid halftime adjustments. If they can absorb the new tacts that KC throws their way, they can still come out of Kansas City with a win which would keep them in the race for 1st place in the AFC West and their first playoffs appearance since 2002. If they lose to Kansas City, they will go into next week tied with KC for last place in the AFC West.
Obviously, then, this is a must win for the Silver and Black.
-Halftime Adjustments: The Raiders have been beaten in the second half essentially every game this year, being well outscored in the 3rd and 4th quarter. For perhaps the first time, against Jacksonville, they made good halftime adjustments on both the defense and offense and were able to win the second half. The games don’t end at halftime and it was good to see the team coming out fighting and having made changes to counter what Jacksonville was doing in the first half and come away with the victory.
A good stat that reflects some of the changes. Per Levi Damien, Darren McFadden had 1.3 ypc in first half but it jumped dramatically to a 3.9 ypc in the 2nd half of Sunday’s game with Jacksonville.
-Running game: The running game remains the teams biggest weakness and continues to confound Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Allen and Knapp will continue to utilize both man blocking and their preferred zone blocking scheme and they say that their film review shows that they are very close to breaking longer runs.
My own review indicates that there has been improvement in the running game although there are still many missed or poor blocks by the linemen and bad decisions by the running backs. One area of improvement that indicates that Allen and Knapp may be correct is that there appears to be fewer negative plays – plays in which the running back is behind the line of scrimmage and dropped for negative yardage.
If the team can continue to improve on their blocking and communication, those short 1-2 yard gains that the team is getting right now should turn into 3, 4 or higher yardage runs and if the team can gain the confidence of doing that against an opponent the running game could potentially turn around quickly.
Until that happens it’s only right to remain skeptical, however, as we are now approaching the season’s midpoint and the team has yet to show that the offensive line can be anything but average, at best.
-Huff at cornerback permanently?: Michael Huff has made significant strides playing at outside cornerback in the last two games – so much so that he has gone from being a weakness to the teams secondary to one of it’s strengths, a remarkable turnaround. Huff has shown so much improvement that he may end up staying at outside cornerback even when the initial starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer return from injury.
Huff has shown a willingness to remain at cornerback or to transition back to free safety, whatever defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Allen prefer. Bartell and Spencer will not be back for a couple of weeks, anyway, so the Raiders don’t have to make the decision at this point, anyway, but it will be an interesting decision for the team down the road. The decision will show what Allen and Tarver think about Huff’s future.
If Huff remains at cornerback for the remainder of the year it likely means that his future is at cornerback. This is important because the team does not have either Spencer and Bartell under contract next year. Both of the aforementioned cornerbacks signed one year contracts so it’s entirely possible that neither will be back next year. If Huff can transition well to cornerback it would fill a major need at the position and he is already under contract for next season.
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I agree Huff should stay at CB for the remainder of the season. This day and age you need three starter quality Cornerbacks anyway and behind Spencer and Bartell (when they are even healthy) is not much else starter worthy in this league. If Huff does remain at CB I would like to see Branch moving to FS and Mitchell giving a chance at SS as I think this is a stronger combination than Giordano and Branch.