Tom Brady/Jason Campbell/darren McFadden; Norm Van Brocklin, George Blanda, Joe Namath; Joe Montana/Alex Smith/ Jim Harbaugh
IT APPEARS I was misinterpreting the tea leaves when I praised the Raiders for their win over the New York Jets. As last weekend showed, the Jets aren’t as good as expected and the Raiders still have multiple problems.
The biggest one is still penalties. This almost seems wired into the Raiders DNA. In the first half Sunday, they had seven for 70 yards, three of them personal fouls. Richard Seymour, who was clearly over-amped for his first game against his former team, got two on the same play, for hitting Tom Brady after the whistle had blown and then throwing him to the ground.Then, he claimed he hadn’t heard the whistle. Oh, please.
The other is their inability to stop the running game, even one as relatively weak as the Patriots’, who rushed for 187 yards. That was a perfect complement to Tom Brady’s precise passing in what became a much more decisive win than the final score would indicate.
Former linebacker Bill Romanowski, in an ESPN show, cited Rolando McClain as one of the problems with the run defense, noting that he is often slow to react and misses tackles he should make. McClain was highly rated in college and seemed to be a solid first-round pick for the Raiders last season, but his play has often been disappointing.
Their offense can be explosive and the Raiders ran up a lot of yardage Sunday but had trouble getting into the end zone. The offense is based on Darren McFadden, unusual in the pass-oriented NFL. As long as McFadden is getting outside and breaking off long gainers, the Raiders can run a balanced offense, with Jason Campbell a subsidiary player. On Sunday, though, the Patriots seldom let McFadden get outside, which forced Campbell to make big plays. He made one very big one – throwing an interception in the end zone in the second quarter that took all the steam out of the Raiders. It was a baffling play because Campbell threw it right to a Patriots defender, with no black shirts anywhere. Even he couldn’t explain it, saying later he was trying to throw the ball away but got distracted because he thought he saw a receiver open on the side.
The Patriots are no longer a top defensive team, largely because they haven’t drafted for defensive help on the first round for years. Even so, they showed the way to stop the Raiders. Superior defensive teams are going to study those game videos and give the Raiders fits in upcoming games.
On Comcast’s “Chronicle Live” last Friday, part of the discussion about the upcoming game was on the question whether the infamous “tuck game” reversed the fortunes of both teams. It certainly did for the Patriots, who were the most successful NFL team in the decade, but the Raiders were in the Super Bowl in the following season, so they were hardly devastated by that loss. Their subsequent fall came because they lost the two team leaders, Romanowski and quarterback Rich Gannon, to career-ending injuries and they had a succession of bad coaches after Jon Gruden was “traded” to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Bad drafts didn’t help, either.
NFL STATS: After the Patriots had thrashed the Raiders, Brady brushed away comparisons with Joe Montana, his boyhood hero, by saying that it was impossible to compare Montana’s stats with his because the game had changed so much, becoming much more pass oriented.
Very true, which is one of the reasons I don’t compare quarterbacks from different eras. Montana, in fact, benefited from a change at about the start of his pro career, preventing linebackers from leveling receivers coming across the middle on pass patterns. As I’ve also noted before, the slant patterns on which Jerry Rice and John Taylor thrived would not have been possible in an earlier era because linebackers like Dick Butkus, Willie Lanier and Ray Nitschke would never have let the receivers run free.
Rules changes almost always favor the offense but the defensive coordinators have a way of catching up, so the statistics fluctuate quite a bit over time. In the ‘50s, for instance, Hamp Pool and Sid Gillman brought high-powered offenses to the Los Angeles Rams with Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin throwing to Elroy Hirsch, Tom Fears, Bob Boyd and Glenn Davis. Van Brocklin still holds the record for most passing yards in a game, 554, with five touchdowns, in the 1951 season opener against the New York Yankees.
In the ’60s, the AFL opened and the emphasis was on passing offenses. George Blanda was throwing more than 50 passes a game (68 in one game) in Houston. When the AFL got more quality players, defenses improved – but Joe Namath was still the first quarterback to pass for more than 4000 yards in a season, 4007 in 1967.
So, when anybody tells you it’s just a passing circus now, remind him that this is nothing new.
NFL QBS: A reader who doesn’t like Alex Smith at all wrote me this week that Smith is a robot, just doing what coach Jim Harbaugh wants.
What Smith is doing is exactly what Joe Montana did with Bill Walsh, and I don’t know that I’d call Montana a robot. Ideally, what you want is a smart coach with a good game plan working with a smart quarterback, and that’s what the 49ers have now.
I’ve said all along that the 49ers need more good players before they become a top level team, but it’s important that the team seems to be buying into Harbaugh’s philosophy, and that he and Smith have a close relationship.
Most of the time, this is the kind of partnership that works best in the NFL. There are exceptions. Because he was so good at reading defenses, Peyton Manning was like a coach on the field, often changing plays and sometimes even calling them himself when the Colts were in a two-minute offense.
At the other end of the scale, Brett Favre was a gunslinger, often throwing into a packed defense, confident that, with his strong arm, he could get the ball through. He made some big plays that way – and he also threw some costly interceptions. Tony Romo is like that today, though not as talented. He can look great, as he did in the closing moments against the 49ers. On the other hand, last Sunday he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns as the Cowboys lost. If you like excitement, Romo is definitely your guy. If you want consistent success, probably not.
PAC-12” Thank God for small favors. Pac-12 (I’m trying to get used to calling it that) commissioner Larry Scott has announced that the conference won’t be taking in Texas and Oklahoma schools to form a Pac-16 conference, and that he doesn’t anticipate any further expansion in the near future.
The sticking point in the latest negotiations was the greed of Texas, which has its own television network and won’t share. Fine with me. There’s nothing about an association with the state of Texas on anything that is appealing. In fact, when Rick Perry said earlier this year that Texas should secede from the union, I thought, “Go ahead.” Of course, now that Perry is a Presidential candidate, he’s a true blue, 110 per cent American patriot.
The Cal Bears are in tough at the moment because the North division is the stronger, and the natural desire to hang on to the rivalry with the Los Angeles schools means the Bears every year have to play USC, which is almost always a powerhouse. This year, they have Oregon and USC back-to-back. Ouch! Where is Presbyterian when you need it?
Except in the SEC, which is really the third pro conference, college football is often in a flux. For a long period, the Washington Huskies ruled in the northwest, getting any top high school player from the area that they wanted. Lately, it’s been Oregon which has been top dog. But Washington is reviving under coach Steve Sarkisian, and Oregon’s recruiting supremacy may soon be over.
(As a sidelight, Sarkisian was the USC assistant Al Davis really wanted for Raiders head coach but Sarkisian interviewed only to get a raise at USC. He was much too smart to come to Oakland. So, Davis settled for Lane Kiffin, who used the Raiders as a stepping stone to get jobs at Tennessee and now back at USC, while Sarkisian went to Washington. How does it feel to be used, Al?)
Meanwhile, the Bears are on the way back, though it may not be obvious this year. With the tree sitters gone, the stadium being renovated into a modern one that combines both tradition and current day comforts and the athletic training center finally in place, Jeff Tedford’s recruiting has stepped up the last two years. That may not satisfy the younger alums, who want Cal to be the equivalent of USC each year, but it’s fine with the rest of us.
WHEN A’S general manager Billy Beane was asked about how the A’s will operate if they get the go-ahead to move to San Jose, he replied that they would follow the model of the Cleveland Indians when they were moving into their new stadium: Build up the scouting and minor league system to have a young, competitive team going into the new stadium.
But, Andy Mousalimas pointed out to me that the A’s are already following the example of the Indians – from the movie, “Major League.” In the movie, the owner of the Indians does everything she can to drive the team down so she can move it to Miami. Why do I think Lew Wolff is watching that movie every night?
What nobody has commented on is that Beane’s formula is exactly what the previous two ownerships did. The Haas family also put a ton of money into the franchise operation – one year, the A’s had the highest payroll in major league baseball, believe it or not – but they also did a good job of scouting and drafting position players. Three years in a row, the A’s had the AL Rookie of the Year: Walt Weiss, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Their top pitchers tended to be veterans obtained in trades with other teams – Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch. In large part that was because pitching coach Dave Duncan was a master at rejuvenating the careers of seemingly washed-up pitchers – Stewart was 0-6 the year before he came to the A’s and Eckersley was converted from starter to closer – but not very patient with younger pitchers.
When Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann bought the team, general manager Sandy Alderson advised them to put their money into scouting and the farm system. They were criticized for keeping the payroll low but the emphasis on developing young talent paid off in the 2000-2006 seasons, when the A’s had five playoff teams, two with more than 100 wins and set an AL record with 20 straight wins in 2002. “Moneyball” features that streak but almost totally ignores the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, who were the heart of the 2002 team. They didn’t fit into the narrative.
Wolff and John Fisher have kept the payroll low but because they’re not putting their money into scouting or player development, they haven’t been getting the power hitters like Canseco and McGwire in the Haas years and Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada in the Schott-Hofmann years they haven’t won. Doesn’t bother the owners. They collect a revenue-sharing check each year from the teams, like the Giants, who are more successful at getting people to come to games.
Wolff is trying to prove the A’s can’t win in Oakland, which requires that owners blot out the memory of the years before the current ownership came in. As I pointed out in an Examiner column last Friday, they’ve been embarrassed by the Tampa Bay Rays, who have the worst stadium in baseball by far and whose payroll was actually $26 million below the A’s – but who made the playoffs this year.
Will the A’s ever get permission to move to San Jose? Mark Purdy, columnist for The San Jose Mercury, seems to come up with a new plan for the A’s to move every six months or so. We were both on “Chronicle Live” last Friday and Mark presented his latest theory: that a minority of owners could prevent MLB from approving the change in the Giants ownership structure and force them to sit down with Wolff and work out a deal that would involve their surrendering their territorial rights to San Jose. Because I like Mark, I didn’t point out the many times he’s had the A’s moving. Last September, he predicted in his column and on KNBR that major league owners would meet right after the season and strip the Giants of their territorial rights. I’m still waiting for that meeting.
Beane said at the postseason news conference that the A’s have been told they’d hear “soon” from MLB on the report by Selig’s appointed committee on the A’s and San Jose/Oakland. Under further questioning, though, he admitted that they’d heard that many times before and it had never happened. Suibsequently, there have been stories from anonymous MLB sources that no such report is contemplated soon.
In fact, commissioner Bud Selig has had that report for more than a year, possibly as long as a year and a half. Whatever it says, Selig knows the reality: He can’t force the Giants to give up their territorial rights, and he shouldn’t. The Giants have held up their end of the agreement they made with MLB in 1993. Why should they give it up just because Lew Wolff wants o have another money-making real estate deal?
I’m sure Mark Purdy will be able to explain that to me, though, the next time we meet.
BIG MOUTH: Even as the Red Sox were disintegrating, general manager Theo Epstein was the subject of an extensive Sports Illustrated article about the right way to do things. Epstein was upset with Beane for supposedly giving away all the secrets – I debunked that idea thoroughly last week – but it was Epstein who should have kept his mouth shut.
Amazingly, though, Epstein survived the big purge after the Red Sox collapse. Manager Terry Francona didn’t, though Francona’s comments make it seem he was happy to get out of that clubhouse. Owner John Henry apparently is still solidly in Epstein’s corner. But that may change if the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs next year.
AND NOW, I have to go, to get ready for that traditional Thursday night game matching the Cal Bears and Oregon Ducks, to be followed by another Thursday night game next week. Any question that TV calls the shots? Won’t be long before TV wants a game to fill that 1:30 a.m. slot.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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