Raiders Penalties: Why?
There were two especially damaging penalties in the Raiders 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Sunday night ESPN game: A touchdown pass to Randy Moss was negated by a call of offensive pass interference, and a holding call on Langston Walker brought back a 56-yard touchdown run by Lamont Jordan.
The call on Moss appeared to be wrong. Replays shown on television did not show Moss doing anything unusual. It seemed the official called something he thought he saw that didnít occur.
There was no doubt about the Walker call. He had his arms completely wrapped around his man. The rule on offensive holding has been liberalized in recent years, but not that much.
Yet, both coach Norv Turner and Walker himself disputed the call. Turner said he thought it was a legal block. Walker went much further. ďThere were 53,000 (actually, more than 62,000) in the stands who thought it was a clean block," he said, "and a million watching on TV who thought it was a clean block.Ē
Actually, no. The Raider fanatics in the stands may have thought it was, because of their partisanship and the fact that they didnít have a clear view of it, but nobody who watched the replay with an open mind could have.
Obviously, you canít correct something if you wonít even admit you were wrong. What can Turner possibly say to Walker when heís already said it was a clean block? What incentive is there for Walker to do it right the next time?
Since the Raiders returned to Oakland, theyíve only had one coach who willingly accepted blame, for himself and for his team: Jon Gruden. Even Grudenís teams committed too many penalties, but they werenít ones which cost them games, and his teams were generally much more disciplined than those which preceded him and which have followed him, as he rebuilt from a disastrous 4-12 season under Joe Bugel to a playoff team.
The last two years, the Raiders have fallen back again, to 4-12 and 5-11 seasons. Now, theyíve lost their first two games this season and may well go to 0-3 when they play the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday.
AS WITH everything else with the Raiders, it all starts with the man at the top.
My readers often question Turnerís ability to be a successful head coach, but the reality is that Turner is the best the Raiders can do, because of the peculiar qualifications for the job.
Al Davis does not like strong coaches. John Madden was a strong coach, but only after heíd been on the job for awhile. He was elevated from linebackers coach in 1969 because Davis wanted to stay in the organization and he thought Madden would follow his plan. Madden did for the first three seasons, but then, he started to run the team as he wanted, which was not the Davis way. Davis almost fired him after the 1973 season, though the Raiders got to the championship game. Their relationship was an uneasy one until Madden retired after the 1978 season, never to return to coaching.
Davis was almost forced to hire Gruden after Bugelís disastrous season, but as Gruden achieved success, their relationship became increasingly strained. When Grudenís face started showing up on billboards, I predicted that he wouldnít last much longer with the Raiders. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered money and draft choices if Davis would let Gruden out of his contract, the deal was made.
After Davis fired Bill Callahan, there were some strong candidates out there. Dennis Green was a proven coach but, though Green and Davis like each other, Green would have had to have more control than Davis would have given up. New England offensive coordinator Charley Weis would have brought Gruden-type energy to the job, as heís doing with Notre Dame now. Patriotsí defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, now the head coach at Cleveland, would have brought a toughness to the team. But, both men would have demanded more autonomy.
Turner made no such demands. He was happy to be back as a head coach and, after dealing with Dan Snyder in Washington, Davis didnít seem to be a problem.
He also brought in the system Davis has always loved, with the deep passing game. Gruden had used a version of the Bill Walsh offense and, though the Raiders were successful with it, that was never a system that Davis liked.
NOW, DAVIS has the coach he wants and the system he wants. What he wonít have is the record he wants.
Rich Gannon was not the textbook definition of a quarterback. His passes fluttered like knuckleballs on occasion, and he didnít have the arm to make consistent deep throws. But Gannon was a great athlete and a smart player with great vision of the field. He did whatever it took to complete passes, throwing them sidearm, almost underhanded at times, finding the passing lanes even under pressure. Until his last full season, he was also a dangerous runner, often running for first downs if defenders gave him an opening. And Gannon was a great leader; if teammates didnít do their job, theyíd get a tongue-lashing.
Kerry Collins is everything Gannon wasnít, the kind of quarterback Davis likes. Remember that Davis traded Ken Stabler for Dan Pastorini.
Collins looks like a quarterback. At 6-5, he can see over defenses. He throws a beautiful long ball. But he has no touch on shorter passes, he panics under a hard pass rush, throwing interceptions and fumbling. And he couldnít lead his teammates to the line in a cafeteria.
There will be highlight video catches by Moss this year, but that wonít be reflected by Raider wins. Davis has the coach he wants and the quarterback he wants but both are mistakes. Will he admit that? Of course not. Thatís not the Raider way.
NOTE: I appreciate your support after the news of my departure from The Chronicle, even though I havenít been able to respond personally to all your e-mails. To answer your main question: It was my decision. Since the Hearst Corporation bought The Chronicle in 2000, it hasnít been the same paper that I had enjoyed working on since 1963. When an attractive buyout was offered, I took it Ė and I was one of the lucky ones. The requests for buyouts were more than double the 120 offered.
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