Raiders Problems Start At the Top
The primary reason for the Raiders’ success in the past has been leadership from quarterbacks Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett and Rich Gannon, but Davis doesn’t like that kind of quarterback.
The kind of quarterback he likes? Dan Pastorini, Jeff George and Kerry Collins. All have two things in common: A strong arm to throw deep passes and an absolute lack of leadership ability.
Despite his success, Stabler used to drive Davis crazy. In practice, he’d stand behind Stabler and urge him to look for the deep pass first. Stabler ignored him. He knew his strengths and weaknesses well. When he first got into the starting lineup, he changed the Raiders “out” patterns from 20 yards to 17, because he did not have a strong enough arm to zip the ball on the longer patterns. Cliff Branch could outrun Stabler’s arm, but Stabler told him to come back for the ball.
Stabler was a leader in the mode of George Blanda. He never doubted himself or his team. The best example: the famous “Sea of Hands” win over the Miami Dolphins in the 1974 postseason. Though Clarence Davis had three defenders around him in the end zone, Stabler never questioned his ability to thread the needle with his pass, and he did.
After the 1979 season, though, Davis traded Stabler for Pastorini, who was a dud in Houston and a dud with the Raiders. When Pastorini broke his leg in a game in the 1980 season, the fans cheered. Plunkett took over and led the Raiders to Super Bowl wins in the 1980 and ’83 seasons.
Despite Plunkett’s success, Davis was always looking for a replacement. Hello, Marc Wilson. Hello, Todd Marinovich. Have to hand it to Davis: He really knows quarterbacks.
DAVIS’S NEXT big quarterback decision was to sign George as a free agent.
He wasn’t alone in misjudging George, who had been the first pick in the draft when he came out. When it comes to throwing the ball, there probably has never been anyone better. He could make all the throws, short and long.
But when I asked him about being a leader, George said point-blank that he wasn’t a leader and didn’t think it was important for him to be one. Huh?
George was in a Raiders uniform for two seasons, a 4-12 season under Joe Bugel and an 8-8 season under Jon Gruden, who couldn’t wait to get rid of him. After that season, Gruden persuaded Davis to let George go and sign Gannon.
Gannon was the polar opposite of George. Nobody ever accused Gannon of throwing picture passes, but he was a terrific leader, driving his teammates and chewing them out when they didn’t do their jobs. He was also very smart on the football field, with an answer to everything – at least until he came up against his former coach in the Super Bowl.
Ironically, Gannon was in the television booth for Sunday’s game, and he has not lost his brutal honesty. When Collins threw the interception to Denver cornerback Darrent Williams that was returned 80 yards for the touchdown that sealed the Broncos' win, Gannon noted that the pass should have been thrown to the sidelines, where receiver Jerry Porter could have blocked Williams from the ball. Instead, Collins threw the kind of pass you might expect from a rookie quarterback, not one with 10 years experience.
Collins isn’t as bad as George, who has a loathsome personality. The Raiders quarterback is a pleasant young man who doesn’t look for excuses when he makes a mistake. But he has a history of making those mistakes when his team can least afford them, and most of all, he is not a leader.
It isn’t fair to blame everything on the quarterback. Collins is not the only problem with this Raiders team that is simply not as good as a sum of its individual parts. But if you look through football history at the great teams, they usually have had a quarterback who was a great leader, whether he had a swagger like Bobby Layne or was as quiet as Joe Montana. Collins doesn’t fit in either of those categories, and when there’s no leader, the team underperforms.
THE PROBLEM with a team that is put together as the Raiders have been in recent years, with heavy infusions of veteran free agents, is that, without leadership, adversity can pull the team apart.
Gannon showed how that works, in both a positive and negative way, in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
In the 2002 season, the Raiders won their first four, then lost their next four. At that point, Gannon realized that Bill Callahan was miscast as a head coach and virtually took over the team. That included the playcalling; those close to the Raiders have told me that Gannon was audibilizing on half the plays sent in by offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. With Gannon in charge, the Raiders got to the Super Bowl.
The next year, Gannon suffered what turned out to be a career-ending injury early in the season. Without their leader, the Raiders quickly descended into a finger-pointing 4-12 disaster of a season.
That scenario could repeat itself this season, and if it does, you need look no further than the top of the food chain for the explanation.
NOTE: My friend Zennie Abraham reports on a disturbing threat to Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob on his website, http://sbsblog1.blogspot.com.
LETTERS: I've just posted a few of the many e-mails I've received on Monday's column on Ayoob.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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