Raiders Problems Start At the Top
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 12, 2005

AL DAVIS is running out of scapegoats. First, it was the quarterback. The coach will be next. But no matter what happens, this Raider team is headed toward a third straight season in which it will win fewer than a third of its games.

Yesterdayís loss to the Jets may have been the worst yet, given that the Jets had lost seven in a row going in and had learned the day before that Curtis Martin, the 2004 rushing leader, had to undergo surgery and will be lost for the year.

Trying to save his job, Raider coach Norv Turner started Marques Tuiasosopo, the fifth-year player who hadnít started a game in two years. Turner had no choice because Kerry Collins had been increasingly ineffective as the Raiders had fallen out of the playoff race. But Tui wasnít the answer. He threw poorly and got rattled by the blitzing of the Jets defenders, fumbling away the ball on two consecutive offensive sequences at one point, being sacked three consecutive times in another sequence.

The truth is, the Raiders donít have a quarterback. Collins canít operate behind a line that is struggling to protect the quarterback. Tuiasosopo canít operate in a system designed for a different type of passer. The best quarterback on the roster may be rookie Andrew Walter, but it would be doing him no favor to shove him into the lineup now.

The coaching staff gave Tuiasosopo no help yesterday. Coaching 1A: When you start an inexperienced quarterback, you help him by emphasizing the run game. But, though the Jetsí defense was ranked 29th in the league against the run, the Raiders had only 17 running plays, compared to 32 passing plays, including six sacks.

The Raiders offensive line is struggling with pass protection, which was another reason to run the ball and slow down the rush. Robert Gallery, who seemed to be a sure thing when he was drafted, has not played well, possibly because heís lining up at right tackle, instead of left tackle, which he was drafted to play. The coaches like Barry Sims at left tackle. Iíll tell you somebody else who likes Sims there: the right defensive ends around the league. They hardly slow down as they go around him with their speed rushes. It was John Abraham who forced the consecutive Tuiasosopo fumbles, going around Sims.

There are individual Raiders who are playing well, including a couple of free agents, defensive end Derrick Burgess, who leads the NFL with 13 sacks, and LaMont Jordan, when heís been given the opportunity. Running backs need to get a certain number of carries (Jordan said earlier in the season that 23-25 should be his level) to get into the groove. Jordan has had only five games this season that heís gotten more than 20 carries; the Raidersí four victories have come in those games. Yesterday, he carried only 14 times for 49 yards.

For the most part, though, the Raiders are imploding Ė as I predicted they would some time ago. They were totally flat yesterday. The promise of the offseason, when they trumpeted their free agent signings, is gone. Thatís always the problem when you build a team through free agency. The players have no allegiance to the team, just to themselves. If thereís no leader to pull them together Ė and the Raiders havenít had that kind of leader since Rich Gannon Ė the team falls apart.

ANOTHER WAY the team can pull together is with the right kind of coach. Turner clearly is not that type of coach, but heís the one Davis selected.

Look around the AFC West: The other coaches in the division are Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer. Shanahan and Vermeil have won Super Bowls. Schottenheimer has had success wherever heís gone. Turner was a mediocre coach in Washington and heís been a mediocre coach here.

Davis had a chance to do better. When Jon Gruden left, Marvin Lewis was seeking his chance at a head coaching job. Since Davis was the first to hire a black head coach, Art Shell, that would have been a good fit Ė but he elevated assistant Bill Callahan. When Callahan was fired after two years, Lovie Smith and Charlie Weis were available. Lewis and Smith have their teams at the top of their division and Weis has Notre Dame in a BCS bowl. Before Turner was hired, there was speculation about Dallas offensive coordinator Sean Payton, who has reminded some observers of Gruden. But Payton, a native of San Mateo, reportedly told friends he wanted no part of a Davis operation.

As the Raiders have plunged, Davis has gotten more and more defensive about his methods. Recently, he reacted to criticism by telling his alleged public relations director Mike Taylor, who has his job only because of his unquestioning devotion to Davis, to put out a news release detailing the Raidersí successes in the past. All this did was to highlight the fact that the Raiders have been conspicuously unsuccessful recently, including a 2-15 record against AFC West teams in the last three years. If Davis had any significant contact with anybody who would dispute his views, he would have realized that. But he has sealed himself off from any dissenters outside the organization, and he actively discourages dissent from within.

He has competent people working for him in the organization, but too often, decisions are made to please him, which may not be the best thing for the team.

AS IRA MILLER suggested in The Chronicle last week, Davis really needs to hire a strong general manager and strong coach and get out of their way.

Will he do it? Of course not. The older he gets (76 in July), the more isolated he gets and the more he believes that his way is the right way. Early on with the Raiders, he listened to strong voices like Ron Wolf and John Madden. When Gruden was here, he forced Davis to make decisions he didnít like Ė most notably, releasing Jeff George and signing Gannon Ė but which worked best for the team. But Davis seems in no mood to allow for that strong a voice in the organization now.

So, Raiders fans can look forward to more of the same, a spring of high hopes followed by a fall of crushing disappointments. Quarterbacks and coaches will come and go, but without a change at the top of the organization, nothing will change on the field.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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