Raiders vs. 49ers, Barry Bonds, A's Moves
Rookie Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin is still learning on the job, because he had no pro experience coming in. The Raiders have had success with coaches in their early 30s Ė Al Davis, John Madden and Jon Gruden - but all had had pro experience before taking the head job. Kiffin had coached only in college, and coaching at USC, with that great talent pool, hardly prepared him for the job in Oakland.
Kiffin has also had some skirmishes with the media, notably about his reluctance to name a starting quarterback during the week, but that, too, is a carryover from his college days. In college, coaches play games like that because it does make a difference for teams preparing defenses. In the NFL, defensive coaches prepare for a system, knowing that, whatever quarterback starts, they can make a game-time adjustment.
The main problem with the Raiders is the talent level. Kiffin has tried two quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Daunte Culpepper, but neither is good enough. McCown is better suited to the Gruden-like offense Kiffin is trying to install, but heís too inconsistent with his passing. Culpepper was once a Pro Bowl quarterback but knee injuries have robbed him of his mobility. He can still throw well, but heís a sitting duck for the pass rush. No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell took some snaps with the first team last week for the first time, but nobody knows when he will play; ESPN guessed Dec. 2 against the Broncos, but thatís only a guess, nothing more. When Russell plays, it wonít likely be for an extended period.
The Raiders are often competitive in games, but they always find a way to lose, which is what happens with bad teams. Their defense plays well against bad offenses, like the Chicago Bears, but they overpursue and are vulnerable to cutbacks against good offenses, so even when the offense shows some signs of life, as it did against the Vikings last Sunday, the Raiders lose because the defense collapses.
The main problem remains the offensive line. New offensive line coach Tom Cable has a good system but the Raiders only shuffled bad players and are getting much the same results as last year. Before the season, I called them a bunch of stiffs and some Raider fans e-mailed me to tell me how wrong I was when the Raiders were 2-2. Iím not getting those e-mails now.
But with all their problems, Kiffin seems to be holding the team together. There are exceptions. Lamont Jordan is not happy because heís not playing, but if Jordan is released and rookie Michael Bush is activated, that will probably be a net gain for the team.
Across the bay, Mike Nolan has clearly lost the respect of his players. Though Denise DeBartolo York gave Nolan a vote of confidence in Nancy Gayís interesting piece in this morningís Chronicle, she also backed away from saying that he would return next season. Personally, I donít think Nolan has a chance of surviving this season. In the summer, Nolan talked of this team as a contender for the playoffs but theyíve played dismally and are threatening to set team records for offensive ineptitude.
The 49ers have much better talent than their record. They upgraded the defense in free agency, but their defense, like the Raiders, plays well only against bad offenses. The Niner defense looked good against the then 1-8 Rams on Sunday but looked bad (though not as bad as the offense) against the Seahawks in the Monday night game.
The big problem for the 49ers is the offensive line. It should have been better with rookie Joe Staley replacing Kwame Harris, but itís deteriorated. There are multiple reasons for this, starting with offensive line coach George Warhop. At guard, Larry Allen is not the dominating force he was when he was younger. At the vital left tackle spot, Jonas Jennings is on the injured list once again and he wasnít playing well when he was in there. Adam Snyder has been an improvement, although heís better at guard. Justin Smiley went down with an injury at the right guard spot. David Baas is an upgrade, but these constant changes have hurt the consistency. At center, Eric Heitman is responsible for calling blocking signals, and there have been too many blitzers coming through untouched.
Giving Nolan the dual general manager/coach responsibility was clearly a mistake. Now, they have to get a real general manager in the front office and a solid head coach.
Though John York gets blamed for the mess by many fans, he has retreated from the micro-managing style of his earlier years in charge, when he told Steve Mariucci how to coach and Bill Walsh how an organization should be run. He also allowed Nolan and McCloughan to spend substantially in the free agent market in the offseason. Heís not the problem now. Iím convinced heíll be willing to give the right man the responsibility in the front office to make that right.
That will never happen in Oakland where Davisís legendary commitment to winning has been replaced by a commitment to maintaining control, no matter what. The Raiders have the smallest scouting staff of any team in the NFL, and the front office is composed of people who know their chief responsibility is to say, ďThatís right, Mr. Davis,Ē no matter how ludicrous his suggestions are.
So, though it will take time, itís possible the 49ers can be fixed. The Raiders? Theyíll be drafting high as long as Davis is there.
BARRY BONDS: Itís certainly reassuring to know that all of our nationís problems have been solved, so the Justice Department can go after a baseball player for allegedly lying about whether he used steroids. Your tax dollars at work.
Iíve seen mentions that Federal prosecutors have a 95 per cent rate of convictions, but Iím told that itís quite different in perjury cases, where their conviction rate is one in four. Perjury is very difficult to prove because it goes to the personís state of mind, not his actions.
In this case, prosecutors waited four years. A judge put Bondsí personal trainer, Greg Anderson, in prison because he wouldnít testify against Bonds. Anderson has been released, without testifying. Naturally, the prosecution claims it has a strong case, but itís no stronger than it was before. Why now? I saw one claim in print that prosecutors waited until November of this year, so it wouldnít affect baseball, the implication being that they did so at the request of commissioner Bud Selig. Who would ever have thought that Selig had that kind of power?
AíS MOVES: Before the Bondsí indictment, there had been speculation that the Aís might sign him. When I talked to Billy Beane last week, he told me he thought it was unlikely but that, at the very least, a decision wouldnít be made before February. ďThereís something to be said for waiting in free agency,Ē he said. ďSome of our best signings Ė Frank Thomas, Shannon Stewart, Alan Embree Ė have come late, after the market has cooled down.Ē
Significantly, two years ago when Beane and I talked at about the same time, he told me that, though he didnít want to say so publicly, I could speculate that the Aís would sign Thomas, because he thought that was likely. So, I wrote it on this website, and they eventually did. Though heís long admired Bonds as a hitter, he wasnít ready to make that kind of statement this time. Now, the faint chance Bonds would wear an Aís uniform has evaporated.
OH, THOSE NINERS!
Iím indebted to reader/friend Evan Martin for this one:
A man walks into a bar with a cat in his arms and asks the bartender if the cat can stay. Grudgingly, the bartender agrees to let the cat sit on a bar stool, and he then turns on the 49ers game.
When the 49ers kick a field goal, the cat just goes wild, jumping up and own on the stool, then going the length of the bar and high-fiving customers.
The bartender is amazed. ďIf he does that for a field goal, how does he act when the Niners score a touchdown?Ē
ďI donít know,Ē said his owner. ďIíve only had him three years.Ē
E-MAILS: Holiday preparations have put me in a time squeeze this week, so Iíve been slow to respond to all my e-mails. I will get to them eventually, though, so please be patient with me.
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