First, let me say that I haven’t joined the “the problem is Tom Walsh” crowd. I’ve never felt that, and I still don’t. The reason has always been that I’ve never seen an offensive scheme carried out with the exception of the first quarter against Arizona. And then it worked fine. I saw a hint of it in the second game against Denver.
I don’t feel I can second guess Walsh regarding whatever play he calls in a particular circumstance. Any situation has a dozen possibilities, and Walsh has more information from the sideline than I do (bimbo sideline reporters not withstanding).
Many argue that Walsh should call more screens and short passes to slow down the rush. Screens and short passes were not designed to substitute for a weak OL. I see these plays called in almost every game, but a screen doesn’t look much different than a deep pass if the QB still gets sacked. Some screens and short passes take longer to develop than a deep pass so the line is still required to maintain blocks. Quick hitting plays weren’t designed to sustain a drive. They were designed to catch the defense off guard. If you make them a regular staple, you don’t catch the defense off guard and you are continually stuffed at the line of scrimmage. It is crucial, in this offense, that the OL pick up their assignments and maintain their blocks to the whistle. The Raiders have not had a player do that well since “the Wiz.” Added to that is the fact that each player is playing a new position, using a different technique, and I think that might just be a bigger problem than questionable play calling.
Andrew Walter is a man with too much weight on his shoulders, and I’d like to see Shell give Brooks another shot. Under the category of things that are suddenly crystal clear, saying that AWal is just like a rookie because he didn’t play his rookie season understates the issue. Walter didn’t play in his college post season because he was injured. He was injured early in 2005. So not only didn’t he play
, he didn’t practice
. AWal is a rookie who hasn’t practiced for a year before this season. Now he feels he’s being told, “Lead the Oakland Raiders to victory against their most storied rivals.” When looking at it in that light you begin to understand the fumbled snaps and the sacks.
There is no refinement in Walter’s game. His fakes are almost unnoticeable, he makes poor decisions, and he has, again, developed happy feet. What Walter should be doing (and I’m sure he’s being so coached) is to only use as much time as he has. If he only has time for his first read, he should make the throw or throw it away. Instead, Walter will stand there and wait for receivers to come open, knowing that there is no pocket, because he thinks the onus is on him to pick up positive yardage on every play. He’s stood up admirably, but one wonders if he is nearing the breaking point.
There are those who argue that Walsh and Shell should be working in plays from other offensive systems which these players are more familiar or capable of running. I’d agree if what we were trying to do was to find an offense to fit these players - as Bill Walsh did with the 49ers. But we are attempting the opposite. We have a system, and we are invested in finding players to fit it. This has been described to me has attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole. On the contrary. The round hole is now the Gilman system, and we are looking for round players.
A missing ingredient on offense (until this week) has been that of a leader. The defense has benefited by the guiding personality of Sapp, with all of the players on that unit submitting themselves to his game day leadership. Moss is not a leader, and no other player on offense has been established enough to make a difference. How that is beginning to change I will explain below.
The argument regarding Walsh seems misplaced. Where the argument squarely sits is whether the Raiders are doing the right thing by emphasizing the Gilman without the players capable of running it. To me that is the one and only controversy, and I currently am on board with what the Raiders are attempting. I think we will succeed, but I think it will take a significant amount of time.
But there are some good things happening here. Against Denver, the Raiders' OL played significantly better, even without Sims, Gallery and, for a time, Grove. Why would the line play better with three injuries? I have two theories.
The first is that it has been reported since training camp that the defense, well ahead of the offense, virtually stymies the offense in practice. This is like a 98 pound athlete trying to learn to wrestle against a 300 pounder. The second team OL takes on competition that allows them to see how plays are supposed to look when they are carried out correctly. Each unit on this team improves once they witness what success looks like.
With the surviving players on the line playing with extra attention to detail in order to accommodate the second teamers during the game, and the second teamers with a visual understanding of their goal, the line plays more solid, but still out of sync.
Second is that there is leadership emerging from the RB position. In recent weeks, because of injuries, Art Shell has been going with a committee at that position. That means stepping up the playing time for Crockett, the natural leader on the Raiders' offense. The small unit of RBs is starting to mirror the attitude of the successful defensive unit. Part of the reason that Walter had more time on Sunday afternoon was because the RBs are picking up their blocks! Hopefully Shell will recognize and nurture this seedling, and help it grow throughout the offensive unit.
In the long run, it looks like there are still significant attitude problems on the offensive unit, and I estimate that 3 to 5 players will need to be replaced through free agency and the draft. The Raiders should spend their off season retaining all of their starters on the defensive side of the ball, and seeking improvements on the OL, at TE, and possibly at QB. These pickups should be made looking for maturity and leadership.
Ultimately, however, the final Denver game of the season was decided by an inability to finish the game. Finishing the game is usually the last accomplishment in the development of an NFL unit. Once the skills are learned, players begin to play the whole game. We won't see this unit finish games until the OL has solidified its skills.
I think this team will finish better than it finished the previous two years. The last two years finished on a downward spiral. This season will finish on the rise, but the team won't start winning in streaks until next season.Note: Are the booth officials now looking at replays that the TV audience doesn't see? On two occasions, the booth officials made calls on instant replay that were contrary to what I saw on TV.