A look at new Oakland Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano

New gig: Sparano was introduced as the Raiders' interim head coach for the rest of the season Tuesday. He replaces Dennis Allen, who was fired after a 0-4 start and an 8-28 record since becoming Oakland's coach in 2012.

Previous job: He was in his second season as the Raiders' offensive line coach and he was assistant head coach as well.

Age: He turns 53 on Oct. 7.

NFL head-coaching history: He was the head coach of Miami Dolphins from 2008-2011 and he had a 29-31 record.

Playing history: He was a starting center at the University of New Haven in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut.

Known for: A stickler to detail. Expects perfection. He's a high-energy coach.

Chances of becoming permanent head coach: Unlikely, but not impossible. If the Raiders win 6 or 7 of their final games and take on Sparano's personality, it's possible. But right now, the Raiders just want to get through the season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Tony Sparano made a point of saying how much he respects Dennis Allen, the man he is replacing as the Oakland Raiders’ head coach.

Yet, Sparano made it clear things are going to change as he takes over the Raiders for the final 12 games of the season.

“I think things can change with philosophies,” Sparano said. “I respect Dennis Allen tremendously, but I’m not Dennis, Dennis is not me and so on and so forth. Things can change with philosophies and that will be the case. We will have a different philosophy. I don’t need to share that right now, maybe share it with the players tomorrow.”

It sounds like the changes may be partly schematic and may be subtle in nature. He said he doesn’t have a problem with the offensive and defensive play calling of coordinators Greg Olson and Jason Tarver.

In other notes from a busy Tuesday with the Raiders:
  • Expect the Jon Gruden talk to be a hot topic for the next few months. Here are my thoughts on the subject from earlier today. Again, there will were be rumors, as in the past, but a lot of things will have to happen for Mark Davis to secure Gruden.
  • Davis said he and Allen traded phone messages after the dismissal. Davis spoke highly of Allen and said it was difficult to see the coach and his family go through this experience. Davis lauded the effort Allen put into the team.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- In his introductory news conference as Oakland Raiders interim head coach, Tony Sparano explained the biggest problem his new team is facing.

“They have forgotten how to win,” Sparano said. “You can fall into that trap. There’s plenty of excuses out there right now, a lot of them ... We’re not going to use those excuses. As soon as we taste, and we will taste, what it feels like to win, that’s how change happens. There are a lot of teams in this league that are front-running teams. They taste it a little bit and then they want more and want more and want more. Our guys need to taste that.”

Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie -- the man who fired coach Dennis Allen after an 0-4 start -- intently listened to Sparano. And, he seemed to be buying what Sparano was selling.

All the Raiders really want right now is to win again. Just one win. Sure, they want more. But right now, one will suffice. After all, Oakland hasn’t won since last November, dropping a league-high 10 straight games.

Still, the message Tuesday from Sparano, McKenzie and owner Mark Davis was similar. They all think the Raiders have enough talent to win and don’t think it is too late for Oakland to make some noise this season.

“I do believe what we put together this offseason was a roster that could win,” McKenzie said. “I’m not going to get into all the particulars of why it didn’t work for Dennis, but the bottom line is it didn’t work for whatever reason. Not only the 0-4 start, but our play, it did not represent what we were capable of, and that’s the bottom line.”

Added Sparano: “Obviously, [being 0-4 is] not ideal, but doable? Yeah, everything is doable. ... I have the utmost confidence in our players here and our coaches here that we can get this thing turned around. I really do.”

Davis said he thought a change in schemes could help this team win.

“The players believe we have the players, and I think that was an important factor to me to evaluate,” Davis said. “That if the players feel that we’ve got great players, or at least players that can play and win, Reggie may be doing maybe a little bit better than maybe some people think.”

My thoughts on this? Let’s wait and see. The Raiders are not 0-4 solely because of Allen. There are big problems here. Maybe Sparano, who has four seasons of experience as Miami’s head coach, can spark something.

But ultimately, this is probably the start of greater changes for Oakland coming in January.
SAN DIEGO – After two games without the team’s every-down running back, something became very evident for the San Diego Chargers.

They need a healthy Ryan Mathews.

[+] EnlargeRyan Matthews
Harry How/Getty ImagesRyan Mathews has missed the last two games after spraining his MCL on Sept. 14 against Seattle.
The Chargers average 2.4 rushing yards per carry, worst in the NFL. Mathews has not played since suffering an MCL knee sprain against Seattle on Sept. 14. The injury could keep Mathews out a total of four to five weeks, depending on the severity of the sprain.

“I’m feeling good,” Mathews said. “I’m taking it one day at a time, doing my best to get my full workouts in and do the best that I can to get my knee right.”

Mathews has been a spectator while his team has taken care of business in earning wins against Buffalo and Jacksonville, pushing San Diego’s record to 3-1.

Still, there’s a reason Mathews entered the regular season as the team’s lead running back, even with Chargers general manager Tom Telesco signing backup Donald Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million deal.

Mathews rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards and seven total touchdowns last season in the same run scheme. Further, four of his six 100-yard rushing games occurred during the final eight games of the regular season, when Mathews developed a better feel and patience for San Diego’s run game.

The Chargers also had the same starting five up front for five of the last eight games, so continuity with the offensive line played a role in Mathews’ success. San Diego has started three different players at center in the first four games this season.

Through four games this season, Brown has rushed for 100 yards on 50 carries, averaging a woeful 2 yards a carry. Mathews has San Diego’s only rushing touchdown this season and the team’s longest run, a 20-yard scamper for a score against Arizona.

“The reality is we’re a good team without Ryan, but we’re a better team with him,” Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said about Mathews. “I think that says it all. Everyone knows what he brings to the table, the explosiveness.

“We’re still a good team. We’ve still got good backs, and we can do what we need to do. But obviously he was the cornerstone of what we tried to do in the running game.”

Although eager to return, Mathews said he doesn’t have a timetable for when he’ll be ready to take the field. After playing with a nagging ankle injury that limited his effectiveness in the playoffs last season, Mathews wants to make sure he’s healthy.

Mathews, 26, is in the final year of his rookie contract, and might have proved his value to the franchise while watching the team’s running game sputter while he works to get healthy.

“As a running back, you want to make sure that you’re fully healthy,” Mathews said. “You don’t want to go in there when you’re first getting back and you have something happen to it again because it’s not fully healed, with people going at your legs and everything. So you want to make sure that you’re healed.

“I love to play this game. I’ve watched my teammates out there having fun and winning. But my time will come when I get better and everything.”

What to do about Donald Stephenson?

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Given the way the offensive line played earlier in the season, the Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t get Donald Stephenson back in their lineup fast enough. Stephenson, the starting right tackle, was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Stephenson is now eligible to return, but the line played its best game of the season in Monday night’s 41-14 win over the New England Patriots. Pro Football Focus gave both of the Chiefs' tackles, Eric Fisher on the left side and Ryan Harris on the right, their best grades of the season.

The urgency to get Stephenson back into the lineup is gone. It may be best at this point for the Chiefs to sit tight with Fisher and Harris, have Stephenson ready as a backup for Sunday’s game against the 49ers in San Francisco and then reassess if necessary during the subsequent bye.

That sounds like what coach Andy Reid has in mind.

“I’ve just got to see where he’s at," Reid said. "I really haven’t spent a whole lot of time on that part yet. I think he’s probably in pretty good shape right now. But we’ll get him back in the swing of things and see how he does."

The Film Don’t Lie: Raiders

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Oakland Raiders must fix:

Philip Rivers has been the picture of quarterback efficiency this season. His completion percentage was 69.5 last season and it is 70.1 this season.

That could be a big issue for the Oakland Raiders when they return from their bye on Oct. 12 against Rivers and the San Diego Chargers at home.

Oakland has been picked apart in the passing game defensively. In four games, opposing quarterbacks have completed a combined 72.4 percent of their passes. That is a lot of defensive inefficiency.

Many of the passes completed against Oakland have been short; the Raiders also have allowed 633 rushing yards. Teams can just dink and dunk against Oakland. However, Miami's Ryan Tannehill did complete several big-chunk plays Sunday as the Raiders fell to 0-4 with a 38-14 loss in London.

The only way Oakland is going to improve in this area is if it tightens against the run and improves in coverage. Getting a better pass rush would be helpful. The Raiders didn't have any sacks against the Dolphins. The only time Oakland had a good pass-rush burst was against New England in Week 3. Unless they find that groove, the efficient Rivers could carve up the Raiders.

The Film Don't Lie: Chiefs

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Kansas City Chiefs must fix:

A two-play sequence from Monday night’s game shows a defensive problem for the Kansas City Chiefs and how they can correct it in next week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Chiefs are playing well against the pass, but their run defense has shown more than a few leaks. They allow 5 yards per opponent's rushing attempt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They have allowed 15 running plays of 10 yards or more, the fifth-highest total in the league.

The Chiefs can improve by getting more physical with their opponents. Early in the second quarter on Monday night, inside linebacker Josh Mauga missed an attempted tackle on New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen. Vereen went on to gain 5 yards after Mauga had the chance to bring him down.

But on the next play, Mauga arrived with much more muscle. On third-and-2, Mauga wasn’t in on the tackle but blew up the lead block by New England center Bryan Stork. With Stork out of the way, linebacker Justin Houston and nose tackle Dontari Poe were free to tackle Vereen for no gain. Poe had also played off a block, this one by guard Cameron Fleming.

The Patriots punted on the next play.

The Film Don't Lie: Chargers

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the San Diego Chargers must fix.

When the Chargers host the New York Jets on Sunday, they will face the No. 1 run defense in the NFL. The Jets are holding teams to just 63 rushing yards per contest.

While the Philip Rivers-led Chargers have not had a problem scoring points, through four weeks San Diego has been the worst running team statistically in the league, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry.

“It’s a good time to get the running game fixed,” said Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, when asked about facing a tough Jets defensive front.

That will be easier said than done for McCoy’s Chargers. San Diego’s offense has suffered more than we expected from the absence of running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead in the last two weeks. Add to that the fact that San Diego played three different starting offensive line combinations in the last four weeks and you can understand why continuity is an issue.

There’s no quick fix to San Diego’s struggles running the football. The only way the Chargers will become more effective is to establish better chemistry and cohesion between running backs Donald Brown and Branden Oliver and the offensive line through repetition, and that takes time.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich will continue to use the short passing game to create space for his running backs as the Chargers work on running the football better. And the expected return of Mathews from an MCL sprain in a couple of weeks also should help rectify the issue. Mathews ran for a career-high 1,255 yards last season and has a better feel for San Diego’s run scheme.

“We have plenty of talent here,” McCoy said. “We have plenty of talent to run the football. It’s not talent at all. It’s execution. We have to execute better.”
The Oakland Raiders head coaching job comes up a lot. It's the eighth time it has been open since 2002, the year the Raiders traded Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay.

And as usual, Gruden's name has surfaced to fill this vacancy.

[+] EnlargeJon Gruden
Allen Kee/ESPN ImageFormer Raiders coach Jon Gruden has worked as an NFL analyst at ESPN since 2009.
Many in the Bay Area would like to see Gruden return. Gruden clearly would be the top choice of the franchise and the fan base. The Raiders haven’t been the same since he was traded to the Buccaneers.

Gruden, who is a “Monday Night Football” analyst for ESPN, is still a mythical figure to the Raiders’ fan base. The Raiders have reportedly talked to him in the past.

Still, for Gruden to come back to the Raiders, a lot of things would have to happen. He’d likely need to have a lot of power and be able to bring in his own personnel guys. It would probably mean the end of the Reggie McKenzie era in Oakland, which could happen anyway.

If Gruden truly wants to coach again, he will have his choices. So, the Raiders would have to come with more than just the benefit of having control of personnel. It will take a huge salary and the ability to win quickly would likely be a big part of his decision.

The Raiders’ stadium issues are also at the forefront. They have to be considered a prime candidate to move to Los Angeles. If the Raiders moved to L.A., with a new stadium secured, they could become very attractive to Gruden or any top coach.

Gruden loves his quarterbacks, and the presence of Derek Carr, who met with Gruden at his pre-draft camp this year, could be intriguing.

Intriguing is the key word when it comes to a possible Gruden-Raiders reunion. Oakland owner Mark Davis will more than likely consider it, but making it happen will take a lot of things falling the right way. Until that happens, this is just another pipe dream for Raider Nation.
The Oakland Raiders will be looking for another permanent head coach in January.

In the meantime, they will have an interim coach (likely announced Tuesday) and owner Mark Davis will have to decide the future of general manager Reggie McKenzie. So, there will be a lot change in the next few months.

Here is a list of potential candidates for the job:

Darrell Bevell, Seattle offensive coordinator: He will be a hot name, but may get better offers.

Jack Del Rio, Denver defensive coordinator: The Bay Area native has head coaching experience and is doing well in Denver.

Vic Fangio, San Francisco defensive coordinator: Understated 49ers coach gets the most of his players and he is a stable force.

Adam Gase, Denver offensive coordinator: See Bevell.

Jon Gruden, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach/ESPN analyst: Top choice of the team and the fan base. But it would take a lot of stars to align for this to happen.

Pep Hamilton, Indianapolis offensive coordinator: Up-and-coming coaching star with local ties from Stanford.

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco head coach: He was a Raider assistant. But this is in the Gruden scope -- long-shot city.

Frank Reich, San Diego offensive coordinator: A lot of people like him. Could be the next coaching star and the former quarterback could be a nice fit for Derek Carr.

Greg Roman, San Francisco offensive coordinator: He is on a lot of coaching lists and has had success in the Bay Area.

David Shaw, Stanford head coach: Would be almost as big of a score as Gruden or Harbaugh. Unlikely.

Jim Tomsula, San Francisco defensive line coach: He interviewed for head coaching jobs last year and he will do so again. A dynamic personality who would bring charisma to the job.
It is clear that Dennis Allen’s tenure as Oakland Raiders coach was a failure.

The Raiders were 8-28 under Allen and have lost 10 straight games, the longest current losing streak in the league. The Raiders were clearly justified in relieving Allen of his duties Monday night.

However, this is likely not the end of Allen in the NFL. He will resurface.

Allen, who Oakland hired in 2012 after he served for one season as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, is just 42. He will attract defensive coordinator jobs in January. In fact, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday night that his two former teams -- Denver and New Orleans -- would welcome Allen back, perhaps in some role this season.

Allen’s contract with Oakland runs through next year, so he doesn't need to rush to get another job. But he will likely be a team’s defensive coordinator next year as he tries to rebuild a promising career.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – For their first three outings of the season, the Denver Broncos have chased three mobile quarterbacks from one sideline to the other, with somewhat mixed results.

And while they might not know who will line up behind center for the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, they know what type of quarterback he will be. Carson Palmer, the Cardinals starter who is a familiar face to the Broncos from his time with the Oakland Raiders, has a right shoulder injury and is still a question mark for the game.

[+] EnlargeDrew Stanton
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsAfter facing some running quarterbacks, Denver will face a pocket-passer when Arizona visits Sunday -- either Drew Stanton (pictured) or Carson Palmer.
The Broncos spoke Monday as if they believe Palmer, who has given somewhat lukewarm responses to his prospects for Sunday’s game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, would play. But even if Drew Stanton fills in, the Broncos will face primarily a pocket passer.

“I think as far as the front, it will be good that we don’t have to go against a guy who’s going to try to beat you with his feet," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “(Palmer) is a more conventional type of quarterback and it’ll give us an opportunity to get sacks now. But he’s definitely a veteran guy."

The Broncos have faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson in their first three games. All three threw for at least 250 yards -- Luck went for 370 yards in the Broncos’ Week 1 win -- but Luck also ran for a touchdown while Smith and Wilson rushed for 42 and 40 yards, respectively.

Wilson, who the Broncos had largely held in check during regulation two Sundays ago, converted a third-and-3 and third-and-4 by running the ball in the Seahawks’ game-winning drive in overtime.

“We just didn’t quite keep him where we needed to on that drive," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “ … When they can run that puts some pressure on what you’re doing on defense."

The Cardinals have gone 2-0 with Stanton at quarterback. Stanton was just 14-of-29 passing for 167 yards in the Cardinals’ win over the New York Giants and 18-of-33 for 244 yards in Arizona’s win over San Francisco. He ran for minus-2 and 16 yards, respectively, in those two wins.

Palmer hasn’t played since Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers. He threw for 302 and ran for 29 in that season-opening win.

“Carson Palmer, I think he’s underrated," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. “He looks great on film. They’ve got a great receiving corps … We’ve got to come ready to play or it could be ugly.”

The Broncos will be at full strength defensively for the first time this season with linebacker Danny Trevathan's expected return to the lineup. And with either Stanton or Palmer, the Broncos might have the opportunity to be a little more aggressive in the pass rush than they have been thus far.

The Broncos have eight sacks in their three games, tied for 13th in the league despite most teams have played one more game. They have largely rushed four on most passing downs thus far -- on all but 12 snaps against the Colts and all but nine against the Chiefs.

“We’ll just have to go out there and outplay their defense," Moore said. “They have a lot of weapons on offense. We’ll just have to approach it like any other week and just break them down, day by day."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Andy Reid started rattling off the things the Kansas City Chiefs did well in their Monday night thrashing of the New England Patriots and didn't really know where to stop. There were that many things the Chiefs did well in their 41-14 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.

Reid lingered a little longer in one area, and that was a pretty strong hint about his feelings. The Chiefs got 199 yards rushing, 28 more receiving, plus three touchdowns from running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, and this seemed to please Reid as much or more than anything.

"It's a heck of a thing to bring [Charles] off the bench as a relief pitcher," Reid said. "He's a pretty good player."

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Knile Davis
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaKnile Davis' 107 rushing yards against the Patriots included a 48-yard attempt.
Charles was technically the starter and Davis the reserve Monday night, but beyond that the lines were blurred. They both played a lot early in the game, a rotation the Chiefs haven't used since Davis joined the team as a third-round draft pick last year.

There was much to like about the results, with Davis rushing for 107 yards on 16 carries and Charles 92 yards on 18 carries. What may be more meaningful to the Chiefs than the stats was this: They got as much from Davis as they did Charles.

"We knew before the game started that I was going to get some reps and Knile was going to get some reps," Charles said. "Knile is starting to believe in himself. He's starting to feel comfortable, and I'm happy for him."

The two players complement each other. Both are fast and big-play threats. Charles had the three touchdowns Monday night (one rushing, two receiving), Davis a 48-yard run.

But Davis is bigger, more powerful and wears down a defense faster. Charles has the ability to make defenders miss.

The Chiefs can use them from varying formations, something that makes them difficult to defend.

"They're both explosive players," Reid said. "They're completely different players, but they're both explosive players. That makes my job easy. Just give them the ball."

A rotation also allows the Chiefs to keep both players fresh. Charles is remarkable in that he's only 200 pounds but has shown little sign that the tremendous physical burden he's carried in recent seasons is taking its toll.

Within each game, though, he's bound to be better in the fourth quarter when he's sharing the load with Davis.

"You can keep throwing fastballs at the defense," Reid said. "It allows you to have two fresh backs in the fourth quarter."

The key is that the Chiefs aren't losing effectiveness when Davis enters the game. He rushed for 132 yards last week in Miami and was every bit as devastating to the Patriots as Charles was on Monday night.

The Chiefs were able to get Davis involved early. So even before the game got out of hand, the Chiefs had two backs who were carving up a defense.

"I had a few carries early in the game so I was able to get into a rhythm early," Davis said. "We both feed off each other. When he's in, I know he's going to do his thing. When I'm in, I'm going to do my thing."
Dennis Allen's turn on the hot seat is over -- he was fired by the Oakland Raiders late Monday -- and it is time for the man who brought Allen to Oakland to take his place over the flame.

Allen's removal as Raiders coach probably won't be be a cure-all for the bumbling franchise. While the firing was justified, don't expect any quick fixes. The Raiders just aren't ready to compete, which brings us right back to Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

In his first act as GM, McKenzie hired Allen, who was a 39-year-old upstart defensive coordinator in Denver. McKenzie giddily recalled calling his wife to inform her he had gotten "his guy" after the interview with Allen, and in the time since, McKenzie has been steadfast in standing by Allen.

It was OK stand by your guy, your hire. But now that the decision to relieve Allen of his duties has been made, fingers need to point to McKenzie.

True, Allen didn't get much out this team. The Raiders were 8-28 during his tenure of just more than two seasons. Only Jacksonville, with six wins, has had less success during that time span. The Raiders have lost 10 straight games, a current NFL high. They are 0-4 for the first time since 2006, when they went 2-14. The Raiders lost nine of the 36 games Allen coached by 20 or more points.

The fact that the Miami Dolphins scored 38 unanswered points, despite having been in London four fewer days than the Raiders in Week 4, was clearly the final straw.

Davis had seen enough. Allen had to go. Yes, Davis' father -- the legendary Al Davis -- was famous for giving coaches the gate. Allen was the seventh Oakland coach since Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay in 2002.

But this isn't a case of Davis showing his father's patented impatience. It was just time.

Now, McKenzie is on the clock. Let's face it; Allen had very little to work with. The Raiders had several starters last season who are not on NFL rosters this season.

This year, with a clear salary-cap picture, McKenzie spent money on several veterans who have made Oakland the NFL's oldest roster. The Raiders, who have not had a winning record since 2002, are both rebuilding and old at the same time. What kind of plan is that?

Oakland has a few nice pieces, particularly rookie quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack, but there isn't a great nucleus here. This is McKenzie's third season as Al Davis' replacement as the top personnel man in Oakland. His roster should be better. The Raiders' issues can no longer be blamed on Al Davis, who died nearly three years ago. It's on McKenzie now.

McKenzie and Allen took over a team that won eight games in back-to-back seasons. The Raiders have matched that total in 2 years. McKenzie has to come up with some answers, or he will likely join his guy as one of Oakland's failures.

Andy Reid fired up about decibel levels

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-14 victory over New England:
  • Chiefs coach Andy Reid sounded almost as pleased the fans set the world record for crowd noise as he was about the victory: “I never thought I’d be fired up about decibel levels, but I am," he said.
  • Running back Jamaal Charles played for the first time in two weeks and played well, scoring three touchdowns. But he acknowledged afterward his injured ankle was sore. “I’m ready to get off it and ice it up," he said.
  • Donnie Avery has a strained groin, which could tax a thin wide receiver group if he can’t play in Sunday’s game against the 49ers in San Francisco.