AFC West: Oakland Raiders

My initial reaction to the firing of coach Dennis Allen on Monday was that it puts general manager Reggie McKenzie on the hot seat.

McKenzie’s hiring of Allen and his failures to put winning talent the field were my reasons behind the column. The GM said on Tuesday during the news conference to discuss Allen’s departure and introduce interim coach Tony Sparano, said that he thinks the talent is in Oakland to win.

Sparano
That got me to thinking. McKenzie needs Sparano to string together some wins in the final 12 games of this season. Sparano preached philosophy change and owner Mark Davis mentioned scheme issues. If Sparano can right the ship, it could show McKenzie has brought in the right players to go with the right coaching.

However, if the 0-4 Raiders finish with four or less wins, it could be looked at as an indictment on the talent and show that the coaching change didn’t make a major difference.

McKenzie said Tuesday that he expects to hire the next coach. But he might need the interim coach to succeed to continue to be in that position.
For the next three months, the Raider Nation will have Jon Gruden on the brain.

Every time the Oakland Raiders make a coaching change (they do it often), Gruden’s name comes up. Gruden was wildly popular as Oakland's coach from 1998-2001 and he remains a fan favorite. There have been rumors that Oakland will toss big dollars at Gruden in an attempt to get him to leave ESPN's "Monday Night Football" and lead the Silver and Black back to prominence.

Oakland owner Mark Davis added fuel to the fire when he said he might call Gruden about the job, or perhaps Gruden would call him, when asked Tuesday at the news conference on the firing of coach Dennis Allen and the hiring of interim coach Tony Sparano.

Wednesday, Gruden appeared on ESPN radio’s "Mike & Mike." This what he said about a return to the sidelines: "I'm not thinking about coaching. I'm thinking about heading to Washington, watching the world champions and my brother coach."

Gruden's brother, Jay, coaches the Redskins, who play host to the Seahawks on Monday night.

Earlier in the interview, Gruden talked about the unstable situation in Oakland.

"(There needs) to be continuity in the organization," Gruden said. "(Lack of continuity) is hard on an organization, hard on fans, hard on an owner ... they need to finish the season and evaluate where they are."

Here are my thoughts on what it would take to land Gruden.
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Tony Sparano made a point of saying how much he respects Dennis Allen, the man he is replacing as 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.

The Film Don’t Lie: Raiders

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
11:00
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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 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.
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.
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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.
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The only thing perfect about the Oakland Raiders? It is the perfect time to make a coaching change.

Speculation about coach Dennis Allen getting fired has been high for weeks and is now off the charts after another lopsided defeat. The Raiders were throttled by the Miami Dolphins, 38-14 in London on Sunday and fall to 0-4.

[+] EnlargeDennis Allen
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThrough four games this season, the Raiders are winless and head coach Dennis Allen should be shouldering much of the blame.
Oakland, which may have lost quarterback Derek Carr for a few weeks with ankle and knee injuries, has lost 10 straight games dating back to November. And the 10-game span is the longest current losing streak in the NFL. The Raiders are 0-4 for the first time since 2006 and 8-28 under Allen.

Allen told reporters after Sunday's game he is not worried about losing his job and thinks he will remain the coach.

But it wouldn't be a surprise if Oakland owner Mark Davis has other ideas. The Raiders will fly home for their bye week. With a winless team, Davis may feel compelled to make a change. He let it be known he wanted to see the Raiders be competitive this season. That has not happened.

The Raiders have been playing a lot of garbage time in the second half. Their first two games, against the New York Jets and Houston Texans, were not competitive. The Raiders played well on defense at New England last week and the team flew to London feeling good about itself.

The Raiders were confident because they spent the entire week in London, adjusting their body clocks, while the Dolphins flew to London early Friday morning. Plus, the Dolphins seemed to be in disarray the past two weeks.

However, the Dolphins completely controlled this game. The Raiders took a step back to their noncompetitive tendencies. After a strong first series, in which they scored a touchdown, the Raiders fell flat both on offense and defense. The Dolphins scored 38 unanswered points before the Raiders scored a garbage-time touchdown. The Raiders have scored a total of 51 points this season. All but 23 of those points have come when the game was already decided.

Garbage-time success was not what Davis had in mind this season. The Raiders finally had a clear salary cap and a full draft class. Oakland added several veterans and its brass thought it would be competitive, but it hasn't happened. The Raiders were hoping to have success before the bye because the games against the Jets, Texans and Dolphins all appeared to be winnable. The Raiders' schedule stiffens significantly following Week 5.

The fact that the only good Oakland has done in a quarter of the season is one good defensive game could cost Allen his job. Sunday's defeat was the ninth of the Allen era in which the Raiders have lost by 20 or more points. That's a quarter of his tenure.

The only question Davis may have for himself is if he thinks firing Allen now will spark his team for the rest of the season. The top interim coach candidates would be offensive line coach Tony Sparano, offensive coordinator Greg Olson or assistant Al Saunders.

Making the Raiders' situation even dire is the fact Carr, a promising rookie, is likely out for a few weeks. Carr said after the game he had a high ankle sprain and MCL sprain in his knee. While recovery times vary, Carr could miss up to a month. He was replaced by No. 3 quarterback Matt McGloin in the third quarter Sunday. Backup Matt Schaub has been away from the team the past two weeks dealing with a family issue.

So, if McGloin is the starter for the next month, the Raiders will likely struggle whether Allen is fired or not. If Davis is going to make the move, the time is now. Surely, Davis will spend the long flight home thinking of exactly that.

Rapid Reaction: Oakland Raiders

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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A few thoughts on the Oakland Raiders' 38-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins in London.

What it means: The Raiders are officially a hot mess. They are 0-4 and, sans a solid defensive game last week at New England, this team has been noncompetitive. It very well could cost coach Dennis Allen his job. They are winless at the bye and are 8-28 under Allen. They have lost an NFL-high 10 straight games and are 0-4 for the first time in eight years. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if owner Mark Davis comes down with the ax when the team arrives home on Monday.

Stock watch: The defense is pointing down again. Oakland’s defense was awful in the first two games, but played well against the Patriots. It was totally overmatched against Miami and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was struggling coming into the game.

Carr injured: Making the loss even worse was an ankle/knee injury that took promising rookie quarterback Derek Carr out of the game in the third quarter. Carr was limping badly. If his injury is serious, it would be a major problem. Carr’s progress was one of the few bright spots for this team.

Game ball: Well, this isn’t easy. Let’s go with rookie cornerback TJ Carrie. He came up with the first interception of his NFL career. The seventh-round pick, who is also the Raiders’ punt returner, looks promising.

What’s next: The Raiders are on their bye week. They next play against San Diego at home on Oct. 12.
Perhaps the expected return of Maurice Jones-Drew will spark the Oakland Raiders' ground game on Sunday.

Jones-Drew
The running game was supposed to be the strength of the 0-3 Raiders, but, so far, that hasn’t developed. The Raiders have 193 yards on 54 carries. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland has dropped back to pass on 68.7 percent of its offensive plays. It is the third highest mark in the league.

One of the reasons, of course, why the Raiders are throwing the ball way more than running is because they have been playing from behind for most of the season. Yet, Oakland coach Dennis Allen knows the Raiders have to find a running rhythm with Jones-Drew (who missed the past two games with a hand injury) and Darren McFadden.

"Running the ball is about enough attempts and keep going at it, and really you’re able to run the ball a lot better when you get out to a lead," Allen said. "That’s something that we need to do, get out to a lead a little bit where you can be a little more effective running the football. I still think that we’re going to be able to run the ball and run the ball effectively. I think we’ll be judged at the end of the year whether we are a good rushing team or a good run defense. Right now we are three games in. It is something that we are constantly looking to improve."

Raiders adjusting their body clocks

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
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The Oakland Raiders are getting in their comfort zone in England -- and their game is four days away.

Carr
That is the entire point. The 0-3 Raiders flew to London to prepare for Sunday’s “home” game against Miami at Wembley Stadium hours after playing the New England Patriots. The Dolphins are scheduled to fly to London on Thursday.

“We got here Monday morning and the guys had a little bit of time on Monday and Tuesday to catch up on a little bit of rest,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen told reporters after practice Wednesday. “Now we’ll get started with a normal game week preparation. I think the further we go into the week, the more acclimated the guys will get to the time change and hopefully that won’t be any sort of factor come Sunday.”

Derek Carr called the time adjustment “crazy.”

“The first day I got here, I tried to fight sleep as long as I could,” Carr said. “I think I slept for like 11 hours that first day because I was trying to get caught up to this time zone. Obviously, still feeling it a little bit today. As the days have gone, it’s gotten progressively better. The faster I can get into the right time zone, which is here, the better it will feel. I’m glad we came out as early as we did because it definitely makes a difference.”

In other Raiders notes:
  • Allen said he hopes one or two of his injured linebackers could practice as soon as Thursday. Nick Roach (concussion), Sio Moore (ankle) and Miles Burris (foot) have been dealing with injuries.
  • Allen said he doesn’t expect backup quarterback Matt Schaub to join the team this week. Matt McGloin will be Carr’s backup as he was at New England. ESPN’s Ed Werder has reported that Schaub’s wife gave birth prematurely.
  • Here’s a statistic that stings for the running-hungry Raiders: Rashad Jennings has 68 carries for 296 yards for the Giants. He left the Raiders in free agency. Oakland has 54 carries for 193 yards.
As the Oakland Raiders begin their preparations in London for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, it appears their injury fears at linebacker are playing out.

Miles Burris didn't practice Wednesday because he's in a walking boot and Sio Moore was gingerly working out on a side field, according to reports. Moore missed the New England game with an ankle injury. Nick Roach, who Burris has replaced in the middle, still doesn't appear to be at full speed, according to reports. He hasn't played since Aug. 22 because of a concussion. The fact Roach hasn't been cleared nearly five weeks after suffering the concussion has to be a concern.

Until any of these players improve, it appears Kaluka Maiava and undrafted rookie Bojay Filimoeatu will start with rookie Khalil Mack, as they're the only healthy linebackers on the roster. The Raiders also have undrafted rookie Spencer Hadley on the practice squad. Clearly, this is a major issue for Oakland for this week.

Despite the news surrounding the linebacker corps, there is some positive injury news Wednesday morning. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew practiced and the team is hopeful he can play Sunday after missing the past two games with a hand injury. Darren McFadden failed to make an impact with Jones-Drew out. Jones-Drew had 11 yards on nine carries in the one game he played this season.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Matt Schaub has not rejoined the team and there is a chance he won't this week. Schaub missed the New England game because his wife gave birth prematurely.

Receiver Rod Streater and safety Tyvon Branch (who both suffered fractured foot injuries at New England) are set to have surgery and will both be out an extended period of time.

The Film Don’t Lie: Raiders

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:00
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A weekly look at what the Oakland Raiders must fix:

The Miami Dolphins allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to reach the end zone five times in Week 3. The Raiders would love to see the Dolphins' defense continue that trend Sunday in London.

The 0-3 Raiders' biggest issue is entering the Dolphins game is offense. The Raiders just can’t score. Oakland had to settle for three Sebastian Janikowski field goals in a 16-9 loss at New England and has had just one touchdown in non-garbage time this season; it came on a short field in the first half against the New York Jets during Week 1. The Raiders, who have not led a game in the second half since playing at Dallas on Thanksgiving last year, have produced a league-low 37 points.

Coach Dennis Allen said the team has to come through in the “moment of truth.” That means every phase of this offense must elevate its game.

The key is the receivers finding a way to make plays. After a Darren McFadden potential game-tying touchdown was nullified by a penalty in the final moments, receiver Denarius Moore had a pass deflect off him that was intercepted to end the game. If Moore and James Jones can make plays in the passing game and perhaps McFadden, whose longest run this season is 10 yards, can pop free, perhaps the Raiders will find the end zone when it matters. If not, the losing will continue.

Would Raiders have gone for two?

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
1:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- We may have been seconds from being introduced to Riverboat Dennis on Sunday had it not been a for a disputed penalty flag. Now, we will have to wait to see if Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen is a gambling man.

In the final two minutes of the game, the Raiders appeared to cut the New England Patriots' lead to 16-15 on a 6-yard touchdown run by running back Darren McFadden. However, rookie guard Gabe Jackson was called for holding. Allen and several Oakland players disputed the call. New England intercepted a pass on the next play to seal the 16-9 win.

Allen was asked after the game if he would have tried to go for two points and win instead of playing for overtime. He smiled.

“Yeah, that thought went through my head,” Allen said.

Well?

“It is kind of a moot point now,” Allen said. “You know what I mean? So, we would have done what we felt like we had to do to win.”

Quarterback Derek Carr wouldn’t have hesitated if Allen kept the Raiders on the field after a touchdown.

“That’s coach Allen’s decision, but I was ready to go,” Carr said.

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