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Raiders Haven't Changed Long-Range Plan : Pro football: Hostetler had to throw short, Shell says, because defensive backs played so deep.

September 07, 1993|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, the criticism was widespread.

So was the praise on Sunday.

A year ago, the Raiders' offense was under attack from many corners. From the opposing locker rooms to the fans in the stands, from the columnists to the talk shows, everybody, it seemed, was questioning the Raiders' game plan, terming it archaic and predictable.

But on Sunday, all those question marks had been turned into exclamation points, all the doubters into believers.

After all, the Raiders dominated their opening-day opponent, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7. New quarterback Jeff Hostetler completed a club-record 15 consecutive passes and 23 of 27 overall for 225 yards and a touchdown.

Not only the results drew praise, but also the method. Hostetler eschewed the wide-open, bombs-away offense of the past, going to the short-pass, ball-control offense he ran so well with the New York Giants.

Hostetler completed passes to eight different receivers, didn't complete a pass of more than 32 yards and averaged only 9.8 yards per completion. The Raiders held the ball for barely under 40 of the 60 minutes, including one drive of 11 minutes 21 seconds.

It was said that the Raiders had done more than merely change faces in the off-season. This was a team that had undergone a virtual cultural revolution, went the theory, shedding the Raider doctrine of striking deep and quick for the '90s philosophy of striking short and often to a wide variety of receivers gobbling up time as well as yardage, the offense popularized in San Francisco in the 1980s by Bill Walsh.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Coach Art Shell said Monday. Hold on. Nothing has changed. There has been no philosophical turnaround. No revolution.

So thanks, but no thanks.

What was seen on Sunday was a response to the Vikings' defense.

"Watch Minnesota," Shell said. "That free safety sits back there 18 to 20 yards before the snap of the ball. When their corners are playing way off the ball, they make it awfully difficult to get deep. With that free safety being as deep as he is, when you throw the ball up, you're giving him a chance to break on the ball either way and have time to get there.

"So we had to be careful. We threw the ball underneath and did a pretty good job of that."

Therefore, Shell said, don't think the Raiders have closed the book on deep pass routes.

"We tried to create situations to go deep," he said, "and they wouldn't let us do it."

Hostetler set team records with the Giants for completion percentage (62.8 in 1991) and fewest interceptions (three, 1992). He didn't get numbers like that throwing a lot of bombs. How much influence will he have on the Raiders' offensive game plan?

"He's in total control," Shell said, "because he's out there on the field and he's calling the snap count. He's going to look for certain things. If he sees it, he'll take it. If he doesn't feel good about it, he'll go with the other options."

But, Shell emphasized, he, the coach, will decide those options by calling the plays. The only variable is the opposing defense.

In other words, the quarterback has changed, but the philosophy will not.

"You train a guy," Shell said, "to do what you want him to do."

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