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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Raider Numbers Aren't Lying

October 18, 2003|Sam Farmer

The most surprising development this season isn't the sudden surge of the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys or Kansas City Chiefs, but the cover-your-eyes collapse of the Oakland Raiders.

Heading into Monday night's game against the undefeated Chiefs, the Raiders are desperately trying to recapture the magic of last season, when they advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1983 season.

Less than a year ago, Bill Callahan looked like the new genius on the block, and league most valuable player Rich Gannon made the Chiefs, Redskins and Vikings sorry they'd let him walk out the door.

But the Raiders haven't put together a solid performance since beating Tennessee in last season's AFC championship game. Their offense's slide is staggering. Through six games last season, the Raiders were 4-2 with 25 touchdowns by the offense. They're now 2-4 and their offense has scored 11 times. They've also seen big drops in average yards per game, 285.8 from 433.8; points, 115 from 196, and first downs, 89 from 148.

Oakland's two victories this season were over bad teams, San Diego and Cincinnati, and the Raiders very easily could have lost both those games. And it's not only their offense. The Raider defense is giving up a league-worst average of 164.7 yards rushing, a 70-yard drop-off from last season's six-game total.

"We need to play better than we have in recent weeks," Callahan said. "Will the level of competition elevate our game? It should have happened in the last two weeks. There's no excuse. The last two weeks [in losses at Chicago and Cleveland] we have not played well as a road team. That bothers me, and it bothers a lot of our players."

As the Raiders slip deeper into their black hole, people all over the league are trying to figure out how things could go so wrong so quickly.

Is the job too big for Callahan?

Have the players soured on the hot-tempered Gannon, who has never been shy about tearing into teammates he thinks are dogging it?

Has the absence of Jon Gruden finally caught up to this team?

Or, will the Raiders pull out of their nosedive the way they did last season, when they won their first four, lost their next four, then won nine of 10 to get to the Super Bowl?

A few more theories:

* The offense is too predictable -- Tackle Lincoln Kennedy has complained that opposing defenses know what's coming and are shouting what the Raiders are going to do before the snap. Jerry Rice said defensive backs are shadowing him so closely, it's as if they're running his patterns for him. But predictable isn't always bad. Good teams say, "We'll keep doing what we do best until you prove you can stop it."

* Penalties are killing them -- The Raiders have been flagged a league-high 67 times this season, upholding their tradition of being at or near the top when it comes to accumulating penalties. (Twenty-eight teams have 50 or fewer.) But last season's team was peppered with yellow flags too -- it was second in penalty yardage, third in penalties -- and those Raiders wound up winning the conference title.

* Age is finally catching up with them -- Yes, the Raiders have more than their share of thirtysomethings on their roster. But it's wrong to rest this debacle entirely on the shoulders of the older guys. What about young players such as linebacker Eric Barton, 26, and defensive linemen Rod Coleman, 27, who aren't playing anywhere near the level they were at last season?

Gannon told reporters this week that any players making excuses for the terrible start are simply fooling themselves.

"I live in the real world," he said. "I look at the film and I see what we're doing, and I see the mistakes we're making. You can't win that way. It's that simple."


In spite of all that, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Oakland beat the Chiefs. The Raiders pulled out of an 0-4 stretch last season by winning in Denver on "Monday Night Football," and they still have a roster loaded with talented players. Besides, Kansas City is ripe for a letdown.


Bad as the Raiders have been this season, they haven't dropped to the finger-pointing depths of the 1997 team, when a 4-12 finish led to the firing of first-year coach Joe Bugel.

As the Raider beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News, I witnessed that meltdown firsthand. That season, unknown to the Raiders, the television in the corner of the media workroom gave us direct access to what was being watched by someone else inside the building -- we assumed it was a coach or someone in the personnel department.

We couldn't watch much of practice, only the part when players stretched, so a lot of times we had to take Bugel's word for it if he said a guy practiced or didn't. Sometimes, though, we were able to turn to our secret channel later that day and watch the video shot that afternoon. Did Chester McGlockton participate? Turn on the TV. Was Jeff George quarterbacking the first-team offense? Let's check the tape.

No one said a word about the channel, lest the plug get pulled.

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