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Xs and O's / LONNIE WHITE

Raiders Have Many Problems to Tackle

October 19, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

Those who believe that the Oakland Raiders will be able to turn things around and qualify for the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, raise your hands.

Unless you're wearing silver and black, chances are that your arm never passed your neck.

The Raiders really have looked that bad in losing four of their first six games, including consecutive road defeats at Chicago and Cleveland.

The defending AFC champions have been searching for answers.

"Nowadays in this league, anything can happen," offensive lineman Mo Collins told Associated Press days after the Raiders lost their season opener to Tennessee. "You take somebody lightly and it can come back and bite you. We're not in a position to take anybody lightly right now."

Four weeks later, after losing to previously winless Chicago to fall to 2-3, offensive lineman Frank Middleton tried to put his spin on the Raiders' woes in an interview with Bay Area reporters.

"We wanted this to be our statement game, and it didn't come out like that," Middleton said. "The offense has got to step up. We have all the veteran Pro Bowlers on offense."

So what did the Raiders do the next week against Cleveland? They scored one touchdown and lost, 13-7.

"We've struggled in every phase and every aspect of the game," defensive end Trace Armstrong told reporters last Sunday, after the loss to Cleveland. "I don't think anyone anticipated that coming into the season."

Heading into Monday night's game against Kansas City, the Raiders trail the Chiefs by four games in the AFC West. They are three games behind second-place Denver, having already lost to the Broncos.

A look at four popular theories regarding the Raiders' slide:

* Opponents have figured out the Raider offense: In the copycat NFL, something that works usually doesn't work too long.

The Raiders' biggest problem is that they haven't adapted. Last season, they had the league's most dominant offense, featuring a strong line and quarterback Rich Gannon's accurate throws to a variety of receivers.

But opponents learned from Tampa Bay's Super Bowl victory that physical defenses give the Raiders trouble. Gannon, who set several NFL passing records last season, has struggled to maintain any offensive rhythm.

Any time he completes a few passes in a row, the Raiders end drives with mistakes and Gannon loses his flow.

That's why Gannon has only a 76.8 passer rating with six touchdowns and three interceptions. Cincinnati's Jon Kitna has a 78.4 rating.

* The Raiders commit too many penalties: It's true that the Raiders lead the NFL with 560 penalty yards, but that's really nothing new for the franchise.

Last season, the Raiders also were heavily penalized, but that did not stop them from reaching the Super Bowl. Only Minnesota had more penalty yardage than the Raiders, who accumulated 1,094 yards in penalties during the 2002 season.

But there's still no excuse for committing 19 penalties for 128 yards as the Raiders did against the Browns. Few teams can win on the road making that many mistakes.

It shows a lack of focus and discipline.

The excessive penalties have also forced the Raiders into more punts. Last season, Oakland led the league in first downs with 360. After six games this season, only Atlanta and the New York Jets are averaging fewer first downs than the Raiders' 14.8 per game.

* The Jerry Porter factor: The Raiders expected big things from Porter after the wide receiver finished with a team-best, career-high nine touchdown catches last season. But because of a hernia, Porter has yet to play a down this season.

At 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, Porter provided Gannon a young, athletic target to help open lanes for veteran wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. However, using Porter's absence as the excuse for the Raiders' struggles would be a reach. He's no Randy Moss.

* The Raiders are poor tacklers: Although he may not be the best-liked player on the team, linebacker Bill Romanowski's leadership and skills are definitely missed by the NFL's worst run defense.

The Raiders simply cannot tackle, and opponents have been taking advantage by gaining an average of 164.7 yards per game on the ground. Linebackers Napoleon Harris, Eric Barton and Travian Smith have played well at times, but they often get caught up in blocks or take improper angles.

Romanowski, who has been sidelined since Sept. 22 because of post-concussion symptoms, rarely had such problems.

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