Tag Archives: defense

“Will The Raiders Win the AFC West? A 2nd Half Breakdown of All 4 Teams”

 

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Who will win the AFC West?  Let’s look ahead to the rest of the season and see what may be in store for all of the teams.

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Oakland Raiders:

In the history of social media, there has NEVER been a tweet or Facebook post about the Raiders being in a playoff game. Let that sink in. In their glory days, for 25 years the Raiders were the winningest team of any Pro Sports team in the U.S. For the last couple of decades, they’ve been the worst. In their glory years, the Cowboys and the Raiders for almost 3 decades were the two most popular teams on tv ratings. Love them or hate them, it’s good that they are back.

The Cowboys Dak Prescott and Oakland’s Derek Carr are having great years.   They also are behind the 2 best offensive lines in the NFL. NOT a coincidence. Carr is the best protected QB in the NFL this year and that is important to his success.

The Raiders are now #4 in the NFL in rushing yards and #3 in passing yards.   Even though their skilled position players get most of the credit, their OL has been as dominating as any in the game this year and it’s the heart and soul of this team.

On defense it’s another matter. They struggle against good teams and occasionally look good against bad ones. The Raiders are 28th in sacks, 30th against the pass and 27th against the run.   And that is after a good performance against a bad Denver offense.

The Raiders have only played 3 teams with winning records; all at home; and are 1-2. They have not played a team who presently has a winning record on the road.

The Raiders schedule is interesting. They struggle against teams that can score points and they really don’t play a lot of good offenses the rest of the way. They still have a game in Denver, in KC and @ San Diego.   Outside of that they have Houston, Carolina and Buffalo. These are all good match-ups for them because those teams don’t have great offenses.   Even with their bad OL, the Colts will be a tough game because they can score.

Right now the Raiders have the upper hand in the AFC West and barring injuries to their OL; and even with a limited defense; they still should be considered favorites to win the division. This is not a Super Bowl defense in any way and offense may make headlines and put butts in the seats but defense wins championships.  Remember this is the salary cap era so every team has some sort of issue or weakness, but for now, the West comes through Oakland.

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Denver Broncos:

The Broncos are fading fast due to injuries and a poor offensive scheme.

On offense I really like their 2 young running backs. Rookie Devontae Booker hasn’t had much of a chance to run the ball but he has a lot of potential. Kapri Bibbs showed his playmaking ability on a 68 yard pass and catch late against the Raiders. On defense they still have an excellent pass rush but now they can’t stop the run. The  other problem on offense is head coach and play caller Gary Kubiak.

The Denver media; which is fairly soft; has been griping about him for 2 weeks.   They have brought up great points.  In the first 15 plays against the Raiders, Denver threw 13 times. In the last 5 games Denver has thrown almost 70% of the time in their first 15 plays.   Denver is 2-3 in those games.   With Siemian as a starter, Denver throws 72% of the time. That’s not Denver football.

Siemian is limited; he throws a nice deep ball but he needs protection; and lot’s of it. The offensive line at Denver has been inconsistent protecting the QB. He does not feel a rush at all and struggles under pressure as was seen with a loss at San Diego and again in Oakland.

Denver needs to go back to the ground and pound with young RB’s that are hungry. Both have mildly complained about their lack of touches in the running game. Kubiak is a borderline arrogant guy though when it comes to coaching and he can be stubborn. Analyst Cris Collinsworth brought up what I said last year. Why don’t they double team Kahlil Mack more? Last year in Mack’s epic game in Denver, they would not help out their tackles and Mack went off. Their tackles are not that great and it took until late in the game last Sunday for them to finally start helping out on him.

When asked about Siemian after the Raiders game, Kubiak said he was still making plays so there is no problem with the QB position. Now Paxton Lynch might not be the answer but if Denver throws 70% of the time for the rest of the year, they are toast.   Kubiak acted this way in Houston when Matt Schaub started to tank. Instead of using Arian Foster & Ben Tate with his run game to help him, he threw even more.

The Denver defense is now 30th against the run and can’t stop anybody.  The offensive line has also struggled. There may be changes there soon. Even so the Broncos have to go back to being a running team and take their chances. Their LB’s are no longer a strength of the team with changes there this year. Injuries have just killed the Broncos. Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster are still hurting and Brandon Marshall is hobbling badly.   DL Derek Wolfe’s injury is not as bad as first thought but he is another one on the mend. And those are just the bigger names on the list.

The rest of their schedule is rough. Their last 3 games are at home against New England, on the road to KC and back home to play the Raiders.  Before that they also have to play the Chiefs in Denver. Denver has a great home field advantage so they will need to use that to keep in the playoff hunt. Get healthy and run the ball should be their mantra.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs are a classic Andy Reid team. They are tough, disciplined and they find ways to win. If you watch their games and look at the stat sheet, you wonder how they can be 6-2. They are 22nd in rushing and 25th in passing offense. Their offense doesn’t scare anyone. On defense they are ranked 13th against the pass and 25th against the run. Their once feared pass rush with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali is now 21st in sacks. Houston is set to return this week or next and 33 year old Hali’s days are numbered as he has no cartilage in one knee and tries to play in a specialist pass rushing position. Pass rushing project Dee Ford has shown glimpses of great play and has come on of late, as has DB Steven Nelson who made the game winning defensive play against Jacksonville last week.

KC has had so many injuries; Charles, Maclin, Ware, Houston, Hali; a who’s who if you are a Chiefs fan.

The AFC West has pretty easy schedules this year and KC has played only 2 teams with winning records and are 1-1, and that obviously has helped them.

ESPN seemed to fall in love with the Chiefs last week but slow your roll.   The Chiefs have a brutal second half schedule that includes 2 games with Denver, a rematch with Oakland, and road games with San Diego, Carolina and Atlanta. They STILL might make the playoffs though because most of the AFC outside of the West is awful. Their second half schedule will greatly test them and may expose them.

I’ve never been an Alex Smith guy. He’s the Ichabod Crane of the NFL. He and Andy Reid play not to lose with their extremely conservative passing game and you can’t win big with 1-3 yard check down passes. They may make the playoffs but they are not going far.   What they will be though is hard playing and competitive. They have owned the Raiders this decade, and play Denver well so you can’t sleep on KC.   Their home field on a cold winter day is not the place to be if you are an opposing team.

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San Diego Chargers:

You have to give it up for the Chargers. With all of the turmoil surrounding their possible move, the terrible season ending injury to star WR Keenan Allen, and the drama with first round draft choice Joey Bosa, the worst was expected in San Diego. A funny thing happened. Bosa has been a breath of fresh air and has greatly helped the defensive line and pass rush and RB Melvin Gordon has had a great year behind an improved offensive line. If they don’t implode late against KC and go into a coma in the 4th in Oakland, their season could be much different. Their win in Atlanta was impressive and was not a fluke. They earned it.

Their schedule has been the hardest in the AFC West by far. They are 2-3 against teams with winning records. They split with Denver so they just have the Raiders and KC at home along with Houston on the road as their toughest remaining games. The AFC only has 5 teams with winning records and 3 are in the AFC West.   Watch out for the Chargers.   Stranger things have happened and a playoff push may not seem eminent but they could make some noise.  Their slow start really hurt them.

Philip Rivers is a good QB but just like Alex Smith I just don’t think either will win anything significant in their NFL careers. In Rivers San Diego career, the Chargers so often fall short in the second half of games, especially in the fourth quarter. They always seem to do just enough to lose.   Sometimes it’s not all Rivers fault but he’s the captain of the ship. A very good QB with great stats who never will win anything who I personally think gets a little too much love. Gordon and Bosa though could be great building blocks for the near future.  Add a healthy Keenan Allen and next year looks much brighter in San Diego.

If you sleep on these guys, they can beat you. I don’t think they make the playoffs but they could hurt someone else’s chances if they are taken lightly. They are intriguing.

Jims Jamz:

The NFL has what they want.  No more great teams; lots of average to good teams who all have a weakness.  Odds now show Seattle to be the #2 choice to win the Super Bowl and they have a bad offensive line that struggles in protection and at times running the ball.  Parity and average teams to keep all fans interested is what they want and they got it.  Everyone has issues, and what that means is that it is a toss up on who will get to the post season and who will win it all.  Most everyone has a shot if they get hot.

Can the Raiders offensive line stay healthy and will their defense hold up?   Can the Broncos stop supplying bodies for their medical staff? Will Head Coach Gary Kubiak forget about Siemian’s stats in the Cincinnati game and actually start running the ball again? Can the Chargers play 4 quarters of good football and come through in the second half of games? Can the KC Chiefs get healthy and their pass rush be restored with the return of Justin Houston? And will Alex Smith ever get over his deepballaphobia and throw the ball downfield in big games?

These are all questions that will be answered in the second half of the season. Right now the Raiders look like the odds on favorite but this is the NFL and things could change quickly.  Its’ not the good ol’ days when the AFC West dominated in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but for now it will definitely do.

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“GRADES: The Raiders Make it Official by Beating Denver; They Are Back”

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Oakland Raiders’ Latavius Murray (28) leaps to score a touchdown against the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter of their NFL game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

 

Final Oakland Raider Grades v.s. Denver Broncos; Week 9:

Denver Broncos  20 (6-3)

Oakland Raiders  30 (7-2)

The Raiders came through in a near must win situation, beating the Denver Broncos at home. It was a physical pounding of the Super Bowl champs that was loved by all in attendance.   Oakland had only played 2 teams with winning records all year and both ended up in losses at home. To go 0-3 against teams with winning records; all at home; would have been a hard pill to swallow.

Overview:

The offensive line flat out dominated this game.

Quarterback:

Statistically this was one of Carr’s worst games of the season but this is against the Broncos and it was no where near as bad as the numbers suggest. The success of the running game also limited him.  Carr was steady and accurate and didn’t make the mistakes that have plagued him against the Broncos in the past. Against good offensive teams though, the Raiders can’t settle for field goals in the red zone.

GRADE: B

Carr was 20 for 31 for 184 yards with no TD’s or interceptions. He missed on some passes but there were only a few issues that he had. Raider fans cringed when they shockingly called a pass with less than 8 minutes to go in the game and Carr made a horrible throw that was intercepted. The referees looked at it and reversed their decision because it hit the ground. Carr has to throw that away or throw to a place where only his guy can catch it. Better yet just run the ball.

Running Backs:

SO SICK of NFL ex jocks who are now sportscasters saying the Raiders can’t run the ball. The Raiders are now #4 in the NFL in rushing yards and #3 in rushing touchdowns. The Raiders running game is just fine thanks.

Latavius Murray had his best game of the year and everyone contributed. Jalen Richards looked like a rocket when hitting the hole. The Raiders offensive line is an excellent one playing at a high level and the running game is doing well.

Grade A

A thing people don’t talk about is the excellent pass blocking by the running backs when picking up the blitz. Good all around game by everyone.

Offensive Line:

Derek Carr is going to have to come up with more than big screen tv’s for presents for his OL this Christmas. The Raiders have only allowed 11 sacks all year and he’s the best protected QB in the NFL.

Round 1 against Denver goes to the Raiders OL. Dallas and Oakland have the best OL’s in the game right now and both of their QB’s are playing great. Not a coincidence. The Raiders are #3 in passing and #4 in rushing offense. A dominating performance with over 200 yards on the ground. Denver got 2 sacks but they didn’t affect the game much.

Grade A+

The OL is the key to the Raiders. Carr and the other offensive weapons get all the credit but this is the engine of the team. This OL is the “HEMI” of the NFL.

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Wide Receivers:

Nothing really special from this group but a solid game. Andre Holmes made an amazing one handed catch of a ball thrown behind him.   Even with Denver’s injuries at DB, the Raiders were held under 200 yards passing. They did their job and it helped win the game.

GRADE: B

A solid game.

Defensive Line:

Kahlil Mack had a great game and his slow start is a thing of the past. The pass rush overall was good all game as the DL put pressure on Broncos QB Trevor Siemian. Siemian struggles a ton when he’s rushed and it showed all game. Denver showed the same arrogance as last year, for the most part not trying to double team Mack and they paid for it.

The Broncos only ran 12 times and the Raiders did well to stop the run. They miss CJ Anderson. Siemian at times is a train wreck and no one has stepped up at RB.   Denver’s offensive line is very inconsistent and the Raiders took advantage of it.

Grade: A

Is the Raiders DL great; not a chance. But for this game they played great and was a breath of fresh air for a group that has struggled this year.

Linebackers:

The LB’s were very active.   Other than the long catch and run by RB Kapri Bibbs (wow was that an ugly play for the Raiders), this group played well.

Grade B+

Overall solid game.

Defensive Backs:

The pass rush definitely helped this group and they had a solid game.   Karl Joseph was fooled on 2 play action passes; one he was beaten for a TD; which shows he’s still learning the game.   Overall a solid game though. Siemian’s pathetic accuracy didn’t hurt either.

Grade B+  

This was one of their better games.

Coaching:

The Broncos had a bizarre game plan, concentrating on the passing game when it’s obvious QB Siemian is limited. Another coaching staff outthinking themselves. The Raiders took advantage of this by really going after the QB.

It was a bad decision to allow Carr to throw the ball late in the game which almost lead to an interception when it was obvious Denver could not stop the run. The Raiders need to be smarter. Just run the clock out.

They greatly improved their sloppy play from the previous 8 weeks where they lead the NFL in penalties and set a record against Tampa Bay. On a side note the game has definitely changed and there are so many pass interference penalties in the NFL that it can be hard to watch sometimes.   There is a reason passing records are falling like stars in the sky in the NFL and college game.  With the NFL rules, Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be DB’s.

Grade B+

Solid game plan against a bad run defense and limited offense.

Special Teams:

Janikowski is showing that it’s a lot different hitting 50 yard field goals in the first half of games on a losing team, than it is on a winning team trying to make the playoffs. He missed again this week. King had a solid game; could do without the Cam Newton dance party after his punts, but overall a solid game by King. Field position played a key role in the first half. The coverage team did a good job and the return game was nothing special.

Grade B+

A solid game other than the blip from Janikowski.

Conclusion:

I’ve been saying it all week. This is not a great team in Denver. They have an inconsistent OL, a QB that can throw long but not much else; and a defense that was 25th against the run coming into the game and is now 30th in the NFL after the Raiders game. Denver has had a lot of injuries and other than Marshall, their LB play isn’t the same.   The injury to CJ Anderson really hurt this team. The Raiders match up great against them. Last year the Raiders didn’t allow a bad Denver offense a TD in both games.

The game plan was good and the Raiders showed they can beat a good team. They are now on a bye week. They haven’t won anything yet though and the season is a long one so there is still work to do. They are now 1-2 against teams that presently have winning records, and those two teams had something Denver hasn’t got; good offenses. The Raiders still have holes on defense.

This was a game I thought they had to get and they did. The OL completely dominated and showed why the Raiders are doing so well this year. It was a fun night for all.

Outlook:

Tomorrow I will break down the AFC West and look at each team. The Raiders are in great shape but they still have to play each AFC west team on the road. They will next go to Mexico against Houston and even though Carolina isn’t that good this year, it will still be a tough game. Kansas City has dominated Oakland and San Diego with a pass rush is now much improved.  No one is talking about the Chiefs but they aren’t going away.   Denver is still Denver especially at home.  It should be a fun second half of the season, but for now, take 2 weeks off Raider fans to celebrate; you’ve earned it.

“We Fixed the Oakland Raiders Offense Yesterday; Now Let’s Fix the Defense”

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Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith (99) is blocked by Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Today we will look at the Raiders defense and see what needs to be done to make this a winning unit.

Last night when the New England Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills, you saw the power of a stud defensive line.  The Patriots were playing with third string players in some offensive positions but they still won.  The Patriots didn’t get a lot of sacks but the relentless pressure they put on Bills QB Tyrod Taylor was a key to that win.  Their cornerback’s are just alright but with a pass rush they become much better.

You don’t win on defense with a stud defensive backfield.  Seattle still has the best DB’s in the business but they are struggling in close games.  Why?  Teams now double team DL Michael Bennett and the other players on the line are not getting to the quarterback.

Lets look at recent NFL history.  Harbaugh’s 49ers; Seattle; Arizona; Carolina; New England; New York Giants Super Bowl years; what do these successful teams have in common?  STUD defensive lines that can control games.  The Giants beat the great Tom Brady because their DL dominated.  If you can rush the QB with only 4 players and stop the run, your defense alone can win games.  The Broncos offense is awful but their defensive line is really good.  Carolina’s DL literally controls the game while Cam Newton gets most of the publicity.  People forget the early games when he struggled.  If you have a really good defensive front, then you are going to straight up win in the NFL.  A good DL covers up a lot of issues.

Defense: 

I like Ken Norton Jr. and think he will do a good job.  He’s aggressive and has adapted more on a week to week basis than others have in the past.  He’s blitzed a lot more as the year went on and that is a good thing.  He is even blitzing DJ Hayden more which in the end somewhat hides him against the pass.  Not a dumb thing.

The defense has struggled for the most part and is near the bottom in some defensive categories against the pass.

Defensive Line:

If you want to turn your team around quickly, have a great DL that can rush the passer and stop the run.  The Raiders haven’t had that in years.  When you look at the Super Bowl wins for the Raiders, EVERY win was marked by dominating defensive front play literally beating up the opponents quarterback.

Khalil Mack is a really good NFL player but he’s not the superstar that the media tried to hype him to be.  He disappears in some games.  He was completely shut out in the Pittsburgh game, and against the Ravens and the Chargers, he had 3 tackles and no sacks combined.  Aldon Smith has been a solid player for the Raiders but it’s obvious he’s not the super talent that he was at San Francisco.  He played in the awesome 49er’s defense beside the great Justin Smith who got double teamed getting coffee.  Aldon is a good player and a keeper though and he is young.  The Raiders look like they will keep him which is a very smart thing.

Justin Ellis has had his moments but none of the other DL have shown they are starting NFL material.  Some are trying to hype Mario Edwards but I’m not buying it yet.  He may end up being good but he has a long way to go.  Getting NFL rookie of the week when you are on a DL that gave up 269 yards rushing against Minnesota isn’t exactly epic material.  The Raiders DL need to make plays at the line of scrimmage and not down the field.

Dan Williams has really been good against the run but he’s often seeing double teams now so the others need to step up.  Williams also is a bad pass rusher so he’s limited.

The Jets have a mess on their DL for next year.  DE Muhammad Wilkerson is a really a good player and he said he’s tired of getting underpaid and nose tackle/tackle Damon Harrison is another good player that may be available if the Jet’s don’t resign him.  They need to spend a lot of money and they can’t keep them all.  Add a DE to play until Smith gets back, and then when Smith gets back move Mack to LB.  Michael Bennett is still wanting out of Seattle after his walkout and he could be had with a trade.  There are not many players in the NFL as disruptive as Bennett.  He has a mean streak that is missing in Oakland.

In the end the Raiders need a tackle that can stop the run and rush the passer.  They may not be able to get any of the top players but there are those that can help immediately.

Linebacker:

This group also struggles at times because most of them have weaknesses.  Curtis Lofton is good against the run but bad against the pass.  He has improved some, but Malcolm Smith is good against the pass but bad against the run.  Ben Heeney has had to play and to be honest I loved watching him in college.  Unfortunately he’s not a good tackler and he struggles in the passing game.  In fact in his final year at Kansas he lead the nation in missed tackles.  He’s not a starter but great off the bench or in special teams.  Moving Mack back to LB immediately helps this group.

They need Mack back there to help them out but with Aldon Smith out, the Raiders are kind of stuck right now.  Lofton needs to be moved but the Raiders can’t afford the cap hit to let him go.  He’s probably here for 1 more year.

I’m not a Ray Ray Armstrong fan; I think he’s not a really good starter.  There are solid CB’s and LB’s in next years draft but to rely on a rookie is risky.  The Raiders linebackers have been somewhat disappointing and they are handcuffed by contracts somewhat but they still can upgrade in free agency.

Defensive Backs:

The Raiders defensive backs have struggled.  Woodsen struggled early guarding tight ends but he has rebounded.  He’s taken a beating this year though and his days are numbered.  Nate Allen hasn’t played much this year and he had issue’s tackling Sunday.  The DJ Hayden experiment will be over at the end of the year.  He’s just not a starting NFL CB.  David Amerson has had his good moments but he’s a nickel back at best.  TJ Carrie looked better at safety than he did at cornerback and I would move him there.  I like Carrie and think he can excel there.

The Raiders first round pick will probably be a cornerback or a safety.  They also will need to find a CB in free agency.  When the defensive line can’t get a pass rush, it’s hard to watch this defensive backfield struggle.

Kickers:

The Raiders are fine at kicker and punter.  Marquette King is solid and a positive influence and Sebastian Janikowski is fine.  He will have his bad moments but for the most part he’s very good.

Conclusion:

People got carried away when the Raiders won a few games.  I saw people predicting 10-6 to 12-4 and post season glory.  It’s hard to beat down on people that want to be so positive, but it was pie in the sky.  There are still issues in Oakland.  The Raiders have a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr and that is half of the battle.

At the start of the year I said that the Raiders would be 8-8 and they are going to have to go 4-2 the rest of the year to get to that.  They also have some tough games ahead.  I don’t think people should lose their minds if the Raiders lose but you have to be real at some point.  If you are a good team you win.  It’s really not that hard.

Moral victories are for elementary school plays, rehabbing from an injury, and pee wee soccer games.  They have had time to rebuild this team and they need to start winning.  The Raiders have improved and that is encouraging but being 4-6 when the AFC and the AFC West is so bad is a head scratcher.  Some are still talking playoffs and to be honest it’s kind of embarrassing to think they may go to the post season only because the rest of the league is so bad.

The Raiders have made it an art form on talking about what might happen in the future but they need to deal with the reality of the situation.  They are 4-6, with a defense that has struggled this year; especially against the pass; and an offense that has scored in only 2 of the last 8 quarters.  Tough decisions are ahead.

For many it’s time to be honest and go old school and bring back the days when losing was unacceptable.  With the salary cap, the Raiders will never be the juggernaut they were in the 1970’s and 80’s but there is no excuse for not being a competitive team year in and year out.  Support and nurture those players that are a part of the solution, and move on from the players that aren’t.  Time will tell if the Raiders can turn this thing around and Mark Davis, GM Reggie McKenzie & the Raiders players are on the hot seat.  No matter what happens this year, if the Raiders do not go to the playoffs next year, they need to get people in the front office and players on the field that can make it happen.

“Raiders on the Right Track Even with Setback Loss To Chicago”

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Final Oakland Raider Grades @ Chicago Bears; Week 4:

Chicago Bears 22 (1-3)

Oakland Raiders 20 (2-2)

Two steps forward, one step back. The Raiders took a step backwards with a bad loss to the Chicago Bears on the road. The Bears last win was on November 23, 2014 against Tampa Bay.   Last years team was atrocious under coach Marc Trestman and this was a nice win for the Bears and a tough loss for the Raiders. Many people including myself had the Raiders winning this one going into the Denver game.

Anyone that reads me know’s I’m not rah rah.  I tell it like it is even if it’s not that fun for homer fans to read.  I try to be honest; so when I’m saying things aren’t as bad as people are making it out to be, you should listen.

We found out 3 things with this game;

-Oakland is an improved team on the way up

-the Raiders aren’t as good as some say they are

-they play more conservative in the second half

If you are one of those people that live and die every week with your team, I hope that you have your counselor on speed dial. Not every loss is tragic, and not every win is epic. The NFL season is a marathon and you have to have a short memory whether you win or lose.  The sky isn’t falling after the loss to the hapless Bears but it is raining.

The Raiders are definitely a better team which is really a good thing for their fans and the NFL. If you expect them in the playoffs going 11-5 or 10-6 though, you are going to have some rough times. I think this is a .500 team. Considering where they came from, this would be very positive.   Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.  If you expect them to win every game then you are going to have some bad moments.  This isn’t your fathers and grandfathers Raiders.

It’s encouraging to see the great effort the players are putting in and it’s obvious this team has improved greatly over the past 12 years. I’m also realistic though, and good teams don’t lose to the likes of Chicago. I think they are on the right track though even with this setback.

Quarterback:

Derek Carr didn’t have a great day but it wasn’t bad either. He made a very nice throw to Amari Cooper for a touchdown but wasn’t as accurate as he was in the past 2 weeks. The Bears came after him more with a better pass rush and I’m sure that had some effect on him. He only threw for 196 yards.

People put all the blame for the conservative play calls on Raiders OC Bill Musgrave but I guarantee you if Brady or Rodgers doesn’t like the play, they change it. Bears DC Vic Fangio had a pretty clear mindset; take away the first down run and make the Raiders throw. It worked like it had so many times last year. The conservative nature of the game in the second half has to fall partly on Carr who can audible at any time.

The mindset of Carr, Musgrave, and the Raiders offense on the last drive seemed to be lets get a field goal.   The Bears were aggressive on defense and Cooper had man to man coverage on the entire final drive. A play action deep pass had to be tried. When your defense is really good you can get the field goal; when it isn’t, you go for the touchdown.

GRADE: B

Again, it wasn’t like the last 2 weeks but it wasn’t a bad game. The improved pass rush made him hurry a few throws and his accuracy wasn’t what it was. Crabtree made some really nice catches on a couple of them. I like Carr’s development but he has to audible when so many defenders are on the line of scrimmage on first down.

Running Backs:

I’ve said it before; the Raiders are taking a huge risk putting all their eggs in the Latavius Murray basket.   I think Marcel Reece needs to get some snaps at running back. He’s just too talented to only touch the ball a couple of times a game.

Murray imploded. He constantly was looking over his shoulder anticipating hits and hearing footsteps. He dropped 2 passes; one which went for an interception; fumbled a simple pitch play and was off all day. It got so bad he was benched for the rest of the 4th quarter and replaced by backup Roy Helu Jr. who played well in his absence. Helu Jr. made some nice runs and caught the ball well.

Grade C

Helu Jr. was a nice change of pace and Marcel Reece; on one of his few touches; made a great grab for a nice pass reception. Murray was brutal and he played like he did not want to be there. A good NFL player shows up every week. Murray didn’t show up.

Offensive Line:

Most of the networks picked up on what the strategy of the day for the Bears was; take away the first down run. Trent Green (who other than his worship of NFL QB’s is a really good analyst) pointed out a few times on first down that the Bears safeties were about 8 yards off the line of scrimmage.   The Bears dared the Raiders to throw, but in the second half they continued to run on first down. An audible with a play action pass and throwing a long one to Cooper was there all day long, including the last drive.

People are quick to blame the offensive line for the run struggles in this game but you can’t run the ball against 8 defenders near the line of scrimmage while trying to run on first down all the time.

The Raiders are not going to be able to run the ball if they don’t keep teams honest and throw on first down. Against the Ravens especially, they did play action on first down often and it opened up the field and the run.

Carr had a moderate rush at times and was sacked twice. Not a great day but not as bad as people say. Again if the stars don’t shine on an NFL team, Fan speak 101 says blame the coaches and the offensive line. If the stars shine, give the stars all the credit. Momma don’t let your babies grow up to be offensive linemen.

Grade C+

This group can play better.   Carr still had time to throw but the Raiders have to throw on first down more and keep teams honest or they can’t run the ball. The OL has had better games and will continue to improve and gel.

Wide Receivers:

Crabtree twisted his ankle but he came back and made two great grabs and lead the team with 5 catches for 80 yards. Cooper had a nice route and catch on a touchdown but other than a drop in the first quarter, he wasn’t much of a factor either way.

Seth Roberts almost made a great catch for another TD but his foot was out of bounds.

GRADE: B

A gutsy performance by Crabtree. The Raiders didn’t have the ball all that much and when they did; especially in the 2nd half; they were fairly conservative.

Defensive Line:

Dan Williams and Justin Tuck continue to play well. Aldon Smith and Kahlil Mack played well, especially Smith who had 6 solo tackles, a pass batted down, a tackle for loss and a sack. The Raiders again blitzed often in the first half but didn’t as much in the second half. On the final drive they mostly rushed 4 men and had a mild blitz on only one play.

Matt Forte is a great running back and even though he did get 91 yards rushing, it took 25 carries to do so.   Not a great game but not bad either.

In the second half though the lack of pass rush has to be addressed. The Raiders have to continue to send blitzes. Right now this group isn’t good enough to just rush 4 players yet.

Grade: C+

At times they played really well and at other times they could not get the pressure on the quarterback that they needed to. The Raiders need to mix in blitzes throughout the game to keep teams honest.   They continue to be too conservative to want to blitz near the end of the game.

Linebackers:

Like I’ve said before, the LB’s have their strengths but all of them have weaknesses too. Curtis Lofton had a bad game though. He’s usually really good against the run but he was inconsistent. He is not a cover guy and he struggled mightily in pass coverage.

I’m still not sold that Ray Ray Armstrong is a starter. Malcolm Smith is a good blitzer and pass defender but not much of a run stopper and it showed at times. This group is going to have good and bad days and this was not one of their better days.

Grade C-

The Raiders LB’s struggled at times and seemed lost against the pass.

Defensive Backs:

Jay Cutler couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn at times but he still carved up the Raiders defense for 281 yards and 2 TD’s and an interception. The Raiders pass defense is just awful at times. Part of it is that they are so depleted with injuries, but in reality they really don’t have a quality starting cornerback. Carrie again had to be moved over to safety due to injuries. DJ Hayden again struggled and to be honest I’m tired of picking on him. He’s just not a starting NFL CB and with 4.9 million due him next year, he’s all but gone. David Amerson was a surprise at CB with 2 nice plays knocking down passes in coverage.   He also was second on the team with tackles at 7.

The Raiders safeties can’t guard tight ends. The Raiders have tried everything; even covering tight ends with linebackers; but it’s just not happening. If the Raiders pass rush struggles, so will the DB’s.

Grade D  

The Raiders are 31st in passing yards against and 31st in total yards. They are now 26th in scoring defense.

Even with the Bears having so few weapons, this was another rough day for this group. Without Alshon Jeffery, the Bears do not have a #1 WR.   This group took it to the Raiders at times. In fact, Cutler threw only to 4 players all day.

Coaching:

The Raiders on offense were much more conservative than in the past, and it was really seen in the second half. The Raiders were afraid to pass on 1st down and they struggled mightily running the ball with the Bears putting many people in the block to stop it. In almost every first down play in the second half, the Raiders ran the ball. Carr also has to audible more on first down. Cooper often had clear man to man coverage on first down which should have meant play action pass, and then throw to him deep.

Musgrave did well by benching Murray because he just was somewhere else.

On defense, the Raiders again rarely blitzed in the second half. No matter what the publicity says, the Raiders 4 man rush can’t rush the passer on every down and harass the QB enough to disrupt him right now. The Raiders needed to blitz more. I watched the Denver game and the Broncos blitzed often in the final drive against the Vikings and it worked with a fumble recovery after hitting Teddy Bridgewater which secured the win. The Raiders have nothing to lose and you have to look at the risk v.s. reward.

I also think with the Raiders having so little talent and depth at cornerback that having TJ Carrie return punts was a huge mistake. It came back to bite them when Carrie had to leave the game after returning a kick.

Grade C-

Too conservative again in the second half. Some though are trying to blame the coaches in regards to the opponents tight ends dominating the Raiders, but they’ve tried everything. Woodsen is getting his interceptions but he struggles a lot in coverage. With all of the injuries at safety and the struggles of the linebackers in coverage, the Raiders are going to be vulnerable to tight ends all year. If Carrie can get back on the field, maybe have him stay at safety and take over the role.

Special Teams:

TJ Carrie getting injured on a punt return was discouraging.

Sebastian Janikowski and Marquette King were as solid as always. One of the most consistent groups in the NFL.   The return game wasn’t much of a factor and it was hard to lose a starting DB during a punt return.

Grade A-

King and Jano are solid as always. Return game not much of a factor.

Next Opponent:   Denver Broncos (4-0); last game, win @ home against the Minnesota Vikings 23-20)

Outlook:

The Raiders are an improved team and this loss should not discourage that. What it should do though is give them a reality check.   They are an average team; which is good from where they came from; looking to become a good one.

No matter how you spin it though, this was a bad loss against a team that hadn’t won a game since last November. The AFC west is not what it once was so that helps the Raiders some, but Denver’s aggressive defense is for real.

Peyton Manning is on his last legs, but he still has weapons in the likes of Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos offense isn’t what it once was and has struggled this year. Their defense though might be the best in the NFL. They have 4 solid pass rushers and an aggressive style that is constantly finding ways to get to the quarterback. I like them a lot and love their aggressive nature.

The Raiders are just 7-17 against the Broncos since 2003 and 0-7 in their last 7 meetings. Denver’s margin of victory in those 7 wins is 22 points. They have controlled the Raiders by stopping the run and rushing the passer on passing downs. On offense, they’ve been able to do pretty much what they wanted against the Raiders so this will be a good test for the defense.

The Raiders will have their hands full against Denver next week. They hope to continue their improved offensive performance while enhancing their ability to get to the passer which will be imperative against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

“I’m Going Against the “EXPERTS”. The Raiders Will Go 2-1 Sunday In Cleveland in a MUST WIN Road Game”.

OAK-vs.-CLV

Week 3 Preview: Oakland Raiders (1-1) @ Cleveland Browns (1-1)

Sunday, September 27, 10:00 AM PST on CBS

FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

It’s not a big stretch but I feel the Raiders will win their next matchup against the Cleveland Browns.  Let’s look at the game in depth to see why.

Recap of Last week:

Raiders: Oakland had their best game in years on offense with a 37-33 home victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Derek Carr had a career day. Without much fan fare the Offensive Line had their best day in years with Carr barely getting touched all game.  The OL and Carr were awful against the Bengal’s so this is a nice come back for them.

Carr is not a pure pocket passer so protecting him is a must for his success.   In the first game against the Bengal’s he was rushed. Against the Ravens he was barely touched. Since college, Carr has struggled against a pass rush.

Another must is rolling him out and throwing deep which was done to perfection by proper play calling. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree had great games and there was plenty to smile about on offense.

The Defense is another story. They have been a sieve against the pass and are last or near last in many defensive categories including yards and scoring. They are also tied for last in sacks with 0. Khalil Mack had another forgettable game with only 1 tackle and no sacks all day. The only bright spots for the defense have been the run stopping abilities of Dan Williams and Justin Tuck who are thriving playing together. Curtis Lofton was hurt early in the first game but was a tackling machine in the win against the Ravens.

Cleveland:   Cleveland also got a big win with a 28-14 romp of the Tennessee Titans in Cleveland. Johnny Manziel got lots of publicity due to his 2 touchdown passes, but he was only 8 for 15 for 172 yards and a 75% QBR. Manziel is now benched and Josh McCown will start. Neither QB is scary.

With WR Josh Gordon out for the year due to his 3rd suspension, the only real weapon the Browns offense has is WR Travis Benjamin who is also a great punt returner. He doesn’t catch a lot of passes but due to his speed, the ones that he does usually end up going a long play. The Browns running game right now is average only getting a little over 3 yards per attempt.

On defense they are better but still not world beaters. They have a good pass rush which was seen by an amazing 7 sacks last week, but the Browns run defense is ranked last in the NFL.

The Raiders will win if:

DEFENSE: The Raiders defense has been awful and only Chicago has been worse. What they need is for Khalil Mack to have a big game and Aldon Smith needs to step up and make a difference.  The run game of Cleveland isn’t scary and I think this will be a game that the Raiders defense can play well in. I don’t see the Browns offense doing much this game.

T.J. Carrie will probably be on Benjamin and in reality the rest of the WR are not that good. Due to the Raiders safety situation, watch the tight ends for Cleveland. Tight ends have had huge numbers against the Raiders in the first 2 weeks.

OFFENSE: Carr had a great game and got all the credit but in reality the OL protected him like a fortress.  If they continue to roll Carr out and throw deep; his 2 strengths; look for another good game from the young QB.

Latavius Murray will have his chance to shine. He should get 20-25 touches at RB and look for a 100 yard game and a touchdown. If the Raiders fall in love with the pass and don’t run, look for a much harder game.  With this OL, the Raiders should be able to run well.

The Browns will win if:

DEFENSE: Cleveland needs to keep Carr in the pocket. Carr has really good accuracy on the run, so they need to put pressure on him when he rolls out. They also need to get to him to stop the 5 and 7 step long passes. He’s much better in the pocket when he has great protection than fighting pass rushers which he struggles with.

Players like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers have amazing pocket awareness and footwork and can handle the rush without problems; ever since college it’s just not Carr’s talent.  Carson Palmer is having a great year but his career shows he will make bad throws if he’s pressured.  Arizona has allowed ZERO sacks and it’s not a coincidence that Palmer is having an amazing year so far.

The king of not handling a rush is Peyton Manning and he’s struggling.  Denver’s OL is playing badly and Manning’s been sacked 7 times this season already and in some years at Indy he wasn’t sacked 10 times all year.  Some QB’s can handle a pass rush and some can’t.

The Browns also need to take away the run game and make the Raiders more predictable so that they can unleash their pass rush. Cincinnati’s DL and corners played great in the first game and the Raiders had no answers.

OFFENSE: They will win if they can run the ball successfully. If they can’t run the ball then their passing game becomes predictable and their passing game isn’t very good.

McCown also needs to not be conservative and try to get the ball downfield to Benjamin. The Raiders are vulnerable against the pass and the Browns have not shown much of a passing game.

Conclusion:

It’s amazing how bad west coast teams play when traveling east and playing the early game so that is a concern. The Raiders have lost their last 11 road games and their last 19 out of 20 being the visiting team. These are mind blowing statistics of futility.

I trust gamblers. It’s uncanny how right sports books are when making point spreads and they have the Browns as a 2.5 to 3.5 point favorite. Some sports books have 70% of the gamblers taking Cleveland.

As my followers know, I’m very unbiased though and I go by what I see, and I just don’t why everyone is picking Cleveland. The Browns are awful on offense and are terrible against the run on defense.

I see the Raiders having a good game on defense, and for Latavius Murray to have a solid if not spectacular 100 yard rushing game. Look for Khalil Mack and/or Aldon Smith to get their first sacks and for Curtis Lofton to lead the linebackers to improve their game. I don’t see a 300 yard epic passing game for Carr, but I do see a solid hard fought win. The Carrie v.s. Benjamin battle will be something to watch as well. Johnny Manziel coming off the bench is a probability.

Final Score:

Raiders 23

Browns 16

This is a MUST win for the Raiders; the Browns are just not very good and road wins are at a premium. Good teams don’t lose games like these.

They have 6 tough AFC West games, along with games against the Steelers, Packers, and 3 more brutal early east coast travel games against the Bears, Lions, and Titans.   I see the Raiders going to 2-1 with a hard fought win in the Dawg Pound and then look forward to playing the Chicago Bears.

“The Passing of an Oakland Raider’s Legend; Defensive Icon Charlie Sumner Dies; Tom Flores Comments”

jack-squirek

“They handed us our asses on a tray and the tray was bent.”

Washington Quarterback Joe Theisman after Super Bowl XVIII loss to the Raiders 38-9.

 

Official Statement of the Oakland Raiders on the passing of Charlie Sumner.

“The Raiders are deeply saddened by the news of Charlie Sumner’s passing. Charlie was an esteemed part of the Raider family and was instrumental in some of the Silver and Black’s greatest triumphs. Our deepest sympathies are with Charlie’s Family at this time”.

“I remember Matt Millen going ballistic yelling at Charlie not to take him out because they couldn’t handle him. Two minutes later I look over and Matt is hoisting up Charlie screaming with joy.”

Raider Coach Tom Flores

 

Here is a great video showing Matt Millen lifting Charlie Sumner.  NFL films also doing a quick tribute to the Raiders Super Bowl team

http://www.raiders.com/news/article-1/Raiders-Statement-on-Passing-of-Charlie-Sumner/095ae53c-c10a-4650-b740-2469f29e35a4

 

“Charlie had a great overview of the whole picture.   He worked on drills and techniques, but his overall input on game day was what I thought was most impressive.  He was unique in that he could find a weakness in an offense and attack it.  He gave players the opportunity to succeed and the hopes were that they’d get it done.  Players loved to play for him and they knew they’d always be supported and prepared.”

Raiders Coach Tom Flores

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Howie Long and Ted Hendricks thanked him in their Hall of Fame acceptance speeches. Raider coaches and players swore by him, and the NFL hated to go against him. Al Davis and Ron Wolf smiled whenever they talked about him.

Another icon in the family of the Oakland Raiders is gone with the passing this weekend of the great Charlie Sumner at the age of 84. His son Colin announced that he had passed away in Maui due to complications from Gall Bladder surgery.  He was a player and a coach who like Ron Wolf always wanted to stay in the background.

In my sports writing, I always try to honor and respect those successful people that many of us may not know.   I think for the most part, Oakland Raider fans do too. I LOVED getting dozens of direct messages on twitter from young Raider fans thanking me for telling them about Ron Wolf. Wolf is now in the hall of fame. I hope that I can do that for Charlie Sumner as well.

The word great is thrown around way too much these days. In regards to true greatness, the Mt. Rushmore of Oakland Raiders leadership was one of the greatest in the history of the game.   You had John Madden; the ultimate motivator and players coach. You had Charlie Sumner, a genius in game management and game preparation. There was Ron Wolf, who was probably the greatest evaluator of talent in the history of the NFL. Then you had Al Davis, the amazing leader who demanded excellence and loyalty, and is in the top 5 most important figures in NFL history.  Three hall of famers and another with hall of fame talent.

Al Davis and Ron Wolf said it constantly in regards to their defensive philosophy; the quarterback must go down and go down hard. Charlie Sumner was more than happy to accommodate them.

Sumner-Charlie_4

The offensive players in most Super Bowls get all of the attention but in reality if you look at the Raiders 3 Super Bowl wins, their defenses dominated and harassed some great offensive teams and quarterbacks. For two of those Super Bowls; and for many years; the leader of the defense was the great Charlie Sumner.

Sumner started his coaching career when Al Davis came to Oakland in 1963.   He began as the defensive backs coach.   He then went to Pittsburgh and was one of the coaches that helped start the Steel Curtain era. He was fast becoming a hot commodity in coaching and the lowly New England Patriots called him to run their defense.

Within 2 years the Patriots defense greatly improved and they had their first non losing season in 8 years. Within 3 years of Sumner arriving, the Patriots were in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and they lost a controversial game in Oakland against the Raiders. Mike Haynes who became a star with New England, has given a lot of credit to Charlie Sumner helping him to become a good player. The Patriots were big and physical.

He returned to Oakland and he continued to show a cerebral approach off the field, and a physical one on it. He helped lead an amazing run in 1980 that lead to a Super Bowl win; the first Super Bowl title for any Wild Card team.

At times the Raiders offense struggled that year and the defense kept them in the games that they did. It was during a high scoring era with the San Diego Chargers “Air Coryell” attack leading the way with an electric and explosive offense. The Raiders found ways to win though.

In the playoffs the Raiders stunned the NFL by beating the upstart Cleveland Browns “Cardiac Kids” in a frigid game 14-12. The game was saved by an amazing interception by Mike Davis. “River City” Sam Rutigliano was the Cleveland Browns coach and he was known for taking risks. Sumner had anticipated this and had the defensive backfield play up; ready for the pass; just in case the Browns decided to throw the ball.

The next week the Raiders stunned the NFL again by beating the heavily favored San Diego Chargers 34-27 in San Diego, in what is probably the Chargers greatest team in their proud history. The Raiders seemed destined to win early. On their first drive Jim Plunkett threw a probable interception that bounced off a Chargers players hands and right into the hands of Raiders tight end Raymond Chester who happily coasted to a 65 yard touchdown. The Raiders defense held the mighty Chargers to only 3 fourth quarter points for a 34-27 win.

In the Super Bowl against Philadelphia, the Raiders again were an underdog by 4 points against a very physical Eagles team that had dominated the Raiders and quarterback Jim Plunkett earlier in the year with a 10-7 victory in the city of brotherly love.

In the Super Bowl, the offense was good but the defense was better. Sumner began mixing occasional blitzes and putting pressure on Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. The Raiders pass rush made Ron Jaworski rush many throws and the vaunted Eagles running game with Wilbert Montgomery was stifled to an amazing 69 total yards as a team.

Rod Martin had the greatest defensive game in the history of the Super Bowl with 3 amazing interceptions. Charlie Sumner’s defense was so dominating, the Raiders won 27-10 with Plunkett only completing 13 passes in 21 attempts. Two touchdowns to Cliff Branch sealed the win.

Charlie Sumner’s shining moment was in Super Bowl XVIII. The Raiders were playing the highest scoring offense in the history of the NFL up to that time in Washington. The Raiders had lost to them @ RFK Stadium in week 5 by a score of 37-35 in a classic thriller.

Washington was first listed as an amazing 10 point favorite and many said the Super Bowl was actually played the week before. They had beaten Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers @ RFK to win the NFC title game. Most felt they would handle the Raiders fairly easily and if they did, they would be the GREATEST team in football history.

Charlie Sumner changed up his tactics in the Super Bowl and went after quarterback Joe Theisman. The Raiders would get an amazing 6 sacks during the game, including 3 in the fourth quarter. Washington’s brilliant rushing attack with Joe Washington and John Riggins running behind the famous “hogs” was grounded and held to 2.8 yards per rush.  No one ever dominated Washington’s offensive line the way the Raiders did.

Al Davis hated to blitz but Sumner brought the very rare cornerback blitz as a constant weapon.  He had surprised teams in the post season with it.   Davis had one rule; if it works and you win, then I’ll stay out of it.  He did.

Late in the first half of the Super Bowl, Washington called time out.   They had the ball deep in their own territory. To the amazement of an unhappy and very angry Matt Millen, Charlie Sumner replaced him with backup linebacker Jack Squirek who was good against the pass. Sumner remembered in week 5 that Joe Theisman ran a screen to Joe Washington in the same part of the field late in the half. It went for a long pass play that lead to a late touchdown.

Sumner told Squirek that he was sure that they would run a screen and he told him to shadow running back Joe Washington who was the best pass catching running back in the NFL. Then he grabbed him and said, “Don’t drop the interception”. In true Super Bowl lore, it happened exactly the way Sumner said it would. Theisman lofted a pass to Washington and Squirek jumped in front of the pass and scored a touchdown to put the Raiders up 21-3 at halftime. Matt Millen lost it and grabbed Charlie Sumner and lifted him up in the air screaming with happiness.

Amazingly the Raiders held the greatest offense in history at that time to ZERO points in the final 24 minutes of the game for a 38-9 demolition of the supposed GREATEST team in NFL history.

Charlie Sumner was the greatest defensive mind to ever lead the Oakland Raiders. His defenses were designed to rush the quarterback and stop the run which is a huge key to any team that wants to win the Super Bowl. He was a big part of the success of the Oakland Raiders dynasty and will always hold a rightful place as a key player in the greatness of the Oakland Raiders.

“The Greatest Defensive Backfield of all time! The Oakland Raiders Soul Patrol”

soul patrolf

There will never be a defensive backfield like the Oakland Raiders Soul Patrol of the 1970’s ever again.  They were the most intimidating and greatest group of all time.

The 70’s will always be remembered as the greatest era for the NFL.  It’s the era when there were many great teams and great quarterbacks.  Without a salary cap some backups on the great teams could start elsewhere.  Defenses could do as they please with little to no protection for QB’s and WR’s.  Television helped make the Superbowl become a must see event.  Teams like the Raiders, Steelers, Dolphins, Chiefs, Cowboys and Vikings made this a decade of excellence.  The Steel Curtain, the No Name Defense, and the Purple People Eaters are all revered names in NFL lore.  When the Steelers met the Raiders in the mid 70’s, there were no less than 22 hall of fame coaches, owners, and players on the field at one time.  That will never happen again.

“There was nothing like them”, said HOF QB Fran Tarkenton in a KNBR radio interview.  “In 1979 the NFL created the 5 yard chuck rule because of Atkinson, Tatum and the Raiders.  Wide Receivers could not get off the line of scrimmage against them.  Atkinson and Tatum and the rest of the gang were so physical and strong that I’d have to wait and hope my guys could get open”.

The wide receivers of the 70’s never get their due because their numbers weren’t the pinball numbers of today.  In today’s NFL, if you exhale near a receiver it is a penalty.  In the 1970’s it was literally survival of the fittest.  They had to worry about the great physical play of the era and you could not be a wide receiver unless you could go over the middle. I’ve seen pass interference penalties in today’s game where a defensive back literally brushed by a player.  The rules are so comical now that records are being broken almost weekly.  The 70’s on the other hand was an extremely brutal and tough era, and the most talented and toughest defensive backfield of them all was the Soul Patrol in Oakland.

The center of the sporting world in the 70’s was Oakland California.  In 1975 a team lead by superstar Rick Barry silenced all the east coast and their writers by sweeping the Washington Bullets for the NBA title.  The Oakland A’s dynasty had an amazing 3 straight World Series Championships beating national league royalty in the Dodgers, Reds, and NY Mets.  And then oh by the way, for a 25 year stretch the Raiders were the winningest team in all of sports with several division titles, and 3 superbowl wins.  No city ever had so many titles in such a short time.

The Soul Patrol embodied what the Oakland Raiders were all about.  They were tough, borderline dirty, intimidating and extremely confident.  Each member played their role and they roamed the NFL like a pack of wolves.

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George Atkinson Jr.:  (“Butch” 6’ 0”; 180 lbs.)

There may have never been a tougher Raider than George Atkinson.  Listed as 6 feet tall, many say it was more like 5’ 10” but no one had the guts to tell him that.

Atkinson was an intimidator that roamed the field like a lion ready to pounce.  He was the trash talker of the group often seen taunting and intimidating players that were much bigger than he was.  He once broke Russ Francis nose with a vicious forearm hit, and his hits against Lynn Swann of the Steelers are a part of NFL history.  He had blazing speed and in fact still holds the single game record for punt return yardage for the Raiders at 205 yards.

Atkinson took it very personally when someone tried to block him low.  He learned from Tatum to go after a Wide Receiver if they tried to hit their knees or ankles.  In some films you can actually see Raiders defensive backs going towards blockers to actually hit them after they tried to hit them low.  All time great Paul Warfield once said when you went over the middle against Oakland and didn’t account for Tatum and Atkinson, you would not be in the game long without being carried off the field.  Against the run, he could go through blockers and make amazingly hard tackles.  If you ran wide against the Raiders, their DB’s would make you pay.  Atkinson loved to make players pay.

willie brown

Willie Brown:  (6’ 1”; 195 lbs.)

Amazingly Hall of Famer Willie Brown was never drafted when he graduated from Grambling St.  He was signed by the Buffalo Bills who cut him and then he was picked up by the Denver Broncos.  He soon became an all star but was traded to the Raiders in 1967 where he played for the rest of his career.  Unlike the other 3 members of the soul patrol, Brown was fast, graceful and laid back.  He wasn’t a talker but a great defender who was a shut down corner. He had good size and played the run very well, but he was a master of the bump and run, man to man game that the Raiders loved so much.  His famous interception in the Superbowl with the great announcer Bill King’s call of old man Willie is as famous as any highlight NFL films has.

skip thomas

Skip Thomas CB (Dr. Death; 6’ 1”; 205 lb.):

In a day when cornerbacks were just as important in attacking the run as they did the pass, Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas role was to make everyone that came near him remember that he hit them.  What is funny is he was nicknamed Dr. Death by Raiders great Bob Brown who said Skip Thomas looked like the cartoon character Dr. Death.

Skip Thomas was a vicious tackler who was the king of the clothesline tackle.  Many times his padded arm was seen knocking the ball out of wide receivers hands.  When he hit people, sometimes he would actually launch his whole body and his arm swung like a Russian sickle.  It was intimidating, violent and sent the message to not come his way.  He had a two year stretch of 6 interceptions per year.  Due to the great talent of Willie Brown, teams would try to pick on Skip Thomas and usually the results were not good.

People forget that in the Super Bowl, Minnesota moved their fine wide receiver Sammy White around so that Thomas mostly guarded him in the first half.  White didn’t  catch a pass in the first half and Thomas was on him like glue.  As the great Raiders announcer Bill King once said, the Raiders have 3 safeties.

Sadly he passed away in 2011 at the age of 61, but he will always be remembered for his talent, toughness and personality as one of the great members of the Soul Patrol.

jack tatum

Jack Tatum Safety (Assassin; 5’ 10”, 205 lb.):

During the Super Bowl break, the NFL show with Cris Collinsworth was discussing players that should be in the hall of fame, and to a man they all said the same name.   Chris Berman and many others kept bringing up one man; Jack Tatum.

He may have been the most intimidating force in NFL history this side of Dick Butkus. Sadly he was mentally saddled with the hit on Darryl Stingley which paralyzed him for the rest of his life.  Many close to Tatum said he really never got over it up to his death in 2010 at the age of 61.

Earl Campbell said no one ever hit him harder than his touchdown run where he and Tatum hit head on.  Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton said he thought Tatum knocked Sammy White’s head off in the Superbowl hit that Tatum laid on him when the Raiders dominated the Minnesota Vikings.

I remember a story that Ahmad Rashad told.  He said that days before the Vikings were to play the Raiders in the Superbowl, Tatum had walked into a room where the Vikings were relaxing.  Tatum walked into the closet and just stood there for a couple of minutes.  He then walked out of the closet and left.  Rashad said that not one Viking laughed or said a word until they saw Tatum walking out of the building.  Rashad said that it was a mind game of intimidation and he said it worked.  He said, “we laughed; we just made sure Tatum couldn’t hear us”.

Tatum was a linebacker playing safety.  He also was dominating against the run and would take on guards and tackles at any given notice.  Many game films show Tatum chasing blockers trying to hit them before the blockers would try to block them.  Tatum was vicious, fearless and ready to hit anyone.  He epitomized the great physical play of the day, and what the Raiders defense always tried to do; stop the run and make the quarterback go down, and go down hard. With a good pass rush, the Raiders defense was hard to beat as was seen in their dominance.

With today’s rules there will never be hits and aggressive play like the Soul Patrol did.  Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers pretty much do as they please and the Soul Patrol would not be allowed to do what they did best; intimidate, make plays, and be legends.  In the most physical era, the Soul Patrol was like a pack of wolves ready to take down any sized prey.  They remain the greatest defensive backfield of all time.