With the passing of Buffalo Bills superfan Ezra Castro AKA Pancho Billa, the NFL fandom was reminded just how fragile life can be. Fans and players of all teams came together to mourn a man that loved his team, family, & everyone that came in contact with him.
Thirty nine years is not enough for most people, but in those years Ezra gave a lifetime worth of kindness and love. After every kind act shown to him, Ezra was shocked & often humbled at the kindness that people gave him. He never got that people thought he was a big deal and downplayed his importance. In a social media world where the need for attention and self importance is the norm, Ezra was a regular guy and a breath of fresh air.
When Greg Dresko and I did our podcast with Ezra, it was obvious he did not feel good but he rarely cancelled anything. Even on his bad days he would do interviews with a smile. After our podcast I created a prayer night for him that Greg & I promoted. Literally thousands of people got involved praying for Pancho and all of those battling cancer. We did a second one not too long ago that was also greatly supported. People really cared and it was inspiring.
Buffalo was the perfect team for Ezra. It is a team that is set back in the time of the old AFL. A team that has not yet been ruined by the greed of NFL owners who’s only loyalty is to the money they can make. They have an old stadium, the second lowest ticket prices in the NFL, and a raucous loyal fan base. While everyone else changed, Buffalo didn’t. It is a special place.
With fancy, expensive stadiums pricing out many fans, the Bills are stuck in a wonderful time warp that allows for a foundation that continues to come to the games year after year. A loyal following that braves bitter cold and wind to support their Bills. From Jack Kemp to Joe Ferguson, to Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, the Bills rich tradition is steeped in a blue collar us against the world mentality. What an amazing place.
I don’t think any fan base or team other than Buffalo could have survived losing 4 Super Bowls while still coming back with dignity and grace. Through all of the jokes and taunting, winning 4 conference championships is still among one of the greatest achievements in NFL history & they are very proud of it.
Ezra & the Spirit of Buffalo:
In true Buffalo Bill spirit, Pancho Billa battled until the end. Just like Steve Tasker making an amazing play in a Super Bowl that had long been lost, Ezra never gave up. Adversity was what Ezra faced each day after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Even in his darkest days he would show a positive, caring spirit that inspired so many. We DM’d each other on Twitter and his last message to me was a smiling emoji with a halo over his head. He knew. He also though remained positive asking people to never quit praying for a miracle. Giving up was never an option.
In reality the biggest gift Pancho Billa gave to people was the way he handled his illness. Even with social media bringing out the worst in people, he showed a spirit of pride and kindness that touched so many. He remained positive at the worst of times inspiring us all to not take ourselves too seriously. In a world where many get angry at the drop of a hat, he showed a calm passion and compassion for others during his fight.
The Power of NFL Fans:
Ezra reminded NFL fans everywhere that we are not gang members or part of a football militia that should hate anything not affiliated with our teams. He showed that in reality we are all on the same team of life and that football is a fun outlet & family to belong to. Happiness, health & supporting each other during the best and worst of times is what life is about. We all saw how our hearts are more powerful than any owners money or new stadium. It’s about the fans and the amazing relationships that we create from being fans. The simplest of things.
How I’ll Remember Ezra & You:
What I’ll remember most about Ezra, was how he brought everyone together. For a moment in time fans in New England and Oakland were on the same team. Dallas and Philly fans prayed for a miracle together and people began to realize all of the petty arguments and hate was not what being a fan was about. It’s a willingness to help when hope is hard to find, and being there to support and love someone during great times as well as their darkest hour.
Many of you have really touched me with your sincerity and compassion and I’m very proud of everyone. Your kindness touched Ezra and helped him and his family get through such an unspeakable tragedy. As much of a gift people felt Pancho was, he felt the same about you. He brought out the best in all of us and it sure felt good.
How to Keep His Legacy Alive:
If you really want to keep his legacy alive, lets be like him. Give as much as you can to others and show kindness with a calm spirit. As Ezra once said, “don’t bring flowers to my funeral. I hate flowers. Bring backpacks full of school supplies for kids”. Think of others first, and show love and appreciation and support to one another. Most of all do it without judgement or opinion. Love completely without complete understanding. What an amazing legacy that would be. And nothing would be more pleasing to the great Pancho Billa.
With the announcement of Oakland Raiders star pass rusher Khalil Mack’s hold out, some began to worry if there was a possibility the Raiders may eventually lose Mack after this season. I love social media and it already has many comments on the subject. Some are tweeting Mack is done with the Raiders and others are saying he won’t be there week 1. As we always do, let’s be realistic about this situation.
I said after the Super Bowl that if I was Khalil Mack, I would not play another play without a long term deal. If Mack plays the last year of his contract and gets hurt, he will lose money, and maybe a lot of it.
Some said that they want Mack to just show up and play because he is making a good salary now but that would be ridiculous. At 27 years old, this will be Mack’s biggest contract signing of his career, so he needs to cash in on it big time.
Last year the Rams all world DT Aaron Donald held out until the day before the season started wanting a new contract. Rams fans/writers were losing their minds saying he ruined his season and he was done in Los Angeles. After a few weeks Donald was back to form terrorizing offenses while being double teamed most of the year. I do agree that it remains to be seen if the Rams burned a bridge with him but the hopes there is that they can work out a long term deal.
Le’Veon Bell didn’t show up for Pittsburgh until September 1st and after a sluggish start, began to dominate in week 4 becoming maybe the best all around RB in the NFL. After the season ended, ridiculous rumors started popping up that the Raiders were in the lead to get Bell. I reminded a national writer and several local writers that this was nonsense. For a year Pittsburgh said that they were going to franchise Bell and that was that. Well, that is exactly what happened.
You have to think these things through and not just throw things on the wall to get a rise out of people. Thus when you hear rumors, read the people you trust and do your own homework and see that most rumors are nothing to worry about.
The Reggie McKenzie Factor:
Just like with Derek Carr, Reggie McKenzie isn’t the type to want to wait until the last second to sign a player. They want to sign Mack quickly before his final year begins. Both sides are reasonable, want to have a relationship, and feel good about getting it done. Remember that Derek Carr signed on June 22nd of last year so there is no need to panic. I would not overreact to all of the nasty nipping and fighting that may occur during these types of negotiations. When a deal is done, most everything is forgiven no matter how nasty the negotiations.
Last year in a nice interview with NBC Bay Area, Mack stated that he knows this is a business. He also said he wanted to be a Raider for life and that it’s a no-brainer for him to stay with Oakland for the rest of his career. Mack has shown himself to be honest and level headed. Nothing has changed and I see Mack signing something long term most likely sooner than later.
Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald are playing a cat and mouse game to see who signs first, so the other player can get an idea of what to ask for. As for head coach Jon Gruden, he just wants him on the field again. Even in a couple of press conferences this week, Gruden said that what the Raiders do in contracts is private, but he said they would like to have Mack back signed as quickly as possible and he’s hopeful they can reach an agreement. He also commented that part of coming back as a coach was to coach for Mack.
Should Raider fans be worried right now? No. If I was Mack I’d hold out until the season started if needed, and then I’d tell the Raiders the time to talk ended and I’m opting out for free agency at the end of the season. Of course during the season I’d still be negotiating and trying to sign a deal.
I personally think Mack will sign in late June or even July. I don’t think it could play out until August but who knows. Either way I’d be shocked and stunned if he kept holding out. It’s the same thing I told fans back when Derek Carr signed and people got worried. If Khalil doesn’t have a contract after the season starts then I’d worry, but even then I wouldn’t lose my mind.
The Raiders are not going to be pushovers and just cave in to his demands but as long as he’s not hurt, Mack is holding all of the aces. With him there are still some big questions on defense for the Raiders but without him there are HUGE issues. The Raiders are not going to let him go because they need him big time. This is not Jr. High School loyalty folks, this is the NFL and it’s business. In the end I see Mack playing for the Raiders for a long, long time and I’d worry more about other things in life like what you are having for dinner and who will win the World Cup.
Friends used to ask who do you want on a podcast or even to just have a beer with. The 4 people remain the same. Ken Stabler, Bill King, John Madden, and Phil Villapiano. Today I’m writing about one of the most popular Raider players of all time, and one of my dad’s favorites in Phil Villapiano. “Foo” was a Raider from the start.
From Day One:
When Phil Villapiano was drafted, most teams had him going in the 3rd or 4th round. The Raiders drafted him in the 2nd round out of Bowling Green which was a surprise to some. Many teams had Villapiano listed at only 210 pounds, being too small to play linebacker. Back then there was no NFL combines or official weigh ins, so most teams would share information with each other to save money and time. The Raiders refused to share information.
What the Raiders knew about Villapiano was that he was legitimately 225 pounds. He was an instinctive player who loved to hit. His speed laterally was excellent and a big part of his game. He could play every down and had great feel in pass coverage. In the same draft Oakland selected Jack Tatum, Clarence Davis, and backup tight end Bob Moore. With Tatum and Villapiano, they had 2 hard hitters to go with another that loved contact in George Atkinson. The Raiders added Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas in the following draft and their back 7 was as physical and skilled as any in the history of the game.
The Raiders offenses were awesome but most forget that in 3 Super Bowl wins the Raiders only gave up 33 points and had three great QB’s in Fran Tarkenton, Ron Jaworski & Joe Theismann running for their lives most of the time. In fact all 4 teams in last years AFC and NFC Championship games were in the top 5 scoring defenses in the entire NFL. It isn’t sexy but defense still wins championships.
Phil’s Coming Out Party:
In week 3 of the 1971 season, rookie Villapiano was thrown into the fire and he had to start due to injuries at linebacker. Phil had an amazing game on national television against the Browns in front of 84,000 screaming Cleveland fans. To the dismay of every fan outside of Oakland, Howard Cosell raved about Phil during the Raiders 34-20 win, making him a household name over night and announce another weapon for the hated Oakland Raiders.
A Key Member of the Raiders Defense:
Phil soon became a mainstay in the Raiders physical style of play. He could cover all parts of the field, and his violent play was just what the Raiders wanted. In front of the famous “Soul Patrol” and behind an aggressive and relentless defensive line, Monte Johnson, Ted Hendricks, Willie Hall, and Villapiano manned one of the more underrated LB crews and defenses in the NFL. Al Davis and Ron Wolf’s motto for their defense was one thing; the QB must go down, and go down hard. Raider fans loved seeing Villapiano slowly and methodically hitting his arm pad on the line of scrimmage letting opponents know that he was coming and he was going to hit somebody.
(A video showing the brutality of the Raiders defense and Phil Villapiano’s team “activities”)
The renegade Raiders were by far the king of bay area sports and they capped off their success in 1976 with a dominating performance in Super Bowl 11 with a win over the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14. There were some sweaty palms at the start of the game though. The Raiders took the opening kickoff and went down the field but kicker Errol Mann missed a 29 yard field goal. Later in the 1st, Viking great Fred McNeil blocked a Ray Guy punt for Guy’s first blocked punt in his career. Minnesota recovered it on the Raiders 3 yard line and Raider fans began to worry. On third down, Villapiano forced a fumble from RB Brent McClanahan which fellow LB Willie Hall recovered and the Raiders went on a long drive for a short FG. Phil’s key play changed the momentum of the game.
(Phil is even clutch during a fun time at the 2009 Biletnikoff Celebrity Golf Tournament)
The Wild Days In Oakland:
Along with their amazing winning ways, Oakland also lead the league in having fun. The Raiders off the field craziness was unequalled, with Phil Villapiano being the unofficial ring leader of all of the antics. The stories of the Raiders training camp days in Santa Rosa are of legend. So many fans enjoyed spending time with players at North Bay hotspots and one of their favorites to party with was Villapiano and Ken Stabler.
(Phil’s interview on his foundation to save the Jersey Shore after hurricane Sandy)
He would set up activities and games to break the monotony of training camp. And as many players have said, cheating was not only encouraged but a necessity. Players drank with fans, outcasts, and anyone else that was considered part of the Raider family. Hells Angels and the Black Panthers would befriend some Raiders, and even a few shady figures would emerge. While most celebrities loved glamorous teams like the Cowboys, actors like James Garner became friends with the Raiders of the 70’s along with owner Al Davis.
From paying a woman to run naked across the practice field, to setting a small fire to stop the monotony of training camp, the pranks were wild and Phil was usually the instigator. Phil once even helped put on a wedding at one of the restaurants with some of the Raiders helping with the direction and officiating of the nuptials. After passing the hat around they helped the couple go on a honeymoon. Of course the wedding was bogus, and to this day no one knew if the couple ever found out they really weren’t married.
Phil & the Raiders Legacy:
I fought with some old time NFL fans and writers last year who tried to downplay how good the Raiders were. We all know how I love facts so I was loaded for bear. Daryle Lamonica was 38-4-1 in his first 43 starts for Oakland. Ken Stabler was 50-11-1 in his first 62 starts and the Raiders were 18-1-1 in their first 20 Monday night football games. No offense, but if Derek Carr and the Raiders had those stats today, with the fervor of social media, they would be erecting statues for them.
The Facts About The Raiders & the 1970’s:
The Raiders won more games than any other team in the NFL in the 1970’s, the greatest decade in NFL history. During the 1970-75 dynasty of the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders were 4-2 against the mighty Dolphins including 2-1 in the playoffs. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970’s, the Raiders were the only team with success owning a 6-5 record. They were 2-3 against Pittsburgh in the playoffs but one of those wins was the Immaculate Reception, and another was the 16-10 loss in Pittsburgh, where “somehow” outside the hash-marks the field had become completely frozen after the Steelers groundskeepers allegedly watered it down in the frigid cold of a Pennsylvania winter day. One of the few players Pittsburgh Hall of Famer Mel Blount struggled with was Cliff Branch. Al Davis got in an argument, yelling at Pete Rozelle before the game on the field saying how this now limited Cliff Branch’s speed. And they say the Raiders cheated!
In an online contest created by the NFL on their website, the 1976 Raiders were voted the greatest team in NFL history by over 5.2 million fans.
Phil was a big part of all this success. In fact most felt the Raiders were better in 1977 but Phil and OL John Vella had season ending injuries. The beat up Raiders were never healthy for the rest of the decade. Eventually he was traded to Buffalo not long after he made comments that the Raiders needed to stay in Oakland. He said that he never felt those comments got Al Davis mad, but Phil is a nicer guy than I am and I’m not so sure.
Phil is Just as Good Off the Field:
First off, congratulations to Phil who just won the Jersey Shore’s greatest Sports Personality in the last 50 years! We hope that this is not the last HOF he gets into. Again, please go to his Facebook page to support his Hall of Fame run.
When I first worked for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation in honor of my cousin Celestina, I was so happy to see Phil Villapiano being such a huge contributor for them. Phil has lent himself to many charities and he is beloved by fans and organizations alike. Phil is in various Hall of Fames and his other charities include saving the Jersey Shore after hurricane Sandy and MDA & ALS.
He also has bravely offered his brain to CTE research as well. Players like Jim Plunkett and George Atkinson have discussed the issue and the struggles they are having, and Phil also has done several interviews on the effects that football has had on his body.
Phil joins the ranks of so many special Raider players. Their love of life, football and their fellow man is both inspiring and endearing. Born in Long Branch, New Jersey and raised in Asbury Park, Phil has left his mark on many hearts around the country. He has seen pain and tragedy but through it all he lives life with joy and a smile. Graduating from Bowling Green and making a name on the national scene in Oakland, he is more than a college icon, former NFL Rookie of the Year, 2 time all NFL player, or 5 time all AFC player. A lot more.
I was once asked on a podcast why the Raiders players relationship with the fans was so special because they said they just didn’t understand it. I said, “Most people look at the players as celebrity athletes. It’s their team. Even though I was too little to understand anything, in Oakland the Raiders were not celebrities but they were considered family. The players were underpaid so many worked, played and were socially active with the fans. They also genuinely enjoyed and cared for each other, and the players were a part of the community. From Al Davis who the NFL and most owners hated; to the great Bill King who the networks and the Warriors took off of tv for looking like the Devil; neither they, the players or the fans really fit in anywhere. Except in Oakland”.
“They worked hard and played hard and loved their families. They were outcasts and throw aways that made sense to no one. The players were always too old, wild, or too slow or not big enough. Al Davis would see their heart and take them in. Then you put them all together with an East Bay attitude under an overcast, grey sky in Oakland on a crisp fall day, and together they all made sense. They won and they dominated. The pride; the winning; the diversity in race and religion; it was the best relationship in sports. No stadium was louder, no bond stronger”.
From New Jersey to California, Phil has never lost who he was and who was there for the ride. His loyalty and love for fans and family is contagious. And anyone that could put a smile on my mom and dad’s face has my loyalty.
(The Amazing run of the Raiders; The Rebels of Oakland)
They say never meet your heroes, and when I first started my medical business in the bay area, I was able to meet some A-List athletes and celebrities that I admired. Most were ok, but a couple turned out to be arrogant, self absorbed and just plain strange and it hurt. Raider fans are lucky because for the most part they are never disappointed. Meet Lester Hayes or Jim Otto or Phil Villapiano, and they will have you leaving with a smile. Phil is a fan favorite due to his whit, love of life, and passionate heart. He’s never really received the credit he deserved on the field, but let’s be real, many Raiders haven’t. People forget the east coast media dominated sports at the time. I’m sorry but waiting this long for Cliff Branch, Lester Hayes, Jack Tatum and Phil Villapiano is unacceptable and I’ve told the NFL writers as such. (Don’t get me started on Ken Stabler). Phil is already in our HOF and I hope Phil truly knows just how special he is to the bay area.
So if you are having a rough day, open your favorite adult beverage and go on youtube and enjoy the Super Bowl and championship games all over again. Check out Phil’s interviews that will leave you inspired and always laughing. Reminisce about the players and friends and family that you shared these amazing times with. Remember loved ones that are no longer with us that you shared so much with and who started your journey as a Raider fan. The Sea of Hands; The Holy Roller; the Ghost to the Post; the Heidi Game; and all that winning. For me, every time I watch these videos and see the feelings of joy in the fans and the players, it’s as exciting as the Klondike, flying over the Atlantic, or the story of the White Whale.
How innocent were those days….how rich we are to have known them.
With so many expectations, the Raiders are a disappointing 3-5 half way through the 2017-18 NFL Season. Let’s look at why this has happened, and how and when it can be fixed.
You heard a whole lot of Raider fans using the expression, “In Reggie We Trust” this off season. Many are now looking for him to either be fired or put on the hot seat.
I’ve written about McKenzie in the past. He’s done some good things but he’s also had some really bad signings and drafts. For every Derek Carr & Khalil Mack, there are the DJ Hayden’s, Jihad Ward’s and Clive Walford’s. Reggie has missed on several high picks and it’s hurt the Raiders.
The Raiders philosophy of trying to fix the defense with DB’s is wrong. They’ve been doing it for years. The Raiders need to stop pouring money and high draft picks into DB’s, and start building a dominating front 7. If you can’t rush the passer, you can’t stop teams in today’s NFL.
Khalil Mack’s contract is now up and Oakland must pay him. This will make things even harder for the Raiders and they can’t have so many misses in their signings and their draft picks.
The Raiders need a physical front 7 that can stop the run and get to the passer. They need to draft and sign players to fix this part of the defense. McKenzie has to dump many of the contracts that are coming off the books in the off season including Reggie Nelson, Sean Smith, and David Amerson. They need to get tougher as well.
I’d love to see the Rams disgruntled stud DT Aaron Donald on the Raiders. He may be the most dominating player in the NFL today. A pass rushing DT would be my first priority. If I’m GM the teams defensive identity would be a physical one that gets to the QB. On offense I’d run a power running game with an emphasis on throwing deep. With their financial belt tightened you better be right on who you sign and draft.
Jack Del Rio:
Another popular phrase this off-season was in “Jack we trust”. Now many are questioning whether he is a winner and if he’s a good enough leader.
When Jack was hired, I was of the few that really wasn’t into this signing. Del Rio is a very popular coach with the owners and players. He’s likeable, says the right things, and makes sure the guys writing his checks are happy. He also has limited success. In 12 years of coaching Oakland and the Jags he has only 4 winning seasons and one playoff win. At Jacksonville things got worse the longer he coached. In his last 4 years coaching the Jaguars he was 23-36 and was let go during his last season with them.
Del Rio is usually very loyal to his players and coaches and is not one to throw anyone under the bus. That is a good trait, but he’s also not good in press conferences during bad times. His “I don’t know what happened” comment in press conferences have a bad look to it and fans of the Raiders like it as much as Jacksonville’s fans did before.
The Raiders have to get an identity and stick to it and that is Jack Del Rio’s job. Bill’s head coach Sean McDermott has built an image in Buffalo that is equal to his. He’s also gotten rid of players that didn’t buy into his philosophy. The Bills are now tough, physical on defense, and have a good running game. Buffalo does not have a good QB and they are last in the NFL in passing offense but are 5-2 and they straight up believe.
Are the Raiders a pass happy team that doesn’t care about the run? Do they want to be a power running team that can throw deep? Do they want to be a physical defense that gets to the QB? Choose an identity and follow it.
Del Rio also has to be more authoritative and take control. Saying it’s my fault or saying we have to work on a better scheme is a lot better than shrugging your shoulders and saying I don’t know what happened. Some in the media have said he’s played a big role in the defense and it hasn’t helped. If the Raiders struggle for the next season and a half, his job won’t be his anymore.
Even some in the media are now saying Derek Carr might be overrated. That’s way too simple. The truth is Carr is a good but not great NFL QB. He’s also a QB that gets rattled under a pass rush. Carr’s interceptions have got to him mentally. He’s now throwing to the check down receiver much more than in the past, and he’s trying to pinpoint passes in between defenders instead of airing it out and throwing deep. Some have said the Raiders threw deep more than anyone last year and that’s not true. The Raiders were 11th in completed passes past 20 yards and 12th over 40 yards.
There were more than a few bad passes yesterday that were caused by the pressure Buffalo was putting on Carr. He looked like he did when he was a rookie at times. He anticipated the rush instead of feeling it and it showed. Last year he was the best protected QB in the NFL and he thrived. This year the OL has struggled and so has he. NOT a coincidence.
Raiders OC Todd Downing is also getting trashed by many and he deserves some of the heat. He’s made few changes to the offensive scheme and the rest of the league has changed a lot to defend the Raiders. For instance on the turnovers yesterday, each play Buffalo played in the face of the Raiders WR. Instead of airing it out, Carr nervously went for the check down passes or tried to pinpoint the ball in between defenders.
Marshawn Lynch struggled his last year with Seattle, and he’s still struggling. He looks like a 31 year old RB and RB’s usually don’t get better or faster with age. He’s taken a lot of punishment over the years.
The Raiders have solid RB’s that can run, block and catch the ball but the Raiders have to run more. Some fans tried to say after yesterdays game, “see; look how bad the Raiders RB’s are”. Well they ran only 14 times all game with DeAndre Washington leading the way with 6 carries for 26 yards. The Raiders are an amazing 26th in the NFL for the number of rushing attempts so far this year. Last year they ended the year with the 11th most rushing attempts.
Unless Downing steps up, a new coordinator is needed. They also need to back to the power blocking scheme and run the ball down teams throats. Marshawn Lynch enjoys the zone blocking scheme for his OL but it hasn’t worked. The identity of the offense should be a power running game and then use the deep ball with the play action pass. You can’t blame Todd Downing with poor play calling and not get on Carr. Carr is the coach on the field and he’s got to audible more. He has the final say on what play will be called. Part of being a QB is calling a great game and he was fooled a couple of times when the Bills showed blitz but didn’t.
Where do we start. At the start of the year some publications said that the Raiders had the worst LB’ s in the NFL. The Raiders still have 17.5 million guaranteed until next year with CB’s David Amerson and Sean Smith. Reggie Nelson’s 4.25 million will be off the books too. Amerson struggles guarding the deep ball and Smith has struggled with everything. Reggie Nelson is on his last legs and Karl Joseph still struggles defending the passing game. Gareon Conley’s rookie year is pretty much not going to amount to much and that’s another round 1 pick that didn’t help much their first year.
The Raiders defensive line still can’t create a pass rush or stop the run. Khalil Mack had only 2 tackles yesterday with no sacks and was kept out for a small part of the game without any injury. The team has only 12 sacks in 8 games and it’s the same old story, different day.
Fans posting that the Raiders have this amazing amount of talent on defense and all they need is good coaching are ridiculous. They need talent big time on defense. Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio may not be the answer to fix the defense, but until they improve the talent, NOTHING is going to change.
Blow it up. Get an experienced, quality coordinator. The Raiders want to win now. Mario Edwards Jr. has his moments but he’s not the answer so far. Jihad Ward was a bad pick. Keep Navorro Bowman but they need more help at LB. Let Amerson, Nelson and Smith walk. They have to get a DT that can put pressure on the QB and stop the run adequately. The Raiders have been fooling themselves on the defensive side of the ball for years. What they’ve done for 15 years hasn’t worked. It needs to be fixed yesterday.
Most feel it will take 10 wins to ensure a playoff spot this year. If that is true, Oakland will have to go 7-1 the rest of the way. The Raiders have games left at home with Dallas, Denver, and the Giants and have to play Kansas City, San Diego and Philadelphia on the road. In regards to the struggles the Raiders had with the weather in rainy Buffalo, that is a beach party compared to playing in Kansas City and Philadelphia in December. This doesn’t include a game in Mexico with the Patriots right after the bye week.
Next week the Raiders play at Miami which is always a tough game for them. Realistically they will have to play amazing football the rest of the season to get to the playoffs. The offense can be improved to a point this year with some adjustments but the defense needs a lot more help that must be addressed in the off-season.
The Raiders players have a good attitude saying that they are going to work hard and stay committed. They are sticking together and not throwing blame to each other. They also can’t think about playoffs but they do need to think about the next opponent.
The Raiders will have to play amazing football the last 2 months to make the playoffs. The off season darlings of the NFL are in trouble. The castle that looked so sturdy is now having it’s foundation checked for damage. Time will tell how much work will need to be done to fix the team and if they do it right.
While people were trying to figure out why the Raiders were 2-4 in the early season, I and others took a simple approach and looked at the x’s and o’s. Teams had adjusted to the short passes of the Raiders passing game and we’re forcing them to throw deep and they were failing. I’ve been screaming for three weeks for the Raiders do to two things; open up the offense and throw downfield; and blitz often. They did both and pulled out a win at home against Kansas City and looked like a different team.
Even with the trying season and the need to talk fans off the ledge due to week to week reaction, in reality the Raiders have more of a chance than people think to get into the playoffs and possibly even win the division.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. No, the Raiders don’t have amazing talent on defense and no they are not going to be good on that side of the ball this year. They may have some moments but for the most part they are not able to get it done. The offense is going to have to carry them and if they don’t play well, the Raiders are toast. Next year the Raiders HAVE to fix the defensive front 7 or they are going to turn into the Miami Dolphins of the 80’s and 90’s; all offense, little defense. Ask Dan Marino how many Super Bowl trophies he has.
No, Derek Carr isn’t the greatest QB in Raiders history and yes, he struggles big time if he’s rushed. Last year he was the best protected QB in the NFL and he thrived. This year he has had just ok protection and he’s struggled for the most part. In the KC game he was never sacked and had great protection and threw for over 400 yards. NOT a coincidence.
After admitting these facts, we can now look at the 4 teams and how they may fare for the rest of the season.
Los Angeles Chargers:
As wrestling star Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner used to say, pass rushing star Melvin Ingram is “legit”. While future star Joey Bosa gets most of the publicity, Ingram has turned into a one man wrecking crew with his fast and physical style. The Chargers DL is the real deal.
I like what is happening on the defensive side of the ball in Los Angeles for both teams. The formula in the wins for this team is simple; keep it close or get a lead, and then let the pass rush and pass defense take over. In the last 3 weeks that formula has worked.
The Chargers have been on their biggest high in a very long time. They have won their last 3 games beating the Giants and the Raiders on the road in close games, and then last week they shut out the punch-less Denver Broncos 21-0 in Los Angeles.
Their defense has been a key to their wins, especially in the red zone, not allowing a red zone touchdown in 3 weeks. They are 5th against the pass but are 31st against the run.
We will find out just how good the Chargers are this weekend when they visit New England. At 3-4 they still have a long way to go to take the division and their offense hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard. They are still very one dimensional being 8th in the NFL in passing yardage per game, and even with Melvin Gordon they are 31st in the run game.
Can They Win The AFC West:
The Chargers have some brutal road games ahead at New England, Jacksonville, Dallas and at Kansas City. They also have home games with Washington and Oakland ahead.
They will go as far as their offense takes them which I don’t think is far enough. Even with all of the publicity Phillip Rivers gets, earlier this year they broke a 24 game streak of not scoring a TD in the last two minutes of the half or at the end of a game. Could you imagine Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Ken Stabler having that streak? I don’t trust Phillip Rivers who to me is more of a stat stuffer than a winning QB at the end of games. A good guy, good QB but not great. The new rules are making legends out of average to good Qb’s because their stats are extremely hyper-inflated due to the rule changes the past 6 years. Look at the ridiculous illegal use of the hands call against KC on the play when Derek Carr fumbled. He literally didn’t touch the WR after 5 yards and barely patted him within 5 yards. In the 70’s-90’s that would have been considered a hand shake. That changed the game and it was a call you don’t see in flag football. The rules have gone overboard, but that is for another day.
The Chargers lack of a running game also continues to limit their offense. I don’t see them winning the division but a possible .500 record isn’t a crazy idea.
Kansas City Chiefs:
I’ve never been a huge Andy Reid fan but I’m really not getting what is going on in KC. I just read where Justin Houston; the Chiefs all star stud pass rusher; is now being asked to fall back into pass coverage 25% of the time. That is the third highest % of any edge rusher in the NFL. Here is a guy that can take over a game by himself and he’s in coverage 1/4th of the time? Wow.
The Chiefs defense used to carry them, and now it hinders them and they continue to struggle on defense. They are 25th against the run and 28th against the pass. Their pass rush when only rushing 4 players, hasn’t been good at all. They have only 15 sacks in 7 games and that is not KC football. The offense continues to shine being a top 5 offense. They did fail on their last drive against Oakland though when they could have iced the game.
The Chiefs offense is still on a roll and they have a key game at home with Denver next. With Denver struggling so much on offense this looks like a Chiefs win right? This is the NFL folks.
Can They Win the Division?:
Right now they are in the drivers seat, and if they beat Denver they are in great shape. With the easiest schedule ahead of all of the 4 teams, it will be hard to beat the Chiefs for the division. KC is the odds on favorite right now but anything can happen.
I don’t care about all the love that Tony Romo and all of the other announcers give to Bronco QB Trevor Siemian; I think it’s become illegal for announcers to tell the truth anymore about NFL QB’S; he is a bad NFL QB.
With a lack of accuracy and vision to make the right throw, the Denver offense is hamstrung at QB. In their 3 losses this year, Denver has scored a total of 26 points. And to be shut out on the road against the Chargers 31st ranked run defense, is a bad sign. Bill Musgrave is Denver’s QB coach and he seemed a lot better coach when he had Derek Carr didn’t he? For all of you that want coaches fired after every loss, isn’t that crazy how that works out? Better players make coaches look better? Insane, I know. (highly sarcastic comment)
To be fair the Broncos left side of their offensive line has struggled all year and that hasn’t helped. Denver is 24th in scoring offense and is middle of the road in many offensive categories, but where they fail is in the red zone. They are 29th in scoring TD’s in the red zone and in their last 3 games they scored a TD in only 11% of their times in the red zone. On the road for the year their % is an abysmal 25% TD rate in the red zone. I don’t think this trend ends any time soon either. Siemian is a very limited QB and they will struggle in the red zone all year. What is scarier is how come Paxton Lynch cant’ beat him out when he was healthy?
Defensively Denver is 6th against the pass and 2nd against the run but they are 13th in sacks with 18 for the year. Their defense is still really good, but just not as dominating as in the past.
Can They Win The Division:
Denver will always be in the hunt because of their defense, but their offense is a hindrance. It’s hard seeing Denver taking this division unless Siemian improves, especially in the red zone. Don’t be surprised if you have a Brock Osweiller sighting soon. Osweiller was re-signed in the first week in September. Looking at the QB situation in Denver, it’s like I’m a sick child and the doctor asks if I want castor oil or a shot. With Paxton Lynch’s constant injury issues, the QB situation is as bad as it gets in the mile high city.
In regards to their schedule, Denver also has to play away games in Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia and Washington, along with home games with New England and Kansas City. With that schedule the odds of winning the division is shrinking. They are on the outside looking in if they lose to Kansas City in their next game.
After 4 straight losses with some Raider fans getting ready to throw everyone off the plank including the cheerleaders and announcers, the Raiders saved the season from going under with a big win against Kansas City at home. Even with this win there is a lot to do.
With the signing of Navorro Bowman, the Raiders now have a quality LB that is better than anyone they presently have on the roster. He’s no where near the same player that was one of the best in the NFL, but he definitely can still produce. Even with Bowman the Chiefs were 8-15 on third down and had 425 totally yards of offense. I’ve talked at length about the defense in past articles, so let’s just say that Oakland’s defense is not good, and it’s not going to be good for the rest of the season. He’s not going to help much in coverage but he does make the defense a little better.
For the Raiders to win, their offense will have to carry them like they did in the previous game. I was against the signing of Marshawn Lynch from the start and I really like the Raiders stable of RB’s. It will be interesting to see how they do against the stout defense of the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders have a nice match-up against a Buffalo team that has a solid defense but not much of an offense outside of LeSean McCoy. Tyrod Taylor is very limited at QB and a close Raiders win is probable but nothing is for sure.
The problem is down the road. After playing in Buffalo, they play a night game against Miami which I think they can do well in. Then it gets interesting. The Raiders go to Mexico to play New England, and have home games against Denver, Dallas & the NY Giants. Add road games in Kansas City, Philadelphia and against the Chargers and the Raiders second half schedule is as tough as anyone’s. The Chiefs and Eagles (on Christmas Day) games will be at least cold if not snowy. California teams don’t exactly thrive in the snow. As a lifelong northern Californian, I personally don’t even like to open the freezer let alone be in the cold midwest or east.
Will The Raiders Win the Division?
There are two huge games that will help in determining if the Raiders can win the division. One will be the Denver game in Kansas City this weekend. If KC wins that game, they regain control. Another game is the Chiefs hosting the Raiders in December. If the Raiders lose that game it’s hard to impossible to see them winning the division. As viewers it’s always fun to look ahead but in reality every week is like the playoffs and you can’t take anyone lightly anymore in the salary cap era. Every team has issues and it all changes week to week, especially with injuries.
The Bills game should be a tough, grinding game for Oakland. With temperatures in the 40’s with a 70% chance of rain expected, the road starts out as a tough one in upstate New York for the Silver and Black. The road to the AFC West crown will be a wild one for each team.
In a fire storm that some are calling apocalyptic, 670 people are now missing and 3500 homes are destroyed. It’s also far from over. Sadly, as was being reported last night by several news outlets, All-Time Raider great Cliff Branch announced his house was burned down during the Santa Rosa fire storm. He lived near the Coffey neighborhood which looked like a war zone after the raging fire went through the area. All he could get out of his house was money, and his 3 Super Bowl rings. He drove off in one car but lost his other 2.
(below; Mercury News Story on Cliff Branch’s home)
“My house was a Raiders house” said Branch. “All three Super Bowl trophies are gone. We all got replica Lombardi Trophies when we won the Super Bowl. A lot of great Raider history from the 1970s and 1980s is gone.” When Mark Davis saw his home he called it a Raiders museum.
I’m sure all of Raider Nations positive vibes and prayers of support are with the Raider great during an extremely difficult time. At least Cliff is safe.
How to Fix the Raiders On the field:
Yesterday I read on social media some very interesting comments. Let’s address them and see how to make the Raiders as good as they can be to have a successful season.
I have one word for Jack Del Rio and Raiders OC Todd Downing. ADJUST!
The Raiders are running the same plays as last year but teams are attacking them differently. I’ve been saying it for 3 weeks, the Raiders have to change their philosophy. No longer are teams afraid of the deep ball against Oakland, so teams are going from a cover 2 to press coverage. If you look at the films of last year, many games the Raiders got easy short passes due to the huge cushions Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree got.
Former Cowboys QB Tony Romo said it best in the Washington game; “teams are no longer giving the Raiders the easy short to mid range passes, so they have to adjust and look to go deep more often to stretch them out”.
Teams don’t allow Cooper to run free on short passes. They are in his face playing physical and he has not responded well.
How to Fix It?:
The Raiders bragged all off season about picking up Cordarrelle Patterson, the speed burner WR from Minnesota. NOW USE HIM. The Raiders have 3 fast WR; Patterson, Cooper and Johnny Holton who has already caught a deep ball for a TD. Throw to these guys. It’s funny; when you start to hit some deep passes all of a sudden the DB’s start to give you cushions and the offense opens up. Cooper has lost his confidence and if there was ever a confident Raider, him talking to Cliff Branch would not be the worst thing for him. He has to be involved more.
All you heard this off season was beast mode, beast mode, beast mode. I wasn’t thrilled with the signing of Marshawn Lynch and in fact said several times the Raiders committee of running backs was more than enough. I stand by that.
How to Fix it:
The Raiders need to make Marshawn Lynch a short yardage, goal line back. He does not have the burst he did during his younger days. I like youth in my RB’s and Lynch is now 31 and is not the same player. You see the same thing with Frank Gore at Indianapolis. When someone with speed comes in it’s like night and day.
Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington need to start getting the brunt of the carries. Jamize Olawale is an underrated player and also needs 5 touches a game. All 3 are good pass blockers and pass catchers. Lynch is limited and it’s limiting the offense.
After their amazing season from last year, the standards are very high. The Raiders have only given up 12 sacks in 5 games but for this group that’s a lot. Last year Carr was the best protected QB in the NFL and he thrived. This year there have been 12 sacks and he’s struggled. It’s not a coincidence. His weakness is throwing under pressure and keeping him free of pass rushers is imperative to the offenses success.
How to Fix It:
There is only one answer; they need to step up. Oakland is #1 in spending on the OL with 26% of their salary cap spent on this group. You can’t spend more money on the OL especially when the defense needs so much help.
Carr got spoiled last year when he had so much time, and on occasion he has held onto the ball too long this year. He’s now being rushed more and it’s obvious he is not comfortable in the pocket.
How to Fix it:
He needs to audible more and be much more aggressive with the deep ball. Some old fashioned play action passes while throwing a deep pass on first down would stretch the field and make Al Davis up in heaven happy for sure. Dump off passes to the RB would also take off the pressure some.
Linebackers and Defensive Backs:
This group has no interceptions in 5 games. I’m tiring a little with some fans on social media saying how great this defense is and that if they had a good DC they’d be awesome. Ken Norton may not be the answer, but this defense is not talented. Before the season started, Sports Illustrated and ESPN had the Raiders LB’s ranked last in the NFL. Their DB’s are not much better at times and take out Mack out of the DL and it will make any Raider fan cry.
Teams found out David Amerson struggles with the deep ball, and Sean Smith now struggles with any ball. Safety Reggie Nelson really isn’t making much of a difference and Karl Joseph is better against the run v.s. the pass but he’s still learning. Rookie Gareon Conley is still hurt and rumors have him being out for a while, but take that for what it is worth. Conley was not good against the run at Ohio St. and it remains to be seen how good he is covering because he’s missed so much this year. The hope is that Conley is a great cover guy but this may be a wasted year for a #1 pick.
How To Fix It:
Shalom Luani deserves a chance at safety. Allow him to play more. I’d like him to get some time with Joseph because he has such good safety instincts.
At LB, the Raiders are in big trouble. There are a handful of people in the free agent pool but to be honest, there are no answers for this group this year. They need to disguise their blitzes and be super aggressive and get to the QB to hide their week back 7.
Unless you have a pass rush in today’s NFL, you are going to struggle. These rules are so biased for the offense that passing records are falling left and right. As Jack Del Rio has said, they are a few times that they are the Khalil Mack show and not much else. Mario Edwards Jr. has his moments early in a game but he disappears and is not consistent. Bruce Irvin doesn’t have a sack all year and hasn’t had the impact the team was hoping for. Eddie Vanderdoes has also not been as impactful as was hoped and Justin Ellis has occasional good moments but it isn’t enough to make a difference.
How to Fix It:
Again, this is going to have to be addressed next year. Someone on social media was raving about the possible signing of ex Bear DT Jaye Howard but that is beyond positive thinking. Howard played 5 years; 2 missed from injury and he only has 7.5 sacks and no one would sign him this year.
The Raiders HAVE to get to the QB. Start blitzing like mad on 3rd down and long and make sure that you do a better job at disguising it. Also it’s insane to blitz and then give WR cushions because you know a quick pass is coming. Get in the WR faces when you blitz. Sometimes the DB’s are lazy when they are blitzing and they give it up too quick. I saw Nelson and Joseph Blitz against Baltimore and you could see it a mile away.
This is a must win for Oakland. San Diego is not a great team and they finally scored a TD late in the 4th quarter for the first time in 24 games. Oakland should handle the Chargers but nothing is for sure. With the last part of the Raiders schedule being so difficult, this is a must win.
They are running the same offensive plays as last year and teams have caught up. Oakland also has been trying to solve their pass defense for years with DB’s and it doesn’t work. Until the Raiders get a stud DT and a pass rush, get ready for issues up front. And if the Raiders draft an offensive player over a LB or DT next year, heads should roll. Defense wins championships and this defense isn’t winning any championships. Seeing the response online, if the Raiders don’t turn this thing around this is going to get real ugly.
If the offensive philosophy changes and the Raiders adjust, the offense can carry them a long way. The defense will have to take chances and blitz though. It’s put up or shut up time in Oakland and a win against San Diego would be a nice start to a new chapter.
Tomorrow I will be writing about the solutions the Raiders need to be successful this year. But today I’m doing something much different.
I pride myself on being objective but today I’m writing as a fan. Yesterday I read a lot of social media after the Raiders 30-17 loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens. I’ll have to agree with many Raider fans; never have I seen so much anger and nastiness from Raider fans towards the team, players and other fans in all of my life. The last 10 days there has been a heaviness on so many people. With the Las Vegas shooting and the overall dysfunction of our country in general, we are a depressed mess.
Athletes Acting Badly:
I see the anger and nastiness on Twitter and it’s scary that people like this are living among us. Why do athletes listen so much? We see it almost every day on social media. So many 20 and 30 something athletes losing their minds on social media over fans or media who say negative things about them. The NBA is the worst. You see players constantly slap fighting with each other verbally like little spoiled Jr. High School girls over petty squabbles or imaginary slights.
The Golden State Warriors Kevin Durrant; who many around the team say is a tad eccentric; was hurt by such negativity and was even caught with a fake Twitter account that he used to attack fans and to defend himself. He later apologized. A grown friggin man worried about what mostly young fans said behind a computer screen. That’s some kind of insecurity.
That pales in comparison to what is going on with others. We now have a video going viral of a long time NFL offensive line coach snorting a “white substance” and sending the video to a female stripper. How many players like Adrian Peterson are exposed with bad lifestyles when so many look up to them. Steve McNair; one of the most respected players in the last 25 years and the 1994 recipient of the Walter Payton Award; was murdered by his 20 y/o mistress. Why? Because he was seeing another mistress.
(Below; Miami Dolphins Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster snorting a white substance)
Some players in the NFL have some pretty insane lifestyles; I get that; but it’s out of hand how inappropriate they and society have become.
Raiders Fans & Players Behaving Badly:
Donald Penn was the darling of Raider fans last year. The year before on social media he was trashed for being old and that he wasn’t worth the money. He gave up only one sack to Raiders QB Derek Carr all year but unfortunately that sack resulted in Carr breaking his ankle. It’s all been downhill after that.
Penn held out but eventually signed for a 21 million dollar contract, and he’s struggled at times this year. Fan’s have made him know how upset they are about it on social media and Penn called out one of the fans. The fan showed up after the game and it got ugly.
Penn has had several young male Raider fans trash him online and he’s no stranger to battling with them. During the confrontation several Raider fans started taunting him calling out 21 million, and other fun loving things. Internet trolls trying to make a name for themselves on social media acting inappropriately; wow there’s a shocker. Players feeding into the negativity due to frustration and anger at a 2-3 start with the hardest part of there schedule still in their future has fueled the fire.
There was also a video that I’m not going to post of Raider fans urinating in the stands. Men are pathetic at times.
What the Hell Has Happened:
Our society is a train wreck of classlessness and selfish behavior. The arrogance is through the roof. People hurt others and don’t think twice about it. Anger and violence is acceptable to many and it’s seen in NFL fans behavior time and time again.
The anger of the team going to Las Vegas and the poor play has created a negativity that I’ve never seen before. Even as a kid when the Raiders were leaving to Los Angeles, we didn’t want to hurt the players and people for the most part weren’t angry; they were just very sad they were leaving.
The day Al Davis moved to Los Angeles is the day the magic of the Raiders died. They have never and they will never be the same. The innocence of that time is gone. The Raiders were the winningest TEAM in U.S. sports for 25 years (and it wasn’t close) and would soon lose their mojo in Southern California. When they left, most in LA didn’t bat an eye. Even the LA Times said good riddance.
The team has never been the same but neither have the fans. The Raiders have a nice niche of younger fans in Southern California but as Raider great Tim Brown said on 95.7 The Game, “not enough to support an NFL Team unless everything is going great”. In LA the violence of fans during a tumultuous time in society fueled the crime and anger at Raiders games, and it’s been continued to some in a new generation. In the first 3 months of 2016, 3 of my female Raider followers had been MURDERED by their partners. All 3 were from Southern California and all 3 of the males had past gang involvement and were vocal Raider fans. Obviously not all So Cal fans are bad or violent, but this was greatly disturbing.
How to Not Get Caught Up In It:
I’m not Pollyanna. Raider fans were always pretty vulgar and aggressive, but they were never like this. And Oakland never was the cesspool of violence that the media portrayed they were.
(Below: link to my article on Raiders v.s. 49ers Fan violence)
In reality some people have forgotten what it is to be a Raider fan and they are too caught up in the drama or the attention of it. It’s about loyalty and family. The Raider tradition is about winning and having high standards without trolling on the internet and attacking players verbally. And for God’s sakes it’s not about violence and not being able to control your anger like an 8 year old bully. Appreciate the tradition and the amazing success the team has had in the past and grow from that tradition to generation to generation. Life is tough but Raider fans always came through for each other.
It’s not about acting like angry pigs. It’s not about classlessness and disrespecting the players and those around you. It’s ok to say something about a players play if they are failing, but to attack them like an anger management flunky shows a new kind of low.
NO ONE; has told the truth about how bad the Raiders have been over the years like I have. So many trashed me online for being negative but I wasn’t negative. I was honest and right almost every time. But I also see improvement in this team with still more work in the front office and on the field to do. I’ve been honest. Many have been blind to my honesty and just believe what they want to believe. Facts > biased opinion. Being critical is one thing though; being abusive, vulgar and so angry is just weird.
What’s worse, is that many of the people that were so angry yesterday, were the same ones attacking fans and writers who questioned just how good the Raiders were at the beginning of the year. They change like the wind. They used to call others haters and now they hate. Often wrong, never in doubt. Some seem to always be attacking someone.
Yesterday was the 6th Anniversary of Al Davis passing. One of the 5 greatest and most important figures in modern football. And in all of my years of knowing about this amazing team and dynasty, I’ve never seen so many bad displays from fans.
I was too young to remember a lot of what happened in the Raiders early years, but I’m going to watch a bunch of Raiders videos from the Ken Stabler era tonight. So many things are messed up with fans behaviors that I just need normality. I need to see winning and I need to see loyalty. And I need to feel a team and a fan base acting as one with pure joy, win or lose. This has been an awful year for me personally and with all that is happening with the Raiders and the fans, I feel like crap and I don’t want to anymore.
Young fans always wonder why people love to talk about the glory days of the Raiders. It’s because it was life changing. It was special, fun and inclusive. No Racism; no violence; no anger in losing. It was a time of glory and family. Tomorrow I’ll talk about what is needed on this team and if they can salvage the dreams of this season. But for today, I’m celebrating the Raiders. I need this and I think others do too.