The school of football

Raiders writer Bill Soliday

Posted by Bill Soliday, Raiders beat writer for ANG Newspapers
Bill Walsh once said of Steve DeBerg that he was just good enough to get you beat. He’d probably say the same thing about the Oakland Raiders’ defense. And maybe about its offense.

The Raiders may be better, but the task ahead of them now is this: they still have yet to learn how to win.

Feel free to disagree. But against Philadelphia on Sunday, the Raiders simply looked like a team that knew that somehow, some way, when it was all said and done, the hammer would fall and they would lose in the end.

This is not to say they were looking for ways to lose. They just didn’t know the way home. They just seem to be good enough to lose.

Even after Kerry Collins and Doug Gabriel hooked up on that 27-yard touchdown, a play that could have been the very one they have been looking for – the one that turns their entire season around – there was almost a palpable sense of doom once the Eagles offense took the field for the game’s final 2:17.

At least that’s the way it looked from here … and it was visible after just two plays when Brian Westbrook hit them for 13 yards and then 17.

Now Westbrook is a fine player, but he is not a 208 yards of total offense player.

On the first play, the Raiders rush four, drop seven and Westbrook – catching the ball in his backfield – is free to run for nearly 20 yards. Eventually the dropping defenders catch up, but why is Derrick Gibson running the wrong way, backpedaling at the 25 while Westbrook is running toward him with the ball? Maybe attacking would be appropriate, ya think?

And on the next play, who’s protecting the sideline as Westbrook embarks on his sideline route? It isn’t Gibson, who’s caught inside. And it isn’t Renaldo Hill, who lined up outside but was dragged inside, presumably by a crossing receiver.

Pray tell whose responsibility was that? The play should have gained seven yards, tops. Ten yards later, Gibson shoos him out of bounds.

Two plays later, on third and-9, the Eagles get a 13 yard completion to Greg Lewis after taking their time calling a play and the clock running down towards one minute. Think they were confident this game was well in hand?

On that play, there was no palpable pass rush and McNabb calmly fired the ball between Nnamdi Asomugha, Hill and Kirk Morrison.

Three plays, 43 yards and at this point you could see the Eagles’ confidence grow and the Raiders’ sag. Not even a Philly holding penalty was enough to brace the sinking Raiders.

Completions to Terrell Owens for 14, 15 and 7 yards were all they needed to get a crippled kicker onto the field to ram a line drive between the uprights.

And next thing you know, 0-3 is staring this team dead in the face.

Yes, we are going to hear that there were aspects to this game that promise improvement.

  • Like no turnovers.
  • Like how they fought back.
  • Like young players such as Courtney Anderson stepping up.
  • Like putting up 365 yards of offense against a team that ranks with the league’s best on defense.
  • Like the offensive line only yielding one sack.
  • Like Warren Sapp showing the way to the promise of better defense.

    And there will be the usual culprits, too:

  • Like two missed field goals by Sebastian Janikowski.
  • Like giving up 448 yards of offense and 365 yards passing to a virtually immobile, frail quarterback.
  • Like the running game stacking up a whole 21 yards in 22 carries for 0.95 yards a futile stab – 7 in 21 tries if you remove LaMont Jordan’s one highlight, a 14-yard carry.
  • And, mainly, like another 13 penalties for 94 yards, bringing the season total to 36 for 327.

    The big one: DeLawrence Grant’s roughing the passer infraction on a third-and-10 incompletion at the start of the second half that emboldened the Eagles to drive 71 yards to take the lead at 13-10 and start the Raiders’ descent in a game they were at least arguably in control of.

    I hasten to mention this at the risk of sounding redundant, but the current pace at which this team is racking up penalties will result, over 16 games, to 192 of them for 1,744 yards.

    For those with morbid curiosities, the league record for penalties is 158. The league record for penalty yardage is 1,304. The Raiders are currently running 22 percent ahead of the pace for penalties, 34 percent ahead of the pace for yardage.

    And this time, I don’t recall any calls that struck me as conspiratorial.

    Learning to win? Permit me to take that back. In some ways, they have yet to learn how to play the game. Maybe Bill Callahan had it pegged back in 2003 when he made that comment about football intelligence.

    And maybe Barry Sims had his finger on it. “There are no simple answers,’’ he said. Only simple distress.

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    Bill Soliday - Raiders Writer