If and when Tom Cable gets the chance to plead his case with Al Davis about retaining job as head coach, the hardest part will be explaining the play of the Raiders offensive line.
It’s the only thing he has in common with Art Shell. Cable is an expert and an offensive line guru of sorts. But like Shell in 2006, possibly the greatest tackle in the history of the NFL, the unit with which he has the most expertise was most responsible for a poor season.
Warren Sapp can say all he wants “stats are for losers,” but the stats of the Raiders offensive line make it pretty clear why the Raiders were losers in 2009.
A top 10 rushing team each of the last two years, they finished 21st in 2009.
The Raiders played 16 games and had seven rushing touchdowns.
They were tied for 19th in yards per carry at 4.1 yards per attempt.
As far as protecting the quarterback, the Raiders surrendered 49 sacks, third most in the NFL. And while JaMarcus Russell undoubtedly had issues other than Las Vegas excursions that led to too many sacks, both of the quarterbacks who supplanted him _ Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye _ were knockout victims at the hands of an opposing pass rush.
It was Cable who in 2008, stuck with Kwame Harris beyond all reason. It was Cable who pushed hard for free agent Khalif Barnes, who never made an impact even though he made a relatively quick recovery from a broken ankle sustained in training camp.
At left tackle Mario Henderson started the season well enough but seemed to fade. Cable has long been effusive of his praise for right tackle Cornell Green, who finished with 12 penalties in 12 games and was never intended to be anything more than a backup when he was signed.
Right guard Cooper Carlisle, signed because of his experience as a zone blocker in Denver, may have been the Raiders best lineman in 2007 and has regressed in each of the past two years.
Chris Morris, a smallish guard/center with zone blocking skills, ranged from a game ball performance against Pittsburgh to be being benched in favor of 362-pound Langston Walker for a poor performance against Washington.
Erik Pears, another ex-Bronco with zone blocking experience, did his best work as a blocker when forced into action as an emergency tight end.
It wasn’t Cable’s fault that it amounted to a lost season for Robert Gallery, who opened the season with an emergency appendectomy and followed it up with a broken fibula and a serious back injury that required surgery.
There is no denying Cable’s passion and expertise with regard to coaching an offensive line. Before he was the head coach, during training camp his unit was a must-see just for the way he worked and interacted with his players. When the unit was struggling under Jim Michalczik, Cable stepped in to such an extent it was if Michalczik was a bystander for more than a month.
But the Raiders never managed a truly dominating game from their offensive line, one in which they simply seized the game in the fourth quarter and made it their own despite a trio of capable backs in Michael Bush, Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas.
Oakland spent much of its training camp assuming it would run the ball well and working on its passing game to bring Russell and Co. up to speed. Cable said he will look hard at whether that decision ended up hurting their ability to run.
When quizzed about the shortcomings of the offensive line, Cable included the defensive line play as well.
“You’re asking specifically about the offensive line, but I think on both sides we have to get better,” Cable said. “ “There’s no question. The good teams in this league, they’re built on the line of scrimmage. And the cohesiveness it takes, whether it be on offense or defense, is extreme. And I don’t think we had enough on either side this year.”
Cable remains a staunch supporter of zone blocking, the scheme he became sold on while working in Atlanta for Alex Gibbs.
“The teams that are leading the league are still predominately zone blocking teams,” Cable said. “So I’m not sure whether it’s the scheme that’s the issue, it’s how we are teaching it, how we are a playing it.”
Coaching for an owner whose 1970s powerhouse teams were built on offensive line play, Cable will need to come up with some answers.