Raiders head coach Dennis Allen made it to the Dallas area soon after his team’s loss against the Browns so that he can spend time with his ailing father.
Allen is expected to rejoin the Raiders on Wednesday night, in time for their game against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night.
Allen’s absence left offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in charge of running practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Knapp said it will be business as usual, given the Raiders got a jump on game-planning for the Broncos last week.
On Monday, Knapp and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver fielded questions for 12 minutes each, talking about the play of their respective units Sunday and looking forward to the the final four games.
Knapp said he doesn’t foresee any issues keeping his players motivated, even though the Raiders are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
“It’s a challenge,” Knapp said, “but, fortunately, from what I’ve seen, and it happened on that last drive that happened yesterday, guys at this level want to compete and they always want to do their best. As long as they know we’re pulling for them and trying to find every way to help get them to that level of consistency of performance, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or the last game, whether we’re in the playoffs or not, the true competitor comes out and they want to perform at a high level at all times.”
The Raiders allowed 475 yards against a 3-8 Browns team that featured a rookie quarterback, rookie running back and several young receivers.
Even so, Tarver said, the Raiders played hard on defense. Now, it’s a matter of getting the players to take proper angles and execute their assignments on a more consistent basis.
“Defensively, we played with passion,” Tarver said. “(That) doesn’t mean we were correct all the time, but the guys were flying around on defense. The guys were flying around on defense but, as with anything, you have to execute the calls as well.”
Things don’t get any easier with the high-flying Broncos coming to town. They are in the midst or a seven-game winning streak, whereas the Raiders have lost the past five games.
Also, the Broncos beat the Raiders 37-6 in the teams’ first meeting this season.
“Well, you’re never really ready for Peyton Manning,” Tarver said. “It’s a matter of getting on the same page and having enough coverage looks to, hopefully, slow down his progression and challenging guys in coverage. That’s what we need to do.”
Cornerback Michael Huff said he and his teammates are playing for pride now. The last thing they want is to get “embarrassed” on national TV, at home, against a hated Broncos team.
“Division rival, national prime-time game,” Huff said, “if you can’t get up for this one, something’s wrong. We’re looking forward to it and getting ready for a big game. … We’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to step up and make plays, leaders, like myself and Tyvon (Branch), we just got to find a way to rise up and make plays.”
— Allen said he expects running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson to play against the Broncos. Both backs missed the past four games with high-ankle sprains.
Knapp said he and Allen have their hands full when it comes time to which backs will be active Thursday night. The decision is complicated by how well Marcel Reece and Jeremy Stewart played during McFadden’s and Goodson’s absence.
“You can’t keep all halfbacks up in a game, typically,” Knapp said. “But if they’re involved on special teams and with all the different injuries we have, they may be involved more. We’ll know more come Wednesday/Thursday if we can use ‘em.”
This makes it possible that second-year back Taiwan Jones won’t be active for the Broncos game. If he is active, he certainly will spend all of his time on special teams — he didn’t touch the ball once Sunday.
Right offensive tackle Khalif Barnes returned to action during the absence of McFadden and Goodson. His return, combined with the maturation of center Stefen Wisniewski, gives Knapp reason to believe that McFadden will be more productive than he was the first eight games, when he averaged only 3.3 yards rushing.
“Seeing Wisniewski’s improvement and getting the experience from when he didn’t get that experience during the spring and during training camp because of the injury, and getting Khalif Barnes back, Darren can reap the benefit of those two guys,” Knapp said.
Goodson said he’s ready to roll.
“I’m going to try to get back Thursday,” Goodson said. “I feel good. I’m ready to run.”
— Knapp said there was a specific package of plays for second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Sunday. However, the right situation never presented itself during the game.
— Knapp has been a lightning rod for criticism this season from fans and media. He hears none of it, reads none of it and just keeps plodding along.
“I’ve been at different places where the criticism does come,” Knapp said. “It’s part of the job. Because we keep our focus on a week-to-week basis, you really have to keep your focus on the next game at hand. So, despite what has been said out there, I wouldn’t even know. I really do focus on, How do we find a way to beat the next team and how do we get our guys involved to have success? So, it really is something that’s a variable, like we tell our players, I don’t control. So, I don’t worry about it.”
Tarver hasn’t received anywhere near as much heat from fans and media, even though the Raiders defense hasn’t played well the past five games, in particular.
He called this a “unique” season, with all that has transpired but without going into specifics.
“The most frustrated time I’ve had personally this year was the last drive (Sunday),” Tarver said. “I was frustrated. It was a mix. We took our turns. We took our turns doing things.”
On that drive, the Browns marched 94 yards for what turned out to be a game-clinching touchdown drive.
“This is a pretty unique season, both on and off the field, I’ll say that,” Tarver said. “It’s been… there’s a bunch of adversity. The true character of a man and a coach and whoever is, no matter what the circumstances, be a pro and handle your business. But I’ve been a part of a lot of different situations both in this league and in coaching but there’s some unique things that have happened this year.”
— Tarver said he won’t contact Allen today out of respect for what Allen is going through with his father.
He said he and Allen “have discussions” throughout the week about the defensive game plan and throughout the game about the play-calling.
“When I took the job with Dennis, it was because of who Dennis Allen is,” Tarver said. “He’s special as a person and a coach. He’s outstanding. We have discussions throughout the week and on game day about everything we do.”
— Rookie linebacker Miles Burris is having a solid season, by most accounts. However, he has struggled more of late than he did early in the season, when he played well enough to supplant third-year player Rolando McClain in the nickel package.
“Miles is going through the ups and downs that a rookie linebacker does,” Tarver said.
Burris missed a few tackles against the Browns. But, overall, he made two tackles for loss and played every snap.
“There’s times in space where he’s thinking too much,” Tarver said. “We actually talked about it after the game. But, overall we’re pleased with where he’s gone.”
Burris has started all 12 games and played every snap the past eight games. Right now is about the time his body is accustomed to getting a break, given college teams are done playing until bowl games at this time of year.
“His rookie year, it’s in that middle where your legs get tired, you’ve played more games than you’ve ever played,” Tarver said. “After Thanksgiving, rookies get in that little slump. You tell them it’s coming, and they go through it. It’s their body clock. They haven’t played football that long straight through. And it happens to a lot of guys their first year in the NFL. But overall we’re definitely pleased with where Miles has gone.”