At 3-6 the Oakland Raiders, although not a preseason favorite for the Superbowl, are considered by most to be one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL. The additions of Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan were sure to makethis team a high scoring, powerful machine. It hasn't happened. In fact, in some ways the offense has shockingly regressed.
Of course there are many who believe that much of the blame is at QB Kerry Collins' feet. Collins has done remarkably well protecting the football (until last Sunday), his TD-Int ratio is well beyond what any fan could have expected. Yet Collins is criticized for not possessing the passion/leadership qualities of his predecessor Rich Gannon - and there is no question, he is not Rich Gannon. However I assert that he does does not need to be.
I do not pretend to be smarter than the Al Davis, Coaches or Players or to know what is going on in the locker-room behind closed doors. We fans have a small glimpse of the team on Sunday afternoons. But from what we as fans can see through our limited glimpses in interviews and the product on the field, I lay much of the blame on the Offensive Line play.
One of my favorite NFL Films sound bites is from The Great Gene Upshaw describing the Offensive Line as the 'Heart Beat' of the football team. In our most recent success under Gruden and year-one Callahan, the Raider Offensive Line simply dominated the opposition. I will never forget the bitch slap our OL put on the Steeler defensive front on our run to the Superbowl. Gannon had loads of time to throw, his jersey remained clean. The running game started and ended with gaping running lanes - at times Garner's first contact with a defender was 7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. All this allowed Gannon's timing with his WRs to be often perfect.
We don't have that today. At times RB Lamont Jordan looks like a pro-bowler, until of course the opposing defense stacks the line of scimmage and he routinely loses yards on carries. For all the criticism thrown Collins' way, even boo-birds must admit that the OL has rarely given him reason to feel comfortable in the pocket. Most of Collins' passes are off his backfoot because the pass protection does not allow him to set up in the pocket. His jersey is rarely clean. Factor in that the team is usually playing from behind (that the opposing D is just teeing up on Collins because they know they will get in his face - that his protection is not good enough) and we see every flaw exaggerated.
Look, I'm no Polly-Anna thinking that Collins' play is acceptable or excusable (Collins is first to stand up and take the blame for his play). But I will not cast him off until I see the Offensive Line play consistently well, until I see a legitimate running game, until I see Collins offered the secure pocket that every QB deserves and needs. Most every NFL QB that has time, that feels comfortable, will pick you apart. Everyone would agreed that when Collins is comfortable, when is allowed a rhythm, it can be lights out. With CoachTurner, I think of Troy Aikman - Aikman's success was due to one of the better O-Lines in history (albiet they were allowed to hold/grab offensive lineman face masks/throats and chop block without worrying about those pesky penalty flags). Aikman's running game was routinely very good to excellent and his protection was outstanding, he could stand in the pocket all day when need be. On the occasion the running game was not working or he was pressured, he was a poor QB... Aikman never had to carry the team himself... I really don't remember him pulling out a win on his own.
Our problem is if the O-line is not up to the task, before too long the whole experiment might go up in smoke. At 3-6, and coming off 5-11 Coach Turner and his staff must have more success, the team must out-play the opposition and the officiating and get W's because that is all that matters.
Speaking of Coach Turner... his critics say he is has no presence, no passion on the sidelines, but neither did The Great Tom Flores. Norv Turner's presence, his facial expression, his composure reminds me of Tom Flores.
Lets be honest and fair, we fans cannot truly measure Turner's passion or his motivation skills. What we do see is the end-product on the field. Even through the disappointment of falling to 3-6, I see a team that is still playing for him, I see players that take accountability, stand by each other and still stand by him. I believe he still has the team's ear -the Randy Moss ESPN interview notwithstanding. This Moss interview will be blown out of proportion. Say "Set Up"!
BTW: Remember the same type of question posed to Moss re Mike Tice and the subsequent Media Frenzy? This is a classic case of a media set-up...afterall, at 3-6, a very disappointing team record, with disappointing personal stats, what is "a very shoot from the hip, speak from the heart, no BS holds barred" Randy going to say? It's a joke. After all the TO crap, the media is figuring to get some headlines from Randy Moss as well. Moss has been a model-freakin-teammate this year and the media doesn't like that - it doesn't sell headlines!
To finish up on Coach Turner: what does the future hold ? Al Davis will give him all the time and tools he needs to succeed. With Coach Turner, I think of Jimmy Johnson and I'm sure Al does as well - Jimmy Johnson strongly recommended Norv to Al. Jimmy Johnson took over a train wreck and promptly went 1-15 and 7-9 before making the play-offs in his third year. As long as the team stays together, as long as Turner has the player's ears, the success will follow. The next few weeks will tell a lot, we need to see some wins... If the team stops playing for Turner before he sees the wins, we will be looking at a new coach.
BTW2: I understand the idea that if you spend your hard-earned cash for a football ticket you have the right to cheer or jeer or stand on your head and spit quarters... however just because you have the right to boo Kerry Collins doesn't mean you should... I just can't understand giving the visiting team the satisfaction... this fan is not wired that way