JaMarcus Russell’s debut was moved up again by the Raiders’ latest loss, to Kansas City on Sunday. Not because Daunte Culpepper played poorly, but because the Raiders are again fading into irrelevancy. Soon, it will be obvious that there’s no point in giving the majority of snaps to either Culpepper or Josh McCown because they aren’t the club’s future.
Rookie coach Lane Kiffin has the Raiders on the right track. They had only 30 yards of penalties on Sunday, for instance. There was only one seriously botched play, when Nnamdi Asomugha ran into returner Chris Carr on a punt, which resulted in a fumble that the Chiefs recovered.
But the talent level just isn’t high enough, and I see no reason to change my preseason estimate of a 5-6 win season for the Raiders.
A combination of a zone-blocking scheme with cut blocks and Kiffin’s short-pass offense made it seem theoffensive line was much improved, but teams have caught up to that. The last two teams, San Diego and Kansas City, have shut down the Raiders’ running game by putting linebackers close to the line of scrimmage, and the Raiders don’t have the deep-passing game to thwart that.
Sunday’s game, in fact, looked like a rerun of so many games in 2006: The defense played well, but in great part because Kansas City did nothing offensively to challenge them.
At halftime, I talked to former quarterback Lenny Dawson, now working on the broadcast team for the Chiefs. Dawson was disgusted with the Chiefs’ offensive game plan, which was basically Larry Johnson over left tackle and then Larry Johnson over right tackle.
“[Coach Herm Edwards] is putting it all on the defense,” said Dawson, and Edwards admitted that after the game.
Dawson and I share memories of some titanic Raiders-Chiefs battles, when he was throwing to Otis Taylor against a Raiders defense spearheaded by Willie Brown, and Daryle Lamonica was throwing to Fred Biletnikoff as Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell battled against the Chiefs’ Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier. Eight of those players (Lamonica and Taylor are the only exceptions) are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There were only two potential Hall of Famers on the field Sunday, Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp (primarily for his play in Tampa Bay). Great players make great plays, mediocre players …
The AFC West isn’t as strong as we all thought. San Diego is the only superior team, with Denver coming back to the pack. But the Raiders still have a 17-game losing streak against the division, the longest since the AFL-NFL merger.
It’s time to face reality. Coaches are very concerned about winning now, especially when they’re working for Al Davis, but Davis has given Kiffin unusual latitude this season. He needs to continue that approach and let Kiffin plan for the future.
It won’t be easy getting Russell ready to play, with the multitude of quarterbacks the Raiders have. Kiffin will have to sacrifice some game preparation time to get practice snaps for Russell.
But I don’t think he has any choice. This season is already slipping away. Better to work with the quarterback who is the future and hope for a good draft in the spring to bring in players who can raise the team’s talent level.