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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Raiders Tom Walsh Not Out Of The Woods Yet

I just returned from the East Side Club, and a bit of traffic out of the BART parking lot. Not much.

As the one who called for Raiders Offensive Coordinator Tom Walsh's head, I'm here to report that he's still not out of the woods -- yet.

First, let's acknoweldge that the offense's performance was much better this game than last. And it was better on some very basic levels, but two seem to disturb me just a bit.

1) It seems as if they "game planned" this one -- in other words Tom went in with a plan based on a cursory analysis of the 49ers defense.
2) They responded to pressure from the fans -- it's obvious that the national sports news contained no shortage of critics of the Raiders offense; I'm not the only one to point at Tom, just the most aggressive person to do so.

Now let's deal in detail with point 1. The play-by-play's telling:

This is the 10-play 75 yard drive:

1-10-OAK25 (12:56) A.Brooks pass to D.Gabriel to OAK 36 for 11 yards (W.Harris).

1-10-OAK36 (12:14) A.Brooks pass to C.Anderson to OAK 45 for 9 yards (T.Parrish).

2-1-OAK37 (11:37) A.Brooks FUMBLES (Aborted) at OAK 40, and recovers at OAK 37. A.Brooks to OAK 37 for no gain (J.Ulbrich).

3-9-OAK37 (10:56) A.Brooks scrambles up the middle ran ob at SF 38 for 25 yards (D.Johnson).

1-10-SF38 (10:19) L.Jordan right guard to SF 33 for 5 yards (J.Ulbrich).

2-5-SF33 (9:34) L.Jordan right tackle to SF 25 for 8 yards (S.Davis, M.Adams).

1-10-SF25 (8:48) A.Brooks pass incomplete deep right to R.Moss (M.Adams).

2-10-SF25 (8:42) A.Brooks pass short left to R.Moss pushed ob at SF 11 for 14 yards (S.Davis).

1-10-SF11 (8:05) L.Jordan up the middle to SF 8 for 3 yards (J.Ulbrich).

2-7-SF8 (7:20) A.Brooks pass short middle to D.Gabriel for 8 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

S.Janikowski extra point is GOOD, Center-A.Treu, Holder-S.Lechler.

A nice job over all. But there were two passes, the first to Gabriel and the second to the TE Anderson that were both short -- Gabriel's was a hook, Anderson's a unique kind of "jet" pattern rarely seen, where the TE releases and just aims for a diagonal point at 45 degrees and to the sideline.

It's a hard pattern to defend and one that's not called unless the OC knows to expect a roll-up zone away from the TE or man-to-man, and thus: completion.

As a momentary aside, I LOVE that pattern -- it's a child of the Run and Shoot Offense -- way to go, Tom Walsh.

But the other had me real concerned, even as the crowd around me was going nuts (accept for this Niners bro who seemed bent on being annoying, but whatever). My focus was this: as Brooks took a deep drop, the o-line used a different technique -- the troublesome one I wrote about -- where they retreat. And so I see the pattern, they use a retreat and react technique for their 8 to 10 yard OB drops -- (UGH! I hate that...steps are what's better) --- and a more push and stay home style for their 5 yard drops. And therein lay the problem.

On that play the pocket collapsed fast, and Brooks got out of there like -- well, like Matt Leinart being blitzed in his first NFL game. He ran and picked up 25 yards.

So everyone thinks that's great, except me. I'm fuming that he had to run at all. The problem of the way the line's schooled to block is still troubling to me. But I do like the fact that more short passes were called and used, taking pressure off the o-line and letting them use the more in-your-face style of blocking that Tom Walsh seems to favor for the 5-yard passes.

My point is that style of blocking should be used for the deeper drops too, as well as rollouts and sprints.

Now let's look back at that drive and another first: the pattern used on the pass to Randy Moss for 14 yards. IT WAS A DRIVE PATTERN


Maybe the dude was listening to this? Who knows.

But the point is that they ran the drive -- the crossing -- pattern. And it was a smart call against...a zone defense. But Randy should watch how he runs that because he's supposed to "sit" down in a zone space rather than run --- that may be Tom's fault here.

Why? Because in a zone the defenders are waiting for him to run shallow and IF they're paying attention they zero in (specifically the defender in the hook zone) -- so Moss gets creamed after he catches the ball.

....They weren't paying attention because their zone drops were SO DEEP. Guess why?

They were looking for those deep patterns, and didn't get them. Ha! Tricked 'em he did. Nice.

So let's stick to fundamental matters:

1) The Raiders used short and medium range passes, taking pressure off the O-line. AWESOME
2) They obviously game planned this one, but what the heck.
3) The problem of blocking on the deep drop passes is still an issue.
4) The patterns ran by backs and receivers were more varied.
5) The QB's are still using yards and not steps in their drops.
6) The 49ers didn't game plan for this contest. (Amoung other things, they seemed to be experimenting with different ways to line up their new toy Vernon Davis, TE, slot, and WR, and perhaps more to come. And on defense, they played a lot of base 3-4 -- why? Well they've got to face the Raiders again in October. Hello!)

So that's why I write that the Raiders and Walsh are still not out of the offensive woods in terms of the passing game.

But the running game's working. I noticed two patterns -- one existing and the other new. The first one is the runs off-tackle are consistently successful. And JUST those plays off tackle. Whenever the runner is forced outside, it doesn't work. That tells me the blocking at the point of attack is good, but the defenders are "pushed" away from the POA off-tackle and toward the outside where they await the runner -- this happens alot.

I also noticed -- and here's a weird nod to the person claiming that the Raiders were using the Pats' offense: not at all, just one kind of technique.

It comes from the one - back, two TE, Ace formation, which the Raiders used a lot of. The halfback is behind the QB. At the snap, the QB turns around in a "reverse pivot" fashion and hands off to the halfback, who takes the ball and runs directly and quickly to the guard / tackle gap. This is done without any juke steps and comes off quickly, almost in a smooth motion.

This simple play is one the Pats and Indy Colts perfected and it has spread like wildfire around the NFL. Why? Well, it's not that the play alone is successful, but it is the "mother" play in a cool series where the QB runs a "quick play fake" from the same hand-off motion, and often with devistating results for the defense. Peyton Manning does this better than Tom Brady.

(No. I'm not referring to the zone stretch run fake -- that's unique to the Colts. No one else does it well at all.)

But I've seen -- let's see -- the Raiders, Niners, Pats, Eagles, Falcons, and Cardinals run this play set. I'll hand it to the Raiders and Tom Walsh: this was the first game where they ran it extensively and they did it well. I hope it's a part of their basic approach.

So in closing, my hope is that Tom Walsh and the Raiders...

1) Use agressive blocking for all passing depths, not just the 5 yard ones.
2) Concentrate on developing an even more varied short and medium range passing game.
3) Continue the quick-count running "blast" plays I discussed.
4) Have the QB's drop with feet and not yards. That's going to be a major problem in the regular season. This is the root of the timing problem, and must be adressed.
5) Install rollout and sprint passes. (Indeed, I like the package Norv Turner's got with the Niners -- very varied.)

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