Inside look at the Oakland Raiders

Based on recent history, there's no sense in the Raiders hoping for Jake Plummer to implode against them - Plummer, as the Denver starter, is 6-1 against Oakland.

Art Shell is halfway through what he hoped would be a triumphant return to the sidelines for the Raiders, and it's going nothing like he hoped it would.

His offense is a running (and passing) joke, a punch-line for pundits and armchair coordinators everywhere who are aghast at the archaic schemes cooked up by former Swan Valley, Idaho mayor and bed and breakfast proprietor, Tom Walsh.

The Raiders have got a pretty fair defense, stretched to its breaking point at times by an offense which can't keep the ball for long stretches of time, and the special teams have been better than average in all but two games.

But the offense, ranked 32nd in the NFL and with six offensive touchdowns in eight games, is one of the worst in franchise history and was reconstructed with Shell's vision. He's not giving up, of course, but concedes he thought it wouldn't go quite like this.

"I expected better, but then I'm an eternal optimist," Shell said. "I believe wholeheartedly in the people we have and I didn't expect to be sitting here at 2-6. I expected to be a much more competitive football team. But one thing these guys have done is to keep buckling up and going to work."

Away from head coaching since 1994 and an NFL administrator the past few years, Shell could be forgiven for wondering what he got himself into.

"When I came back I knew this thing wasn't going to be easy," Shell said. "I had a nice, comfortable job in the league office, wore a tie every day. It was nice. But this team, this organization needs something that I felt I could give it. I still believe I can do that and I'm going to work toward that end."

Shell still believes the Raiders can be restored to their luster of the 1970s, when he was a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle.

"When I leave coaching, I want this thing to be set up in such a way to be competing every year for the playoffs and the championship," Shell said. "I want to get it back to where it belongs. It's a long road, but we've got to keep climbing, we've got to keep working."

Shell faces two issues that could split the team in the second half of the season, and both have to do with an offense that has given up 44 sacks and scored three points in 12 quarters of football in prime time television.

Offensive players are beginning to question the play-calling and acumen of Walsh, Shell's hand-picked choice for offensive coordinator.

"I don't want to seem like I'm coming down hard on the offensive coordinator," running back LaMont Jordan said. "I'm just saying he's also responsible for the lack of points and the lack of consistency we have on offense."

Running back Justin Fargas questioned the direction of the offense against Seattle and wondered why the Raiders abandoned the run. Oakland had just four first-half rushes, and one was a kneel-down by quarterback Andrew Walter.

The second problem has to do with an overworked defense that has to be wondering when the offense will hold up its end. Warren Sapp has been fairly blunt in this regard without being cutting or overly sarcastic with regard to the play of the offense.

While the NFL has seen three offensive coordinators fired this season -- Jim Fassel of Baltimore, Keith Rowen of Arizona and Maurice Carthon of Cleveland -- Shell is publicly backing Walsh.

"There's so much involved that people can't see or understand as to why this offense doesn't work," Shell said. "But Tom will never complain about anybody. He will never complain about players. People talk about the depth of the quarterback drops. It's amazing. We watch film of other teams and we see some of the routes that we're running against teams that we just played and those teams come behind us and play those teams, and they're running the same routes we just ran against them."

"We're doing some things right. It's not all wrong. We're running five-step drops, just like everyone in the league. We run three-step drops, just like everyone in the league, and like everybody else, we run a few seven-step drops. That hasn't changed."

Shell said the players' criticisms don't bother him unless they create a real problem.

"Throughout history that has not changed," Shell said. "You're going to have players saying that guys who need to take a look in the mirror and make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do. If it becomes a problem, I'll address it. But one player here, another there, that doesn't bother me."

As for Oakland's defense getting restless about the lack of offensive production, Shell said he feels confident about the makeup of the locker room.

"The offense would be the first ones to tell you how bad they feel, I've heard it in the locker room," Shell said. "But when they share that with the defense, the defense says, 'We're a team. You guys will get this thing going.' The teamwork is there. We've just got to get better on offense."

NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Aaron Brooks seems to realize that people are looking at him and wondering whether he's not all that eager to return from a torn pectoral muscle because the Raiders are having so much trouble protecting the passer.

Brooks was injured in Week 2, and what was originally described as a 4-6 week injury is now into Week 9 with no definitive end in sight.

"My plan is to get back on the field," Brooks said. "I'm not trying to milk this thing. I'm trying to get to the point where I can be effective on the field. I don't wan to go out there and add to the craziness of what's going on. I don't think that will help me or the team."

--Based on recent history, there's no sense in the Raiders hoping for Jake Plummer to implode against them.

Plummer, as the Denver starter, is 6-1 against Oakland, completing 62.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a 96.6 passer rating.

--The viewers have spoken and the Raiders aren't ready for prime time. Oakland's 16-0 loss to Seattle had 9.9 million viewers, the lowest on Monday Night Football and the fewest this season on the network. The Raiders also held the previous low of 10.5 million in their season-opening 27-0 loss to San Diego on Monday night.

The lowest Sunday night game on NBC this season was also a Raiders game -- a 13-3 loss in Denver on Oct. 15 that attracted 12.3 million.

--Raiders defensive end Tyler Brayton lost $25,000 but not the respect of his teammates. Brayton was ejected from Monday night's loss to Seattle after kneeing tight end Jeremy Stevens in the groin.

Stevens, who kicked Brayton between the legs to start the fracas, was fined $15,000. Stevens also drew a personal foul for head-butting safety Stuart Schweigert. Stevens's kick was not shown on the endless loop of replays over the ensuing days.

Brayton apologized after the game and again on Wednesday, never letting on that it was a Stevens kick that incited his own outburst.

"He's taking full responsibility for it, which shows you what type of man he is," safety Stuart Schweigert said. "Every man has his breaking point, and I saw Tyler's Monday night."

Schweigert wasn't surprised that Brayton's video clip has been used to illustrate all that is wrong with the Raiders.

"That's how it is when you're losing games," Schweigert said. "Of course we already had the reputation of being guys who don't play by the rules and self-destruct and all that stuff. So they're going to take it and run with it, overemphasize it and try and make us look bad."

Said Shell: "Tyler has great character. That's uncharacteristic of him. He doesn't do that. If you look at his track record in the league in terms of being fined for things, I think he was fined once for grabbing a facemask."

Warren Sapp had this to say about Stevens. "This dude has been a piece of junk since he's been in this league and it's never going to change. You could see from Mike Holmgren's reaction, he knew what it was. He never let him back in the game. When your own coach won't let you back in the game, he knows it, we know it. You're just a punk ... you can just look at this guy's track record ... this league has a great way of humbling you and he'll get his, no doubt about it."



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