1) Obviously Al Davis is a bit disturbed at the Randy Moss trade, but at the time few teams thought Moss was anything more than a malcontent receiver who had lost his playmaking ability. After the one season in New England, Davis -- and the rest of the world -- realized their mistake. Why are Raiders fans, the organizatoin and even some of the media still angry at Moss?
MW: Moss was highly critical of the franchise and the way things were being run when he was in town, and right or wrong, that ruffled a lot of feathers. It wasnt just what Moss said. It was the fact that he was being critical at a time when he wasnt producing on the field. And at one point it became clear to just about everyone that he had given up on the season and wasnt trying as hard as he could. He flat out quit on his team in the 2006 season; he wasnt running his routes hard and he didnt go up strong for passes. Raider fans picked up on that and cant forgive him for basically leaving a sinking ship.
2) What's the story with Raiders coordinator Rob Ryan? Is he as good as the Ryan reputation for solid defenses, or is it more about the players the Raiders brought in than the system?
MW: Oaklands defense hasnt been much better than mediocre since Ryan came aboard, yet hes amazingly survived through four different head coaches in Oakland. Name one defensive coordinator who has that type of pull. Not even Dick LeBeau or guys like that would last through the multiple head coaching changes like Ryan has. Thats indicative maybe not so much as to Ryans coaching prowess as it is a testimony to what Al Davis thinks of him. Consider that in the six years since Oakland went to the Super Bowl the Raiders havent finished better than 22nd against the run. Ryan has been at the helm of that defense for five of those years. Some of his coaching decisions have been questionable and he tends to be too conservative with a lead. But hes still the defensive coordinator and will probably be so again next year when Davis brings in another head coach.
3) What's causing the Raiders slide in the standings? Is it poor play, lack of talent, misfortune or something else?
MW: Oaklands fall from grace can be traced all the way back to when the Raiders traded Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for a couple of draft picks and a chunk of cash. Since then the team has been on a steady decline and the reasons are numerous: Bad drafts, poor personnel decisions, instability at the head coaching spot. It hasnt been any one thing. That might be the toughest part about it all. If they could pinpoint one specific area it might be easier to correct. But the Raiders have so many problems its almost impossible to define. Safety Gibril Wilson might have summed it up best, however, when he said that without direction, without vision, a franchise will always get the same results. Sounds an awful lot like the scenario in Oakland.
4) The Raiders top corner Nmandi Asomugha is in a contract year. He's hinted that he might want to continue his career elsewhere after seeing how the team treated DeAngelo Hall. Will the Raiders be able to re-sign Asomugha, or will they need to franchise him again to prevent him from hitting the open market?
MW: Asomugha definitely wants out of Oakland and its not a money issue. Since entering the NFL in 2002 he hasnt been part of a winning season and has grown tired of the constant head-scratching decisions being made by the organization. Its that simple. Yet because he is who he is, Asomugha has not went storming to the front office demanding a trade. He hasnt kicked up a fuss in the media over his own personal situation. Hes kept a low profile, saying only he doesnt want it to drag on as it did a year ago. That puts the ball in Oaklands court. The Raiders would love to sign Asomugha to a long-term deal but they probably wont be able to convince him to do so, no matter what price theyre offering. Thus Davis has one option if he wants to keep Asomugha another season, using the franchise tag. While that will net him in the neighborhood of $12 million, thats not something Asomugha wants to see happen.
5) How will the Raiders defend the patriots passing attack which relies heavily on 3, 4 and 5 receiver sets with Wes Welker and Randy Moss the primary targets?
MW: The Raiders dont blitz much and instead try to let their front four create pressure on the quarterback, leaving the rest of their defense to drop back in coverage. Thats been good and bad because while it helps match up against receivers, it has also enabled opposing quarterbacks extra time to sit back in the pocket and find open receivers. Against a team like New England and receivers like Moss and Welker, that is a recipe for disaster. Though it would seem logical for the Raiders to have Nnamdi Asomugha shadow Moss all over the field, the plan seems to be to play the Patriots straight up and let the chips fall where they may. Theres been some talk Oakland may try to get Rashad Baker more involved at the strong safety spot where Gibril Wilson currently is. Regardless of who is in, expect the Raiders to use the 4-2-5 look a lot. Theyre not afraid to match up their linebackers in pass coverage, though that might be asking a bit much against the Patriots.
6) Every team has some rising stars on it, even teams that hover near the bottom of the standings. Which unheralded players should fans keep watch of on Sunday, and why?
MW: Maybe the most unheralded player on Oaklands roster is second-year tight end Zach Miller. The guy has been an absolute stud on an offense that cant pass the ball. He has double the receptions of any other player on his team and has three times as much receiving yards. Yet outside of Northern California and Arizona, where he went to college, Miller is still a relative unknown. New England coach Brian Belichick compared him to San Diegos Antonio Gates, which is saying something. And because Miller is also Oaklands best blocking tight end, hes had to spend a large chunk of his time staying in to help in pass protection, which makes his production even more impressive. Johnnie Lee Higgins, who has two punt returns for touchdowns, is also worth noting and middle linebacker Kirk Morrison is among the NFLs leaders in tackles. Beyond that, theres not much else.
MW: New England 27, Oakland 7. The Patriots have everything to gain, Matt Cassel has emotional motivation and Randy Moss wants to make his former team pay. Its that simple.
Michael Wagaman covers the Oakland Raiders for Silver and Black Illustrated
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