Raiders still think they can right the ship

"If you ask me if we're a top-five team in the first month of the season, there's no way. There's a lot of questions that need to be answered. But we have the potential, in my opinion, to be a very, very good playoff team." -- Raiders QB Rich Gannon

 

The operative question for the Oakland Raiders as they visit the Cleveland Browns Sunday has become is there a reason to think they can turn their season around?

            The Raiders have followed an AFC Championship season with a 2-3 start through the first five games of the 2003 campaign. Oakland players and coaches have also been quick to point out how they lost four straight games to fall to 4-4 last season before winning seven of their next eight games.

"You guys act like the season's over with," Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown said. "We're five games into the year. Last year at this point, we were in the midst of a four-game losing streak."

            Brown's chiding notwithstanding, the difference is that the Raiders four game losing streak mostly consisted of close losses that could have gone either way preceded by four wins where the lowest victory margin was 13 points.

            This season, Oakland's only two wins were games in which the opposition outplayed them (Cincinnati and San Diego), a 21-point loss at Denver and a three-point loss at winless Chicago. Mathematically, the Raiders can still make the postseason despite a three-game deficit to unbeaten Kansas City.

Oakland's remaining 11 opponents also sport a combined 29-24 record including two games against Kansas City and one against Denver. That record may not be overwhelming and it's not beyond possibility that Oakland can rebound to reach the postseason. Given their current struggles, however, a .500 record might be a stretch even though quarterback Rich Gannon begs to differ.

"If you ask me if we're a top-five team in the first month of the season, there's no way," said Gannon, the reigning NFL MVP who is one of several Raiders struggling to find his form. "There's a lot of questions that need to be answered. But we have the potential, in my opinion, to be a very, very good playoff team."

However, you know the word "potential" means – you haven't done it yet.

The Raiders problems are glaringly obvious for anyone to see. Oakland is the NFL's 24th-ranked offense and 31st defensively. Oakland is No. 29 in first downs produced (77) and No. 31 in third-down efficiency (26.2 percent).

The offensive problems are directly correlated with the defensive issues because opponents average close to 100 more yards per game (381.4 to 292.2) and have nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession (34:31 to 25:29). Some people may state that possession time is a meaningless stat. Teams that have accumulated 35 or minutes of possession time, however, are 16-4 this season.

"Teams really don't have to throw the ball on us until it's maybe necessary," Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We're having a problem with not getting off the field when we're supposed to so all of those things work hand-in-hand."

So the question is, can the Raiders salvage their season? You can't say the season is early now.

 Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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