Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

If the Raiders are to make a push over the last 12 games of the season, they need to improve their offense, and who would have thought that possible back when the season started?

If not statistically, Oakland's defense is visibly improved. Offensively, there is statistical evidence of explosiveness. But during the bye week, the Raiders were intent on getting better at consistency.

"The two things we wanted to get done... was emphasize third downs and the red zone on both sides of the ball," coach Norv Turner said.

Actually, the Raiders did well in their last two outings on defense in the red zone. They held the Cowboys to only one touchdown in their last game, and held up defensively inside their 10 in the closing two minutes.

On the other hand, there is the offense, which has struck for pass plays of 79, 73, 63 and 36 yards, but has struggled to get touchdowns inside the red zone. Out of 50 Raider possessions, they have just seven touchdowns; five in 12 trips inside the red zone.

Third down has been a challenge. Oakland has converted only 14-of-49 third downs into first downs, which ranked No. 31 in the league through four weeks.

"We'd like to be in shorter yardage situations," quarterback Kerry Collins said. "Sometimes it's been third-and-8, 9 and 10. Those aren't easy downs to convert. League wide, your chances... go way down. I need to be more efficient on first and second down, getting those more manageable third down situations, then I think you'll see our percentage go up."


--On Sept. 25, Philadelphia beat the Raiders 23-20. A week later, the Raiders beat Dallas 19-13. The week after that Dallas blasted Philadelphia 30-10.

What does it mean when over a three-week period, the Raiders are considered bad and Philadelphia good, then the Raiders are good and Dallas bad and, finally, Dallas is good and Philadelphia bad?

"I don't think it means anything," quarterback Kerry Collins said. "All it proves is that every week is a different week in the NFL. It just goes to show that on paper, one team may think it is better than the other... only it doesn't always happen that way.

"It all goes under the category of 'never get too high off the highs or too low off the lows.' You have to be able to handle both."

But wasn't Dallas' 20-point win over the Eagles a surprise?

"You are a little surprised, but that's how this league is, it doesn't matter who you are playing, it can be like that or be real close," tackle Robert Gallery said. "Week in or week out, teams can be up or down. So I don't put too much into it."

--Raider defensive back Renaldo Hill remembers San Diego tight end Antonio Gates from high school... but not necessarily as a football player.

"He's been an athlete since his days in high school, and was the big basketball star in the state of Michigan," Hill said. "It didn't work out (at Michigan State) with the coaches with him playing basketball and football, so we kind of lost the guy. But we knew he was talented."

Gates eventually transferred to Kent State, where he played basketball and football.

"He was definitely a better basketball player (then)," Hill said. "He was known all across the state for basketball. I think (then Michigan State coach Nick) Saban was going to move Antonio to linebacker. That might have been a mistake right there. Somebody finally got him in the right position.

"He's a good friend of mine. I look forward to going out there and challenging him. It will take me back to my high school days."


--FB John Paul Foschi (knee) returned to practice Monday after three days off during the bye week, and should be available to face San Diego.

--RB LaMont Jordan had his long gainer of the year in his last outing, a 24-yard burst against Dallas. He had a 56-yard touchdown called back earlier this year.

--WR Randy Moss has exceeded 100 yards receiving in three of his four games as a Raider.

--Only one player other than WR Randy Moss has a 100-yard receiving game this year and that is TE Courtney Anderson (100 yards on five catches vs. Philadelphia).

--WR Doug Gabriel has only had three passes thrown to him this year but two were complete, one for a 27-yard touchdown.



PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Kerry Collins has not thrown an interception in 149 pass attempts dating back to last year, and has already completed three passes of 60 yards or more to Randy Moss, but has no touchdown passes to a wide receiver inside the red zone. His protection has been slightly above average, but is not where it should be. There have only been nine dropped balls to date; three each by Moss and RB LaMont Jordan.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The running game has been up (126 yards vs. Dallas) and down (21 yards against Philadelphia) and thus far has yet to show an ability to control the clock. Part of the problem has been penalties, part of it has been playing catch-up, but the Raiders have not yet held a time of possession advantage over any of their four opponents. Jordan is on pace to rush for 1,096 yards, but the team ranks No. 23 in rushing.

PASS DEFENSE: D plus -- There were signs of improvement against Dallas, but the Raiders have been burned by long gainers almost as much as they have burned others with their offense. There was minimal pass rush until a breakthrough game against Dallas (4 sacks). Prior to that, the team had two sacks in three games. Derrick Burgess has three of the team's six sacks. The Raiders are No. 28 in yardage allowed, and a sign of how little regard opponents have for the Raider pass defense is that they continue to attack this area -- even though the team is now using the nickel as their primary defense. The good news is that Raider opponents have averaged fewer yards per pass attempt as each week has passed -- starting with allowing 8.05 going to 7.90, to 6.89 and finally to 6.03.

RUN DEFENSE: B -- There have been no soft touches to date with the Raiders facing Corey Dillon, Priest Holmes, Brian Westbrook and Julius Jones in successive weeks. Given that lineup, it is promising that Oakland is allowing under four yards an attempt and 3.2 in the first, second and fourth games. The true test is yet to come, with two games coming against LaDainian Tomlinson and two against Denver, however, the landscape also gets easier with games against non-AFC West opposition. NT Ted Washington has played very well, as have LB Danny Clark and DT/DE Tommy Kelly.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B minus -- Other than the first three games when K Sebastian Janikowski missed four field goals, the Raiders have vastly improved their special teams. P Shane Lechler's skills are a given, but the return game (rookie Chris Carr) and kick coverage have risen impressively behind the play of Jarrod Cooper and rookie Ryan Riddle.

COACHING: C -- Coach Norv Turner has been widely criticized for conservative play calling up to now. The argument is that Randy Moss has not been used enough. However, there is evidence he is being used plenty, and that throwing to him 14 times a game, as was the case in the opener, is self-defeating. The problem area has been penalties, which the Raiders are committing at an NFL-record pace and which coaches must take ultimate blame for. It has resulted in a total lack of consistency. At least the defense has shown improvement ever since going to a 4-2-5 alignment.

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