Matthew Postins: Now that the whole Lake Kiffin saga is behind us, is it really? I mean, how much has this major-league distraction affected the team, even a week after it happened?
Mike Wagaman: Al Davis' decision to fire Lane Kiffin certainly was no surprise but it was the way the relationship ended -- with Davis repeatedly calling Kiffin a liar during one of the most bizarre press conferences in sports history -- caught most people off guard. Davis insisted he would have made the move even if the Raiders hadn't blown fourth-quarter leads to Buffalo and San Diego but that seems a little difficult to believe. What it does is confirm that Davis still waltzes to the beat of his own drum and he doesn't care what anyone else thinks. But the players have done a good job insulating themselves from the madness, which is a credit both to the players themselves and to the coaching staff, Kiffin included. Still, one has to wonder what players around the rest of the league think of Oakland and how all of the drama that took place over the last four months will affect the Raiders' ability to attract free agents in the future.
Matthew Postins: Tom Cable has the unenviable task of taking over this mess. Is this a no-lose or no-win situation for the offensive line coach?
Mike Wagaman: Tom Cable is really in a no-lose situation and that might be the best position any recent Raiders head coach has been in. If Oakland continues to struggle, he can shrug his shoulders and say, "Look what I inherited." But if the Raiders turn things around and somehow make it to the playoffs, he comes off looking like a genius. Either way nothing that goes wrong will be pinned on his shoulders. The players seem to have taken to the head coaching change without much problem, even though the majority of them were in support of Kiffin. But whether Cable remains the head coach beyond 2008 is up for debate. There has been talk he and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp may end up in Seattle next season no matter what happens. The Raiders haven't extended Cable's contract beyond the current year so there's nothing holding him to Oakland. If he leaves or is not given the head job permanently, Davis will have to undergo yet another head coaching search, something he's become quite familiar with over the past decade.
Matthew Postins: Kiffin didn't want JaMarcus Russell? That was a news flash. Was that Davis losing his mind or was there some truth to it? And what was Russell's reaction to all of this?
Mike Wagaman: Davis' remark about Kiffin not wanting to draft Russell was definitely one of the most intriguing moments of the entire press conference but what was even more interesting was Russell's response. The young quarterback not only defended his former head coach but said he misses Kiffin and acknowledged the two men continue to stay in contact and discuss upcoming opponents and how Russell might attack certain defenses. That has to stick in Davis' craw. He was hoping that his comments about Kiffin and Russell might help sully Kiffin's reputation when in all truth it was an acknowledgement of something that goes on in every NFL team's headquarters in the days leading up to the draft, particularly one holding the top overall pick. One day Player A looks like the best fit and then the next morning it looks like Player B is the right pick. To Russell's credit, he didn't fall for the ploy and maintained the high road.
Matthew Postins: Back to Cable for a minute. What kind of game plan will we see out of a Cable-coached Raiders team?
Mike Wagaman: Cable has said he wants the Raiders to become more balanced on offense, which means throwing the ball more than they did under Kiffin. But Cable, the former offensive line coach, also knows the team's best chances are with the running game. Justin Fargas missed three weeks with a groin injury but is back and will start against New Orleans while Darren McFadden and Michael Bush will rotate in. McFadden got off to a great start but has been slowed by a turf toe injury in recent weeks and is missing the explosiveness he flashed early. Because the backfield is so deep, though, the Raiders have been able to move on without missing a beat. Getting Fargas back is huge because he has more experience than the other two and is the best pass blocker in the backfield.
Matthew Postins: I think everyone expected the Raiders' offense to be sluggish this season. But the defense's struggles came as a surprise. What's going on here? Is it personnel? Scheme? Or a combination?
Mike Wagaman: The defense was supposed to be the strength of the team but Oakland has had its share of problems. At times they looked dominant -- vs. Kansas City, early against Buffalo and San Diego -- but the Raiders were waxed by Denver in the season opener and came apart at the seams late in losses to the Bills and Chargers. Surprisingly, the most problems have come in the secondary where opponents have frequently targeted newcomer DeAngelo Hall. Safeties Michael Huff and Gibril Wilson have also struggled. That's made it easy to overlook the improvement the Raiders have made up front against the run. Tommy Kelly and Gerard Warren have played very well while Terdell Sands has added a third wheel to the rotation.
Matthew Postins is the editor and publisher of bucsblitz.com
Mike Wagaman covers the Raiders for silverandblackillustrated.com.