January 20, 2018

The No Middle Defense

The Oakland Raiders headed east to take on the Baltimore Ravens.  They were coming off a horrible 42-32 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Ravens were coming off a 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns.  The Raiders have never won in Baltimore and before the game started, I took a quote from Han Solo and said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”  My bad feeling was right.  This game looked like a well oiled machine going up against a rusty Model T.

The Raiders also had to play this game without injured running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson.  That’s the equivalent of starting a race with two flat tires.  I have experienced that situation once and about the only thing you can do is call a tow truck.  Even a tow truck couldn’t help the Raiders today.  They won the toss and elected to receive.  Starting from their 20, a couple of runs by fullback Marcel Reece and a 20-yard completion to tight end David Ausberry got them a first down at the 47.  An eight-yard completion to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey set up a second and two from the Raven 45.  An incomplete pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore and a one-yard run by Reece made it fourth and one.  On fourth down, they came out with an empty backfield and quarterback Carson Palmer dropped back and fell on his ass.  He was touched down by linebacker Paul Kruger.  Basically, Palmer sacked himself.  This blundering trend would continue throughout the game.

The Ravens took over at their 48 and running back Ray Rice carried the ball two times for seven yards to set up a third and three from the Raider 45.  On third down, quarterback Joe Flacco found wide receiver Anquan Boldin for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 34.  However, the Raider defense would only allow the Ravens to get as far as the 30.  Kicker Justin Tucker made his 48-yard field goal attempt and the Ravens led 3-0 with nine minutes to go in the first quarter.  The Raiders punted after three plays and the Ravens started their next drive at their 37-yard line.

The Ravens brought out their no-huddle offense and on third and nine from the 38, the Raiders installed their no middle defense.  I think that means that a defender isn’t allowed to cover a receiver in the middle of the field or he will get yelled at by the coaches.  So, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta across the middle for a gain of 18 yards and a first down at the Raider 44.  On third and ten, Flacco found Pitta again for a 40-yard gain down the middle and he was dragged down at the four.  On second down from the one, Flacco took it in for the score.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 10-0 with three minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders started at their 20 and got as far as their 45 before Shane Lechler was called on to punt again.  The Ravens started at their two-yard line and quickly got a first down at the 13.  A pass for minus one and a holding penalty moved them back to their six.  From the six, Flacco looked for wide receiver Jacoby Jones and found cornerback Michael Huff.  He was brought down at the 19 and set the Raiders  up with a golden opportunity to get a touchdown.  On first down, Palmer was promptly sacked by safety Bernard Pollard for a loss of seven yards.  A 21-yard pass to tight end Brandon Myers moved the ball to the five.  However, a false start penalty on guard Mike Brisiel moved them back to the ten.  Passes to Reece and Heyward-Bey made it third and goal from the three.  Palmer looked for Myers and the pass fell incomplete.  Pass interference was called on Myers and the Ravens declined the penalty.  So, that meant the Raiders had to settle for another field goal.  Janikowski made his 32-yard attempt and the Ravens now led 10-3 with ten minutes to go in the second quarter.

From their 23 and facing a second and seven, Flacco launched a deep ball up the right side that was caught by Jones for a gain of 47 and a first down at the Raider 30.  On third down, the Raiders once again refused to cover the middle and Flacco stood calmly in the pocket and found tight end Ed Dickson for a gain of 19 and a first and goal from the five.  Flacco was really picking up on the fact that the Raiders weren’t covering the middle and he found Pitta IN THE MIDDLE of the end zone for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens increased their lead to 17-3 with eight minutes to go in the first half.

I don’t think the Raiders had planned to do much running today.  Now, with a 14-point deficit, it was time to take to the air.  Palmer brought out the no huddle offense and completed passes to Moore, Reece and rookie wide receiver Juron Criner.  The completion to Criner set up a first down at the Raider 47.  Then our good friend and drive killer Mike Brisiel reared his ugly head again.  This time it was a holding call and that moved them back ten yards.  From the 37, Palmer looked for wide receiver Derek Hagan and the pass was picked off by Kruger.  He was brought down at the 32.

An illegal use of hands penalty moved the Ravens back ten yards.  An incomplete pass and a short run by Rice made it third and 15.  Could the Raiders finally stop the Ravens on third and long?  Would they actually cover the middle of the field?  Is it really possible?  Flacco looked down the middle for Pitta and the pass was incomplete.  It’s a miracle!  They didn’t convert a third and long!  Not so fast, my friend.  Linebacker Philip Wheeler was flagged for a personal foul and that gave the Ravens a first down at the 22.  Two plays later, the Ravens found themselves in a third down situation again.  On third and four from the 16, Flacco didn’t look down the middle.  Instead, he looked for wide receiver Torrey Smith in the left side of the end zone.  Cornerback Ron Bartell knocked it away and the Ravens had to settle for a 34-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Ravens increased their lead to 20-3 with three minutes to go in the first half.

With time running short in the half, Palmer went to the no huddle again and completed passes to Reece and Hagan for a first down at the Raider 45.  On third and ten from the 45, Palmer hit Heyward-Bey in stride on the right side.  Heyward-Bey shook off a couple of defenders and made it to the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown.  He looked like a man possessed as he carried the ball up-field.  I like that determination, Darrius!  If only other members of that team you play for shared that passion!  You get a gold star for that effort!  Janikowski made the point after and the Ravens now led 20-10 with just over a minute and a half to go in the first half.

The Raiders could stop the Ravens and go in at halftime trailing by only ten points.  Surely they could, couldn’t they?  No.  They installed their no middle defense again and Flacco hit Pitta for a gain of 26 yards.  A pass to Rice and another one to Pitta made it first and goal from the seven with 30 seconds to go.  On second down from the seven, Rice ran untouched right up the middle for a score.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now took a commanding 27-10 lead at halftime.  Surely you can’t be serious.  The Raiders allowed the Ravens to go 79 yards in under two minutes?  I AM serious.  And stop calling me Shirley.

Well, the third quarter started and I was hoping the Raiders would try and make some adjustments at halftime.  A new defensive scheme would be a good place to start in hopes of stopping the Ravens.  Sometimes you get what you hope for.  Sometimes you don’t.  On second and seven from the 33, Flacco found Rice for a minimal gain, but Wheeler was flagged again for a personal foul penalty.  That gave them a first down at the Raider 47.  From the 47, Flacco put up a deep ball for Smith.  It looked as though Huff thought he had some help over the top from safety Tyvon Branch.  Well, Branch was near the area, but didn’t seem to be paying much attention as to what was happening and Smith went right by him for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 34-10 with entirely too much time remaining for the Raiders.  The look of defeat was firmly entrenched on their faces.

However, a nice seven play, 80-yard drive capped off with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Moore made it 34-17.  Then, the Raider defense finally forced a three and out.  Hey, it’s getting competitive all of a sudden!  No it isn’t.  At the 25-yard line, punt returner Phillip Adams muffed the punt and it was recovered by the Ravens at the 20.  One play later, Flacco found Smith in the end zone for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 41-17.

The Raiders had another three and out and the Ravens started from their 26.  With the look of a defeated team, the Raiders committed their fourth personal foul of the game, failed to keep up with the speedy Raven receivers and also failed to put any pressure on Flacco.  This enabled the Ravens to move the ball down to the Raider 12.  On third and eight from the 12, the undisciplined Raiders jumped offside and gave the Ravens five free yards.  On third and three, Flacco looked for Boldin and the pass was incomplete.  Cornerback Joselio Hanson decided to get in Boldin’s face and talk some trash.  All Boldin did was point to the scoreboard and walk away.  On fourth down, the Ravens lined up to try a short field goal.  Instead, punter/holder Sam Koch took the snap and bolted into the end zone for a touchdown.  That really added insult to injury and made the score 48-17 with a full quarter to go.  When asked about the fake field goal with such a big lead, Raven head coach John Harbaugh said the opportunity was there and they took it.  The Raiders had eight guys on one side and it was an easy opportunity.

The Ravens would score one more time on a 105-yard kickoff return by Jones and the Raiders would add a harmless field goal to make the final score 55-20.  It could have been a hell of a lot worse than that.  As I said in the beginning of this article, it looked like a well oiled machine going up against a rusty Model-T with two flat tires.  The Raiders looked unprepared, uninspired and just plain terrible.  The loss dropped them to three and six and the win improved the Ravens to seven and two.  The next team on the schedule for the Raiders?  A home game against the New Orleans Saints.  The Saints are coming off a huge 31-27 win over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons.  If the Raiders break out their no middle defense and play as terribly as they did against the Ravens they will lose worse than they did against Baltimore.  In the past two weeks, the Raiders have been outscored 97- 52.  Simply put, that is pitiful.

For the Raiders, Carson Palmer completed 29 of 45 for 368 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble.  Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey combined for nine catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns.  Palmer spread the ball around to nine different receivers.  Marcel Reece led the Raiders in rushing with 13 carries for 48 yards and also had seven catches for 56 yards.  As a team, the Raiders had a total of 72 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, Tyvon Branch led the Raiders with six solo tackles and one tackle for a loss.  They had no sacks and just one interception.  Penalties also reared their ugly head in this game as they were flagged ten times for 105 yards.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 21 of 33 for 341 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.  Dennis Pitta led the team in receiving with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.  Like Palmer, Flacco spread the ball around to nine different receivers.  Unlike last week, the Raider run defense decided to show up against the Ravens.  Ray Rice led the team with just 35 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.  As a team, the Ravens had a total of 78 yards on 28 carries.  Bernard Pollard led the Ravens with nine solo tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss.  Paul Kruger led the Ravens in sacks with two.

A few weeks ago, my wife turned to me and said “What position will the Raiders address in the draft?  It looks like there’s too many to fill.”  She’s very perceptive.  I said “I have no idea.  Best defensive player available, I guess.”  If they continue their losing ways, they’ll definitely have a top ten pick.  A lot of people are calling for the entire staff to be fired and numerous players to be cut.  Yes, some players are destined to either retire or be let go.

But you cannot keep changing coaches every year.  That’s what the late Al Davis did and it got them nowhere.  GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are going to have to build this team from the ground up and that is going to take some time.  They didn’t have a pick in the 2012 draft until pick #96.  They had little funds to spend on free agents and had to let lots of players go.  There is very little talent on this team at the present time.  I truly feel sorry for Palmer.  He came out of retirement for this?  But the worst part of it for the Raider fans is that the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002.  We are out of patience and tired of seeing an inept team take the field every week.  I have grown tired of seeing my favorite team get humiliated and there’s isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel.  But I’ll keep watching and hoping they can somehow win some games.  Until next week, take it easy.

Still the Raider Guy



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