For the fourth straight week, Dennis Allen’s Oakland Raiders looked completely helpless as their opponent, this time the now 6-5 Cincinnati Bengals, thoroughly trounced them in every facet of the game.
The Raiders have now given up at least 34 points in four consecutive matches, stringing together defensive performances worse than any in the Al Davis era. The Raiders were dominated at the line of scrimmage due largely to poor gap discipline. Even worse tackling on the part of the back seven turned what could have been mere first downs into huge, backbreaking plays. The only moment of the game where the defense showed even the slightest bit of fire came after an absurd two-play sequence where the referees completely lost control of the game. It resulted in Tommy Kelly and Lamarr Houston getting ejected along with Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth.
While it’s easy to blame a hopelessly inept defense, the offense was equally out of sorts on Sunday. Carson Palmer, who should have had plenty of motivation facing his former team, once again struggled to find any rhythm with his receivers. While the running game occasionally shined with converted fullback Marcel Reece and undrafted free agent Jeremy Stewart taking over for the injured Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, the game was out of hand too quickly for the Raiders to take advantage of it. The offensive line put together their worst performance of the season, giving up four sacks, seven tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits.
Can it get much worse for Mike Brisiel?
While it’s hard to single out the poor play any one member of the offensive line, the matchup that most clearly told the story of this particular game was between struggling right guard Mike Brisiel and emerging superstar Geno Atkins. Atkins dominated Brisiel all game long, blowing him into the backfield on a consistent basis. Brisiel didn’t help his cause by drawing a completely unnecessary clipping penalty and a false start. While third round pick Tony Bergstrom was slated to be the heir apparent for left guard Cooper Carlisle, one has to wonder whether the rookie could do better than Brisiel, who has looked lost in every game thus far. Bergstrom, however, gave up a sack of his own to defensive end Michael Johnson.
For the second straight week, Reece makes McFadden look bad.
Oakland’s secret weapon is not so secret anymore. Marcel Reece has long been a matchup nightmare in the passing game, but as it turns out he’s also the Raiders’ best option in the running game. Reece’s decisiveness and ability to finish on his runs make him look like he’s been playing running back his entire career. It begs the question: If a converted receiver playing fullback can produce at running back behind Oakland’s porous offensive line, what does that say about Darren McFadden?
The roster may be weak, but when should the coaches share the blame?
Dennis Allen came in promising a competitive, disciplined football team. With the Raiders now at 3-8, Allen and his staff have not delivered on this promise. Allen, a defensive-minded coach who in 2011 presided over a vastly improved defensive unit in Denver, has not made his influence felt. First-time defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, touted as a “mad scientist”, has also failed to inject life into a defensive squad lacking in both talent and depth. While individual players may shoulder the blame for missed assignments or poor tackling (both of which showed up in spades against the Bengals), the coaching staff is responsible for recognizing and fixing these problems. The defensive staff in particular has done a poor job adjusting to mask their weaknesses, especially in the passing game where the Raider safeties in particular continue to be victimized. The situation is no different on offense. How many times can Greg Knapp call third-down plays where the receivers are running routes short of the sticks? How many times can he call bootlegs when the offensive line is clearly incapable of blocking long enough for Palmer to make a play?
It’s hard to tell at this point how much of the blame the coaching staff deserves, but with every lopsided loss these questions become harder to ignore. Even after owner Mark Davis made his frustration known last week, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s job is in immediate jeopardy. Rightfully so – any staff put in a position this uniquely difficult deserves time to right the ship. But Dennis Allen needs to do some serious evaluation soon or his players may simply check out on him.
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