5 takeaways from the Patriots-Raiders game

FOXBOROUGH — If the Patriots’ performance against the Oakland Raiders is to be considered anything close to the team’s best effort, there needs to be a careful rethinking of the roster, particularly on offense.

Only the special teams unit played up to its capabilities Sunday as the Patriots beat the Raiders, 16-9, in New England’s home opener, with Stephen Gostkowski contributing three field goals. Ryan Allen averaged 48 yards per punt. There were no miscues from long snapper Danny Aiken, a sign of a job well done. Matthew Slater had a stellar tackle on one punt. It was seamless execution all around.

The defense, which managed to shut the Raiders out of the end zone, struggled on third down (2 for 4 in the first quarter) before pinning Oakland down and eventually being bailed out (thank Vince Wilfork and Logan Ryan), marking yet another slow start. (Oakland finished 5 of 13 on third downs.) But the unit at least got the job done, allowing only 241 total yards, including 67 rushing.

Unsurprisingly, the Patriots offensive line struggled. Tom Brady did not look like he was commanding a Super Bowl contending offense, let alone appear as if he were a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

It’s all concerning, which is our focus in these five takeaways from the game.

1. The Patriots are having a hard time spreading the ball around — The Patriots had all of the offseason, training camp, preseason, and two regular season games to prepare for Sunday. That means they not only had the means to get on the same page as far as plays go, timing, and chemistry, but also had extensive time to determine which players could put them in the best position to operate at a high level, something akin to last year’s seventh ranked offense and 10th ranked passing offense. (News flash: They’re not anywhere near that now.) Despite this opportunity, one player coming back from a serious knee injury garnered six targets (three receptions), while underutilized players like Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Tim Wright languished. Between those three, Brady targeted the group three times (one each), resulting in two completions for 26 yards. Amendola hasn’t had a reception since Miami in Week 1. It’s starting to get weird the way in which Brady eyeballs Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman while ignoring everybody else. I think we all understand that feeding both Edelman and Gronk is a good thing, but balance for the offense — which was discussed at length this week — should be the priority because it benefits the offense as a whole. Based on their snaps, the team believes Amendola, Thompkins and even Wright can help contribute to fixing the offense’s woes. Brady just needs to get them the ball, something he has acknowledged now on multiple occasions.

“I think we’ve always gotten better as the season has gone on and as players, gained more experience in what we’re doing,” Brady said. “We’ve got some new players. We’ve got different things that are happening. We’re all trying to get used to one another and used to the things we’re doing and trying to understand the things you’re good at. And then ultimately as the season goes, you work on the things that haven’t been going well and you try to stay real ahead of the things that you are doing really well at and then at the end of the year, you’re in a position to hopefully make the playoffs and do those types of things.

“Right now we’re building our team,” Brady continued. “We’re trying to make improvements. It hasn’t all gone right. It doesn’t go right when we have penalties or turnovers or negative runs. We’ve just got to do our assignment, do our job. We’ve got to do it better and then ultimately that’s going to lead to more scoring.”

This excuse that the Patriots are still building as a team, particularly among its skill players, is quickly wearing thin. The Patriots won’t be afforded the luxury of figuring it out in the weeks ahead when they face the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

2. The offensive line’s talent is unbalanced — Bill Belichick spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of using an extra offensive lineman and an unbalanced line, along with its history in football, on Wednesday. But after Sunday’s game, it appears the Patriots are using that extra offensive lineman to mask some serious deficiencies in the group. Nate Solder has seemingly regressed. Jordan Devey struggles in pass protection. Dan Connolly has made significant mistakes at center, including letting pressure right up the middle on Brady Sunday. Even with an unbalanced line at times, utilizing Cameron Fleming as a tight end, the Patriots have struggled to set blocks on the edge. (Fleming was overpowered by Oakland’s Khalil Mack.) So they turned to other gimmicks, running a hurry up offense at times to make the game difficult on the Raiders’ pass rushers. But there’s no escaping these problems and there’s no way the team can pretend like the loss of Logan Mankins, as well as Dante Scarnecchia, hasn’t been devastating.

For the rest of my takeaways from the game, visit Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

All in due time

Aldon Smith
Defensive end Aldon Smith, the first-round draft pick of San Francisco 49ers, holds up a jersey at a news conference at the team's training facility in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP photo)

In a perfect world, I would’ve already expressed my concern about the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. That is, if concern is the most appropriate feeling. And I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s been the dominant feeling about both of those football teams for, oh, the last decade.

Instead, I’ve been busy doing Patriots coverage of the NFL draft over on the Extra Points blog for Boston.com. So excuse me as I continue my amateurish ways and hold off on posting something so immediately.

I think some post-draft analysis will be appropriate given the circumstances.

Until then, follow along on Twitter at @zuriberry.

Easy, breezy Bay Area sports storylines

A roundup of the Bay Area storylines that are dominating my psyche.

So I wrote a little thing about Boston sports summer storylines knowing very well that this topic was going to come up. You know, Bay Area sports storylines.

Here, again, I’m dividing them by individual team. Now, because the Bay Area obviously has more teams than Boston, I’ll just have to write more. But you know who comes first….
Continue reading “Easy, breezy Bay Area sports storylines”

Talking Raiders, JaMarcus gets me hyped

Only a couple of things really get me going. And when I get going, I’m inspired to write. Today’s topic is the Oakland Raiders, who have been the butt of my jokes in multiple columns on this site and when I wrote for The Union in Grass Valley, Calif.

A simple question was posed today by a fellow sports writer on one of the many journalism list serves I take part in: Has JaMarcus Russell gotten a fair shake considering the state of the Raiders? (I’m paraphrasing.)

There were a couple of somewhat emotional responses to this, including my own. I hate the guy’s play. I think he down right sucks, and I said as much in the e-mail thread. I’ve asked for permission from two individuals, Benjamin Bullock and Marcus Osborne, to quote their responses (and the initial question) so that you may see how the conversation went. I find it interesting to see how those in the newspaper and radio industry view the Refrigerator — inside and outside of the Bay Area bubble.
Continue reading “Talking Raiders, JaMarcus gets me hyped”

And here I thought Tom Cable was a wussy

Tom Cable is changing Raiders culture. For better or worse.
Tom Cable is changing Raiders culture. For better or worse.

Tom Cable may be exactly what the Oakland Raiders need.

I had to think about it a moment before I realized that Cable, who allegedly punched out Raiders defensive assistant coach Randy Hanson, is going to get what he wants out of this franchise — for better or for worse. I’m leaning on better right now for a couple of reasons.

  1. Wacky Al demands not only respect, but full efffin loyalty out of his employees. You can’t sneeze without permission from this dude. It’s that serious. And with a personality like that — a demigod as Tim Kawakami notes — you need to have a strong personality in order to deal with the rest of the organizational players. Hanson, who was notedly a disturbance last year for Lane Kiffin and who Kiffin wanted to fire at one point, is a victim of the territorial warpath. Cable is the big dog in the club house. He’s marking his spot and all possible traitors are not welcome.
  2. Continue reading “And here I thought Tom Cable was a wussy”

Old Al just won’t learn, will he?

Does old Al really think this is going to be an easy process?

Does he really think that there’s enough money in the bank to entice some young, foolhardy coach into the grasps of the Raiders’ clutch?

He may fool them, but he won’t fool me. And if I were an agent for some coach, I’d use any offer the Raiders put up as leverage for the next opportunity. You know, the job my client really wants.

There are tough days ahead for the silver and black. They have one coach, Tom Cable, who has been there in the aftermath of Lane Kiffin’s ugly, very public exit. Cable should be heralded for his ability to steward the Raiders to a 4-8 record, especially the two straight wins to end the season on a high note.

Those were goodies.

But old Al is either getting greedy again, or putting up one helluva show for the coaching community. The interim portion of Cable’s title just doesn’t appear sexy enough for old Al. He wants better. He wants a winner.

Too bad he doesn’t see that nobody wants him, or his degenerate franchise for that matter — except Cable.

The fact that old Al can entertain New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for 90 minutes is shocking. I’m sure Gilbride is really thinking about the money. What’s it gonna take? Two? Three million? No problem. The money will be wired to your account, Mr. Gilbride. Just sign this contract here with your blood and realize that you’re giving away your manhood to be run by some skull and bones owner with his hands in your cookie dough.

No, for old Al to get what he wants — that being a winner — he’s going to have to make concessions. Particularly, he’s going to have to loosen his death grip on decision making and allow for the hierarchy of the organization to do its job. Sadly (OK, not really), he’ll have to vacate his duties as general manager. I’m sure Raiders fans will welcome it. I’m not so sure I will. What will I write about?

But it’s been obvious to anyone with a working pulse since 2004 that this franchise is incapable of operating in its current structure. There has to be some serious change or old Al will continue to hire and fire while collective Raiders fans step closer and closer to the edge of insanity. I’m afraid to say, old Al needs help. Let’s try and help him.

There is one example, or blueprint of sorts, of a team that became wayward with its organizational structure that is now getting back on track: The Denver Broncos.

Yes, those hated rivals and curmudgeon bastards of the AFC West are a good example of what old Al needs to do. Because Mike Shanahan, bless his soul, won two Super Bowls while being the face, decider and the coach of the franchise. He was fired because he had full control of the franchise as it went 10 years — a whole decade — without winning a playoff game.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen actually cried when he was dumping Shanahan. But he knew what was best for his franchise. He had laid the entire trust of his football operations into Shanahan’s hands, and while racing away for two scores, still managed to fumble in his post.

Old Al has fumbled in his post. Old Al needs to fire himself. Old Al will never learn.

Any coach looking presumptively for employment at the Raiders already knows this. You know this. To move forward, old Al will have to budge. Cable will have to be respectfully employed and he will have to demand greater control.

I remain optimistically hopeful that these things will happen, but I reserve the right to be cynical knowing this old dog doesn’t want to learn new tricks.

Cliché? Yes. Realistic? Most definitely.

This column originally appeared in The Union.

Dear Santa: Get me a winner!!

All I want for Christmas is a winner.

Kings, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders, Giants and A’s, take notes.

You too, Sharks. You’re not out of the woods yet.

When you step out, do so with the intention of winning. Nothing else. And when you plan for the future of your franchise, plan with the intent of winning. Nothing else.

If I hear about this false pretense of “rebuilding” one more time, I swear to the Lord almighty I will throw my television out the window and lead the rest of my days as a recluse in the Sierra foothills.

Why? Because I’d rather be ignorant of Northern California’s collective incompetence than spare another second of my time on Earth being complicit in this buffoonery. It’s either second place or the worst of the worst. And if history is any precursor, those that plan to rebuild are planning to fail. Just picture being a lifelong Cincinnati Bengals fan. Or how about an L.A. Clippers fan?

That’s hurt.

And honestly, that’s too much hurt for any one fan to handle. So instead of starting my own self-help group and letting my fantasy leaguemates get angry at me because I’m ignoring my duties as commissioner, I’m going for the Hail Mary.

Santa, you’re a few years overdue and I suggest you pay what you owe.

Is it too much to ask that when one of our area teams takes to the playing field (listen up 49ers), that they attempt to win every game? I can’t for the life of me remember a year in which there was more disappointment after acquiring so much talent to bolster team play. It’s just god awful. I want people who want to be better than before and have the talent to do it. Then, back it up with a .500-plus season.

Saint Nick, you hearing me? Singletary?

I want, for once in my young life, to have a team proclaim that off years are no excuses for poor team play and spending less money on available talent.

You got that Maloofs?

I want the guy on my team that says “put it on my back, and I’ll carry us.” Tim Lincecum, are you the man for the job?

I long for a general manager that has a better selling season than book. (Yo Billy, stop acting like Mr. Bean and take care of business.)

I need a new owner and a new coach in Oakland — for the Raiders and the Warriors.
And I need the Sharks to not tank on the cusp of a Stanley Cup. Just when I was getting into watching hockey, it went south. That’s unacceptable. Kind of like when I just got into watching golf, and then Tiger takes the rest of the year off. It’s killing my mojo.

Santa, if for once you can do what you’re supposed to do — bring joy to those that are good — then take heed here. I’ve paid for my fair share of tickets and memorabilia. And I’ve written about some of these teams way too much. Help a fan out that’s two steps away from his tube.

It’s sad that it has come to this, but I knew — for some reason or another — we were at this point. Maybe it was the collective surprise that both the 49ers and Raiders won on the same weekend. Or maybe, it was on Saturday, when the Grant Pacers football team did more for Northern California than the collective Bay Area teams have done in three years by beating Long Beach Poly for the state championship.

Those kids, their parents and the Sacramento region are swelling with pride right now.

I’m so jealous.

You can find this column and more on TheUnion.com.

49ers got a coach, now they need a QB

From a column I wrote last week:

You’re just going to have to get used to Mike Singletary barking at you on that TV screen because he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

After the 49ers dropped the New York Jets, one week after downing the Buffalo Bills, there’s a distinct flavor of football being formed in the San Francisco Peninsula. It’s an unmistakable change from the random week-to-week strategy that was offensive oriented, unorganized and worse yet, a losing culture.

Now, with Singletary playing captain, Shaun Hill starring as first mate and Vernon Davis being a good sailor, there’s a lot of positives to take from a tragic 2008 season.

Like pheromones, the Yorks will unknowingly, or rather ignorantly, enjoy the plunders of these non-essential, late-season wins. They’ll look at the few wins they pick up and see justification for sacking Mike Nolan, justification for benching J.T. O’Sullivan, and justification for not going after another quarterback last offseason, and probably this upcoming one.

Singletary deserves the credit for bringing discipline. He’s a pretty stern dude who has reinvigorated a defense that was not playing up to par. Holding Buffalo to three points showed that and holding the Jets (who had just beat the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans) to 14 proved that. It’s very satisfying to see the defense play so well when they’re supposed to, all the while understanding that you can’t expect that performance every week.

To read the full column, go to TheUnion.com.

UPDATED: So the 49ers took a loss to the Dolphins this last weekend and I couldn’t help but stew about that. It wasn’t like there was something magnificent about what the Dolphins did, it was more about how magnificently anemic the 49ers offense was. They just couldn’t get the plays when they needed ’em. I don’t think all of the blame should be on the quarterback in this scenario. There’s a lot of fault laying around that offensive line and the lack of running plays called.

The question is, if the 49ers are going to lose to the Dolphins, when they can clearly win the game, will they lose to the Bengals if they played today? I mean, this is the low of the low. Can they even beat the Raiders.

Raiders waive DeAngelo Hall

Maybe it was that first game (on Monday night of all occasions) where he lost his manhood to super rookie receiver Eddie Royal of the Denver Broncos. Or maybe it was the fact that he could never play man defense, getting prime time coverage in Atlanta in the Cover-2 defense the Falcons employ. Or, Al Davis could just be as crazy as I’ve been trying to tell you for the last five years.

Without an announcement, the Raiders waived Hall, thereby eating $8 million in losses. Can we say, bust?