If this was any other team in the league, I would be sympathetic to a fan base that has endured 13 seasons without a winning record and was now watching a team dead last in the league in scoring and yardage, while defensively sitting at 22nd and 19th in the league for scoring and yards allowed. Since this is the Oakland franchise we’re talking about, my sympathy seems to be absent. Instead, I am pretty much laughing and happy. The Germans call this Schadenfreude.
UBIC – Offense
Tony Sparano, Interim Head Coach – For the second time in 6 seasons, Oakland has fired a head coach while a season is going on. That is the most profound statement a team can make that a season is going horribly, awfully wrong. It'a also an admission by the front office that they made a really bad mistake. Oakland’s history suggests that Sparano will have the interim label removed from him at the end of the 2014, although some odd reports about Mike Holmgren sniffing around the Raider front offices surfaced earlier in the week. away (Since Holmgren’s last gig was pouring gasoline onto the dumpster fire that is the Cleveland Browns, that sounds like the PERFECT move for Oakland and there’s that Germanic feeling again.)
For now, though, the job is Sparano’s. Taking over this situation and getting his team to compete with a Charger team that is one of the best in the NFL right now is going to demand some capable coaching. Can Sparano do it? Who is this guy anyway, and why did Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie decide to go with him now instead of riding Dennis Allen to a top 5 draft choice?
Sparano is a former offensive lineman that played at New Haven, staying there after graduating. He was an offensive line coach through most of his college coaching career. He broke into the NFL in 1999, working for 3 different teams in the first 4 years of his NFL career before finding steady work in Dallas, under Bill Parcells. He was retained as the offensive coordinator by Wade Phillips when Jerry Jones hired Phillips away from the Chargers after the 2006 season. Sparano then got the brass ring in Miami, after Parcells became the ‘phins de facto GM in early 2008.
His head coaching career got off to a decent start, turning around the 1-15 Dolphins and getting Miami a wild card berth in 2008 with an 11-5 record (they lost to the Ravens in the Wild Card game). The remaining years in Miami were not good; after posting back to back 7-9 seasons in 2009 and 2010, he was fired in 2011 with a 4-9 record. He spent 2012 in New York as the offensive coordinator for the Jets. Oakland hired him before the 2013 season to be their assistant head coach (Offensive Coordinator & Line).
Given Sparano’s background and tutelage under Parcells, expect the emphasis to be on McFadden and Maurice Jones–Drew to run the ball and try to keep the Bolts off the field, dictating tempo and time of possession. Parcells throughout his career derided offenses relying on the pass (Parcells actually coined the term "West Coast Offense" and it was an expression of contempt at the time he used it). Sparano’s offense in Miami was certainly not a high powered passing and scoring machine. Even assuming McFadden and MJD have enough left in the tank to grind out a win, the condition of the team’s offensive line may prevent it. The current QB situation for Oakland makes that an even more daunting task.
Sparano appears to be a good O-line coach, an average (if unimaginative) offensive coordinator, and a below average head coach. He has been involved in some impressive short-term turnarounds, but has not had long-term success, either at the coordinator or Head Coach levels.
The Parcells system is similar to Norv Turner’s system, in that it requires a lot of talent at every position to execute and function properly. (An interesting side note is that both of these systems had their heydays in the years right before and immediately after the adoption of the Salary Cap.) Sparano is less of an X and O guy than he is a personnel and motivation type of coach. He is also big on doing the little things right so that a team does not beat itself, which has been a problem for Oakland for quite some time. So far, his head coaching career does not appear to have put him in good situations for him to make what Parcells taught him actually work. We’ll see if this is situation is any different for him. I suspect it is not.
Mychal Rivera, TE (#81) – Oakland will probably going try to establish the run. The good news for the Bolts is that the Oakland O-line is in as bad a shape as the Chargers and MJD and Run DMC have looked completely used up so far this season. Two TE sets are fairly common in the Parcells system and this is where Rivera comes in. Rivera has been a pass catching TE, targeted 19 times in 4 games and catching 12 of those passes. Now, he will be asked to be a better blocker. Whether he is blocking or running routes, the Raiders really need more receiving production and better blocking from everybody to get their running game on track.
UBIC - Defense
Miles Burris, MLB (#56) – Burris is not unknown to San Diego football fans that are partial to the Aztecs. The former SDSU standout was one of the best MLB’s in school history and a great fit in Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 system. I must confess disappointment when Oakland drafted him in the 4th round of 2012. As much as I liked him when he played for my alma mater, once a man puts on the silver and black, I have to hate him.
Burris was not supposed to be the starting MLB for this team, he was supposed to be backing up Nick Roach. Roach was placed on season ending IR earlier this week without playing a snap this season. Instead, Burris has been pressed into service with disappointing results in the eyes of the Raider fan base. The consensus is that at this point in his career, he is simply not starting NFL linebacker material.
This is a somewhat surprising to the Aztec fans that got used to the high motor, fundamentally sound tackler, and instinctive diagnostic defender when he played under Coach Long. So far, he has looked undersized, slow, and a liability in pass defense for the Raiders. Despite his shortcomings, he is one of the team leaders in tackles with 18 solo stops. He has not recorded any sacks, passes defended, forced fumbles, or INT’s. This is also surprising to Aztec fans remembering the effective blitzer and sideline to sideline playmaker that Burris was in college.
In any event, the MLB job is Burris’ now. I am concerned that Oakland coaches may ask him to be more aggressive against the Bolts shaky interior line this game and have Burris to do more blitzing and freelancing in the game Sunday. He showed that skill set on Montezuma Mesa for 4 years, and I simply don't believe that those abilities have completely left him.
Tarrell Brown, CB (#23) – Brown is another player that has started all four games for this defense that was supposed to backing up this season. The starter opposite Carlos Rogers was supposed to be 2013’s 12th overall pick in the draft, D.J. Hayden. With Hayden on the PUP list, Brown has the job. Brown had some decent seasons for the 49’ers and signed on with the Raiders in this most recent off-season. The 49’ers had seen a drop-off in his play in 2013 and unfortunately for the Raiders, that drop-off has continued into 2014. He has yet to record a pass defended or an INT, despite the 4 starts this season. He does have 12 tackles. Hoping to become the first team in a month to slow down PR and Co., Oakland defensive coaches will need everyone, including Brown, to step up their game.