By Art Spander
OAKLAND — The question is not whether the Raiders are broken. We know they are. It’s obvious. It was obvious before they fell to 0-6 on Sunday.
They can’t stop anybody, and in football if you can’t stop anyone, can’t play defense, you have no chance. That’s understood.
But how can the Raiders be fixed? Can they ever be fixed? To look back and blame it on the late Al Davis doesn’t do any good, except maybe for some vindictive sorts.
If Al made some bad draft picks, if Al kept trying to play 1980s football in the 2010s, railing against him in 2014 doesn’t help the situation.
For the second game under interim coach Tony Sparano, in control only for two games, the Raiders hung in there, at times played effectively. But against a better team, which the Arizona Cardinals are — a very good team, at 5-1 — bits and pieces are not good enough. Oakland was beaten 24-13 at O.co Coliseum.
What you need to succeed in football at any level are a defense and a quarterback. In rookie Derek Carr the Raiders very well may have that quarterback, the man who can lead them into the future. But they don’t have a defense.
They haven’t a defense for years.
“We put ourselves in position to win,” said Sparano. “But we didn’t win. In the 140-odd plays there are eight or nine that are critical. You’ve got to make those plays to win. We have to get better on third down. We have to get off the field.”
They have to stop the other team when it matters. The Cardinals had 15 third-down plays on Sunday. On nine they made first downs, 60 percent.
They never relinquished the ball. They had it for almost 37 minutes of the 60, and while possession time is not always a determining factor in this game — as was the case in last weekend’s against the Chargers — it certainly was.
The opposition just grinds up and down the field, holding the ball, holding the game. Is there an individual to blame?
Mark Davis, Al’s only son, is the one in charge, the team president. But he’s not really a football man as was his late father. Mark hired Reggie McKenzie to fill that role. It appears he hasn’t done it very well.
For two years Oakland and McKenzie were hobbled by the salary cap. Then, before this season, his third, he signed veteran free agents who have not done much, if anything, except earn huge salaries.
Do the Raiders start over? Does Mark Davis hire new executives? People with a plan? Or at least a plan that might be better than the one installed by McKenzie?
Dennis Allen, a defensive specialist, was McKenzie’s choice as coach. He was fired at the end of September, four games into his third season.
Maybe he didn’t have the players. Maybe he couldn’t be a head coach. The team has been more competitive under Sparano.
However, Sparano is the interim coach. Who will replace him? And does Oakland replace McKenzie?
Where to begin? When to decide? Do you clean house? Do you stay patient?
Charles Woodson is in his 17th season. He played safety on Sunday as he has forever, with the Raiders after he was the fourth player picked in the 1998 draft, then with the Green Bay Packers where he helped them win Super Bowl XLV, then in 2013 back to the Raiders.
He’s old. He’s still competent. In the second quarter, Charles Woodson, 38, 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, intercepted a pass thrown by Carson Palmer, 34, 2002 Heisman Trophy winner.
The Cardinals probably will have Palmer for a while. Woodson’s days are not so certain. He does provide good quotes.
“I think it’s pretty much snowballed on us,” said Woodson of a season that supposedly had promise and now at almost the halfway point doesn’t even have a single victory.
“We had a close game that first game (a 19-14 loss to the Jets) and it felt like we were on the right track. We just weren’t able to capitalize on that first game. We haven’t been able to put four quarters of football together. But again, third downs, on both sides of the ball, are really killing us.”
Not as much on offense as on defense. If you rarely have the ball, you’ll never have any rhythm. If the defense is ineffective, you’ll rarely have the ball.
“We didn’t do the job on third downs,” repeated Sparano. “Some of that we have to look at scheme. Some of that we may have to look at players.”
Some of whom were signed by McKenzie, who was signed by Mark Davis, who got the team as a legacy. They’re all in it together, and what they’re in is a mess that some way needs to be cleaned up.