NFL Team Report - Oakland Raiders - INSIDE SLANT
Progress is in the eye of the beholder.
The odds say the Oakland Raiders will finish the season on a six-game losing streak and a 4-12 record, same as last season.
Having lost three straight, the Raiders host the Kansas City Chiefs (10-3), visit the San Diego Chargers (6-7) and finish the season at home against the Denver Broncos (11-2) and will be decided underdogs in all three games.
The question is whether being more competitive in their losses with a roster shackled by more than $50 million in dead money due to previous contracts will be enough for owner Mark Davis to stick with the current regime of general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.
Based on an interview Davis did with the Bay Area News Group, McKenzie seems on solid ground barring a complete face-plant and three non-competitive losses to close out the season.
While declining to get into specifics, Davis said of McKenzie, "I'm very happy with the job he's done so far."
At the end of the season, Davis said McKenzie would first talk to the coaches, and then talk to him about how to best proceed.
With more than $50 million in cap space next season, the Raiders can then go about rebuilding their roster.
"That's when the deconstruction turns into reconstruction," Davis said.
True to his word, Davis has allowed McKenzie to make football decisions and McKenzie has been solidly in Allen's corner.
Yet, it's possible Allen could be 8-24 after two seasons and that's a tough record for any coach to survive.
Despite the possibility of duplicate records, Allen believes the Raiders are in better shape.
"There's a lot of areas that this team has improved from where it was a year ago," Allen said. "We're running the ball more effectively. We're able to stop the run a lot more effectively. We've been competitive in just about every game. We've given ourselves opportunities to win.
"The frustrating thing is to give yourself those opportunities and then not be able to take advantage of them. That's something we've got to continue to look at, something we've got to continue to get better at."
Allen believes the foundation has been laid even if the record won't indicate it.
"I think we're a lot closer," Allen said. "Obviously our record doesn't say so. We all recognize that this is a production business. We understand that you are what your record says you are."
When asked directly if he expected to return in 2014, Allen said, "Listen, that's not what my job is. My job is to try to get this team better, get this team ready to play against the Kansas City Chiefs. I'm not going to talk about speculation or anything like that. I'm going to worry about winning a football game this week."
Running back Rashad Jennings feels the Raiders are on the verge of building something special despite the record and credited Allen and the coaching staff.
"Love him, man. I love the staff," Jennings said. "He's a true leader. He has high expectations. That's what you want from a leader. He's been putting us in a good situation to win every single game. That's all you can ask for from a coach. It always comes down to executing.
"He's definitely the man for the job, and we follow his lead."
SERIES HISTORY: 107th regular-season meeting, Chiefs lead series, 54-50-2 and won last meeting 24-7 on Oct. 13 at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City sacked quarterback Terrelle Pryor 10 times and broke open a 14-7 game in the fourth quarter with a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Succop and a 44-yard interception return by Hussain Abdullah. In their last meeting at O.co Coliseum, the Raiders won 15-0 on five field goals by Sebastian Janikowski, with Darren McFadden rushing for 110 yards and Mike Goodson gaining 89.
NFL Team Report - Oakland Raiders - NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Matt McGloin can expect to give way to Terrelle Pryor for the occasional series and as an undrafted rookie free agent starter, is in no position to complain.
"It was part of the game plan," McGloin said. "We're trying to do what's best for the team. Everybody thought that was going to help us. It was going to get us some momentum.
"We didn't think they'd be prepared for it so we'd throw them off-balance. We all want to win and I'll do whatever it takes."
Allen concedes the approach is unusual but said, "I think where we're at with the quarterback position is a little bit unique. We've got two guys we feel good about. We're just trying to utilize our talent, the guys in that locker room, to do what gives us the best chance for success."
--The Raiders have been talking about getting fullback Marcel Reece more touches all season. Against the Jets, they had no choice because of injuries and Reece had 123 yards on 19 carries, including a 63-yard touchdown run.
With Rashad Jennings back from a concussion, Reece will likely have a reduced role in terms of carrying the ball against Kansas City and he's fine with that.
"I don't worry about that, I don't think about that," Reece said. "The two initials next to your name on the roster mean nothing. I don't worry about my position. I just worry about making plays for my team and helping us win.
"Whatever these coaches need me to do, whatever my team needs me to do, I'm going to do it."
Jennings, watching from the sideline after he was not cleared to play Sunday, was impressed.
"He had to carry a load," Jennings said. "He had to block and run deep routes and churn out tough yards. He had a big run through an arm tackle before showing his speed."
--Coming off what he called the worst game of his life against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, defensive end Lamarr Houston was only slightly better against the Jets.
Houston is the Raiders' most consistent lineman, and although he doesn't register a lot of sacks (he is second on the team with five) he is stout against the run and can pressure the passer.
"As you go through a season you're going to have some ups and downs," coach Dennis Allen said. "I thought he made progress in the Jets game. The Jets did a good job getting the ball out quicker so getting to the quarterback was harder in that game. I'm pleased with where Lamarr's at. He's got to continue to work, continue to play, and he will."
--During their three-game losing streak, the Raiders continue to get shredded defensively on third down, as the Titans, Cowboys and Jets are a combined 24 of 44 at converting first downs.
"Those teams out-executed us in those situations," Allen said. "We didn't start out the year playing great third-down defense, then we went through a stretch where we played it pretty well.
"Now in three of the last four games we haven't been as good and I think it's the difference between winning three games and not winning them."
In the Raiders last win, a 28-23 decision in Houston, they held Houston to 2 of 16 third-down conversions.
--Wide receiver Rod Streater, with 50 catches for 787 yards, is 213 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving with three games to play.
While receivers routinely break 1,000 yards league-wide, it hasn't happened in Oakland since Randy Moss had 1,005 yards in 2005.
"I've always wanted to get 1,000 yards but the most important thing is the win," Streater said. "That's my first focus. But to get to 1,000 as a receiver, you're considered one of the good ones for the year."
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Number of Raiders who have had 100-yard rushing games. Marcel Reece had 123 yards against the New York Jets to become No. 4, joining Terrelle Pryor (112 and 106), Darren McFadden (129) and Rashad Jennings (102 and 150).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want a chance to measure ourselves against these guys." -- Raiders coach Dennis Allen on playing the playoff-bound Chiefs.
NFL Team Report - Oakland Raiders - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With Mike Brisiel expected back at right guard, the Raiders for the first time all season will go with an offensive line that was projected to be the first unit as the regular season got underway: left tackle Jared Veldheer, left guard Khalif Barnes, center Stefen Wisniewski, right guard Brisiel and right tackle Tony Pashos.
Barnes' move to left guard was put off because of Veldheer's triceps surgery.
--LB Nick Roach has forced a fumble in each of his last three games.
--QB Terrelle Pryor, with 508 yards, needs 22 yards rushing to surpass Rich Gannon (529) for the franchise record for a quarterback.
--WR Andre Holmes is averaging 19.9 yards per catch in his past two games (10 catches, 199 yards).
--S Charles Woodson has six interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his career against the Chiefs.
--LB Kevin Burnett had his first interception of the season against the Jets.
--RB Rashad Jennings has been cleared to play after missing the Jets game with a concussion and will start at running back.
--DT Vaughn Walker missed practice with a concussion and may not be ready to face Kansas City.
--RB Darren McFadden did not practice with an ankle injury and coach Dennis Allen could not say with any certainty if he would play again this season.
--LB Sio Moore was limited in practice with a neck injury and is expected to face the Chiefs.
--RG Mike Brisiel practiced without limitations after missing the Jets game with a knee injury and is expected to start against the Chiefs.
--WR Denarius Moore, out three games with a shoulder injury, could return to action against the Chiefs.
The Chiefs under Andy Reid are similar as they were in the best years of Marty Schottenheimer in that they live and breathe with turnovers. The Raiders call plays designed to take occasional shots but most important have Matt McGloin avoid risky plays which could result in interceptions. They'll look to run the ball with Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece to maintain good down and distance to avoid the kind of 10-sack disaster that doomed the Raiders in Kansas City. Defensively, the Raiders have looked like a tired team for the past two games, with little ability to generate either natural pressure or with the blitz. They'll continue to play as they have, mixing coverages and sending varying blitzes -- only they'll have to do it much better.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Raiders LT Jared Veldheer vs. Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali -- Hali terrorized Pryor in the first meeting between the two teams and returned to action after missing time because of injury to get a pair of sacks against Washington, giving him 11 for the season. This time, instead of Khalif Barnes, who has moved inside to left guard, Hali will most often be faced with Veldheer, who came back on Thanksgiving after missing 11 games due to triceps surgery. Veldheer has played well and shown no effects from the injury and if he is anywhere near top form, it affords the Raiders the opportunity to single-block Hali and worry about double-teams on other matchups.
--Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers vs. Raiders WR Rod Streater -- Flowers has performed well against the Raiders as a cover corner, and he'll be running up against the team's hottest receiver. Streater has become the go-to receiver for McGloin, having caught 21 passes for 364 yards with an average per catch for 17.3 yards in four games. He also has two of his three touchdown receptions from McGloin. McGloin trusts Streater and has shown he is willing to throw "50-50" balls in one-on-one coverage, counting on his receiver to come down with the ball. It means Flowers will have the opportunity to make plays if he can jump and play with Streater.