Oakland Raiders Must Have a Commitment to the Fundamentals

It’s a play that most Oakland Raiders‘ fans will remember well from last season. Meaning, it’s a play that is forever burned into their collective psyches, likely requiring hours of counseling to learn to cope with. Up 10-6 nearing the end of the first half over the Denver Broncos – Oakland’s most hated and bitter division rival – and Peyton Manning dumps a little drop off pass to running back CJ Anderson. It was a play that should have been snuffed out for a minimal gain. Especially given the number of Oakland defenders in the area who could have – and should have – brought him down.

“I think hopefully they can see the track record and the blueprint that we can accomplish special things if we’re willing to work, we’re willing to sacrifice, we’re willing to condition, we’re willing to embrace some of the basic fundamentals that we need to be good at, and drill them over and over.”

But this was the 2014 Raiders – who weren’t much different than the 2003-2013 Raiders – we’re talking about, the undisputed kings of making the easy look difficult, and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Anderson took that short swing pass, juked, jived, and danced his way through the entire Raiders’ defense for a 51 yard score. It was a touchdown that turned the tide in the game that the Raiders were physically controlling for the better part of 30 minutes. Following Anderson’s score, Manning and the Broncos’ offense seemed to have woken up and reeled off five consecutive touchdowns on the way to a 41-17 thrashing of the Raiders.

Nov 30, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey (12) is pursued by Oakland Raiders players Miles Burris (56) and Khalil Mack (52) and Tarell Brown (23) at Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus recently rated the 2014 Raiders as the 29th worst tackling team in the NFL — small victory for not being 32nd, we suppose. According to the PFF data, the Raiders missed tackles once in every eight snaps. Among the guiltiest of Oakland’s missed tacklers were Sio Moore – one missed tackle ever 7.2 snaps – and fellow linebacker Miles Burris – one missed tackle ever 7.3 snaps.

While there are plenty of excuses to be made for players like Moore – he makes loads more big tackles than he misses – and for Burris – he was playing out of position – the basic fact is that for quite a while now, the Raiders have not been a very fundamentally sound team. On both sides of the ball, at virtually every position, Oakland’s players were not playing very good, very sound, fundamental football.

Enter Jack Del Rio. Del Rio is known to be a stickler for the details, for the fundamentals of the game. And he’s filled his coaching staff with others who share the same vision of a fundamentally sound, detail oriented football team. He and many of his coaches – Ken Norton, Jr., Mike Tice, Rod Woodson, Rob Moore, Bernie Parmalee, and Marcus Robertson, among others – had some success at the NFL level because they were fundamentally sound, detail oriented players.

Issues like the poor tackling that has plagued this Oakland team for a number of years is something Del Rio hopes to make things of the past.

Del Rio and his coaching staff will demand strict attention to details. They will demand that  players pay attention to, and have a firm grasp on the basics of their position. They will demand that their players display a deep commitment to the fundamentals of the game. Otherwise, they will likely be looking for work elsewhere.

During his introductory presser, Del Rio said:

“There’s an understanding of some of the fundamental beliefs that I believe are part of playing good football. Some of that is so fundamental that it’s not exciting to talk about: being able to stack a block, shed a block, take the proper angle, pursue together, swarm together as a defense, tackle in the open field, get guys down, play from beginning to end with a mental fortitude that says we refuse to lose, we refuse to let people score. You work on those things day in and day out. It’s not one thing, there’s not a magic wand anybody can wave. It’s a process.”

The Oakland Raiders of 2015 are going to look like a very different version of the team than fans have seen over the last decade plus. They will see a well coached, well disciplined unit that is going to compete. They will see a team that is well drill and adheres to the fundamentals – like tackling – that will lead to success.

Though most project the Raiders to be a year or more away from postseason contention, in the NFL, you just never know what can happen. We’ve seen teams go from worst to first in a season’s time. And we’ve seen it happen many, many times.

Under Del Rio and his staff, the Raiders are going to very much be a blue collar team. To go back to his days in Jacksonville, Del Rio is going to have his Raiders “chopping that wood.” And that return to sound fundamental football is going to pay big dividends for Oakland.

Let’s all just hope that as he returns to the “chopping wood” mantra, Del Rio leaves the tree stump and axe out of the equation, since the results of the symbol were – relatively mixed.