Conventional wisdom tells us that Al Davis is past his prime and that the game has passed him by.
Consider this one of those rare times when the conventional wisdom regurgitated by pigskin "pundits" is deeply rooted in the rich, nourishing soil of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Another pathetic passing performance by the Raiders Sunday simply drives home the futility that is the current state of management in Oakland.
The Raiders lost at Baltimore Sunday, 29-10. It was a long way to go to not show up. And, as usual, an inability to pass the ball effectively was one of the main reasons the Raiders performed poorly.
JaMarcus Russell – the former overall No. 1 draft pick taken by Davis in 2007 in an effort to inject new life into the mortuary-stiff Raiders offense – dropped back to pass 37 times against Baltimore. He completed just 15 of 33 attempts (for a respectable 228 yards), while suffering four sacks for a loss of 41 yards.
Those figures add up to 187 net yards passing on 37 dropbacks – an average of just 5.05 yards every time Russell stepped back into the pocket.
Good thing Daryle Lamonica is still alive, or else the Mad Bomber would have spent Sunday night rolling over in his grave.
But it was just another ordinary day at the office of humiliation for the Oakland offense of the 21st century. In fact, the organization's decline since its 2002 Super Bowl appearance directly coincides with a dramatic downfall in the team's ability to matriculate the ball down field via the pass.
THE EARLY YEARS
Al Davis critics argue that he continues to cling to antiquated theories about the downfield passing game that no longer work in today's NFL. The modern league, clearly, is defined by a high-percentage, low-risk passing game that's just as likely to spread the field horizontally as the old Al Davis offense of Lamonica, Warren Wells, Kenny Stabler and Cliff Branch was to spread the field vertically.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts may not prove that there's merit to this argument. But they do prove that the Raiders-style offense that once ruled the NFL is now the most ineffective offense in franchise history, and routinely among the worst in the league today.
But before burying Al Davis's legacy, it pays to remember that he was revolutionary figure in the history of the game, and that his offensive theories instantly turned the Raiders from laughingstock to powerhouse.
In fact, his arrival in Oakland heralded the organization's arrival as one of the elite outfits in all of sports.
The Raiders were pathetic during their first three years in the old AFL, winning just nine games from 1960 to 1962.
Davis showed up as Oakland's new head coach in 1963, and suddenly everything changed. The suddeness of the Davis impact is evident in these Cold, Hard Football Facts:
- The Raiders averaged just 5.99 yards per pass attempt in 1962, the year before Davis rode into town.
- The Raiders averaged a stunning 7.66 yards per attempt in 1963, Davis's first year at the helm.
- The passing-deficient Raiders went 1-13 in 1962 without Davis.
- The passing-proficient Raiders went 10-4 in 1963 with Davis.
Few, if any, coaches in history produced such a dramatic turnaround in the space of one year.
When Davis arrived, he took the ball out of the hands of quarterback Cotton Davidson and gave it to Tom Flores. He also brought in gamebreaking receiver Art Powell, who remains one of the most explosive but least heralded pass catchers in NFL history. (Powell caught 81 TD passes in just 117 games, one of the greatest scoring rates in pro football history
Davis would cede the head coaching job to John Rauch (1966), then John Madden (1969), then Tom Flores (1979), but one thing remained consistent: The Raiders were winners – and they won year after year by passing the ball as well or better than any other team in football.
Oakland suffered just two losing seasons from Davis's arrival in 1963 through 1987, and the downfield passing attack was the team's deadliest weapon throughout its two-decade run of success.
The 1976 Raiders won the franchise's first Super Bowl – and they did it with the best passing attack in franchise history, averaging a stunning 8.85 yards per attempt. To put that production into perspective, consider that Tom Brady and the record-setting 2007 Patriots averaged 8.28 yards per pass attempt.
The Raiders of 1967 to 1969 dominated the AFL, posting an incredible 37-4-1 record over the three seasons. Each year they were among the dominant passing teams in the league, averaging, respectively, 7.63, 8.06 and 7.69 yards per attempt.
The 2002 Raiders are the only Oakland team in recent history that passed the ball with any semblance of respectability. Their average of 7.58 yards per pass attempt is the best by an Oakland team since 1990. They 2002 Raiders, not so coincidentally, won the AFC title and is the last Raiders team to reach the playoffs or, even, post a winning record.
THE RECENT YEARS
Since that 2002 season, the Raiders offense is about as hip and trendy as Oakland's other great export, MC Hammer.
In the five-and-half seasons since that Super Bowl apperance, 11 different quarterbacks have tried and failed to break the team out of its passing-game doldrums. Aaron Brooks, Kerry Collins, Daunte Culpepper, Rich Gannon, Rob Johnson, Tee Martin, Josh McCown, Rick Mirer, Russell, Marques Tuiasosopo and Andrew Walter have all taken snaps for the Oakland offense over this period.
It's been a complete disaster.
In fact, the years from 2003 to 2008 have been the worst in franchise history. The Raiders have suffered five straight losing seasons from 2003 to 2007 for the first time ever. Now 2-5 here in 2008, the Raiders are well on their way to a sixth-straight losing season.
So why are the Raiders so poor? No surprise here: the worst records in franchise history coincide with the very worst passing teams in franchise history.
The 2003 Raiders were the single worst passing team in franchise history, with an average 5.74 YPA. The 2003 Raiders went 4-12. The four wins were the fewest by a Raiders team since the pre-Al Davis club went 1-13 in 1962.
The 2006 Raiders are the second worst passing team in franchise history, with an average of 5.90 YPA. The 2006 Raiders went 2-14, suffering more losses than any other Oakland team. (For the record, if you use CHFF's adjusted formula, which includes sacks, the 2006 Raiders averaged just 4.36 YPA, the worst mark ever by an Oakland offense).
The 2004, 2005, 2007 and now 2008 Raiders all stand among the worst passing teams in franchise history.
So there you have it, folks: there's plenty of statistical evidence that indicates that the game has passed by Al Davis, leaving the old warhorse and his organization a shadow of their former selves.
But as you mock the man and the organization, remember that the game that has passed him by is one that he helped create in the first place.