The NFL’s schedule-makers did Oakland no favors with a difficult stretch to end the season, but Jack Del Rio is embracing the challenge. Plus mail on Kaepernick, Kubiak and a new idea on how to make overtime better
Being an NFL coach these days often has three or four other elements to it. Psychologist is one. Strategist another. But a lot of the job is logistics and planning around the vagaries of a team’s schedule, particularly when that team gets good … and when a coach has to plan for things like altitude and 1,500-mile flights after physical games on short weeks.
What fans don’t know is something I’ve seen happen more and more over the years, and I’ll use Oakland as an example here: When a team has a Thursday game—as will happen in eight days in Kansas City for the Raiders—the coach and his staff have to work ahead before the previous game is played (in this instance, Buffalo at Oakland on Sunday) to prepare much of the game plan and tape analysis for the following Thursday. So much for easy days on Friday and Saturday, which head coaches often use with their staffs to catch their breath before games on Sunday. The Raiders have to use some of what would be down time to break down tape of the Chiefs from the previous three games; the fourth Kansas City game, against Atlanta on Sunday, will be analyzed and added to the game plan so the players can have it early next week.
But Del Rio, aside from the annoyance of a Monday nighter in Mexico City (altitude: 7,600 feet) and physical games against Carolina and Buffalo at home, followed by the three-day-turnaround and a trip to Kansas City for a crucial game, is loving it all. And he tries to transfer that to his players through the verve of his personality.
“I love this stuff,” he said. “The highs and the lows … it’s like an addiction. I love it because you feel so alive during a game like this one with Carolina.”
In that Carolina game, Oakland:
• Led 24-7.
• Gave up 25 points in a row.
• Scored the next 11 points.
• Won 35-32.
• Made Del Rio realize how lucky he is to have this job.
“At one point,” Del Rio said, “Carolina’s running up and down the field on us, and we can’t stop ’em, and I say, ‘We keep fighting. That’s all we do. We pick each other up. You fight and you fight and you pick each other up.
“Maybe I had some other words in there, some colorful language. But that’s what this was. It’s 60 minutes, and you play to the end. You can have one bad quarter, and you can still win.”
It didn’t take long after the win over Carolina for Del Rio to turn his focus to the next 11 days: Buffalo at home, then Kansas City on Thursday night, 1,500 miles east.
The challenge, he said, won’t deter his young team. Though some of the NFL’s slate this year seems to frustrate Del Rio, he said, “I think our team has embraced the idea of respecting all opponents and fearing no one, and embracing the process. So many things we need to correct, and I’m so happy we have guys who embrace getting better, no matter what the schedule is. They grind. They respect the process.
“We’ve already planned that whole thing out, how we’re going to adjust. We’ve had a lot of challenges. It’s hard to find which is the toughest, which is the most demanding—three of four on the road to start the season, three of four on the road to end the season. Two in Florida. Going to Mexico; planning for Mexico. How we recover. How we game plan. Like for the Carolina game—we actually spent time in our bye week [before playing Houston in Mexico] preparing for Carolina.”
When I look at the Oakland schedule, the one thing that looks the toughest of all: The Raiders finish the season with three of four on the road … and all three are their AFC West opponents, and one is a Thursday night game halfway across the country.
“Three of four on the road to end, all in the division,” Del Rio mused. “Nice of somebody.”
I do think the disadvantage of the Thursday game in Kansas City is slightly counterbalanced by the mini-bye after the game: Del Rio will be able to give his players extra days off before the last three games of the season. That doesn’t make up for the arduous Chiefs test. But it is a consideration.
In the end, the Raiders should be able to overcome the obstacles; they’re good enough to survive and be a playoff team, which in year two of Del Rio and year three of Derek Carr and Khalil Mack is a huge win.
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A note of great import
Next week at The MMQB, we are going to do “Green Bay Week.” It's seven days of content on our site devoted to showing everything about Green Bay, the NFL town. We want to tell the story of the team and town, and how the two are intimately bound up, and help people experience Green Bay on a game day, through words and video and Facebook Lives and Tweetups.
While we are there, we're planning to have a potluck dinner with local Packer fans on Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. I'll be there, along with several of our writers. And there just may be a special guest in attendance. Everyone will bring a dish; brats are a must. Space will be limited at the potluck so we're asking that you email us and tell us what potluck dish you would bring, and why you love the Packers. Send us your email by Friday for a chance to join us in Green Bay.
After the potluck at 8:30 p.m., we will be having a Tweetup at Hinterland Brewery, also in Green Bay. Would love to see you there, talk Packers and have you educate us about your town. See you next week.
Now for your email...
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KAEPERNICK’S CASTRO SHIRT
I’ve been a long-time reader of your MMQB column and truly appreciate the way you mix in more than just football to your columns. I want to take a moment to thank you for mentioning Colin Kaepernick and his Castro comments in your column today. I was disappointed yesterday that the game broadcast never mentioned what was going on. As a first-generation American, son of two Cuban immigrants, grandson of a man who was jailed by Castro for five years, I’m glad to see that someone in the national media noticed how we in Miami felt offended by Kaepernick’s shirt and his comments. The article you linked to by our Miami Herald sports writer perfectly explains the way we feel, and from my experience living out west for a few years and traveling our country I know that most of America is not aware of the crimes Castro committed against his people. While I support Kaepernick's right to protest, despite disagreeing with him, I feel he loses all credibility in his ignorant attempt to justify his shirt, by talking about literacy rates, instead of accepting his error. Again, perfectly stated by you in your points. Most people only saw the news of people celebrating in the streets of Miami, what they do not see are the ones crying as this weekend brought back a flood of memories of a home they left behind and have never been able to return.
—Israel T., Homestead, Fla.
I am not sure how strident I am about the actual issue of how Castro should be regarded in death. But what bothers me is when people—seemingly, because I only read about the exchange; I didn’t hear it—don’t consider alternative points seriously enough. And Kaepernick was stuck on one side of an issue that simply does not have only one side. I always think one of the things we should do in this world is consider the other side of issues, and in this case, Armando Salguero’s “other side” was extremely important.
MATT GAGNE FOR A BETTER OVERTIME
One of your employees here, making a pitch for a better overtime in the NFL. Whoever wins the coin flip gets to decide if they start on offense or defense. There’s no kickoff. The ball starts at the offense’s own 40-yard line. There’s no punting and no field goals. You have four downs to move the chains and keep going, or you turn the ball over at the last spot. It’s offense versus defense. First touchdown wins in an untimed period. Please lobby this to the competition committee. Thanks, boss.
—Matt Gagne, New York
Hey! You work here! You’re not allowed to have a really smart opinion that Rich McKay and the competition committee should noodle over right now! Seriously: Good thought.
NEXT GEN STATS
On one hand, you say you have no use for Next Gen Stats, such as how fast players are running. One thing you can admit is that at least the general public understands what the numbers mean. When you provide run- or pass-blocking grades, or ratings for cornerback play, what does that mean? Does it factor into whether a player is drafted and in what round, deemed All-Pro or a human piñata? What about QB rating? We all know 158.3 is a perfect rating, but no one understands how it is calculated. So in the end, before we end up with a bunch of stats similar to baseball that require a Ph.D in analytical mathematics to determine whether a player is any good or not, let’s make sure we fans know what we're being told about a player that may not otherwise be obvious to us. I've been watching football for 50 years, and I can usually tell when someone has a good or bad game.
—Carl S., Yardley, Pa.
My only point, Carl, was that I do not get any information or meaning or enjoyment out of knowing one guy runs 21.42 mph and another runs 20.79. Seems meaningless to me. I have yet to be enlightened on this one. Regarding passer rating: If you hear Aaron Rodgers had a game with a 79.1 rating, you’d know that isn't very good. If you hear Jarvis Landry ran 18.64 mph on a touchdown, would you have any idea what that meant? I wouldn’t.
WHY DIDN’T KUBIAK GO FOR TWO?
I'm a huge Broncos fan, so I will try to be a bit more rational this morning than emotional as I was Sunday night. While piles of ink (and pixels) will rightly be spilled on Kubiak's overtime decision, I'm surprised how little I've seen about his decision not to go for two after Bennie Fowler’s long catch-and-run. A successful two-point conversion there effectively ends the game (nine-point lead). A failed two-pointer leaves Denver with a seven-point lead, and then the decision falls to Andy Reid to go for the win or settle for OT after the Chiefs score at the end of regulation.
I would say you're right, Tim, but I would also say that Kubiak probably didn't trust the athleticism of his quarterback on a spread play, and didn't trust any of his backs to make two yards.
DON'T IGNORE THE CFL
You have been a supporter of the game north of the border and we up here appreciate the occasional mention. The Grey Cup was played with our hometown Ottawa Redblacks defeating the Calgary Stampeders in a monumental upset in overtime that many are describing as the best CFL game they have ever seen. Ottawa has not had a professional championship in 40 years, since the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1976. Since then Ottawa has lost its football team twice before coming back to the league as the expansion Redblacks three years ago. Pretty big day in Ottawa sports.
—Mark R., Ottawa
I should have covered the game, even a little, and will try to make up for it a bit next Monday.
YOUR MVP RANKINGS…
I know this is nitpicking, but what is the argument for Russell Wilson over Dak Prescott at this point? The passer rating is 15 points lower, he has seven fewer touchdown passes, two more interceptions, four fewer rushing touchdowns, he averages less per pass, his completion percentage is lower, his team has a much better defense and yet a 2.5-game deficit in record. Yes, the running game/offensive line helps Dallas immensely, but at some point don't the on-field results count? FWIW, I'd go 1) Zeke, 2) Carr, 3) Dak, 4) Stafford, 5) Matt Ryan.
Lots of questions about my rankings ... and for this one, I would say it's tough to have two guys from the same team in the top three. As I have emphasized this week, five weeks of football left. Lots can happen, and will happen, to change these rankings.
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