Dennis Allen, in his guise as Mister Happy Fun Guy, opened his postgame remarks with a cliché that rang as hollow as it was unoriginal: “We wanted to make sure the fans got their money’s worth.”
He would not have been so uncontrollably glib had the Oakland Raiders not beaten Pittsburgh 21-18, but hey – he’s trying to break out of his role as the grimmest reaper in the NFL. Baby steps, kids. Baby steps.
[Instant Replay: Raiders hold on for 21-18 win over Steelers]
He has, to his credit, reassembled a defense in Oakland that can keep its turgid offense in games, and we give him partial credit because he was brought in a-year-and-change ago to fix the most generous unit in the entire NFL. Sunday’s performance against the once-endurable Steelers was of a standard – two touchdowns, 276 yards, 4.0 yards per play, no real threats from a Steeler team that is and seems likely to remain in a fallow state for a while.
In short, we now know who the Raiders mean to be – a team that leads, and follows through, with its defense. To that end, Allen has performed what he was meant to do when he was hired. The Raiders could elevate themselves into an average team with the defense they have now.
But the money’s worth part? Not really. Not even close, to be honest. As any entertainer will tell you, you never open the show with your best number.
After the game’s first play, in which Terrelle Pryor sprinted 93-yards to put the Raiders’ up 7-0 after 19 seconds, the Raider offense was neither imaginative nor dangerous. It gained only 186 yards total in 58 plays after Pryor’s breakout moment, and failed to managed more than a single first down in only three of their 15 possessions. Their second half, which was unduly careful even by Allen’s own conservative standards, was spent largely riding the defense’s coattails, managing one laughable first down and 35 yards in 23 plays.
That kind of hidebound risk-aversion doesn’t work against decent teams, but against weaklings like the Steelers, it will make do. And against the next four opponents–-a Philadelphia team in disarray, a Giants team that is only now figuring out how not to stink, a Houston team that would kill to get to disarray, and Tennessee which is pretty well floundering-–the Raiders can continue to play half a game and fake the rest, whether you define half a game as defense only, or first half only.
In the last four games, Pryor, Darren McFadden and whatever other odds and sods they can put together, have gained 130 yards, 87 yards, 113 yards and 35 yards, scoring just 17 points after the halftime show. Their opponents have scored 63. This creates a problem that the upcoming schedule may hide-–the notion that they are only a one-dimensional team.
But we remind you, a year ago they were a zero-dimensional team, comprehensively cruddy and studiously non-competitive. This is better, trust us.
The second half problem is a significant one, and one that is more than merely “not complicated – block ‘em, catch it, throw it,” as Allen said. It is execution, but it is also philosophy. As the defense holds serve, Allen looks like the right man for the job. As the offense sputters to overcome the halftime adjustments of the opposition and becomes safety-obsessed, he looks like he is trying to paint the house one-handed.
But at least he has paint. That alone represents a quantum leap.