The Raiders are 1-4, struggling and have little chance of competing for a playoff spot this season.
Yet despite the team’s at-times ugly performance, there are signs that General Manager Reggie McKenzie may have picked the right man in Dennis Allen to guide the Raiders to the road to improvement.
Exhibit A is the Raiders’ performance this past Sunday in a 23-20 loss to the undefeated Falcons in Atlanta.
After getting ripped apart in a 37-6 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 30, the Raiders went into their bye week needing to make plenty of fixes: to their secondary, their run defense, their running game and their performance on third down on both offense and defense.
Against the Falcons, the Raiders improved in every area. And, though Oakland came away with its fourth loss in five games, the team took positive steps. If those improvements continue to take root, the Raiders have a good chance of winning one or two games over the next two weeks when they host the 1-4 Jaguars this Sunday and then travel to play the 1-5 Chiefs in Kansas City on Oct. 28.
If the evidence of a good coach is the improvement of his team as the season progresses, Allen – in his first year as an NFL head coach – is showing signs that he might be part of the franchise’s long-term solution to getting back on the winning track.
Though the Raiders stumbled in the fourth quarter in their loss to the Falcons, the team’s defense stepped up in a big way. Using a nickel package (five defensive backs and only two linebackers) for much of the game, and giving rookie linebacker Miles Burris more playing time over former No. 1 pick Rolando McClain, the Raiders held one of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams to more than six points below its per-game average. The Oakland offensive line also opened more holes for running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, and the Raiders’ execution on third downs improved.
Allen also seems to have his players behind him. Though they’ve struggled, the Raiders spoke highly of Allen in the offseason and training camp and still believe in him.
“I definitely feel like we’re improving,” Burris told the media this week. “But I don’t believe in moral victories and I don’t feel good about losing. A loss is a loss and a win’s a win.”
Said Allen: “This is a production business. It’s about winning and losing and we weren’t able to get it done (vs. the Falcons).”
The improvement over the bye week, when Allen and his coaching staff were able to examine, evaluate and make some changes, is a sign that Broncos head coach John Fox knew what he was talking about when he recommended Allen – his defensive coordinator in 2011 – to McKenzie after Raiders head coach Hue Jackson was fired after going 8-8 last season.
“He’s a guy with I call the ‘it’ factor,” Fox said last month, when asked about Allen. “So it did not surprise me people looking for coaches in this league would be interested in talking to him.”
Veteran Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour had a similar assessment of Allen during training camp this summer.
“Some coaches just have the ‘it factor,’ and Dennis Allen has it,” Seymour said. “I can’t stress enough about everyone being on the same page (under Allen).”
Under Allen’s direction last season, his first in Denver, the Broncos defense went from 32nd overall in the NFL to 20th, and from 30th against the run to 22nd.
Allen said Fox, a longtime NFL head coach, told him he was ready for the Raiders job.
“He said go there and you’ll do a great job, and you’re ready for the job,” Allen said of Fox. “I’ve talked to him since then, and he doesn’t give me all his secrets, but he’s helped me a lot.”
The next two weeks may tell Raiders fans a lot about their team’s rookie head coach. With good showings against the Jags and Chiefs, Oakland may not yet be bound for the playoffs – but it could be headed for continued improvement.