Our Indianapolis Colts on the road this weekend to take on the Las Vegas Raiders. Knowing this day was coming, I sat down with Matt Holder, of Silver and Black Pride, SB Nation’s Raiders blog. You can find him on Twitter @MHolder95. We swapped questions about the Colts and the Raiders and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
CS- For reasons completely unrelated to anything that has happened in the last couple of weeks in Indianapolis, I have to lead off with this question. From the outside looking in at the final five or so years of Al Davis’ run as owner of the Raiders, it seemed that he made progressively crazier and crazier decisions. Did the descent into that madness happen overnight or did it get progressively worse? Again, this question has nothing to do with any concerns I may or may not have with Jim Irsay and the direction of the Indianapolis Colts franchise at this time. And I’m also asking for a friend. The friend goes to another school and they live in Canada, you wouldn’t know them.
MH- LOL! Al Davis’ questionable decision-making definitely got progressively worse as the years went on. It kind of started in 2002 when he and Jon Gruden hit a standstill in contract negotiations so Al infamously traded Gruden. From there, it progressed to questionable trades to terrible draft picks, and eventually, no one wanted to be anywhere near Oakland, coaches and players alike.
For example, when Lane Kiffin was hired as head coach in 2007, he had only been a co-offensive coordinator for two seasons at USC (with Steve Sarkisian) and the rumor was Davis had to settle for Kiffin because no one else wanted the job. But I think the biggest problem with Al’s later years had more to do with his stubbornness. He was the organization’s general manager pretty much the entire time he owned the team and was always hell-bent on doing things “his way”. That was fine when he was a sharp football mind, but the combination of that mentality and not being quite as sharp mentally was the biggest problem. Al wouldn’t listen to other people when it came to big decisions like draft picks, as there is an infamous story about how Kiffin tried to make a last-minute pitch to take Calvin Johnson instead of Jamarcus Russell. I’ll let you decide who ended up being right.
I think that’s the biggest difference between the two owners, from an outsider’s perspective at least. Irsay seems to be more hands-off with the football decisions than Al was and less stubborn.
Jim Irsay fought about it with his GM and hired an old friend to be interim coach. At one time I was convinced Irsay was a hands off owner.
CS- It seems like Josh McDaniels tenure is off to a rough start in Vegas. What’s gone wrong and what do he and Mark Davis talk about in those odd postgame meetings? Any chance you guys fire McDaniels next week and hire Rich Gannon to be the head coach?
MH-It’s really been hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with McDaniels, partially because he’s reportedly doing much better on the people/relationship management side of things which was his downfall in Denver. He’s always been a brilliant offensive mind and there have been flashes of that in Las Vegas this season, but he either takes too long to make adjustments and the Raiders’ comeback efforts are futile, or he doesn’t adjust and opponents go from having no clue how to stop Las Vegas’ offense to shutting them down.
The entire team can’t figure out how to finish games and it’s frustrating since they were able to do that last season, and there’s one big difference on the sidelines... As far as those postgame meetings, whatever happens in there is the best-kept secret in Las Vegas. We know they’ve happened twice already, obviously, but that’s about it. All reports are that McDaniels is safe and Mark Davis believes in the coach’s long-term plan so it seems like he’ll be back for year two.
And no, Rich Gannon isn’t a head coach candidate. He’s a TV analyst and has no coaching NFL experience, who would hire anyone like that?
You heard it here first, Rich Gannon to become the Raiders head coach by Tuesday at the latest.
CS- If you were designing an offense specifically to beat the Raiders defense, what would it look like?
MH-There’s really one guy who you really need to worry about on the Raiders’ defense, Maxx Crosby. Their defensive tackles are pretty rough and Chandler Jones has been a shell of himself this season, so double-teaming Crosby — in pass protection and the ground game — should take care of Las Vegas in the trenches.
At linebacker, starter Divine Deablo just got placed on injured reserve, and last year’s Pro Bowler Denzel Perryman just hasn’t been a great fit in Patrick Graham’s system. That leaves Blake Martinez, who was signed midseason, and a couple of rookie undrafted free agents to round out the position group.
The Raiders are also missing their top cornerback, Nate Hobbs, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level before breaking his hand and landing on IR, so Rock Ya-Sin — who Colts fans know well — is their CB1 right now. Ya-Sin is solid but is really more of a second corner, and Anthony Averett has been terrible after returning from injury and getting elevated to the starting lineup. The Raiders do have a solid run defense, but they really struggle to defend the pass.
Quick note: about 24 hours after Matt sent me his answers Raiders linebacker Blake Martinez decided he would rather not play football anymore, ever, than to continue playing for the Raiders this season.
Okay... that’s not exactly how he said it but I choose to believe that’s what he meant.
CS- What player has surprised you in a positive way and what player has surprised you in a negative way so far this season?
MH-This is a tough question because I can think of several for the negative way and very few for the positive. I’ll start on a pessimistic note and go with safety Tre’von Moehrig as a negative surprise. As a rookie, Moehrig showed a ton of promise and was an excellent free safety in Gus Bradley’s cover three-heavy system, but he has struggled with Patrick Graham, who asks a lot of his safeties and needs them to be versatile. The 2021 second-round pick has struggled in one-on-one coverage against both wide receivers and tight ends. Part of that could have to do with injuries as he got banged up in the season opener and missed the next two games of the season, but Moehrig has just looked like a completely different player in year two.
Positively, I’d say guard Dylan Parham. He was drafted in the third round but was Vegas’ first pick of the draft after the Davante Adams trade, so there were some expectations that he’d come in and produce right away. However, he’s exceeded expectations by starting at three different positions — left and right guard, and center — and is already their third-best offensive lineman. Don’t get me wrong, Parham has had his rookie mistakes but going from a third-round pick to one of the most consistent offensive linemen on the team is an impressive start to his career.
Matt didn’t have to flaunt his teams adequate guard play, knowing how much the Colts have struggled there. But here he is rubbing in the fact that the Raiders have found a starter at the easiest position in all of football to find a starting caliber player- something Chris Ballard just couldn’t pull off because he was worried the notoriously tough Indy media would be mean if he didn’t draft a receiver.
Must be nice, Matt. Must be nice.
CS- DraftKings Sportsbook has the Raiders as six point favorites. Considering an ESPN analyst is coaching the Colts this weekend, is that number fair? How do you see this one playing out and what’s the final score?
MH- I like the Raiders to win because it does feel like the Colts are kind of packing this season in, whereas McDaniels is still trying to prove his chops as a head coach. However, I’d take Indy with the points if I’m betting on this game. Vegas proved last week that they’re capable of losing to anyone after blowing a 17-0 lead to the Jaguars, so, in my opinion, you can’t put money down on a team that’s a touchdown favorite after an embarrassing moment like that.
I’ll go with 24-20 Raiders as my final score prediction.
I may have looked at the numbers wrong because now the Colts are just 4.5 point underdogs.
If any Colts fans are in Vegas this weekend hit me up on Twitter, I’ll be there ready to watch maybe the most interesting game in Indianapolis Colts history. There is a zero percent chance it will be the best, but I will get to say I attended the first game of Jeff Saturday’s head coaching career. So that’s something. Hope to see you guys there.