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(Photo Courtesy of june10459)
McFadden looked good before an early exit

by Jim Turvey

I never took French, but something told me that “the dangerous game” would sound better in French. This week’s recap is going to be exactly that, the most dangerous game any sports’ fan can play – the “What If” game. It’s a game that can haunt fans for weeks, months, or even years. It can haunt baseball teams – what if the Tigers hadn’t been given the first two games of the ALDS at home last year even though the A’s were the higher seed? It can certainly haunt football teams – what if Tom Brady wasn’t a protected little diva who got lucky that a bogus “tuck rule” just implemented gave officials the opportunity to let him and his UGGs get into field goal range? It can even haunt my fantasy teams – what if the Royals offense had simply scored one run in the first nine innings of last Sunday’s game? See, isn’t this game fun?

Yesterday was a classic day filled with “What Ifs” for Raiders fans. Let’s take a look at some of them, and see what might have happened.

What if Terrelle Pryor had been given the start?

This is a very generous “What If,” given that I could have gone with, “What if Matt Flynn had any pocket presence whatsoever, like seriously any at all?” or even, “What if Matt Flynn were able to play quarterback at an NFL replacement level?” but those seemed a bit harsh. Instead, let’s focus on what could have been, given that starting Pryor was actually possible, and those previous two “What Ifs” now seem impossible.

First, let me say that the Raiders did the right thing by keeping Pryor out.

Pryor is seeming more and more like this team’s future at quarterback, and when the guy says he can’t remember parts of last week’s game (even if it was tongue-in-cheek), and has to wear sunglasses on the sideline during the game, it’s best he not line up across from Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. However, if we hypothetically had faced the Redskins in another week, when Pryor was ready to go, there’s little doubt in my mind that the Raiders would have won this game.

Matt_Flynn1

(Photo Courtesy of simple.wikipedia.org)
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Matt Flynn seemed to do the impossible on Sunday, which was take coverage sacks behind a supposedly porous offensive line. He held onto the ball fooorrreevvveerrr, and screwed the Raiders out of good field position a couple times by doing so. Pryor could have at least gotten back to the line, and I believe turned some of those coverage sacks into positive runs, that at least could have helped in the field position battle which occurred for most of the game. Flynn did throw one touchdown, but it came right after he threw a ball directly into Orakpo’s hands, and got lucky that it was dropped. Other than that one drive, Flynn was pretty useless.

It’s a lot to say that one player could be worth ten points, but when the position is quarterback, and the other option is Matt Flynn, it’s not really that much of a stretch. There is also a lot to be said for Pryor’s attitude yesterday. Despite being ruled inactive, he was coaching receivers on the sideline, not giving up, and even getting onto the field to break up skirmishes. I have to say, I wasn’t a Pryor believer at the beginning of the year, but man I couldn’t have been more off base. I think he could be the real deal for the Raiders going forward, and I can’t wait to have him back in the starting line up.

What if Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece (and about ten other Raiders’ players) hadn’t gone down with injuries?

There are a lot of sports’ terms that become more and more familiar the more frequently you watch sports. One of those terms is “war of attrition.” Well, yesterday’s game defined the phrase war of attrition, as both teams seemed to lose a player (and not just random special teams’ players) every few minutes. The biggest names for the Raiders were arguably McFadden and Reece.

In Friday’s preview of the game I pegged the run game as the most important aspect of the game – it turns out I was wrong. I overestimated Flynn’s ability to manage a game, and now have gone 180 degrees to thinking that although important, missing McFadden and Reece wasn’t as big as missing Pryor. Rashad Jennings certainly didn’t gash the Redskins’ defense like those two could have, but his work catching the ball out of the backfield, along with Flynn putting them in too many 2 nd and 3 rd and longs meant that DMC and Reece weren’t as essential. In fact, his 116 yards from scrimmage to go along with his huge punt block in the first quarter probably make Jennings the player of the game for the Raiders.

What if Marquette King really is the reason for Janikowski’s struggles this season?

Sea-bass hasn’t been his normal self this year, and while some of that may be the result of reaching the age of 35, it seems likely that something else is up. that King’s holds are certainly different than Lechler’s, and maybe this is just an adjustment period for the kicking game. However, one would think that by Week 4, the adjustment period is over, and the holder is what he is – and King doesn’t seem to be the right answer as the holder. My personal suggestion that I have had previous to this game, is to have Flynn hold, but after this week my guess is that he would catch the snap, and not put down the hold until he had taken the sack.

Whatever the answer is, the Raiders need to fix it quickly because they are good enough to be in a lot of close games, and the Janikowski misses are really taking their toll.

What if Dennis Allen had chosen to kick a field goal with three and a half minutes to go?

This one is a little hairier because I understand the logic behind going for it. It may be the closest the Raiders would get to the end zone, and with a touchdown needed at some point, why not trust your that your quarterback can fall forward to get you the first down? Here’s the thing though, with Reece and McFadden out of the game, it put the onus on Flynn, and relying on Flynn is not a good idea. Once the Redskins got the stop, the defense just wasn’t the same. That 3 rd and eight conversion was a killer, and the defense, which had such a nice flow to it early in the game, just didn’t seem like the same unit. If Allen kicks the field goal instead (assuming King gets the hold right for a Janikowski make), then it keeps the defense motivated by knowing that their team is only down by one score. This “What If” is certainly more controversial than the others, but I think it was one of the few mistakes Allen has made this season.

Since the game was a loss it makes sense that most of the questions so far have been negative, but there were some positives to the game. Let’s quickly take a look at some of the more hopeful “What Ifs.”

What if the Raiders’ secondary has made an actual improvement on third down defense?

The Raiders’ secondary looked solid all game, especially on third down. They only gave up four passing third down conversions, and were able to harass RGIII on many of those attempts. This has been a weakness of the Raiders’ defense this year, so hopefully this improvement can be more than just a one-week phenomenon.

What if Tony Sparano ends up being one of the best off-season coaching signings?
This may seem like a strange question given that his offensive line just allowed seven sacks, but in all honesty most of those sacks were on Flynn. Even the few times he was under quick pressure, Pryor could have evaded the one defender. As a whole, I have been pleasantly surprised that the Raiders’ patchwork offensive line has actually held up relatively well. Once this line returns to full health, this could actually become a strength of the club, and I think it speaks to Sparano’s value as a coach.

What if the Raiders had a really hot, celebrity fan, who loves rooting for her brother?

THEY DO !!

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