By Vic Tafur, SF Gate 01/08/13
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is playing a game of dominoes in his down time after finishing a 4-12 rookie season. He needs a new offensive coordinator, and he and general manager Reggie McKenzie are trying to sort out how the tiles around the league are going to fall.
Which assistants are really available is murky business, as head coaches and their staffs were fired last week and head coaches are being hired this week.
One game Allen - who fired offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and three other assistants - does not want to play is "What if?'
Like what if he left alone an offense in which Darren McFadden ran for 5.4 yards per carry, rather than bring in Knapp and change to a zone-blocking scheme ...
"I'm not going to look back and try to say what could have, would have, or should have been," Allen said. "I'm looking forward to what we need to do to try to get this team better in the future."
McFadden's 3.3 yards per carry was the lowest average ever for a Raiders running back with at least 150 carries. (Harvey Williams put up a 3.5 in 1994.)
The running problems bogged down the offense, taking away play-action possibilities and putting quarterback Carson Palmer in bad spots. Oakland faced 2nd-and-7 or longer on a league-worst 71.1 percent of second downs, and when it did get in scoring position, defenses were pretty confident the Raiders had to throw the ball.
They averaged 1.74 yards per carry in the red zone, 31st in the NFL.
Regardless of what one thinks of the talent level on the Raiders, the system was a bad fit and a big reason they went from back-to-back 8-8 seasons to 4-12.
"Listen, at the end of the day, you are who you are," Allen said. "You are what your record says you are. Do I think we can play better and have enough talent on this team to be better than we were? Yeah. We fell short in that area."
One of the few bright spots was that Allen was able to instill some discipline, even in the absence of proven leaders in the locker room. A year after Oakland set an NFL record with 163 penalties in 2011 under Hue Jackson , it had 108 - the fewest for the franchise since it had 107 in 2001 in the final season under head coach Jon Gruden.
Allen said he is developing a trust with his players, one that goes both ways, and that will continue as McKenzie continues to reshape the roster.
"This is a players' game," Allen said. "Players make plays and the best teams are able to, at some point in time, hand the keys to the car over to the players and they're able to run the program the way it needs to be run. We're not at that point yet, but we're developing that every day."
The defense, which improved the last four games, will have to replace Richard Seymour and likely Tommy Kelly up front, as well as arrested-again linebacker Rolando McClain.
The offense will continue to revolve around Palmer and McFadden.
Palmer, who missed the final game with cracked ribs, is due to make $13 million next season and normally, on a rebuilding team, might be in danger of being cut. But he restructured his deal for the team last season and the Raiders would face a $17 million salary cap hit if they were to let him go.
Palmer, who played very well in the first half of the season before slipping a little, might even have some input on the new coordinator.
"I think Carson can fit in any system you want to run," Allen said.
McFadden is due to make $5.6 million in the last year of his contract, and though teams might be interested - and McKenzie might listen - the trade offers probably wouldn't be that big for an oft-injured back coming off his worst season.
And that's fine by Allen.
"I like Darren. I think he's a good running back," Allen said. "He's an explosive player, and I think he can continue to produce in the future."