Pro Football / Bob Oates : Schroeder Plays Lead Role in Raiders’ Big Comeback at Denver
When the Raiders finally traded for a quarterback three weeks ago, it wasn’t clear which Jay Schroeder they were getting--the 1986 model, who seemed to be the most promising new quarterback in the National Football League, or the 1987 model, who threw so many wild long passes that the Redskins finally gave up on him.
It turns out that they got a brand new model. In leading the Raiders to their 30-27 upset win here Monday night, after Denver had won the first half, 24-0, Schroeder came up with a few of the accurate short passes that he couldn’t throw in Washington, or so the Redskin coaches said.
He also threw a few long ones accurately. What’s more, on a clutch down or two, he ran the ball effectively. And his leadership on the field--despite his inexperience in a Raider uniform--was decisive finally in the improbable comeback.
“Schroeder is like another Terry Bradshaw,” Raider owner Al Davis said afterward, recalling the 1970s quarterback who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl championships.
“We wanted Schroeder because he can do it all--though not every time. He’s streaky, like Bradshaw was. But when he gets on a roll, watch out.”
In Denver, Schroeder didn’t quite do it all. The Raiders’ receivers--fullback Steve Smith, who scored with two of Schroeder’s passes in the third quarter on 40- and 42-yard plays, and Willie Gault, who caught his last pass in the fourth quarter to set up the 27-27 field goal--did some of it.
And in the fifth quarter, halfback Marcus Allen ran the ball into position for the winning field goal.
But at quarterback, all of a sudden, after years of turmoil and disappointment, the Raiders seem to be a settled football team at the big position with Schroeder, 27, and Steve Beuerlein, 23, who improved steadily this month in three games.
One thing Schroeder didn’t do. He didn’t throw the sloppy interceptions that Denver’s John Elway dispatched in the second half--first to let the Raiders back in the game when they were 24 points down, and again in overtime, when they needed one to win.
“You saw tonight that Schroeder has a big league arm,” Davis said. “We can build on that.”
In his first start, he built them a share of first place in the AFC West. The Raiders in first place? The team that was losing at halftime, 24-0? That’s the way it is now.
Three weeks are hardly enough for a quarterback to find a place for himself on a new football team. But that’s all Schroeder had at El Segundo. And so the new coach, Mike Shanahan, was obliged to invade Denver with a simple game plan that was nowhere near enough for an agonizingly long time.
Shanahan had Schroeder running draw plays and quarterback sneaks in the beginning, along with 50-yard sideline passes that missed everyone in both uniforms, plus a few ineffective shotgun-everybody-out passes.
The upshot was that the Raiders gained only 41 yards in the first half, when, simultaneously, their rushing defense was strangely nowhere to be seen. On his last legs, Tony Dorsett gained ground for Denver the way he used to do it for Dallas 10 years ago. And when Sammy Winder also ran through the Raider middle like a Jim Brown, the game seemed plainly over at halftime.
Question: If a quarterback can pull a team together in the last two quarters, why can’t he do it earlier?
One answer is that the surprise was that Schroeder did it at all. For a quarterback, the task of learning a new system is nearly impossible in a period of three months, let alone three weeks.
Schroeder knows the Raider patterns now, the routes his receivers must run--but he doesn’t yet know all the options they have on all these routes. He can read the defenses his opponents put up--but he doesn’t yet know all the keys and play progressions that so often make the difference between a completion and an incomplete pass.
He knows his receivers by their first names now--but he doesn’t yet know all their idiosyncrasies.
“Coming from one NFL team to another is like translating from a foreign language,” Raider General Manager Al LoCasale said.
And with a clock running, if the quarterback forgets one word in the translation, he’s suddenly in the wrong language.
Yet, somehow Schroeder pulled it off. Luck? Miracle? Maybe. Maybe not.
This has been a tough year so far for Elway, and the explanation probably goes back to last January’s Super Bowl, when the Redskins found the perfect defense for the Broncos.
They knocked around Denver’s little receivers, setting a pattern that the rest of the league has followed this season. Elway’s receivers are uncommonly undersized, and most secondaries have been intimidating them. And consequently, they’re running their routes tentatively.
Or as Elway said: “The depth of (their) routes hasn’t been good (or) consistent.”
Wondering exactly where his receivers are at any given moment, Elway has been playing tentatively, too.
“I don’t sit back there and fire the football . . . as well as I can,” he said.
That’s the way it looked again Monday night. The top quarterback-leader in the league is in a little slump because his receivers are in a slump. You can be sure of one thing. In time, he’ll pull them out of it.