Is it Art Shell?
The finger of blame has swung around to the Raider coach in the wake of the team’s collapse against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday that has left the Raiders in danger of falling out of the playoff picture.
Pointing the finger is Shell himself.
“As head coach, you accept responsibility when the team wins or loses,” he said. “It just falls on your shoulders. . . . It’s tough for me. It’s tough for this whole organization. This is a team we should beat. We didn’t do it, so it hurts.”
The Raiders have just about run out of time and excuses.
There were lots of questions when the season began. Would the quarterbacking be consistent? Would the running game get in gear? Would rookies Greg Robinson and James Jett contribute? Would the linebacking be improved?
The answer to all of the above is, yes. There is talent, lots of it. So how do the Raiders, at a crucial point in the season, go into Cincinnati and lose to the Bengals, a team that had failed to win any of its 10 previous games?
If it’s not the talent, the next area to examine is the coaching.
“As a head coach, you go through your mind, you wrack your brain,” Shell said. “What could you have done to give you the winning edge?”
Perhaps nothing more.
There have been some questionable Raider coaching calls this season, particularly in managing the clock.
But on the whole, Shell has done what good coaches do. With quarterback Jeff Hostetler at the controls, Shell put together an effective passing attack that functioned from opening day. He experimented and substituted and made adjustments in the rushing game until he got that running smoothly.
His defense has rarely lapsed. The Raiders began Sunday’s game as the No. 1 team in the league against the pass.
So that leaves execution and preparation.
The Raiders haven’t executed of late, having scored only one touchdown in their last 10 quarters.
And they definitely didn’t look prepared to step onto the frozen surface of Riverfront Stadium for Sunday’s game. Their intensity level was about as high as the temperature.
But whose fault is that?
Art Shell didn’t drop half a dozen passes Sunday or fail to get into the end zone time after time over the last few weeks.
And Shell didn’t came out flat Sunday. These aren’t college kids who will respond to the fire and brimstone of a Lou Holtz.
These are adult professionals, making six- or seven-figure salaries, who read the standings and knew their fate might well have hung on Sunday’s game.
Where are the veterans on this team? Are they standing up and providing leadership to fill the void in that department left by the departure of Marcus Allen?
Asked if he would like to see more leadership from the players, Shell said that he has “had discussions with some people on our squad about some of that.
“Leadership has to come from the head coach, but I also know this, you must have some within the locker room. And it has to be positive leadership. Some people the others will look up to and respect a whole lot.”
Linebacker Winston Moss seemed ready to assume that role after Sunday’s upset.
“Each player has to look within himself,” Moss said. “The coach can only coach so far. It’s the players who win games.”
And lose them.