One day back in 1992 when I was working for the Browns, I received a phone call from Raiders owner Al Davis asking me about -- but really ripping me for -- not trading for 49ers malcontent defensive end Charles Haley, since I was the reason Haley was drafted by the 49ers. Davis knew I found Haley back when Davis and 49ers coach Bill Walsh were engaged in a friendly competition during the 1986 draft. Both men loved to talk about the draft, both would tease one another about players they found that could make an impact -- but they never mentioned names, they only described the players. Once Davis saw Haley, a classic Raiders-style player, he knew that he was the one player that excited Walsh the most.
On this call, Davis was telling me how Haley could shift the balance of power in the AFC Central in the Browns favor even though the Browns were in a major rebuilding process. At that time, trading a draft pick for a player did not seem prudent. We needed picks and we also had a few good, young defensive linemen.
Two years later I though of that call from Davis as the Browns were trying unsuccessfully to beat the Steelers. Each time we played Pittsburgh, we lacked the one player to create pass rush against Steelers left tackle John Jackson. If we had Haley, our 1994 season might not have resulted in three losses to the Steelers.
The Raiders' talent matches up well with the Chargers. In fact, they own San Diego. The seven-point win does not give a clear indication of how the Chargers were really never in the game. The Raiders are more physical, stronger and controlled both lines of scrimmage. They really dominated even without their best player, Darren McFadden. With Carson Palmer showing renewed life in his game, and more importantly in his arm, the Raiders could do whatever they wanted to the Chargers, offensively and defensively.
Chargers GM A.J. Smith will watch the tape of the game realizing that the Raiders are a significantly better team and a bad matchup for how he has constructed the Chargers roster. San Diego allowed almost 200 yards rushing and almost 300 yards passing in one game, which should signal to Smith that he has a ton of work to do. Some will say quarterback Philip Rivers played poorly and was the reason the Chargers loss. In reality, the Raiders' pass rush was causing Rivers to have trouble. He was under constant pressure all night, in part because of losing some of his best offensive linemen to injury and also because the Raiders were better up front.
There is not much Smith can do this season to close the gap on his team's talent as it relates to the Raiders. And the myth that the Chargers are a really talented team has been destroyed. All of America saw the Chargers and knows they have big problems. The first order of business for Smith is to find more talent in his defensive front. He must take back the line of scrimmage, and the only way he can accomplish this will be to get bigger, faster and stronger in both lines.
Smith must plan his course of action now, realizing he cannot solve his problems but can get a head start on his plan. He must accept the fact that the Raiders are the better team and then do something about it with personnel moves in the offseason. Get more pass rush, get bigger in both lines and get someone in his front seven who can dominate the game. The items on Smith's checklist are not easy to achieve, but he must start now, or else the Raiders will keep widening the gap and dominating the series.
The First 15
1. New England tried to make it work with Albert Haynesworth, but in the end his unwillingness to play within the framework of the defense was the reason he was sent packing. The final straw was in the Giants game when he left his gap and allowed Brandon Jacobs to go untouched into the end zone. The Patriots had hoped he would get better each week as his conditioning improved and peak late in the year, but that plan never worked. Between his back problems and his inability to drive his feet, Haynesworth was often off balance and spent much of his time on the ground.
2. The Redskins have been devastated with injuries, but it does not hide the fact that they are going to enter this offseason -- year three of the Mike Shanahan era -- still looking for a quarterback. Their offense is really bad. And you have to wonder why Shanahan did not look to add a quarterback from the draft, someone that could give his team hope for the future. But as is often the case, never confuse hope for a plan, which means the Redskins had no plans to draft a quarterback. Now they are forced to find one but will Shanahan be forced to make changes once the season is over? Things will be interesting in Washington this offseason... but aren't they always?
3. Another team that passed on a quarterback in the 2011 draft was the Browns. They felt that Colt McCoy could be the quarterback of the future. But now I am sure they have their doubts. In 16 career starts, McCoy has attempted 155 passes over 10 yards and has completed just 65 for 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. That is less than 10 attempts per game in his career. Hard to make explosive plays down the field if a team never throws the ball down the field.
4. The reason the Bills don't throw the ball down the field is to protect their offensive line, which struggles to pass protect, and also because Ryan Fitzpatrick is not good at down-the-field throws. On throws under 10 yards, Fitzpatrick completes 70 percent of his throws. Over 10 yards, however, it drops down to 53 percent, and over 20 yards, he completes 25 percent. Ouch. Eight games into the season, the Bills are going to have to prove they can adjust their offense, or everyone will continue to sit on all their routes.
5. I have been critical of how Reggie Bush runs the ball inside the tackles, and how he needs to become a part of the offense, not just a player who runs a play. Last week was the best I have seen Bush run in his NFL career. He was decisive, determined and willing to fight for extra yards. He must continue to play with this intensity to show his teammates and the rest of the NFL that he is not just a nickel player. Keep it going, Bush.
6. Vikings sources tell me that backup quarterback Joe Webb is the most talented athlete on their team, which is saying something. And the Vikings want to find ways to get him the ball without having him play quarterback. Expect to see Webb involved in the offense this week.
7. The Eagles wanted to fix their red-zone defense this season, which was the main reason they fired former coordinator Sean McDermott. But right now, they rank 31st. What hurts the Eagles defense, besides their lack of adjustments during the game, is the fact that whenever they blitz the opposing quarterback as a 107 rating, which also ranks 31st in the league. Think about that for a second. They have three very good, high-paid coverage corners ... but when they blitz they cannot create negative plays. Why? Their blitzes are easy to read and teams can attack their safeties in man-to-man coverage. Sorry Eagles fans, this defense is not going to get fixed this year, and the Birds must win with their offense.
8. Drew Brees is 8-2 against the Falcons since he has joined the Saints. The reason for his great success? Balance. When Brees and the Saints can run the ball, it takes pressure off the passing game to gain yards. And this Saints team must have balance to win, which coach Sean Payton knows. When Brees is throwing more than 40 times a game, the Saints will struggle to win, especially on the road against the Falcons. The Saints are the best team in the NFL in rushes and completions added together, which indicates their execution is outstanding.
9. The 49ers on Sunday host the Giants, the first team since San Francisco played the Bengals that can match its physical toughness on both sides of the ball. The Giants must force the 49ers to throw the ball -- easier said than done -- to gain the advantage. The Giants' front can create turnovers if they can get the 49ers to play outside of their comfort zone. Also, will the 49ers extend quarterback Alex Smith now or wait until after their playoff run? That will be the hardest decision awaiting the 49ers.
10. How good has Jay Cutler been this season? Even with little protection, and losing wideout Earl Bennett for five games, Cutler has been making great throws every week. Now that the Bears have scaled back their offensive package to better protect Cutler as well as their offensive line, the Bears have played much better. However, each time I watch the Bears play, I watch Roy Williams run routes. Williams ran a 4.40 coming out of Texas, but my eyes read 4.75 when I watch him run now. He is no longer a speed wideout.
11. DeMarco Murray might think that Felix Jones is still the starter at tailback for the Cowboys, but in reality Murray must be the man. It will help Jones become a bigger force in the Cowboys offense. Less carries will mean more production from Jones.
12. The Bengals always play the Steelers tough, and this game will be a war. The key? Two of the best defenses square off, and the one that can apply the pressure on the opposing passer will prevail. The Bengals are tough, but their skill players are similar to the skill players of the Steelers. Jerome Simpson needs to play huge, which he is capable of doing. He has incredible hands.
13. The Jets are favored to beat the Patriots at home this weekend and well they should, as they are playing better right now. Typically the Jets don't start to play their best ball until late in the second half, but this year they seem to have found their rhythm. Can the Pats get out of their funk? Yes, but it has to start with their offense protecting the ball. Each time they play the Jets, they gain over 400 yards, in spite of all the chatter about the Jets' man-to-man coverage hurting the Pats.
14. Houston is playing well on both sides of the ball. And even after losing Mario Williams, they may be playing even better on defense. Brooks Reed has done a great job of filling in for Williams, and their other outside 'backer, Connor Barwin, has been sensational. Tampa cannot start slow if it expects to win this game. The Bucs must find ways to be productive in the passing game. Big chance for quarterback Josh Freeman as this game will be a playoff-type game for Tampa.
15. There are 10 games on Sunday starting at 1 p.m. Eastern. Why? Doesn't the NFL know we love to watch all the games? Dealing with 10 at one time is an enormous challenge. Rest up, Scott Hanson, you have your work cut out for you on NFL RedZone. Enjoy the games, as I know I will.
Have a happy Veterans Day. Make sure you thank the men and women who have served our great country.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi