Raiders coaches doing the best they can; Flacco doing just enough

While Raiders coach Lane Kiffin twists in public, the team's 21 assistant coaches are equally unnerved about the daily drama. If Kiffin gets fired –- there is speculation by some league sources he could finally be dumped after Sunday's game with San Diego because of the Raiders' pending bye week -- will any assistants meet a similar fate?

Of those who remain, who -- if any -- will take over as head coach? Will other assistants follow his lead or will it be more of the same?

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"Through all this, the assistants have hung tight –- that's on offense and defense," a team source said, crediting members of the staff for keeping their heads down, avoiding the rancor at team headquarters and keeping players focused on task. "That staff is OK."

Though 1-2, Oakland has remained competitive. It shows that the coaching staff and players possess some measure of character. How long that remains intact is dicey, though. Another loss or the prolonged state of Kiffin's unsettled tenure can cast a pall over any team, especially the Raiders, who have been in a constant, almost pathetic, chaotic state.

Helping retain some state of normalcy is the players' ability to limit their locker room discussions about the turmoil between Kiffin and owner Al Davis. The majority of the players are too young, too new to the roster or already too jaded to add much fuel to the situation –- at this point.

"The coaches have told players to follow their lead and not worry too much about things that they have no control of, and the players have done a pretty good job with that so far," the source said. "It has to be hard, though."

Things are so out of whack in Oakland that the only options to make it through the season with some semblance of sanity are Kiffin's firing or for the team to get on a prolonged winning streak. Based on the Raiders' recent history, a run of wins seems like much more of a long shot than letting Kiffin go.

If Kiffin is fired, it's anyone's guess on his replacement. There is growing speculation among some staffers that it could be wide receivers coach James Lofton, because he is the only assistant whose contract extends beyond this season. That is the only rationale being used for such conjecture, because no one has any idea what Davis will do.

Davis could make an outside hire, but there aren't many unemployed coaches with a semblance of reputation who would take that job without the security of a multi-year contract. Signing a coach from outside to a long-term deal during the season is highly unusual.

The collateral damage of any coaching change, be it now or at the end of the season, is the potential developmental growth stunt of second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the top pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. A new coach could implement a new system, causing Russell to possibly make radical changes, or implement a scheme that doesn't fit Russell's strengths at all.

"One of the reasons you're seeing more, older quarterbacks starting now is it's hard to develop a young quarterback," an NFL assistant coach said. "Assistants and head coaches are gone after three, three-and-a-half years and someone else comes in and does things differently. By the time a (quarterback) is ready these days, he's gone through three coaches."

Not-so-new approach

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Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning's successful use of the "Wildcat" formation, in which the ball was snapped directly to running back Ronnie Brown in the Dolphins' 38-13 victory over New England on Sunday, is being viewed as a page taken from a collegiate playbook, most notably Houston Nutt's successful attack at Arkansas in 2006 and 2007 that featured Darren McFadden taking the snap.

However, Henning successfully used a similar package and formation in 2006 when he was the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Forced to face the Atlanta Falcons with limited quarterback Chris Weinke late in the season, Henning opted to put then-rookie tailback DeAngelo Williams behind center in a shotgun formation –- 10 times.

Williams didn't go through the series of veer-option play fakes that Brown and the Dolphins executed against the Patriots. Instead, he simply waited for a hole to form and ran to daylight. It worked eight times, seven being third-down conversions.

Atlanta was caught off guard, much like the Patriots, and the Panthers ran the formation repeatedly. Carolina used it four times in down-and-distance situations where Atlanta had nickel personnel in the game on defense, giving Henning and the Panthers favorable matchups.

Carolina won that game 10-3. Weinke, by the way, threw just seven passes, completing four.

Flacco unfazed

About the only stat Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco can honestly boast about is Baltimore's 2-0 record. He ranks 29th among NFL quarterbacks in yards-per-game average (129.0) and he is the only starter not to have thrown a touchdown pass. Then again, he's only attempted 48 passes –- 19 fewer than Tampa Bay's Brian Griese threw in Sunday's victory against Chicago.

"The guy has done well, a lot better than what it may seem," quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson said. "He doesn't get rattled much. The first week his completion percentage was low. Last week it was much better. He had the two interceptions and one was a bad decision, but he'll learn from that. You're looking for small victories right now."

The real test for Flacco comes the next two weeks as Baltimore faces Pittsburgh and Tennessee, whose defenses rank second and third, respectively, behind the Ravens.

"He's played against a great defense all training camp and plays against one every day in practice," Jackson said. "His development is pushed further because of what he sees every day. He won't be intimidated. That's all he knows."

L.T. on the mend

Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson could be a week or two away from regaining the form that has made him the top player at his position the past few seasons. The prohibitive right toe injury that has limited his cutting ability and rendered him a straight-ahead runner is healing, he said. Tomlinson said he should be able to go through a full week of unrestricted practice this week, although the coaching and medical staffs might measure his workload to make sure he doesn't re-aggravate the injury.

Top RB tandems

With teams using more two-running back systems, here's a look at the top tandems:

  1. Atlanta: Michael Turner (122.0 yards per game)-Jerious Norwood (62.0).
  1. Dallas: Marion Barber (95.0)-Felix Jones (49.0)
  1. Tennessee: Chris Johnson (92.0)-LenDale White (49.0)
  1. N.Y. Giants: Brandon Jacobs (81.3)-Derrick Ward (59.0).

The combined records of those teams: 11-1.

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