INT. THE PARLOR AT CROFTON COURT – NIGHT
A trio of distinguished gentlemen are seated at a table around a ouija board. Two of them – HENDRICK and WINCHESTER – have their hands resting gently on the planchette, while the third – XAVIER – sits with his arms crossed in a posture of defiance.
XAVIER: This is, without a doubt, the most asinine ritual I’ve ever taken part in.
WINCHESTER: More preposterous than the singalong at the Pacific-Union holiday feast?
XAVIER: Much more.
WINCHESTER: More boorish than the “dunking of the freshman” at the St. Francis Yacht Club regatta?
XAVIER: Oh, without question.
WINCHESTER: More daft than – at the insistence of a fellow fan – getting a set of matching tattoos administered in the Coliseum parking lot after the “Groundhog Play” victory over the Chiefs? [rolls up one of his sleeves to display a crudely drawn image]
XAVIER: [smiles thinly, pats his own arm] Well now that’s just unfair. These are marks of camaraderie.
XAVIER: [dripping with sarcasm] Oh, my word. Will I scare the ghosts away?
HENDRICK: It’s moving!
WINCHESTER: Mr. Davis, is that you?
PLANCHETTE: [drifts to the “NO” response]
HENDRICK: Perhaps he’ll only respond if we address him with the appropriate title. Coach Davis?
PLANCHETTE: [wiggles in place on the “NO”]
WINCHESTER: Commissioner Davis?
PLANCHETTE: [wiggles again on the “NO” but then returns to the center of the board and turns deliberately to point towards a panting hanging on the wall]
HENDRICK: Oh! It’s pointing towards the Botticelli. Art!
WINCHESTER: Coach Shell!
HENDRICK: We seek the guidance of the spirit world, oh Coach. After a series of wild swings – from opening the season with a pair of strong victories over the Titans and Jets, followed by a tumble of four consecutive losses, followed by a dramatic…
WINCHESTER: …and stirring…
XAVIER: [pats his arm] …and memorable…
HENDRICK: …victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders have stumbled into the bye at 4-5 and their playoff hopes are on life support. What has the team done well so far?
PANCHETTE: [if you can imagine a way for it to move that conveys a “shrugging” gesture, it does that]
WINCHESTER: Coach Shell makes a valid point. None of the Raiders’ supposed strengths coming into the season have turned out as expected. Their rushing game, behind one of the most talented and highest paid offensive lines in football, has plodded along, with Marshawn Lynch failing to find the holes he needs in order to deliver the highlight runs that fans expected of him. Many believe this has come about as a result of moving away from the power running scheme the team favored last year to the usage of more zone blocking, which doesn’t suit the strengths of the offensive linemen. While the pass blocking has remained stout, the abandonment of play action has made it possible for opposing defenses to immediately identify plays and react accordingly. These issues, unsurprisingly, have been laid at the feet of first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing, the former quarterbacks coach who was promoted by the team instead of renewing the contract of Bill Musgrave. Would you agree, Coach Shell?
HENDRICK: [staring at his hands] I’m not sure Coach Shell is still with us.
WINCHESTER: You’re right. Something feels different.
XAVIER: This is absurd.
HENDRICK: [to the board] Are we still speaking to Coach Shell?
PLANCHETTE: [drifts to the upper right-hand corner of the board]
WINCHESTER: It’s pointing at the moon.
HENDRICK: Moon…what does that mean? What does a moon have to do with the Raiders…
WINCHESTER: A moon has craters…
HENDRICK: It’s Norv Turner!
PLANCHETTE: [flows through a set of long, looping motions to return to the center of the board]
WINCHESTER: Coach Turner, are the Raiders issues on offense the result of Todd Downing’s deficiencies?
HENDRICK: Wow, you really think he’s that bad? Let’s be fair, Todd Downing has been a disappointment, but no worse than you’d expect from a first-year offensive coordinator. The skill players need to absorb their share of the blame as well. Derek Carr signed an extension making him the league’s highest paid quarterback for a week until it was surpassed, but a transverse process fracture in his back slowed him down considerably and he only recently seems to have returned to true health. Amari Cooper, in particular, has been a huge disappointment in his third year, as his freshman issue with drops has resurfaced. Michael Crabtree, while remaining a reliable outlet valve for Carr, has taken a step back as well. Cordarrelle Patterson, while making a few nice gadget plays out of the backfield, has been virtually silent when split as a receiver. The only player who has truly shined for the offense at this point in time has been free agent tight end acquisition Jared Cook.
WINCHESTER: But of course the offense has been merely mediocre. The defense is what has been historically awful for the team. With David Amerson repeatedly sidelined with injuries, and Sean Smith’s weaknesses exploited by opposing offensive coordinators on a weekly basis, the Raiders were hoping from help from promising first round draft pick Gareon Conley. Instead, Conley has been shut down for the season after seeing very limited action and the slack has been picked up by second-year player (and seventh round pick) Dexter McDonald.
PLANCHETTE: [begins moving wildly, with almost a jagged motion] T-H-E-S-E—G-U-Y-S—D-E-X-T-E-R—M-C-D-O-N-A-L-D—S-E-A-N—S-M-I-T-H—A-N-D—D-A-V-I-D—A-M-E-R-S-O-N—I—C-A-L-L—T-H-E-M—B-O-O-S-T—M-O-B-I-L-E—C-A-U-S-E—T-H-E-I-R—C-O-V-E-R-A-G-E—I-S—T-H-E—W-O-R-S-T—I-N—T-H-E—E-N-T-I-R-E—C-O-U-N-T-R-Y.
HENDRICK: Coach Gruden!
WINCHESTER: What can be done, Coach? How can the season be saved?
HENDRICK: It’s true, shoring up the inside linebacker position, which Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio keep neglecting in the draft, will help considerably. The return from injured reserve of second-round pick Obi Melifonwu should help as well, as he’ll provide critical coverage help against tight ends that have proven to be the team’s greatest nemeses. But Khalil Mack cannot carry this defense by himself. If the coverage can improve, or if the interior defensive line can generate more pressure, perhaps the team will manage to get a few more sacks, or even a single interception.
XAVIER: Or at the very least be close enough to opposing receivers to even be called for pass interference.
WINCHESTER: And what about on offense, Coach?
HENDRICK: Wait…it feels different again. And that doesn’t sounds like something Coach Gruden would say.
WINCHESTER: You’re right. Ask it something only Gruden would know.
HENDRICK: Coach, what is the right play to run on 3rd-and-6 against a defense that’s showing a single high safety?
PLANCHETTE: [pauses] J-E-T—S-W-E-E-P—R-E-V-E-R-S-E—T-H-R-O-W-B-A-C-K—P-A-S-S
WINCHESTER: Ha ha, wrong! It’s Spider 2 Y Banana. It’s always Spider 2 Y Banana.
HENDRICK: Who is this, really?
XAVIER: Oh, of course.
WINCHESTER: How do you see the season closing out, Coach?
HENDRICK: Well, he may be the worst head coach in modern history, and I have a hard time seeing the Raiders beating the Patriots without the help of a little friend called Giardia Intestinalis, but I’m not sure I disagree with his final assessment. Eight and eight sounds about right to me.
WINCHESTER: Or nine and seven. Depending on whether the Eagles have the division clinched and phone it in during Week 16.
XAVIER: I’m going with seven and nine. And it’s back to the drawing board yet again. Now can we put this stupid thing away already? It’s time for the markets in Singapore to open and I’ve got handful of put calls that need my attention.
Author’s Note: This post was inspired by a three part podcast called “May the Cycle Melt” that I listened to last week. It’s spooky and fun and I highly recommend it.