AFC West: T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Weekend mail call:

Lincoln from Kemmerer, Wyo., wants to know if the Kansas City Chiefs would be moved from the AFC West if a team other than the Raiders or the Chargers move to Los Angeles.

Bill Williamson: It’s an interesting question. Something would have to happen. Now that Minnesota is getting a new stadium; the current candidates to move to L.A. are the Chargers, Raiders, Bills, Jaguars and Rams. The easiest solution, if the team that moves to L.A. isn’t in the AFC West, would be for the Rams to move to L.A. They would easily stay in the NFC West. If the Bills or the Jaguars end up out West, eventually something would have to be done and because the Chiefs are the furthest East team in the division, an eventual move from the AFC West could be a possibility. Again, it’s down the road. If that happens, it would be a shame. The Chiefs forever belong in this division.

Christian from Greifswald, Germany, wants to know if I think the Raiders can re-sign receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

BW: I think that ship has sailed. The only way I see it happening is if the Raiders suffer a major injury at receiver or if the team is desparate for a veteran. Houshmanzadeh gave Carson Palmer a familiar target last year, but Palmer is now comfortable in Oakland. So, there really isn’t much need for Houshmandzadeh at this point.

Dylan from Hoxie, Kan., wants to know if Brandon Siler can push Jovan Belcher for a starting linebacker job in Kansas City.

BW: Siler suffered an Achilles injury last training camp. I like him from his San Diego days. The Chiefs like Belcher, but Siler is a pro and if he has a good training camp, he can press Belcher. At the very least, Siler will be good on special teams.

Evening AFC West notes

November, 22, 2011
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The Denver Post reports that Kyle Orton would love to end up in Chicago again. Orton was cut by Denver on Tuesday and the Bears have a need at quarterback with Jay Cutler expected to miss several games with a broken thumb.

It would be ironic, of course, if Orton is Cutler’s temporary replacement. The Bears put Orton in the package for Cutler in a 2009 trade. The Broncos host the Bears on Dec. 11. Meanwhile, here is a look other takes on the Orton situation from our NFL Nation bloggers.

There are several men with AFC West ties among the 26 semifinalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It just shows how much history this division has.

Former Oakland receiver Derek Hagan signed with Buffalo on Tuesday. He was cut earlier this month to make room for T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Hagan had 11 catches for 114 yards in seven games for the Raiders. Houshmandzadeh has two catches in three games.

The Chargers need to sell 3,400 tickets by Thursday for Sunday’s game against Denver to avoid a local television blackout. The team will honor former star linebacker Junior Seau during halftime.

Kansas City coach Todd Haley found the positives in Tyler Palko’s first NFL start Monday, a 34-3 loss at New England.

Chat wrap: When will Bowe get paid?

November, 9, 2011
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Here are some highlights from our AFC West chat, which was held earlier Wednesday:

DENVER

Andy M. from Lone Tree, Colo.: Do you think Eddie Royal or Knowshon Moreno will be in orange and blue next year? I think Royal should be kept; Moreno is iffy but is still under contract next year (I think).

Bill Williamson: It depends on Royal. I think there is a shot. He does have value as he showed that in Oakland. Yeah, Moreno is still under contract. I'm not a Moreno guy. He has shown very little. The fact that McGahee is shining as the starter at 30, shows you where Moreno is. So far, he looks like just a backup. That is brutal for a third year player who was the No. 12 overall pick.

KANSAS CITY

Chris from Lee’s Summit, Mo.: When are the Chiefs going to give Bowe a contract extension?

BW: It's a good question. They have been aggressive in giving guys deals, but Bowe and Brandon Carr are free agents who haven't yet been addressed. I think they could be on the way at some point. They need to keep those two guys.

OAKLAND

AJ from Oakland: Lost in the Denver debacle was Ford's game. Is he back to form?

BW: He's a good player. He's a weapon. He needs to be a big part of the offense every week. It's time for Hue to figure out who his best receivers are and go with them. I'm sure forcing Housh into the mix is the answer.

SAN DIEGO

Leland from Texas: Do you think the chargers start running more with River's and do you really think missing Sproles is the reason a QB throws the most interceptions in his career?

BW: They do miss Sproles, especially on bubble screen passes. But if they can keep Tolbert, Mathews and Brinkley healthy, they have a strong running attack that will be effective.

AFC West Stock Watch

November, 8, 2011
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The Chiefs' mojo: The Kansas City Chiefs went from sky-high to wondering what went so terribly wrong in a matter of six days. The Chiefs followed up a thrilling overtime win over the San Diego Chargers on Halloween night with a 31-3 home loss to previously winless Miami on Sunday. This was not a matter of the Chiefs being flat coming off a big win; they were just flat-out smoked, ending a four-game win streak.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Harry How/Getty ImagesWhile Philip Rivers did have four touchdowns and amassed 385 yards, he also threw two costly interceptions.
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey's role with the Oakland Raiders: The third-year receiver has developed into a solid player in the past month and he has been the Raiders' most reliable receiver this season after struggling in his first two. However, Heyward-Bey didn’t play until the second half Sunday and had only one ball sent his way. He had no catches. Yet, newly signed 34-year-old receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh played a bit. The long-term wellness of this offense will benefit more from the further development of Heyward-Bey rather than the stopgap contribution from Houshmandzadeh.

3. Philip Rivers' ability to play a clean game: It seems the concern over Rivers' play is heightened after every game. Sunday, he threw three interceptions against Green Bay in a 45-38 loss. Two of the interceptions were returned for touchdowns and the third ended a potential game-tying drive in the final minute. Rivers has thrown 14 interceptions this season after throwing 22 in the past two seasons combined.

RISING

1. The intrigue in the division race: We don’t know yet if the AFC West is a good division, but it is tight. The second half of the season is set up for a serious race as Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego are all tied for first place at 4-4. All three teams lost at home Sunday. Denver is still very much in the race at 3-5.

2. Tim Tebow’s leash in Denver: Whether he has been impressive as a pure passer or not, Tebow is 2-1 in three starts this season. The Broncos reportedly are not going to have a long leash on Tebow. But if the Broncos win, he will buy more time.

3. Willis McGahee's value in Denver: McGahee was a big reason Denver won by two touchdowns at Oakland. McGahee had 163 yards on 17 carries, including second-half touchdown runs of 60 and 24 yards. It was his first game back after he missed a game with a broken hand. McGahee, 30, is by far outplaying third-year Denver back Knowshon Moreno, the No. 12 pick of the 2009 draft.
Apparently, the Oakland Raiders just haven’t had enough skill-position combinations this season.

So, here comes T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Raiders are adding the veteran receiver to an offense that has used more skill-position combinations than any team in the NFL this season. Through seven games, the 4-3 Raiders have used 171 personnel combinations at receiver, tight end and in the backfield. It is 19 more combinations than Jacksonville, which has used the second-most combinations, and much higher than the league average. Only 13 teams have had more than 100 combinations.

Expect Oakland’s numbers to rise when Houshmandzadeh, who was signed Tuesday, gets in the mix as soon as Sunday against Denver. Houshmandzadeh caught 34 touchdown passes in five seasons from new Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer while they were in Cincinnati.

I think the reason why Oakland has had so many personnel combinations at skill positions are three fold.

They have had injuries at all five spots.

Hue Jackson is looking for the right receiver combinations as he has many talented players, but he has yet to settle on a top receiving tandem.

Jackson is creative and his offense revolves around rotations and keeping defenses off balance.

Jackson has used two combinations a team-leading 24 times. Here they are:

Kevin Boss, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Manase Tonga, Denarius Moore.

Derek Hagan, McFadden, Marcel Reece, Brandon Myers, Moore.

The second combination won’t happen again. Hagan was cut to make room for Houshmandzadeh.The first combination will likely decrease because Reece is healthy and Tonga will likely play less. Thus, expect the combination bingo to continue in Oakland.

Raiders trade out vet WRs

November, 2, 2011
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Catching up on the day in the AFC West after a day of travel:

On the surface, it makes some sense that Derek Hagan was the player Oakland cut to make room for veteran receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Hagan was the lone veteran receiver and the Raiders’ apparently felt they only needed one, so they went with the 34-year-old Houshmandzadeh, who was with new Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer and Oakland coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati.

Hagan started two games and had 11 catches for the Raiders as role player. Jackson said he wanted Houshmandzadeh since the summer, but owner Al Davis -- who died Oct. 8. -- wanted Hagan. Now, that Jackson is charge, he is getting the players he wants. Now, he has to make sure Houshmandzadeh, whose play declined sharply last year, can still play.
  • Meanwhile, it is being reported Kansas City visited with cornerback Leigh Bodden, who was just cut by New England. He’d likely be a nickel corner for the Chiefs if they sign him. He played for Kansas City defensive coordinator Romeo Crenel in Cleveland.
  • Denver linebacker Von Miller has slipped a bit in ESPN’s Rookie Watch.

Raiders add veteran to WR mix

November, 1, 2011
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Carson Palmer has an old security blanket as he begins his Oakland Raiders’ tenure.

The Raiders signed veteran receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Tuesday. He is 34. Houshmandzadeh played with Palmer for five years in Cincinnati and he was coached by Oakland head coach Hue Jackson there for three years.

Palmer is entering his third week in Oakland, so working with Houshmandzadeh should give him a comfort level. I think that may benefit Palmer more during practice than in games.

Many NFL scouts think Houshmandzadeh, 34, doesn’t have much left in the tank. He hasn’t worked this season and he had just 30 catches last year in Baltimore.

Plus, the Raiders have several young receivers they need to develop, so using Houshmandzadeh in the rotation could be counterproductive.

Last week, in a radio interview, Palmer was asked if he thought the Raiders should sign Terrell Owens, who played with Palmer in Cincinnati last year. This is part of what Palmer said: "We have a stable of young horses that can run and guys that can just move. Very young, very inexperienced, but tons of potential and it's tough to give up a young guy with a lot of potential for a guy that's got a lot of history in the league that's in his late 30s.”

Why has that mantra changed?

Owens will soon turn 38, but he had a much better year than Houshmandzadeh last season. In the end, I don’t think this is a terrible move for Oakland, but I don’t think it will be overly significant on the field, either.

AFC West notes

October, 31, 2011
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Here are some AFC West notes as I play catch-up upon my arrival in Kansas City:

Oakland coach Hue Jackson confirmed that the Raiders will work out former Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Tuesday. Houshmanzadeh, Carson Palmer and Hue Jackson were all in Cincinnati together. Here are my thoughts on the matter.
  • Oakland running back Darren McFadden didn’t practice Monday, the Raiders are hoping he can go Wednesday. He injured his foot in Week 7 against Kansas City.
  • Cut New England cornerback Leigh Bodden went unclaimed and now he can sign anywhere. There was a report that Kansas City could claim him. I could see Oakland showing interest. They have been looking at veteran cornerbacks for months.
  • Hence, the Lito Sheppard re-signing. He signed with Oakland on Monday. He spent some time with the Raiders this summer. Sheppard replaced kicker Dave Rayner. who was cut last week. Sheppard will wear No. 21 in Oakland. It was last worn by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who departed to the Eagles as a free agent.
  • Former Dallas cornerback Tashard Choice was claimed by the Redskins. That means the running backs-needy Broncos did not put in a claim on him.
The Raiders reportedly worked out receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and will give him a physical on Tuesday.

This is a sign the Raiders are going to do all they can to make new quarterback Carson Palmer comfortable. Palmer and Houshmandzadeh played together for several years in Cincinnati. Oakland coach Hue Jackson was Houshmandzadeh’s position coach in Cincinnati.

Palmer and Houshmandzadeh worked out together this fall. So, as the Raiders are giving Palmer a crash course in their system, they are apparently considering giving him a security blanket.

Still, Houshmandzadeh has declined steadily and I’m not sure he’s better than any of the six receivers on Oakland’s roster, so other than giving Palmer a comfort level, I don’t think signing Houshmandzadeh would be overly significant.

Evening AFC West notes

October, 24, 2011
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The San Francisco Chronicle reports the Oakland Raiders could bring in receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh if Carson Palmer doesn’t click with the team's young receiver. The two played in Cincinnati and Hue Jackson coached them both. Houshmandzadeh is 34 and has been in major decline. The only way I could see this being beneficial is if the Raiders’ youngsters fall off dramatically.

Meanwhile, Jackson said he is not actively pursuing Terrell Owens. He is working out for teams Tuesday. Jackson said he was unaware of the workout.

What’s the fantasy impact Insider of Tim Tebow in Denver?

Denver coach John Fox experienced an NFL first Sunday.

San Diego tight end Antonio Gates did not have a setback after playing at the Jets on Sunday. He hadn’t played since Week 2 because of a foot injury. It is a very positive sign that he didn't take a step back.

Philip Rivers or Joe Flacco?

June, 16, 2011
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Despite the fact that he has not won a Super Bowl, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is generally considered an elite NFL quarterback. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, however, isn’t. Flacco is widely respected, but he is more known as a gritty game manager.

Rivers
Flacco
In an ESPN.com Insider piece, though, KC Joyner writes that Flacco is in Rivers’ company. Crunching the numbers in the way only he can, Joyner makes the argument that Flacco is in Rivers’ league as a deep passer. Rivers is considered by many NFL observers to have the prettiest deep ball in the league.

Here is some of Joyner’s thinking on the subject: Last year, the San Diego receiving corps suffered through a slew of injuries and suspensions that cost the team the services of starting wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and starting tight end Antonio Gates for a total of 22 games.

Those losses meant that Rivers ended up throwing a total of 189 pass attempts to the following receivers: Seyi Ajirotutu, Patrick Crayton, Buster Davis, Randy McMichael, Legedu Naanee and Kelley Washington. Those six players would be lucky to crack the starting lineup of any NFL team, yet Rivers ended up committing 34.9 percent of his targets to them last season.

For most quarterbacks, a situation of this nature would cause a significant drop-off in yards per attempt (YPA) production in the areas of vertical (aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield) and stretch vertical (20 or more yards) passing, but that didn't happen with Rivers. He ranked fourth in the league in vertical YPA (12.1) and seventh in stretch vertical YPA (14.8).

One of the ways he was able to do this was by getting quality YPA figures from both the big name and non-big name pass-catchers. His 13.0 vertical YPA on passes to Floyd, Gates and Jackson alone would have been good enough to rank second in the league in that category, but his 11.2 YPA on vertical targets to other pass-catchers would have been good enough to rank 13th in that same category.

This shows that Rivers is capable of finding a way to get above-average vertical performance from backups. That ability kept the Chargers' downfield passing offense moving even when injuries and suspensions could have hamstrung it.

Flacco was faced with a somewhat different situation in that his wideouts and tight ends were healthy, but they all had vertical receiving limitations.

Anquan Boldin has a very limited history of being a vertical threat and he was paired up with Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a tandem of aging possession receivers.

Flacco was able to do more than just work around these limitations. He actually excelled with this trio, evidenced by 1,472 yards on the 133 vertical targets aimed at these three.

That equates to an 11.1 vertical YPA overall, but what is more impressive is that each of the three ended up posting a double-digit vertical YPA mark (11.3 for Boldin, 11.9 for Houshmandzadeh, 10.4 for Mason). To put that into perspective, consider that only five other teams ended up with three qualifying pass-catchers in double digits in vertical YPA (47 total targets needed to qualify).

Flacco's downfield passing expertise did not stop there. He posted a 12.5 vertical YPA and 15.1 stretches vertical YPA on throws to targets other than the aforementioned three. Both of those figures are more than a yard higher than what the possession trio posted, and they should increase further with a legitimate deep-threat possibility this year in second-round pick Torrey Smith.

My thoughts: It’s difficult to argue with Joyner and his numbers. He’s a mad scientist when it comes to NFL statistics. And I do like Flacco. The guy is a winner. Still, for my money, I’d rather have Rivers on my team. His pure ability, gumption and leadership make him special.

Who would you rather have quarterback your team, Rivers or Flacco? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.
CBS Sportsline reports that the Philadelphia Eagles might not be big players for Oakland free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The report cites Asomugha’s expected enormous price tag and that fact that he is not a perfect fit for the Eagles’ scheme.

Asomugha
Asomugha
The Eagles have been reported, along with NFC East rivals Dallas and Washington, as likely pursuers of Asomugha. If the Eagles aren’t overly interested in getting into the Asomugha sweepstakes, I don’t necessarily think it affects Oakland’s chances of keeping Asomugha. If Asomugha and the Raiders want each other, they’ll figure it out regardless of interest from other teams.

And don’t think this report will start a trend of other teams deciding not to actively pursue Asomugha. There will be plenty of teams willing to accommodate him.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadida connects receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Oakland coach Hue Jackson. The two worked together in the past and Oakland was connected to the receiver last summer. However, the Raiders have depth at the position, and Houshmandzadeh’s skills have been declining.

Scout down, scout down

March, 11, 2011
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Check out this video of Denver scouting executive Matt Russell getting blown up by Colorado first-round tackle prospect Nate Solder during the school’s pro day. That’s no way to treat a former Colorado Butkus Award winning linebacker. Oh, and go ahead, underline former. I bet Russell thinks twice about volunteering his services at future pro days.

In other pre-lockout deadline AFC West Friday afternoon nuggets:

T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s future may be cloudy in Baltimore. If he is cut, Oakland could look at him again. He played for new Oakland coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati. Houshmandzadeh isn’t exactly a top-flight option anymore, though. He will be 34 in September and he had just 30 catches last season.

Denver safety Brian Dawkins talks about the reality of concussions in the NFL.

Oakland has talked to California running back Shane Vereen as part of its pre-draft planning.

Evening AFC West news and notes

September, 7, 2010
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T.J. Houshmandzadeh credited Oakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for him signing with Baltimore. Houshmandzadeh, who played for Jackson in Cincinnati, said Jackson has raved about Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. He became a free agent when Seattle cut him this weekend. The bummer for Jackson is that Houshmandzadeh reportedly chose the Ravens over the Raiders.

The Broncos opened their practice week in preparation to play at Jacksonville with several injury questions on offense. Running back Knowshon Moreno is still trying to come all the way back from a hamstring injury suffered on the first day of training camp. The offensive line is beat up with tackle Ryan Clady (knee) and right tackle Ryan Harris (ankle) uncertain if they can play and how effective they can be.

The Chargers cut cornerback Brandon Hughes to make room for No. 3 quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

The Chiefs put second-year receiver Quinten Lawrence on the practice squad. He was cut Monday. Defensive tackle Garrett Brown was cut from the practice squad.

Houshmandzadeh isn't a Raider

September, 6, 2010
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On Sunday night, there was a report saying free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was focusing on signing with either the Oakland Raiders or Washington Redskins.

That notion is out the door. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Houshmandzadeh has agreed to a one-year deal with Baltimore. So the idea of him landing in Oakland is now moot.

I really liked the idea of Houshmandzadeh ending up in Oakland. It’s not like he’d be a total difference maker, but he’d fulfill a role.

I understand that the Raiders are committed to their young receivers. There is potentially a good core there in Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey. In a few years, it could be a power group. But right now, the Raiders need more. They need a veteran player who can get a big first down.

Schilens is hurt and may miss a few more weeks. Murphy is talented, but he is not totally reliable. Heyward-Bey is still a work in progress. Quarterback Jason Campbell needs to have someone he can rely on. Houshmandzadeh could have been that player.

There other receivers out there, but until the Raiders make a move, we have to assume they are happy with what they have moving forward. That may work out great in the future, but right now it’s a tad risky.

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