Raiders play hard, but not very smart

SAN DIEGO -- Looking for a positive Oakland Raiders nugget after their fifth straight loss, and seventh defeat in eight games, courtesy of Sunday's 26-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers?

Well, the Raiders played hard. Just not very smart.

Oakland was flagged for a season-high 12 penalties, equaling the 12 the Raiders had at the Atlanta Falcons last season for the most penalties under second-year coach Dennis Allen.

In fact, the Raiders have had at least eight or more penalties in seven of their past 11 games. And with discipline a point of emphasis for this regime, regardless of talent level, that does not bode well for a coach who wants and needs to show progress to ensure he gets to Year 3 of his four-year contract.

And yet …

“The last two weeks were really tough,” said center Stefen Wisniewski. “I'd be crazy if I said we were getting better, with the last two weeks.”

Sounds like an indictment. Or, a dose of reality.

The Raiders surrendered a franchise-record 56 points to the Kansas City Chiefs and committed seven turnovers last week before the flags came flying at Qualcomm Stadium and Oakland, which was tied at halftime, 10-10, did not have enough to stem the tide.

“We have to play smarter,” Allen said. “Penalties are going to happen in the game but we can't have the not-smart penalties, which cost your football team.”

The most egregious example? Mike Jenkins getting called for taunting when he knocked the ball out of Ryan Mathews' hands after the cornerback stopped him for a no-gain. Instead, the Chargers got 15 free yards and six plays later, Philip Rivers hit Keenan Allen for a 4-yard touchdown pass and San Diego led, 17-10.

Jenkins declined to talk in the postgame locker room.

“That wasn't smart,” Allen said. “Those are the plays that we can't have because they cost your football team. This guy, in the heat of the moment, did something emotional. We have to be better than that. We can't do that and hurt our team.”

So at whose feet does the blame lay for the Raiders' regression in terms of discipline? Consider: yes, the Raiders had 12 penalties for 73 yards, but three penalties were also declined, meaning 15 flags were actually thrown at Oakland on the day.

Obviously, Oakland's roster is not brimming with talent and you have so many players, especially on defense, making career-high appearances and wearing down at this juncture of the season.

“I think the coaching staff has done a good job this year,” offered free safety Charles Woodson. “What it boils down to is …we as players have to put it all together, and I can't put that on the coaching staff.

“It's about the players not going out there and, again, executing calls or game plans or whatever it is.”

We're not just talking one-step-forward-two-steps-back stuff here. Against the Chargers, Oakland's season-long issues bubbled to the surface. Again.

It's a team with 10 new starters on defense, and an undrafted rookie at quarterback who began his NFL career this summer as a fourth-stringer.

“Yeah, I mean some of it might be inexperience,” Wisniewski said. “But, I mean, we're not all inexperienced. Some of us are, some of us aren't. It might just be a matter of executing when the time comes."

“I would like to think that if it was because of inexperience, here in Game 15, we would be getting better at it.”

Many others think the exact same thing, especially when playing hard does not equal playing smart.