Last offseason, the Raiders added some big ticket players—Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall, and a home-run draft choice—Darren McFadden. McFadden’s no longer a rookie, and the Raiders added Darrius Heyward-Bey at wideout, in addition to returning receivers Schilens, Walker (post-surprise surgery) and 2008 breakout player Johnnie Lee Higgins.
Russell is still under center, and now has legit backup in Garcia. In addition to those roster moves, the Raiders changed the offensive and defensive coaches, and accordingly the playbooks for both sides of the ball.
What does that all mean? Flea-flickers? Division champions? The spread offense? Dogs and Cats living together? Not sure. However, it definitely means that we should see some significant changes in the Raiders playbook for 2009.
Marshall’s defensive play calling is naturally going to depend on generating pressure. All defenses face that challenge, but in Marshall’s successful campaign with the Seahawks, the front four generated consistent pressure, and the three linebackers went nuts on what was left.
The improvement over last year’s Ryan-esque defense should be in more consistent play calling and better preparation.
In Marshall’s peak years, the ‘Hawks rarely looked surprised by an opponent. Only one team scored over 30 points (and still lost), and they were the sixth best defense in points allowed.
Looking back at that roster (Widstrom, Tubbs, Tatupu, Hill) does looks stronger than the current Raiders; however, keep in mind those players were all much younger then—and weren’t predicted to pull off what they did.
Fans should expect to see Marshall take full advantage of his shutdown corners, and if any of our six safeties show better than average ability, even the Blitz will return to Oaktown, bringing fear back to opponents eyes.
The Raiders offense last year was inconsistent at every level—coaching, playcalling, and execution. In all cases, it can only get better this year. Dismissing the first eight weeks due to the sideline theatrics, we have eight weeks on which to judge Cable. Early on, Cable’s calls seemed unimaginative and predictable.
However, in the later games the execution improved significantly, and even a “boring” play like “HB Right Toss” sprang Bush for a 60+ yarder against TB.
Tollner will bring a different approach to the passing game, and that a semi-functional Walker, a surprising Higgins and a healthy, veteran McFadden will make a huge difference play calling options. I also expect the occasional attempt to see if Russell can indeed overthrow Heyward-Bey.
In summary, the core “run first, pass second” philosophy should remain with the Raiders this year. However, to the extent that Russell can be accurate with short and long passes, we might, dare we hope, have a balanced offense.
The Shell and Kiffin eras both rapidly declined into contentious fights between grown men, which this year appears to be positioned to avoid.
Overall, fans should expect that we will see an offensive and defensive approach that no longer has to contend with disagreements between coaches and the front office, and that maybe, just maybe, the team could just play football!