Raider Nation, let me be very clear. This game was unavoidable. The Raiders have been giving us glimpses of this for several weeks.
The problem is not JaMarcus Russell. It is not a lack of capable personnel. The last two games have been a very accurate reflection of the level of effort put forth by most of the team.
Admittedly, Tom Cable has spent training camp getting back to the basics of the game on both sides of the ball. I believe this is where the Raiders needed to begin the season. Oakland is a young team and will count on its youth to carry the team through the toughest schedule it has seen in years.
It is my unqualified, but confident, opinion that the coaching staff spent more time educating and not nearly enough time preparing the team to actually "Cowboy Up" and win individual battles on each play.
It is not always a team game. That sounds ridiculous, but it's true. Sometimes a team can only be as strong as its weakest link.
With 11 players on the field, each player is engaged in a one-on-one battle with someone. While the techniques may be understood, no one not named Nnamdi Asomugha is winning individual battles on the field.
I recently wrote an article describing the level of effort as being the source of the Raiders' problems against San Francisco. This problem actually dates much further back but was once again noticeable against the 49ers.
The tackling and blocking may lack fundamentals at times, but more than anything, it lacks aggression. The offensive and defensive lines are not creating a push, while the defensive pursuit is half-hearted at best. Defensively, players are being stood up and are content to be eliminated from the play.
Watch the best run-stopping teams in the league. The collisions at the line of scrimmage are brutal. Linemen and linebackers with little chance of making the tackle are driving to re-establish the line of scrimmage and stretch the play.
This has not happened in Oakland for the past two years.
The line of scrimmage is about skill and desire, and not one more than the other. The Raiders have the skill, but for whatever reason they have not gotten a sustained effort from their defensive line in several years.
Poor run defenses are tough to fix because it is rarely one guy. The solution must come from 11 players who refuse to lose the battle in the trenches. If eight guys carry out their assignments but Terdell Sands fails to fill a hole, the effort is in vain. This becomes exhausting to endure defensively.
The Raiders need a leader defensively.
Asomugha has tremendous talent and character. As far as I can see, he is the only member of the Raider D capable keeping himself accountable. With that said, he is not a vocal leader. Someone on the defense must step up and keep this team accountable.
The coaching staff is ultimately responsible.
There must be intensity in practice. I can assure everyone that the Raiders' practices are lacking intensity. I don't need to watch a second of practice film. There is no way that Cable is running intense practices.
Players do not tone it down when the jersey goes on, particularly in front of their home crowd. Don't tell me it's preseason and the players are being cautious. Gamers come to play. Once they step on the field, they only have one speed—game speed.
If Oakland stepped it up a notch for the 49ers and Saints, I can't imagine what practice is looking like.
So to Tom Cable, John Marshall, Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Tommy Kelly—this is what I have to say:
You are the cornerstones of this defense. The six of you must elevate yourselves and your teammates. This team cannot win without 11 guys giving 100 percent every play. Kick guys off the field or cut them.
With that said, the defense has not been our only problem.
While the offensive line has struggled in the past two games, they have proven they can raise their game. We all remember how they dominated at the end of last season. I am confident they will pull together and produce.
I never mentioned JaMarcus Russell in my last article, which expressed my concerns going into the '09 season. It was not an error of omission on my part.
While experts have doubted Russell, I have believed for quite a while he is the least of our concerns. We are not a passing team. If Al Davis wanted to throw 50 passes a game, he would have drafted Michael Crabtree instead of Darrius Heyward-Bey.
I believe Davis wants our offense to look much like the Tennessee Titans. Russell can certainly put up stats comparable to Kerry Collins before the book is closed on his career, but I am confident they will actually be much better. He can make all the throws and will learn to read defenses.
While I'm not a huge fan of Russell, I don't think he will need to have an amazing year for this team to succeed. He has a lot of growing up to do, but he knew how to win in college and will learn how to win in the NFL.
If effort is indeed our problem, then maybe the Saints game was exactly what this team needed.
They should be embarrassed. We, as fans, are embarrassed.
Hopefully, that in itself is enough to light a fire under these guys.