This is the first in what will be a weekly column about the Raiders regarding pressure situations, quick hit thoughts, and myths that have been disproven or are on shaky ground. I am also doing a weekly Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns article for the entire league.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments or suggestions to make the column better please send me a message.
I've already written about JaMarcus' accuracy issues, so I won't go into them here. I feel that the entire offense is under pressure to succeed, if only to keep the defense off the field and fresh.
The defense played great against the Chargers on opening night, but after a string of ineffective offensive possessions in the 3rd quarter, they were wearing down toward the end of the game.
They still stood strong until the very end, and that was more scheme than fatigue, but they were a step slower at times, and a noticeably tired defensive line failed to generate any pass rush on Rivers after being in his face the entire night. This can be attributed to being on the field too much in the second half.
Last weekend, Russell was struggling, so it afforded Kansas City the opportunity to load up the box and mostly neutralize the running game. The defense, as a result of multiple three-and-outs by the offense, were on the field for nearly 40 minutes.
They still held up strong and helped lead the team to a 13-10 victory, very impressive coming off a highly emotional game on a short week on the road. Russell and the offense got it going when it counted, as he shook off earlier struggles to complete 4/7 passes for 68 yards, and proving for the second week in a row he can bring his 'A' game come crunch time.
But the offense simply has to be better earlier in the game. The struggles cannot all be put on Russell, as the entire offense has stagnated at times. This offense is very young, and as such will struggle to be on the same page and read the field the same way.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy are both rookie wideouts, and as such have not yet developed a full cohesion with Russell. They still telegraph and run improper routes at times, which contributes to the overall struggles of the passing game. They can only get better from here as they continue to learn and grow.
It's a work in progress with this much inexperience, and it'll definitely pay dividends as time goes on. We should see improvement every week, and it's hopeful last weekend's first three quarters were the top of our struggles.
This offense has the talent to win now, if they can simply get a few more completions from Russell. This is easily attainable, as it is most likely the worst was over after the 3rd quarter of the Chiefs game. It's hard to believe, with the flashes of playmaking he's shown, that Russell could play that poorly ever again.
The playcalling of Tom Cable also needs to focus more on the run, and not abandon it when we aren't tearing the ground up. Both Darren McFadden and Michael Bush have shown consistent ability to pick up big yardage, and both can go the distance. Cable must be patient, because if you give them enough carries, one or both will make at least one big play a game. He also needs to get McFadden outside with the ball more often.
It's important to stick to the run, improve the pass, and get some screens in play to improve Russell's confidence and give our backs the chance to make a big play. A wide receiver screen to DHB or Murphy wouldn't be a bad idea either. There are many weapons on this offense, but without more efficiency with the pass, a full-on commitment to the run may be difficult, putting the team in a major conundrum.
I feel Russell bounces back and plays well, and the running game gets on track this weekend.
When Robert Gallery, the Raiders talented left guard who was playing at a high level this season, broke his fibula in the Chiefs game, it was a harsh blow to an offensive line that had been playing rather well to that point.
The left side of the line had been instrumental in paving the way for effective running against the Chargers, and protecting Russell's backside in both games this season. Gallery and left tackle Mario Henderson have developed an excellent cohesion on the left side and many of the Raiders more effective runs have gone behind Gallery this season.
Replacing him will be Erik Pears. There is pressure on Pears to continue success in place of Gallery, as Gallery is a great player who continually gets to the second level to clearout space for longer runs by the talented backfield of Bush and McFadden, and Fargas (if he ever sees the field again).
Pears is an ex-Bronco, so this game has that much more significance for him. He will be putting a lot of pressure on himself, and the storyline of him replacing a team captain and essential piece of the running game against the team that tossed him aside after an injury (granted, they replaced him with Ryan Clady, who is a wall) will only add to the scrutiny he would already be under.
He better be prepared to bring it, but players usually get amped up for their former teams, especially if they've been cast aside. Pears started 10 of 16 games at Right Tackle for Denver in the his rookie year in 2006, and played well enough to earn the starting job for all 16 games in the 2007 season.
He got Wally Pip'ed by rookie Ryan Clady last year when he was shelved with appendicitis, and Clady played so well that Pears never got back into the rotation.He was picked up in the offseason by the Raiders on the strength of the fact that he played for the Broncos and therefore has experience in the zone-blocking scheme employed by his new team.
His experience with the ZBS and Denver as a whole, coupled with his size at 6'8, 308, as well as positive reports from practice indicate that he is capable of filling in for Gallery. This also allows Chris Morris to stay at center, where he has played quite well this season and is responsible for calling blocking schemes. With the offense under pressure to perform, it's essential Pears plays well to ensure the improvement I expect to see Sunday.
- It's great news to have JLH back returning punts this weekend. You may remember the last time Johnnie played the Brocos: an 89-yard punt return and wonderfully soulful celebration. Wanna see him dance this weekend
- Rich Gannon provided some very astute analysis regarding Russell's inaccuracy issues, and feels that all of them can be corrected, which is good news. Ted Tollner agrees
- Josh McDaniels has respect for JaMarcus Russell even if Broncos fans don't. McDaniels noted in an interview that Russell has the highest yards-per-completion in the league at 16.6, as well as his success against the Broncos last season
- Chaz Schilens will be back, but not until next week at the earliest. Though Schilens said he wants to be out there now, he conceded the medical staff is right in holding him back to ensure no longer-term damage
- I fully expect the Black Hole to wreak havoc on Denver this weekend, and I ask my brethren in the Raider Nation to make it as miserable as possible for the hated Broncos and their new QB Kyle Orton
- Michael Huff will start at free safety in place of an injured Hiram Eugene this Sunday. Huff leads the league with 3 interceptions and has been all around the ball this entire season. More on him below
JaMarcus Russell Lacks Leadership
First off, let me get this out of the way. I think all of us in the Nation have questioned Russell's work ethic and commitment at some time during his career. We would all like him to study film more and practice take more initiative like he did in the summer with his passing camp.
But his leadership, though maybe not found in his preparation just yet as he matures and grows, has shone through on the field thus far this season.
His struggles have been well-documented, but what is not quite so well documented is his impressive ability to bounce back from early struggles to play strongly in the final minutes and put his team in a position to win. He's done it both games this season thus far.
For a young man who held out and missed training camp his rookie season, has had three different play callers and two different coaches, one of whom held him back intentionally and sabatoged his development, and more criticism, drama, and turmoil than many players experience in their whole career, Russell has shown a remarkable ability to shrug it off and go out and play.
His on-field leadership has come far, as proven in the fourth quarter of the San Diego game. After his shin was crushed by a pile of falling bodies, he limped out of the game and appeared done.
Bruce Gradkowski came in and made a couple nice throws, and then Russell returned. He then proceeded to throw a cold-blooded, 47 yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy on 4th and 15 to put the Raiders ahead.
I don't think Russell would've been able to do that last season. He has shown his teammates that although he may struggle, and even struggle mightily at times, when it comes time to lead a big drive in the final minutes they can hop on his broad back and trust him to get the job done. That is huge for locker room morale and usually the last quality a young quarterback develops.
Michael Huff is Done
This one is an absolute pleasure to write. Loved in the locker room, professional on and off the field, and a favourite of the coaching staff for his personality and work ethic, Michael Huff nonetheless was very close to being cut before this season began.
Drafted #7 overall in 2006, Huff was considered a top safety prospect and expected to have an immediate NFL impact. Instead, despite some decent numbers in the tackle department, Huff lacked any big play acumen heading into this season.
He always seemed a step late to the ball, despite having good coverage often. He missed many tackles that led to big gains for the other team, and generally didn't perform well. In fact, he probably would've been benched earlier had he not been drafted so high.
It seemed a real possibility that with Mike Mitchell being drafted in the 2nd round and Tyvon Branch being healthy, Huff could be the odd man out in the safety battle and demoted even further on the depth chart. But Mitchell has struggled with hamstring issues, and hasn't seen enough field action to be trustworthy on many snaps until he gets more comfortable.
That has opened the door for Huff, and he has responded in spades this season. Whereas he was never around the ball before, he has a league-leading 3 INT's, and has recovered a fumble as well. He also had four passes defensed last Sunday against the Chiefs, almost half of the 11 he collected starting or playing heavily in all 16 games last season.
The Huff have seen thus far in 2009 is the Huff we've expected all along, but even better. Nnamdi Asomugha has always been a huge advocate of Huff's, and he's stated that he believes Huff's recent play will be the rule going forward rather than the exception.
Huff is a very hard working player and has committed himself to justifying his draft status by watching extra film with Asomugha and staying after practice to work on catching and route reads. So far, so good, and with him getting the start this Sunday, we'll see if he can continue to create havoc for opposing offenses.