Well the first four games of the season are in the books. I can't say I'm very happy about the results thus far as we all thought this team would be in better shape at this point. There has however been some pleasant surprises in the midst of all the turmoil.
With the Giants looming, things don't seem to be getting brighter on the horizon. With McFadden's injury adding to an already stagnant offense, things look bleak indeed. I feel that we'll give the Giants a game on Sunday, and begin to turn things around. This team just needs to regain the attitude it showed on the first Monday of the season.
There have been ups and downs in this early season, some highs, some lows, some surprises, and some major disappointments. Here are my "awards" for the first quarter of a thus far less than pleasing season.
Michael Huff almost got it, until it became known he's been on the roster since 2006.
Just kidding, Mike. Keep up the good work.
Tyvon Branch has put to rest some major worries the Raiders had at the safety position coming into the season. With 29 tackles thus far this season, including a few behind the line of scrimmage and multiple one-on-one stops against shifty backs and receivers, Branch has shown well in run support.
Learning the NFL game takes time, and his coverage skills are beginning to show up. He's only got two passes defensed and no interceptions, but his hard hitting ways and speed to the football ensure steady improvement as both a run stuffer and ball hawk.
He was injured for the majority of the season last year, but showed his toughness in playing with a cast on an injured thumb and making numerous special teams tackles. A valuable gunner on the punt team and a speedy player capable of returning kicks in a pinch, Branch is important to the Raiders in a multitude of areas, and the best new face on the defense this season.
Apologies to Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis, who were both highly considered as well.
Russell to Murphy
Down by four, on fourth down with 15 yards to go, many in the Raider Nation were wondering what the hell coach Tom Cable was thinking when he sent the offense back on the field.
57 yards and a short-lived three point lead later, there were no more questions. JaMarcus Russell took the snap, dropped back from center, and let fly a bomb that nestled softly into Louis Murphy's hands.
Murphy was inexplicably wide-open, having slipped behind the blown coverage of Antonio Cromartie, who had expected safety help over the top. The rookie ran into the end zone, giving the Raiders and their fans hope of ending a Charger stranglehold and a good start to a season for the first time in a long time.
That it wasn't to be didn't diminish the impressiveness of the play. All things considered, with the offensive struggles and Cable's playcalling being scrutinized, it's easily the best play of the season by far.
The Invisible Man - Darren McFadden
Many people expected big things from Darren McFadden when he was drafted No. 4 in 2008. When he exploded in week two of his rookie season for 150+ yards and looked every bit the big-play back he was touted to be, excitement rose in Raider Nation.
Two turf-toes later and that dream was shelved for a season. Coming into this season, however, he was poised to explode. The OL was clicking, Oren O'Neal was back, Michael Bush was ready, and the running game was going to take off.
After snagging 64 yards on four carries in his first preseason game, expectations were at a fever pitch. Bush opened the Charger game with a 19-yard run, and McFadden had some bursts for big gains. It was time.
And then, the second half of the Charger game started, and somebody had kidnapped Darren McFadden. He surfaced briefly to fumble three times a couple weeks ago, and nobody has seen him since. Some guy that looks like him and sounds like him is on the field, but it just can't be him.
Last I heard he was injured, and getting surgery to repair a minor tear in his meniscus. If anyone sees Darren, please wish him well and tell him we need him back soon. There's some impostor wearing No. 20.
What can I say that every single NFL fan in the world, including myself, hasn't already said?
We simply expected more. Did we expect too much? No. But he hasn't delivered. Improvement: Nope. Dedication: Nope. Commitment: Nope. Regression: Yep.
After showing well toward the end of last season, it seemed that Russell was ready to unleash his tantalizing potential on a consistent basis this season. Sadly, that has been as far from the truth as the Raiders are to moving the ball on offense right now.
The whispers of his poor work habits and dedication have grown to roars after CBS Analyst Boomer Esiason went on record criticizing Russell and stating that he's been heavily fined for weight issues as well as blowing off mandatory team meetings.
That is the most disappointing thing of all. We can all forgive a young player as he matures, especially one who has had as much turmoil and strife to deal with as Russell has in his short tenure as an NFL QB.
Much of Russell's stunted development can be blamed on himself though. When drafted, he held out until after the regular season had started, missing all of training camp and hindering his development. He then showed up out of shape and didn't take his job very seriously.
Still, he showed flashes of talent, and the coaching staff began to be encouraged by what he was accomplishing toward the end of last season. Then, this offseason, steady questions about his dedication and work ethic began to become common discussion.
It seems as if those worries are true. Nobody can know how hard Russell is really working behind the scenes, but his performance and seeming regression speak volumes as to what seems to be the truth.
That's disappointing, as this team needs a leader in the worst way. Unfortunately, right now, Russell is their leader, and that's what kind of way he is leading.
Tom Cable Punches Randy Hanson
The story has progressed like a Law & Order episode. Firstly, the police were involved and did their cursory investigation, but didn't lay any charges. Now, it's been passed to the D.A., who are deciding whether to lay charges.
Cable just better hope Hang 'Em High Jack McCoy isn't back on the scene, or he'll be doing 25 to life before he can call another 2nd down run into the back of Chris Morris.
The Raiders' arch-nemesis, the Denver Broncos, had marched down the field and were threatening to score. The Raiders defense, led by their tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly and rookie Mike Mitchell, held strong for a game-changing goalline stand in which they left the Broncos with nothing.
Russell and the offense strutted out, ready to seize the game by the throat. Going for broke on 2nd down, Russell looked deep to the left for Darrius Heyward-Bey. He made a good throw, but the rookie receiver got his feet tangled up with Renaldo Hill and fell down. With DHB having no chance on the ball it nestled softly into Hills hands, and he promptly returned it deep into Raider territory, setting up a TD.
On the Raider's next play from scrimmage, Russell threw a beautiful pass...right to Andre Goodwin of the Broncos. A 48-yard Matt Prater field goal later, and the Broncos were up 10-0 and well on their way to a 23-3 drubbing that wasn't that close.
Yes, it's been a dismal first quarter. It has been one that definitely didn't meet many of our expectations. The running game has stalled. Russell has gone backward. The defense has suffered because of it and are beginning to pack it in, and Cable is in danger of losing this team. The Giants are next, and they're one of the best teams in football. Things couldn't get much worse.
So I say they don't. Yes, we've lost McFadden, but he's been ineffective thus far anyhow. Some positives going forward:
- Chaz Schilens will be back soon, possibly this weekend
- Ditto Robert Gallery
- JaMarcus has to get it soon. He just has to. He can do it, he's shown us
- Heyward-Bey and Murphy will learn how to catch very soon
- The offense will continue to grow together
- Cable will get arrested and the whole team will rally together
- Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis will personally flog Russell if he doesn't smarten up
- The defense will remember the first half of the San Diego game
I can't give up on this team. I won't. I believe they will turn it around soon, and become the explosive, cohesive, well-oiled machine we all envision. Sometime in the third quarter, I think.