Another Missed Opportunity: Raiders' Future Is Bleak Following Loss
It was back to business as usual for the Oakland Raiders.
When this season comes to an end, and Raider fans have a moment to reflect on what will be yet another disturbingly poor season, Week Seven's loss might be viewed as a missed opportunity.
If there ever was a time when the Raiders could have changed their fortunes and reinvigorated a despondent fan base, then this certainly was the time.
Not only were the Raiders coming off of a spirited win over a quality opponent, the team received some good news when it was announced that the Napa District Attorney's office would not be filing criminal charges against head coach Tom Cable for his alleged assault against former assistant Randy Hanson.
In addition, defensive end Richard Seymour was audaciously bold during a radio interview with 1530 Homer in Cincinnati, stating, "You can mark it down. The Raiders will be in the playoffs."
So with a possible win streak looming, a tiresome off-field distraction finally squashed, and a very publicized show of confidence, there was an unusual glimmer of hope in Oakland during the days leading up to Sunday's matchup against the Jets.
But just as quickly as the Raiders built some positive momentum, they lost it all from the get go.
Jonathan Holland's 13-yard return of the game's opening kickoff was taken back ten yards after backup tight end Brandon Myers was flagged for a block in the back.
And then, in what must have felt like a Greek comedy or tragedy to the Raiders' home crowd, the Raiders relinquished possession deep in their own territory.
On the first play from scrimmage at the Raiders' 10-yard line, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace easily managed to get by tackle Khalif Barnes, leaving JaMarcus Russell as an open target.
Comedy? Tragedy? Probably a little bit of both, but whichever genre, the Raiders' opening folly played out with a sack, a fumble, a turnover, and 1-yard touchdown run by Thomas Jones to give the Jets the early lead.
The Jets would go on to score five more times, twice more on Raiders turnovers, en route to a 38-0 victory that featured two 100-yard rushing performances from the Jets' backfield of Jones (121) and backup Shonn Green (144 yards and two touchdowns on only 19 carries).
In stark contrast, against the Eagles in the week prior, the Raiders allowed only 67 total yards rushing and held the Eagles' duo of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy to only 50 and 13 yards, respectively.
So far in the season, the Raiders' winning formula on defense has been predicated on two tried-and-true factors: stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Against the Eagles, the Raiders got to Donovan McNabb six times, forcing a paltry 47.8 percent completion rate on his passes.
Against rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Raiders only managed one sack, and despite only making 15 pass attempts in the game, Sanchez completed nine of them (60 percent), averaging 9.5 yards per completion, and had no turnovers in the game.
And just to further illustrate how inept the Raiders were on defense, the leading tackler for the game was safety Tyvon Branch with seven.
And while the defense's inconsistency is infuriating, the offense's season-long struggles have been downright despicable.
Again, the Raiders had issues simply sustaining an offensive drive.
The longest offensive possession the Raiders held was a meaningless 12-play drive in the game's waning minutes. The Raiders' next two longest drives each resulted in turnovers.
In total, the Raiders only ran 52 offensive plays, 18 less than the Jets and held onto the ball for only 24:03.
In the past few weeks, quarterback JaMarcus Russell's struggles have been a point of discussion for the NFL pundits and the dreaded "bust" label has been thrown around more frequently.
The reports have been somewhat conflicting.
During the offseason, it was reported that Russell had taken some steps in asserting himself as a team leader, best evidenced by his decision to fly his receivers, on his own expense, to his home in Alabama to get some one-on-one time with them.
In the preseason, Russell was not overly impressive, but played nearly error free and he appeared more confident on the field and in the sidelines.
However, since then, all the talk has been about Russell's immaturity, poor work ethic, and lack of preparation and if Raiders fans are left not knowing what to to believe, Russell's performance certainly speaks for itself.
Those who fiercely guard Russell's latent potential are quick to spread the blame, citing the offensive line's woeful pass protection and the receiving corps' inability to consistently run their routes and catch the ball.
However, as true as those factors might be, the numbers tell a different story.
As poor as his protection has been, Russell has not been sacked as many times (18) as the likes of Aaron Rodgers (25) or Ben Roethlisberger (19). Yet Russell's quarterback rating (47.6), completion percentage (46.3), passing yards per game (127.3), and yards per completion (5.6) are the lowest in the league among qualified starters.
The evidence against Russell is staggering and no matter the defense his most vehement supporters might serve up, none of it excuses Russell's incredibly poor play in what is his third year in the NFL.
And in defending Russell so forcefully, it is almost as if his supporters are trying to convince themselves more so than Russell's detractors, that he is a capable starting quarterback that should not bear the brunt of the blame.
And it's true. Russell should not have to take all the blame.
In a situation as perplexing and disheartening as the Raiders' 2-5 season, there is plenty of blame to go around.
With nine games left in the season, the rest of the schedule does not play out so well for the Raiders. It's conceivable that the Raiders might finish the season at 5-11, with wins coming against the lowly Chiefs, Redskins, and Browns.
Still, even a five-win season isn't for certain with this current group of Raiders and if it isn't clear by now, it looks as if Seymour's prediction will be for not.
There will be no miraculous second half turn.
JaMarcus Russell will not suddenly flip the switch and lead his team back into contention.
At this point, what you would like to see as a Raider fan is your team to finish strong. There will be more losses than wins, but the Raiders are at rock bottom right now and if they want to salvage any ounce of dignity they have left, then they will finish strong and play out the season with tenacity and grit.
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