Oakland Raiders Week Eight: Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
We travel to rival San Diego this weekend looking to end a 12-game losing skid against the hated dolts, er, Bolts.
This team needs to find an identity and fast. They need to decide whether they are the team that shows up and physically beats opponents up, or the team that becomes a willing participant in their own destruction.
The pressure is on as always for this team and we have what seems to be a recurring themes here.
Russell has played poorly enough at times this season to warrant a benching, but it never came and looks like it never would.
Until last weekend.
Having turned the ball over twice, leading to two Jet touchdown drives for a combined eight yards, Russell was leading the team on a solid drive and looking as if he may get them back in the game.
Then, he threw another pick; this time in the end zone. Granted, Darrelle Revis is a stellar cornerback who made a spectacular play and Todd Watkins didn't fight for the ball whatsoever, but Russell simply threw the ball up for and hoped.
After that, he was benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. Others will argue with me, but I didn't see that Gradkowski played any better. Did he give the offense some life? Yes, but so did Josh McCown when he replaced Daunte Culpepper.
New life will bring immediate excitement; but Gradkowski turned the ball over as well, and easily could've thrown three to four interceptions if Jets defenders didn't suddenly become Darrius Heyward-Bey (cheap shot, I know).
Russell could've responded to the situation in a mature manner, stating that he knows he needs to get better and that the benching would serve as motivation.
Instead, he deflected blame and threw his teammates under the bus with more poise and precision than any pass he's thrown all season.
When told, Cable pulled him because he was out of sorts. He responded "No, I wasn't."
When asked about the turnovers, he invoked poor pass protection, poor route running, poor hands, and everything but his own poor decisions and passes.
This did not endear him to fans, teammates, or the coaching staff no matter what they say in the media.
He has since come out and taken responsibility for his actions, but that smacks of someone forcing him to come clean rather than him doing it on his own.
Sorry if that sounds cynical, but faith in Russell has yet to reward any one of us.
Hopefully the benching motivated him to work harder, get more serious, and understand he still has a long, long, long way to go before resembling an NFL quarterback on a consistent basis. Most professionals would take benching as a kick in the pants and we all have to hoped that's what's happened to big No. 2.
The pressure is on Russell to not only perform on the field, but to begin to act like he's being paid as the face of a franchise that takes the blame for losses and the credit for wins. If not, he may find himself very soon as the next big bust and I'm not talking in Canton.
Raiders Run D
After getting lit up by a Jets team that unequivocally stated, "we're going to run it down your throat," these guys have to be a little bit embarrassed.
It's one thing to get fooled and have some yardage put on you, it's quite another to know exactly what the other team is going to do and be powerless to stop it.
There are major factors to consider here, not the least of which is that the Raider defense was actually playing very well until Russell turned it over for a third time. It seemed, at that point, that the entire defense gave up, realizing that no matter how well they played the offense was just going to give the ball right back.
It's been a theme this season, the defense plays well to start the game, only to pack it in once the offense has stagnated for long stretches of time. The defense should never pack it in, but they do. It bothers me to no end, because they are one of the fastest and most physical defenses in the league when on their game.
But when they fall behind quickly, or they are on the field twice as much as their opponents, and are continually seeing the offense hand the ball back to the other team on a short field, discipline goes out the window and teams run wild on them.
The pressure is on this weekend to keep their gap responsibilities and run fits, tackle soundly, and hold the Chargers running game in check. We all know that Rivers and the SD passing game are sound and will put up yardage; if the running game is clicking as well we have no chance in this game.
- Still no definitive word on Chaz Schilens or Robert Gallery this weekend, but I don't think it's a coincidence that we've struggled on offense and these guys are both out. If they both return our offense should move much better.
- With the speed and talent in our secondary, having only four interceptions at this point in the season is awful. Michael Huff alone has three of the four. I get that teams don't throw at Nnamdi much, but doesn't it concern anyone else that he's only picked off one pass in the last three seasons?
- This team needs to generate more turnovers in general.
- JaMarcus Russell has taken a lot of heat this week both for his on-field play and his off-field behavior and demeanor. I put my faith in him one last time and state that he will have a bounce-back game this weekend and renew somewhat our faith in him.
- The Raiders really, really want to beat the Chargers, possibly more than anything else. The guys in that locker room that have been here since 2003, since we've lost 12 in a row, are vibrating to kill these guys. I hope that carries over to Sunday.
No More Distractions Means Better Preparation
After the Randy Hanson debacle was mostly settled last week, at least from a criminal charges perspective, everyone thought that Cable would be able to finally concentrate fully on his football team.
Despite his claims that it was never a distraction, it's tough to believe that a pending felony charge was easy to blow off. So Cable got somewhat of a pass for a few questionable coaching decisions earlier in the season.
However, with no outside distractions to preoccupy him, Cable prepared a game plan that somehow handed the Raiders their worst home defeat in franchise history.
Oh, it's not all on Cable, that's for damned sure. He may call the plays, but he doesn't execute (or not) them on the field. That's up to his team.
He has admitted that sticking with a four vertical receiver fly pattern on the first play from scrimmage when the Raiders were backed up to their own 10 was a poor coaching decision. He's taken all the blame for the Raiders' lack of preparation and passion, and has expressed as much confusion and concern as we have regarding their mental state.
But, it's his job to have this team fired up every week and it's getting really frustrating to see them up one week and invisible the next.
With no outside distractions and no jail time looming, Cable has no reasonable excuse for not having this team fully prepared to play every single week.
He had ample time to scheme for a Jets team he knew would run, run, run, and we gave up over 300 yards.
Once again, I know the coaches don't run the plays, the routes, drop passes, etc. But, they are responsible for sound fundamentals and being ready to play and those are two areas we are sorely lacking in on too frequent a basis.
The Raiders Special Teams are Great
The once prayer-inducing Seabass has been on point all season, making all of his field goals and extra points. Shane Lechler continues to be the best punter in the NFL, if not in league history. But, that's where the good news ends.
After taking back three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns last season, the Raiders return game has stagnated. Dynamic punt returner Jonnie Lee Higgins was almost decapitated in game one against the San Diego Chargers after going over the middle for a pass and hasn't been the same since.
The Raiders cut return man Justin Miller, he of the two kickoff TD's last season, to make room for exciting rookie Nick Miller. But, Nick Miller has had a foot injury and hasn't seen the field all season.
After pulling off some fakes, scoring touchdowns, and generally being one of the best special teams in the NFL last season, the Raiders are among the league's worst in return yardage, return yardage allowed, and special team penalties.
Last week, the Jets, after being stuffed by the Raiders defense early in the game, decided to try a little fake punt. Not only did it work, it was downright comical (sad) to watch every single Raider player turn their back to the play and run down field to get into blocking position.
What they didn't know was that punter Steve Weatherford had taken off on a dead run and the Raiders coverage team was so clueless that at one point Weatherford was basically running behind Isaiah Ekejiuba, almost as if the Raider special team stalwart was blocking for him.
It was the low point in what has been an extremely, extremely disappointing season on special teams. This unit needs to get it going because if it weren't for Lechler, our average starting position would be about the 10 yard line while our opponents would be about their 40.
Unfortunately, it's not too far off from that right now.
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