After a bye-week hiatus and the a subsequent very busy week for my family, we're back with the old pressures, hurries, and knockdowns.
There have been some shakeups around our beloved Raiders, the most obvious of which is a switch from the struggling JaMarcus Russell to Bruce Gradkowski at starting quarterback.
With many of the Raider Nation now resigned to another poor season with poor results, there isn't as much pressure on the team as a whole these days. Just playing hard would be an improvement, and it's sad that we're at that point yet again.
We've gone through our five stages of grief:
We were in denial at first, saying as we have for seven years that this team is better than they're playing and will turn it around after the Broncos smoked us at home.
We were angry, yelling at Russell and Cable and wondering why oh why a team with this much talent couldn't score with Lindsay Lohan, and why the defense seemed to have multiple personalities after Houston smoked us on the road.
We were bargaining with ourselves and the team after the Giants debacle, questioning whether JaMarcus Russell even cared, and threatening to boycott games and merchandise if Al Davis didn't make some changes to the infrastructure.
We were afraid, after the Jets game, that this team was a rudderless ship that was folding quickly and had no hope to salvage the season. We were afraid that we'd wasted time and money on a quarterback who wasn't worth it.
Then, we finally accepted the fact that this team is in disarray and there's little hope to salvage a winning season after the Chiefs game. We also accepted, fully, that Russell is not the answer right now and embraced the change to Gradkowski.
We've gone through our five stages, in much more agonizing personal detail than I've outlined above, and constantly since the Jets game. Each and every member of the Raider Nation has gone through this, in their own personal way, every week.
Now, we're just excited to see something new.
Okay, this is obvious. He's stepping in to the most important position on the field against a Bengal defense that's been ferocious in the last three weeks with the entire hopes and dreams of Raider Nation on his shoulders. I'd say that's pressure.
However, JaMarcus Russell set the bar so very low for QB play in Oakland that short of soiling himself in the middle of the field Gradkowski can do little to embarass himself on Sunday. We are in a mode of extremely lowered expectations, therefore the pressure on Gradkowski is not as great as if we were a winning team with designs on a playoff spot.
The fact that only Cleveland has had worse quarterback play than the Raiders (and any back-yard football game played by fat guys in their 40's) means that Gradkowski has a long leash with which to hang himself; but he's shown this season that he's capable of doing so.
The excitement of a fresh face has created some buzz around Oakland, but it's easy to create buzz when the most exciting thing to happen to the team thus far is a renegade pigeon pulling outside contain duty on a kickoff.
It's time now, with Russell on the bench, to turn our attention to another massive offensive disappointment: Mr. Darren McFadden.
Since having a breakout game against the Chiefs early last season, McFadden has done little of consequence other than be injured. The man goes down when hit by a stiff breeze, and he's had some fumble issues.
Granted, the team bafflingly refuses to split him wide or try and get him on the edge with room to maneuver, which isn't his fault, but he has yet to show the explosiveness and ability that made him one of the most dynamic backs in NCAA history.
His time is running out, and with Michael Bush being such a fantastic option and Justin Fargas running hard and blowing people up in blitz coverage, he's fading into the background. The strange thing is, after all the excitement surrounding his arrival, Raider Nation doesn't seem to care all that much. There are those lowered expectations creeping in again.
- Chaz Schilens gets back on the field and catches the first pass thrown his way. Then, he's forgotten about. Guarantee Gradkowski won't forget about him this weekend
- Hall and Joseph are incredibly good, incredibly instinctive, and incredibly fast young corners for the Bengals. That's not a good matchup for our incredibly fast, incredibly non-instinctive, incredibly inept young wide receivers
- However, they have been getting open far more frequently lately. Darrius Heyward-Bey, had he been able to catch a couple of the other balls thrown his way, would've had a great game last weekend. He catches the two that he drops, and you're looking at three catches for roughly 80-90 yards
- Bey admitted he's putting too much pressure on himself and still feels the need to justify his high overall selection. He's not a natural pass catcher so the mental side of catching the ball is going to be as important for him as the physical. He has the tools, but needs the confidence
- Gradkowski is deceptively fast and I expect him to scramble for a couple of nice gains and first downs on Sunday
- Those weighing in on the JaMarcus Russell situation seem to feel that he's an excellent quarterback with a ton of potential that isn't getting any help from his teammates. McNabb, Ocho, Tollner, and Gannon have all expressed that they feel he's got the goods, but needs more help around him
- There is no way this team wants to blow up the QB position and start all over again. This is a wake-up call for Russell, not a death-knell, and he responded positively by staying for extra time in practice and making throws. We'll see if that continues, but he no longer has the sense of comfort or entitlement he played and spoke with, and that's probably the best thing to come out of this whole situation
Cable Will Always Toe the Company Line
I think we all know that his switch to Gradkowski was signed off by Al, but Cable himself initiated the change against the Jets and then pulled the trigger again against KC.
Now that he's gone through so much controversy in the media and the team is playing uninspired, terrible football yet again, Cable probably feels he has little to lose and is rolling the dice in some situations.
Let's see if he brings his new found gumption to getting more creative with his playcalling. I really, really hope so.
JaMarcus Russell Will Have a Breakout Season
This one's been dead for a while now, obviously, but he's lost his starting job so it seemed pertinent to mention this.
I was one who thought this to be the case, and lobbied hard for the kid early in the season. I was the ever-forgiving parent, pulling a Russell and blaming everyone and everything else but the kid.
But about four weeks into the season, after we'd seen him regress back to the womb insofar as quarterbacking, I'd had enough and began calling him out for his apparent apathy and lack of dedication, as we all did. Some got on board much earlier, some later, but we've all now reached the conclusion that he's not the answer this season.
The scary prospect is that he's not the answer at all, period. If that's the case, then we're back to square one at the quarterback position, with no first-round pick in 2011, and that to me spells a couple of more years of futility as we search for our quarterback.
Not a pleasant thought.