We're all feeling pretty good in Raiderland these days, with a temporary break in the clouds coming through in the form of a hard-fought, comeback victory over the heavily favoured Bengals last weekend.
On short rest, we travel to Dallas for a Thanksgiving day tilt later on this afternoon. Will Tony Romo continue to regress? Will Roy Williams ever realize he's not the best receiver on the team and stop causing Owens-esque issues? Will I ever shut up?
All interesting questions, but who's under pressure? Let's find out.
Okay, this is a nice kind of pressure to be under. After leading the Raiders back from the dead with a last-minute, game-tying drive, Gradkowski has raised his own expectations in Oakland. The offense had a much better rhythm and seemed to gel more with Grad behind center, and players responded very positively to his fire and energy.
He's under pressure simply because he played so well in the clutch last week that we'll be expecting more of the same from him from here on out. But, as I'm sure Grad himself will tell you, that's a nice kind of problem to have. Because it means he actually did something well.
The only reason the best punter in the league (and possibly league history) is under pressure is the expectation, since before the season began, that he'd be denting the giant television screen at Jerry World.
Peter King wrote at length about the dangers of the scoreboard with the likes of Lex and Mike Scifres punting there this season, stating that two of the best punters in the league would pepper the board.
So come on, Shane. The board hasn't been an issue yet, with Atlanta's Mike Koehnen being the only one to come close to it thus far. Lechler is under pressure to live up to his reputation and prove some people right by smashing a punt or two into the board.
Of course, I'm of the mind that if he doesn't get the chance to punt at all, that's even better.
- Good for Desmond Bryant, seeing his most action last week against the Bengals due to a Richard Seymour back issue. The kid was in on a few run stuffs, and recovered a fumble that he himself forced. With Jay Richardson and Matt Shaughnessy also playing well last week, Trevor Scott having his pass rush ability, and Bryant in the middle, we've got a great young core of defensive lineman to build for the future
- Having two consummate professionals like Seymour and Greg Ellis to teach them the ropes is a huge plus as well
- Tommy Kelly has been playing much better against the run lately. In fact, the entire team has been tackling much much better the past two weeks
- Tyvon Branch is quickly becoming my favourite defensive player. The kid was all over the field last week, hitting double-digit tackles, and grabbing a sack that was uber-aggressive and caused Palmer to fumble in scoring position
- Stanford Routt, while still beaten in coverage often, had a good game rushing the passer last week as well. Here's hoping that Marshall continues to dial up the pressure on Romo today
- Pretty quiet on the Cable front since the women-beating allegations first surfaced. He's been asked by the NFL to attend counselling sessions, but that's basically the last I've heard of it. It seems to have faded pretty quietly after a ton of initial hubbub, from myself included
Gradkowski is no better than Russell
This is something that I, and many fellow Nationers, stated after we'd pulled Russell from the Chargers game. Gradkowski had done nothing of consequence in his two appearances, and didn't appear any more capable of moving the ball than Russell.
Well, last week blew that idea out of the water. Sure, his stats weren't eye popping (50% completion, 168 yards) but he had as many TD throws in one game (2) as Russell has all season. Receivers seem to catch his balls more easily, he's much more mobile, and the offense had a distinct rhythm, something that has lacked since the Tampa game to end the season last year.
With Gradkowski behind center teams have to respect the pass a little bit more, and, as we saw last weekend, that opens up the run for our backs, who seem to be hitting their stride somewhat lately.
Darren McFadden can't run tough
Although he does go down far too easily much of the time, the kid was lowering the BOOM! last weekend on the Bengals. Cable was quoted as saying he had some nice "big boy runs," and I concur.
If McFadden can keep up that kind of aggressiveness, then he'll get the ball more often. Really, he's never been used properly in this offense since day 1. It's up to him to continue to battle hard and make the tough runs, but he also needs the chance to bounce it outside and use his speed and elusiveness in space.
He can run tough, as he ran between the tackles frequently at Arkansas. He showed a little bit of that moxie again last weekend, and we can only hope it's a new and improved D-Mac from here on out.