But what has been different, it seems, is that the players are starting to care when they lose, rather than brushing it off carelessly because they get paid either way.
Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about my frustration with the three weeks of blowouts, claiming that either the Raiders hire Bill Cowher or Raider fans boycott.
I no longer think that is necessary.
The performances have still been erratic, but that is somewhat excusable as many of their players have less than three seasons' worth of experience.
In previous seasons, the Raiders roster seemed scotch-taped together, while this team in 2009 is filled with draft-picks and free-agency revelations.
Many have called for the firing or suspension of Coach Tom Cable amidst tabloid reports of a mistake he made 20 years ago; but I think Cable has this team on the right track, even if we aren't seeing the Raiders win. There seems to be a new energy in Oakland that would defuse if Al Davis tried to find another coach.
Cable admits that he slapped his then wife 20 years ago, which I don't condone and in fact condemn, but I do believe that it was an isolated act which he regrets. And paid the price for when she divorced him.
Nevertheless, the Pavlovian shills at ESPN saw another story to sell and tried to get Cable suspeneded with incendiary accusations by questionable people.
Another solid draft day, which the Raiders have improved at since firing personnel director Michael Lombardi, and the Raiders could be a wild card contender at worst. As for this season, the Raiders need to focus on making plays, understanding situations, and eliminating mistakes.
We need to see something for them to build on.
I think the best move to be made for the offense is to find a full-time offensive coordinator rather than a different coach. Moreover, the Raiders should consider hiring a General Manager to "assist" Davis in creating a modern vision for this team with many talented players.
My wish would be for Al Davis to hire Mike Holmgren as the General Manager. One connection between the current Raiders and Holmgren is Raiders defensive-coordinator John Marshall.
Holmgren, from what I've heard, is living in the South Bay (Santa Cruz) and is interested in a front office position. His presence would bring immediate respect back to the Raiders and give the team a mind to work with either quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski or JaMarcus Russell.
If Davis is willing to make an offer that Holmgren can't refuse (which I suggested is probably wishful thinking), then the Raiders would have the potential to turnaround before Davis kicks the bucket.
Another year of work and the receivers and quarterback should be ready to make a functional offense.
The Raiders need a better vision of how to use their running backs. I get the sense that they just call a runner and see what works. We have seen Justin Fargas gain yards but struggle in the red zone, where Michael Bush and Darren McFadden can succeed.
McFadden is an "upright runner" who doesn't run well against the line of scrimmage, but I would like to see what he can do in space (meaning, catching the ball with some room to run) or quick tosses from the quarterback in a modified running game the way Charlie Garner used to do for the Raiders.
Michael Bush meanwhile has shown that he is a more physical runner, like Tyrone Wheatley was for the Raiders. Thus, I do think that the Raiders need to rotate Fargas and Bush running inside and use McFadden as a short-yardage receiver, like Reggie Bush in New Orleans.
As for the defense, I think the Raiders have the right personnel for the 3-4 and should target a nose tackle in the off-season to switch from the 4-3. The front seven has been better with Richard Seymour, but they still lack a pure run-stuffer and outside linebacker; which could be resolved with the 3-4 by making Trevor Scott an outside rusher in the 3-4, and acquiring a nose-tackle.
Bottom line, however, is that we Raider Nation must resist the temptation to change horses in mid-stream. The Raiders still have work to do, but I have the sense that the team is truly in rebuilding mode rather than treading water.
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