Oakland Raiders: Thanksgiving Thoughts

Justin SmithCorrespondent INovember 27, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 26:  Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey #12 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates a touchdown with Robert Gallery #76 against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on November 26, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We didn't put our best foot forward yesterday during the Thanksgiving game in Dallas, and paid for it on the scoreboard. It wasn't all bad, though, and there were some signs that were encouraging for the future. There were some of the usual frustrations, as well.

Trevor Scott played standing up yesterday at linebacker, and played very, very well. He had two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and was in the backfield quite a bit. He did make a huge mistake, though, one that made it obvious that Mr. Scott has probably never played baseball in his life.

When a ball is in the air, it's always the right-of-way to the guy coming in on the ball, not going back for the ball. Scott, of course, was just trying to make a play on a pass that Chris Johnson deflected, but he should've bailed out and allowed Branch to come on and make the pick. He backs off, Branch most likely has a pick-six and it's a whole new ballgame.

Instead, Scott went for the ball, and I applaud his effort. What I don't applaud is the result: he smashed into Branch, causing the ball to careen to the turf and Branch to shoot him a look that could've melted adamantium.

But you can't complain about the effort or the desire to get the ball. It was just unfortunate. Scott played very well yesterday and continues to be an impressive pass rusher, whether playing LB or end.

It would be ideal to have Howard, Morrison, and Scott as linebackers, but there's one problem with that: none of them are run-stopping specialists, which we desperately need. Morrison would be the best against the run of the trifecta, with Howard excelling in pass coverage and Scott at pass rushing.

Jay Richardson, though not as prominent as he was against the Bengals, still had a solid day yesterday. With Seymour back in the lineup and Tommy Kelly playing, Desmond Bryant didn't get many snaps, but he showed against the Bengals that he's a gamer and capable of making big plays.

Matt Shaugnessy continues to benefit from Greg Ellis' gimpy knee and was solid yet unspectacular yesterday. Since having a breakout game against the Chargers two weeks ago, he's been relatively quiet.

Tyvon Branch is, without a doubt, one of the top-five young safeties in the NFL this season. The kid is phenomenal, and I will keep raving about him as long as he keeps being everywhere on the field. Wish he'd got that pick. Whole new ballgame.

Nice blitz by Mike Mitchell, showing his speed off the edge. A tandem with he and Branch, with Huff rotating in during obvious passing situations, could ultimately be dangerous.

We have a solid young nucleus on defense, but big plays killed us yesterday. Dallas gained 380 yards on 10 plays, and 194 on their other 46, meaning that we stopped them more often than not, but the not went for HUGE chunks of yardage. The Cowboys had the most explosive day (eight plays of plus-25 yards) of any offense since the New Orleans Saints in 2006.

If we could've limited the big plays, we could've easily been in the game. The Raiders had only four less first downs than the Cowboys (18-14) and their time of possession was only three minutes less than the Cowboys (31:14 to 28:46). The Raiders had chances to get back in the game, but couldn't capitalize on opportunities.

The most encouraging thing I saw yesterday was the play of our young wide receivers. There were a couple of miscues, but for the most part those were the best routes ran and most separation I've seen from them all season. A hearty, happy congratulations to Darrius Heyward-Bey for his first career NFL touchdown.

The kids were open yesterday; sometimes Gradkowski found them, sometimes he didn't. Another encouraging sign was the response to a poor first half. We came out, stopped the Cowboys, forced a punt, then marched 88 yards in 12 plays for a TD. The Raiders of recent vintage rarely, if ever, respond to poor play like that.

Gradkowski looked much more comfortable in the second half, and good things happen when he scrambles. He should do it more often.

I wish I knew what Jonnie Lee Higgins was thinking. The guy is so gun-shy he's texting Michael Moore for advice. Ever since Weddle decleated him in game one, he's been hesitant and tentative. If you don't want DHB returning kicks, fine.

What about Louis Murphy? Or McFadden? Put your playmakers in a position to make plays.

Which reminds me: Did Cable learn nothing from the Jets game? Why, oh WHY was Grad dropping back to throw on 1st-and-10 from our own five-yard line? The last time we tried that, it was a disaster. That fact, Cable acknowledged. Then he did it again.

Gradkowski was pressured on first down, almost resulting in a safety, but ultimately an incompletion. What followed was a predictable run that went nowhere, and then another pass on 3rd-and-long. I don't like passing from your own end zone unless you absolutely have to. Neither does Cable, at least according to him after the Jets game. But I guess he forgot what he thinks.

Mr. X wrote a recent article advocating coach Cable because the team seems to care when they lose. Granted, he's changed the culture a tad, but I'd credit Seymour and Ellis with that as much as Cable.

Cable has shown, time and again, that he tries to get too clever and outsmarts himself, makes baffling play-calls at baffling intervals, and doesn't talk to his team nearly enough.

What coach doesn't have his players gathered during a booth review of a pivotal call (the Austin touchdown)? While that review was going on, what was Cable doing? He was standing there, silent, not looking at anyone on his team, chewing gum. That's it.

He wasn't making preparations in case the call went the other way. He wasn't telling his defense how important of a stop this would be. He wasn't doing any coaching. Granted, he was leaving it up to his assistants. But, for a play so important, he could've done something. Anything.

He is the coach. So coach.

You could sense yesterday that it's only a matter of time before Murphy or DHB go deep, get a good pass, and haul it in. They are so close to breaking out I can almost taste it. It was right there yesterday, but continues to remain just out of reach. Now, though, I can see it happening, and sooner than later.

Yes, we have some excellent young players on this team that seem to now be improving every single week. We had a rough go yesterday, but it was really only a handful of plays consisting more of mental mistakes that ended up killing us.

The old poor tackling monster reared its ugly head yesterday, and that allowed the Cowboys to bust many of the big plays for much longer gains than they should've been.

But there is a team with talent here, and one to work with. I wanted Cable fired, and still do. I don't think he's a good coach; but he's learning, like the rest of the team. I know deep down we need continuity, so I will not be upset if we keep Cable. I just think there are better coaches out there, but who knows if they'll come here?

Now we can only hope that JaMarcus Russell works very hard to regain his starting job and he, DHB, Murphy, Chaz, Zach Miller, Bush, and McFadden can gel into what seems to be, potential-wise, one of the best skill-position player sets of any team in the league.

Of course, that potential needs to translate into production to have value. Yesterday, though a tough loss where many mistakes were made, showed me the possibility of making that a reality sooner than later.

And that's something to be thankful for.