Yet again, Raider Nation saw the difference made by the presence of Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback, instead of former number one pick JaMarcus Russell.
With Gradkowski in the first half against the 'Skins, the Raiders more or less outplayed the 'Skins despite the score of 17-10, which inflated after two penalties for 30 yards near the end of the first half that led to a touchdown.
Once JaMarcus Russell entered the game, I had hoped that Russell would surprise everyone with a great performance after his big talk about the Raiders still being his team and that he is still the quarterback of the future, and that he started working harder.
Instead, J-Rock delivered a big lump of coal for Raider Nation, and the official reality that we must wait another year to try just to try again.
After a clunker like this from Russell in which the Skins sacked Russell six times (as opposed to only twice for Gradkowski), the Raiders must decide which quarterback to go forward with, either JaMarcus Russell or Bruce Gradkowski.
Russell's biggest mistake was in blowing off the off-season and coming to camp overweight, and now that Raider Nation and the locker room has seen what Gradkowski can do, I think it is too late for Russell to retake control.
Gradkowski has clearly outplayed Russell. Yet, Russell seems to have more, "potential," but of course, there are plenty of NFL panhandlers with potential (NFL panhandler: my word to mean a player with high expectations and a paycheck to match, yet does not produce).
Potential though is the heart of why some teams struggle and others succeed. To some degree, any NFL player (no matter how bad) must have some level of talent.
The challenge for coaches is in making a decision on who to keep and who to cut, when one seems to have more potential. Sometimes, a slightly more talented player is not the best fit for a team, because he is unconducive with the team vision.
No team can succeed when the locker room is unsure about who their leader is.
The Raiders cannot stay focused with a power struggle at quarterback. The team needs to rally behind one quarterback without question.
That said, I have never been the type who argues that the only way to skin an offense is the quarterback. There is more than one way to play offense and succeed, be it with the wildcat, pocket passing, West coast offense, or what have you.
All that matters is whether it amounts to W's.
It does not matter which position he plays, he just has to assert control over the team, and put his on-field play where his mouth is.
Some of the schoolgirls in the media that dote over quarterbacks will argue that pocket presence equals maturity, which is just rubbish. If it did, how do they explain Jay Cutler?
The point being is that the Raiders have lacked the presence of a true leader, which Gradkowski has been developing into. The Raiders cannot be passive and indecisive with their passer and must put their future on the line with either Gradkowski or Russell.
For that, I am inclined to favor Gradkowski and say that the Raiders should attempt to move Russell by trade or otherwise and sign a veteran in free agency as the backup. It is nice to have two birds in the bush with Gradkowski and Russell, but as the saying goes, an actual bird in the hand is much better than two in the bush.
The problem that the Raiders have had since 2003 has been indecisiveness and an identity crisis.
Gradkowski seems to give the Raiders the new identity that they have needed, evoking comparisons to such greats as Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, and even Dan Marino.
The muckrakers in the Fourth Estate known as the sports media have done all they can since then to eviscerate the confidence of Oakland players, coaches, and staff with any lie and any tabloid that comes across their plate.
Some at ESPN have even admitted that they maliciously report gossip about the Raiders because they have persecution complexes in which they view Al Davis as a victimizer of the media.
That said, I must also say that I hope that the Raiders can succeed in free agency and should consider making offers to players scheduled to be free agents before then, such as defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Kirk Morrison, linebacker Thomas Howard, and safety Tyvon Branch.
As for the approach that the Raiders should take in 2010 free agency, I think it can go either of two ways.
The Raiders must decide whether the defense is a 3-4 or 4-3 team. Richard Seymour has played well in the 4-3, but I suspect that he would be even more productive back at right end in the 3-4.
Moreover, NT Casey Hampton of the Pittsburgh Steelers is scheduled to be a free agent, and all indications have been that the Steelers will likely move forward without him. Knowing Al Davis, he would surely be willing to pay Hampton.
In the draft, the Raiders could potentially have a chance to grab Ndamukong Suh, the defensive tackle from Nebraska, whose weight of 275 pounds will likely dictate conversion to defensive end and would seem to be a great fit in the 3-4.
Meanwhile, second-year defender Trevor Scott has shown us that he can play rush linebacker in the 4-3, and so I would believe that he can do the same in the 3-4.
On the flip side, if the Raiders stick with the 4-3, then I think they need for Seymour to play the three-technique on the inside rather than defensive end. The Raiders would also need a true nose tackle that they could also find in the draft, with the 2010 draft looking loaded with defensive linemen and Terrence Cody of Alabama being a possibility at tackle.
Cody is a very big tackle at 365 pounds and stands at 6-4. He has played for the stout Crimson Tide defense in the tough SEC and for a former NFL coach, Nick Saban. The fact that Cody has played for Saban and succeeded tells me that Cody can succeed even under a taskmaster with a god-complex like Saban.
The Raiders should also seek a veteran ball-hawk for the secondary and possibly resign Stanford Routt or replace him with a rookie. Leigh Bodden would a great "get" if the Patriots decide to let him walk.
As for the offense, the Raiders must, as I said, decide which quarterback is the future and move the other one.
I also believe that the Raiders must hire a full-time offensive coordinator (Joe Lombardi?) to design plays for their nontraditional talent like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Darren McFadden—both of whom could be electric playmakers under a coordinator that can design creative schemes.
McFadden made big plays for the Raiders as a receiver against Washington, but once their defense adjusted, he was negated. Nevertheless, I do believe that with more study, better schemes, and better blocking that the Raiders can see even more of those electric plays from McFadden.
As for Darrius Heyward-Bey, I think he will eventually develop into a go-to receiver, but should not be rushed. Fortunately, the Raiders seem to have a trio ready to go in Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, and Johnnie Lee Higgins.
That brings me to the big question of why has Higgins continued to be the punt returner, while Johnathan Holland has been the kick returner? It would make more sense to put Heyward-Bey as the punt and kick returner and use him on reverses as the Raiders did with Murphy against Washington.
Heyward-Bey just needs to build confidence as a playmaker before he can rise as a go-to receiver. Confidence can be contagious. Making plays, any plays, will build confidence, which will allow Heyward-Bey to have a frustration free mind when he studies film as a receiver.
Right tackle has been the weakest link for the Raiders, and I do believe that the former Trojan would be the best fit for the Raiders.
In the draft, the Raiders must locate interior linemen to develop as depth, so that they do not need to shift the starters at center and left guard when one gets hurt. I would have preferred that the Raiders had committed to Chris Morris at center and used Samson Satele or another player to replace the injured Robert Gallery at left guard. Too many shifts create too much confusion.
To summarize my wish list for the Raiders offseason or before the offseason (in order of importance):
Re-sign pending free agents (Seymour, Morrison, Howard, Branch); sign ball-hawking defensive back
Pick a quarterback and move the other; sign veteran backup (Ex. Jon Kitna)
Hire full-time offensive coordinator; design creative schemes for nontradational talent
Sign RT Winston Justice; Commit to a center
Draft a defensive lineman (Ex. Terrence Cody or Ndamukong Suh)
Draft potential starters at guard as depth or sign free agent (Ex. Daryn Colledge or Justin Hartwig)