Oakland Raiders Have a Great Opportunity to Win Two In a Row

Justin SmithCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2009

DENVER - DECEMBER 20:  Johnnie Lee Higgins #15 of the Oakland Raiders stiff arms Tony Carter #25 of the Denver Broncos in the first half at Invesco Field at Mile High on December 20, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 20-19.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

This team is confusing. Are we a running team? Are we a passing team? Does Tom Cable even know what kind of team he wants?

The Raider Nation has been clamoring all year for more Michael Bush. We got it on Sunday, and it served us well. We were the power-running, hit-you-in-the-mouth defensive team we were supposed to be all season long.

We won. And I will not discount JaMarcus Russell's poise and leadership at the end of the game. The kid came in and, after an unspectacular start, got it done when it counted in the clutch. Good for him. It was nice to see after all the crap heaped on him lately (by myself as much as anyone).

But we won by playing smash-mouth football.

With Charlie Frye dinged up and woozy and Bruce most likely not ready to play this weekend, Russell could very well see the field again.

This should not change our strategy. We need to hand the ball to Michael Bush repeatedly to keep a recently-improved Browns defense off-balance.

Furthermore, we need to counter with Darren McFadden on outside runs and speed plays to keep them off-balance. Bring in Justin Fargas to slam into the defense and wear them down with his non-stop motor.

Just don't regress back into a pass-happy attack. Not with our running game doing so well with our newly rebuilt line (Langston Walker made some great blocks at LG on Sunday) and our defense playing well (when they aren't on the field every three minutes).

Russell looked sharper and more confident Sunday, but that by no means indicates that he's ready to come in on what will most likely be a very, very cold and windy day in Cleveland.

Frye is the likely starter, which, as Cable showed on Sunday, probably means a heavy dose of the run. This is a good thing, as we saw.

I thought Cable called a good game Sunday, his head-scratching fourth down attempt notwithstanding. I didn't hate the call too much. Our defense, Cable rightly reasoned, was playing so well that it would simply cost us field position. Which it did. The points would've been great, but we ultimately didn't need them. I liked the call, even though it didn't work out. If we had lost, I'd probably be singing a different tune (hey, all sports fans are fickle; I'm just willing to admit it).

Now we need to put together back-to-back wins. This team is still searching for an identity, which is one of my biggest beefs with Cable's coaching philosophy (or lack thereof). Decide who you want to be, and play accordingly.

When this team runs the ball and sticks with the run, we play much better as a team. As long as we stick to our game plan, we'll have two or three breakout runs in a game. With Bush and McFadden back there, it's bound to happen.

But Cable has to commit to Bush. The guy has earned his keep through making the very most of his chances when he gets them. It's time for Cable to see what we all see: a dangerous, big, fast back with great vision and a thirst for running hard. If we let Michael Bush leave this team, I will lose my frigging mind.

We have not had a better opportunity than this for back-to-back wins all season. Granted, it's on the road in a cold-weather climate, but Brady Quinn was just placed on IR, which means Derek Anderson (the only QB in the league who qualifies that is statistically worse than Russell) gets the start.

I expect both teams to run the ball a ton. Jerome Harrison just shredded the Chiefs for the third-highest single-game rushing total in NFL history. We have to be disciplined and make sound tackles to ensure Harrison is shut down.

This game will come down to running the ball and playing tough defense. I'd say that should play into the Raiders favor. Now that Cable is done with on-the-job training (see Russell, JaMarcus and Heyward-Bey, Darrius), we may be able to reclaim our early season identity as a tough defensive team that runs the ball well.

But if Cable continues to try and outsmart himself, call trick plays and too many passes, then we'll be in trouble.

This Raider team has shown more heart at the end of the season than most of recent vintage, but it will be all for naught if we cannot post back-to-back wins in the most favorable matchup of our season.

They face-plant against Cleveland, and we'll still be searching for an identity.

They run hard, tackle well, and win the game, then we should know who we are and accept ourselves for who we are.