Well, what a long, strange season it's been for the Oakland Raiders. From in-house fighting before the season began, to a mega trade before opening night, to JaMarcus Russell's struggles to the rise (and quick sidelining) of Bruce, to the baffling inability to string together two wins in a row, this season has been a roller coaster of emotions that has tested the faith of even the most ardent of Raider Nation's members.
We have one more game left against the playoff-hopeful Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. It's a bit of a catch-22, if we win the game it helps the hated Denver donkeys playoff chances that much more. However, this team will not lie down and go quietly, at least I hope, so we should see a solid effort on the field on Sunday.
It's been an enjoyable season writing all things Raiders, meeting some excellent and informative fellow fans, and having some great debates about our beloved Silver & Black. Although this season didn't turn out as we'd hoped, there are bright spots for the future to look forward to, and another batch of draft picks to add to the mix.
The Raiders really aren't playing for anything this weekend other than pride, so nobody is really under any pressure. But having said that....
The Cable Guy has made things interesting both on and off the field this season. His struggles with violence and allegations stemming from said struggles are well documented, but to his credit he did an excellent job of plugging the distractions and making them more minute than they could've been.
His play calling and logic has been called into question many times and, although he's had his moments, I truly think he's not a very good offensive coordinator. He abandons the run far too quickly and calls inexplicable pass plays on the wrong downs and distance. I'm sure part of it is scheming to fool the other team, but more often than not he fools himself, his players, and the fans.
He's under pressure to keep his job. Nobody knows at this point whether he will or not, and the overall take seems to be split 50-50. It's possible he stays on, it's possible he goes. Al Davis has every reason to fire him, but the team seems to like him and we keep reloading our coaches ever couple of years.
It's my guess that Cable is gone. Why keep him? He hasn't gotten this team ready to play for two weeks in a row all season, and that is a very, very disturbing trend. He's also blindly optimistic and unrealistic. He gave himself a fantastic to above average rating on his play calling, and has basically said that JaMarcus Russell is the reason we have the record we do.
While it's hard to refute the Russell claims, Cable has not taken responsibility for his own shortcomings and that is a big time failure for anyone in leadership. If we filleted Russell for his lack of personal awareness and myopic viewpoint of his performance, why does Cable get a pass? Even from me? I don't know. But not anymore.
Charlie is under pressure to show another team he's an NFL quarterback, because he won't be back here next year. I think it'll be Bruce, J-Rock, and Losman as our QB's next year, and Frye will be let go.
Charlie put up nice stats last week, but his performance was not good. In fact, I'd go so far to say that he was the biggest contributor to our losing that game. Russell, for all his faults, has rarely thrown interceptions as costly as two of Charlie's were this past Sunday.
Charlie is a well-known workaholic gym rat who will make an excellent coach someday, probably someday soon. But can he still call signals in this league? He has one more game to find out.
—I love Trevor Scott and want to see him play more LB next season. He did a great job rushing the passer as a standup LB.
—Tyvon Branch will be one of the top five safeties in the AFC next season, and possibly go to the Pro Bowl. He just needs to improve his coverage skills a little bit first.
—I like what I've seen from Mike Mitchell the last few weeks. He's very quick to the ball, makes sure tackles, and has blazing speed rushing the passer. With some more seasoning and hopefully a full, healthy offseason, I expect big things from him next year.
—I know we're all disappointed with DHB, but I honestly thought he was improving quite a bit until his injury. He was beginning to gain separation and get open, and making the occasional play. If he can get his hands in order, I think he'll be a good player next season.
—The Bush-McFadden tandem has to be used early and often next year. Those guys have shown what they can do when given the chance to be Bash and Dash. I really like McFadden as a receiver.
—Our special teams play, with the exception of our kickers, was anything but special this season. I don't know if we let Fassell go, but this squad didn't have the swagger they did last season. Something has to change, and it can't all be blamed on a hard hit by Eric Weddle in the friggin first game of the season.
—If Russell comes to camp in shape and focused, let's see what he can do. If he comes in fat, lazy, and unfocused, cut him on the spot. He can still be a player in this league, but that's only if he really, really wants to be one.
The Raiders Will Contend This Season
As much as it pains me to write this, as I thought so as well, we didn't contend for anything this year. Too many missed opportunities against beatable opponents saw to that.
Have we seen a more schizo team in recent history? We can beat the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers, Broncos, and give San Diego two tough games, yet we lose to the Chiefs, the Browns, and the Redskins? Come on, man!
That alarming lack of consistency and focus is what I think spells doom for Cable. Off field issues and play calling aside, it's really Cable's inability to get this team believing in itself and playing to win each game that is his biggest negative factor as a coach.
The Raiders did not contend this season, but they did show flashes that they could do so next season. There are promising young players on both sides of the ball, but our old nemeses, discipline, and focus, need to be addressed and preached constantly for this team to succeed.
The Raiders Can't Draft
With the obvious exception of Darrius Heyward-Bey, every player drafted in last season's draft either contributed positively to the team or showed potential that they could be a player.
Mike Mitchell, derided as a huge reach by pundits and experts, has shown burst and tackling ability necessary to be a great safety. He leaves a lot to be desired in coverage, but that will come with experience. If he remains healthy, he will be an excellent safety that other teams will grow to fear.
Matt Shaughnessy has taken lessons given by veteran leaders Greg Ellis and Richard Seymour and applied them quite nicely on the field. He's stout against the run and has shown excellent pass-rushing ability. Shaughnessy looks like a potential starter at DE for years to come.
Louis Murphy is the gem of this draft class. If he had a QB to get him the ball more consistently, I truly believe he could've been one of the top rookie receivers in this class.
His greatest moment came not on a catch, but on a block in which he selflessly led Zach Miller down the field against the Eagles and took on all comers, helping Miller score a touchdown and the Raiders win the game. In each Raider win this season Murphy made at least one play that was instrumental in getting the victory. A great pick.
Slade Norris has done little of consequence, but is still on the roster and could make an impact next season.
Stryker Sulak was a throw-away pick who is no longer on the team.
Brandon Myers showed some flashes as a pass-catching tight end, but excelled in blocking and on special teams as expected. His strip and recovery of the kick return against the Bengals sealed the victory, and it's great to know we've got someone other than Tony Stewart who is skilled to back up the very important Zach Miller.
So the Raiders seem to struggle drafting in the first round recently (Gallery, Gibson, Russell, DHB, even McFadden thus far) but unearth some gems in the later rounds. Mitchell, Shaugnessy, and Murphy are all going to be players, and Brandon Myers has the versatility to be a great blocking and pass catching end.
If we can get it right in the first round this season, I think we have a great young nucleus to build on. But it's IMPERATIVE that the draft this year focus on the offensive line. Absolutely imperative. Or else all else is for naught.
I'll still be writing in the offseason, but obviously there isn't as much going on. I want to thank all my readers for their support and commentary, and for speaking their minds. I love the differences of opinion we in the Nation have, and I love we have a forum to share them.
Cheers to all, Happy New Year, and we'll see you in 2010!