We all remember the KC game, when Jamarcus Russell was benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. That marked the end of the Russell era in 2009, and many people including coach Tom Cable felt that Russell was the reason the Raiders were not winning games. Now that may be a good point, and a logical one to most readers, but lets look deeper into the season. There were other things that happened late in the season, that had nothing to do with Russell, that made the Raiders more competitive, and their offense resemble an NFL offense.
Robert Gallery played in the first two games of the season. Let's go back to the first two games, and think about how we did when he played. We pushed the Chargers to the limit, and almost came out with a win. Had the game been called a little better by the Ref's the Raiders would have won, and would have followed up with another win at KC. That would have given the Raiders a 2-0 start, with Russell as the QB. Down goes Gallery, and the offense looks horrible. Perhap's its a coincidence, or perhaps it isn't, that the offense looked a lot better when Gallery returned in week 10, the same week that Gradkowski was given the nod over Russell. It's tough not having a suitable line, and its even harder when your top lineman is out for 8 weeks.
In week 10, Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped a pass from Gradkowski late in the game, into the Arms of a KC defender, to end all hopes of the Raiders winning. Week 10 was also the first time Russell's favorite target, Chaz Chilens returned to the line up after missing all season. If you look closely at minutes played, and production on the field, Higgins, who was no where to be found in the first 9 games, was on the field a lot more, as was Schilens after week 10. Having experience at WR, would help any offense out. Once Heyward-Bey was hurt, Higgins started the last 5 games, and recorded 13 Catches for 214 yards. Schilens also came on after week 9, and recorded 26 catches for 365 yards and 2 TD's.
Gradkowski and Frye deserve a lot of credit for making our offense look decent, but they also had the opportunity to play with a fully healthy offense and an offense that didn't include two rookie wideouts playing the majority of the snaps. Their numbers were respectable.
Gradkowski turned in a 54% completion percentage, a 6 TD 3 INT ratio. He took 11 sacks in the four games he started, and 2 half games he played in, and had a QB rating of 80. He managed to throw for 1007 yards.
Charlie Frye turned in a 61% completion percentage, a 1 TD 4 INT ration, he took 5 sacks in three starts, and only finished 1 of the three games he started. He managed to throw for 581 yards.
While they were upgrades and suitable replacements for Russell, there is a reason they are Journeymen and not fulltime starters in the League, and it has nothing to do with their mentality or how they approach the game, Physical Ability is important in the league, but if there is no metal strength, it won't get you anywhere.
Gallery's presence was missed by the Running game, so it was no coincidence that the Teams only two 100 yard rushing performances came after Gallery was back. It was also no coincidence that Michael Bush was the only back to have a 100 yard game. He is a beast, but unfortunatley he was never given a chance to have back to back 100 yard rushing performances, because the "Situation" of the game, never allowed him to get more than 10 carries following a 100 yard rushing performance.
Mcfadden was out after week four, and didn't return until week 10, which was the same week that Gallery, Schilens and Higgins all started playing real minutes.
Had I been the Coach of the Raiders or Gm, Russell would have started all 16 games, if he would have played horrible all 16, we would have released him this year. Now the Raiders are in a situation where they will bring him back, because he didn't start the last 6 games, and they wanted him to "Learn" from real professionals.
Russell will be back next season, and will most likely start the opening game. If the Raiders revamp their O line, and key players stay healthy, Russell will produce better numbers, and more wins. Heyward-Bey, Murphy, Schilens and Higgins will all be more experienced and should be much improved.
His benching was only part of the reason the Raiders played better down the stretch. There were other factors in the improved play of the Raiders, many of that goes to key players who didn't come back until week 10, the week after Russell was benched.