When Winston Churchill wrote, “there is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction,” it’s within reason that he was prophesying about the Oakland Raiders making a trade for Jason Campbell and releasing Jamarcus Russell this summer.
The Jamarcus Russell Era in Oakland, like ancient Greek Tragedies, collapsed in a whirlwind of disenchantment. But like all tragedies, there is a silver lining and a resurrection, which came in the form of wise internal restructuring-- the byproduct of trial and error. This off season, the Raiders more than any other AFC West organization, have taken the proverbial leap towards progression. Gone are the days when a sub-4.3 forty yard dash, alone, is the criteria for drafting a player in the top ten of the NFL Draft. The new look Raiders don a new quarterback in Jason Campbell, a new Offensive Coordinator in Hue Jackson, and a cabal of hungry talented rookies led by middle linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive tackle Lamarr Houston. The two new defensive additions are both experts in the art of stopping the run, which was the greatest defensive deficiency of the Raiders last season.
Away with an offensive leader, Russell, who displayed less discipline, less maturity, and exuded less motivation than a common three-toed sloth. In return, the Raider’s brought in an experienced, disciplined young gun, Jason Campbell, who was groomed by a father who coached high school football, and a guy who works with future Hall of Famer Brett Favre in the off-season. Campbell’s professional career thus far, despite playing for arguably the worst ran NFL franchise over the past decade, reads like the tale of the flower that emerged from beneath the concrete slab. Albeit, Campbell has not made a Pro Bowl or led his former team into the playoffs, he has consistently improved every year, despite the continual decline of the Redskin organization under the tutelage of Dan Snyder and the coaching carousel of Gibbs, Zorn, and now Shanahan.
Against the AFC West last year Campbell threw 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. If he stays true to those numbers, the Raiders’ passing woes are over; this brings up the most vital and most questioned position for the Raiders, the left offensive tackle spot manned by Mario Henderson last year. Henderson, nicknamed Super Mario for some bizarre reason, was arguably the worst pass-protecting starting left tackle in the NFL last year—and the nucleus of the injuries among Raiders quarterbacks last year. If the Raiders have a shot, which I believe they do, of dethroning the San Diego Chargers, it starts with the left tackle solidifying the line, to assure maximum protection for Campbell, and as a battering-ram for Bush and McFadden.
On offense, Jason Campbell proclaimed, "It's not like it's going to be a run team or just a passing team. We're going to do a lot of different things. Our whole game is to keep defenses off balance. It's kind of like we do, what we have to do to test defenses,” which I believe is a master plan for an emerging team that is in the defining phase of progression.
Against the Colts in last year’s Super Bowl, a less than great Saint’s defense capitalized off an effective yet predictable Colt’s offense and prevailed by using deceptive blitz packages. Deception is as vital in battle as modern weaponry and well trained troops. And Hue Jackson seems to be cooking up a stew of razzle and dazzle offense plays, but believe me—the base stock will comprise of a rock-gut, smash mouth running game—led by, Michael Bush. However, i t appears that Michael Bush and Darren McFadden will share the bulk of the carries, but there is one stat that stands out to me: when Bush carried the ball at least 10 times, he averages well over 5 yards a carry. That stat should mandate that Bush gets at least 15 carries a game, but I would be happy to see him get 20-plus carries with McFadden getting around 10.
If Robert Gallery stays healthy the Raiders running game should improve and be among the Top 15 in the league. (21st ranked last year)
Mario Henderson is without a doubt the biggest question mark on this unit. Lat season he led the league in one vital stat: he led the NFL in "Sacks Allowed" with 9.5, which scares most Raiders faithful.
Zach Miller is undoubtedly the Raiders ‘go to target ' in the passing game. And if Campbell is wise, which he is, he will use Miller in the same capacity as he utilized Chris Cooley in Washington, which will translate into the young tight end making his first Pro-bowl appearance in 2010. The health of receivers Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy are of great concern—as I believe they are the only two receivers who have proven that they are capable of being NFL starters. I shouldn't go in depth on DHB because he only caught nine passes last year—as a starter. Frankly, he might prove to be a greater draft bust than Russell.I'm not wishing it, but the guy must step up this year. It’s true that DHB has great work ethics and he is a good guy, but so is the kid who mans my neighborhood paper route, but that’s not good enough in the NFL-- you must produce.
Potential is the possibility to make great action, but “potential without extraordinary action" is a fragment or incomplete sentence, which describes DHB's play last year- incomplete. I like the kid, but he needs to prove that he is worthy of starting.
On a brighter note, Jacoby Ford, the rookie from Clemson, has recently shown glimpses of potential in the early days of training camp and I fully expect him to electrify fans on special teams and screen plays on offense.
On the defensive side of the ball , the Raiders are stacked with Pro-bowl caliber defensive lineman Richard Seymour, newly acquired 2 time Pro-bowl tackle John Henderson, future all-pro linebacker Rolando McClain, and Lamarr “Mean Streak” Houston who combined—should clog the running lanes of opposing running backs and provide a significantly better pass rush, which should produce more turnovers. In the pass defense, Nnamdi “The Island” Asomugha will anchor a defensive backfield along with Chris Johnson, Stanford Routt, Tyvon Branch, and Michael Huff that should produce more interceptions this last year- especially with Nnamdi having an opportunity to move around and cause disruptions.
Analysis of the Raiders Division Foes:
The Denver Broncos
Josh McDaniel’s tenure in Denver has been marked by the departure of Denver’s two brightest offensive stars: Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. With no proven 1000 yard rusher or receiver Denver’s offense is in a rebuilding stage that has the Raider’s defense licking their chops in anticipation to dethrone the Broncos from the number two spot in the AFC West. Before our Game 1 against the Broncos, they will end a 4 game stretch against the Colts, Titans in Tennessee, the Raven, and Jets. They will be battered, confused, broken of spirit, and looking towards next season.
Raider’s Strategy against the Broncos :
On Defense: Stop the run and force Kyle Orton to beat you. Orton has made a career out of managing and mis-managing games, not winning them.
On offense: Run at them- right, left, and up the gut.
The Kansas City Chiefs
As for the Chiefs, their lone hope on offense is a running game that consists of newly acquired running back Thomas Jones and the emerging star Jamal Charles. But their Achilles’ heel is a foundation, their offensive line-- that is shakier than a butterfly in a hurricane. And on defense, the Chiefs weakly defensive line is suspect against the run and garners a pass rush that is as ferocious as the cowardly lion. Conclusion, the Chiefs will remain at the bottom of the AFC West.
Raider’s Strategy against the Chiefs:
On Defense: Stop the run and force Cassell to win a game. Without the Patriot offensive line, Moss, and Welker, he’s an interception factory.
On offense: Simple, just don’t turn the ball over.
The San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers are the Kings of the AFC West until they are dethroned, which most experts have predicted will not happen for at least a couple of years. I, however, predict the fall of the Chargers this year. All great empires collapse from within. Now, before people start ranting, the Chargers are not-- and have never been a great empire or a dynasty, but history has proven time again, that internal dilemma is the fast track to destruction. Marcus McNeil, the centerpiece for the blind-side protection of Phillip Rivers, is upset and willing to holdout long term for a new contract. Pro-bowl wide out Vincent Jackson, in addition, is willing to holdout long term for a new contract. No team in the league can afford to lose two Pro-bowlers. And to expect to carry on effectively without them is a farce.
Even when, or if, the stars return, the wounds have festered into an infection and infections spread. Other players will question management, silently, in regards to their future. Conclusion: if the Raiders fill in the huge gap at left tackle, or if Marion Henderson emerges as a solid left tackle, which I’m not betting on, the Raiders have a chance of dethroning the Chargers this year. In my analysis, I examined the matchups last year, in Game 1, the Charger rallied in the 4th quarter to emerge with a 24-20 win. In week 8, San Diego squeaked by with an 8 point win at home in San Diego. With the improvement on both sides of the ball, the Raiders will fare better than last year and overcome their conference menace.
Raider’s Strategy against the Charger
On Defense: Stop the run. Against the pass, throw multiple blitz packages at River all day, and let Nnamdi roam and cause confusion, which will cause River’s to 2nd guess, which will give the pass-rusher time to wreck havoc.
On offense: A balanced attack is vital. It will keep the Raiders defense fresh, which they’ll need. There’s one way to beat a gunslinger and that’s by keeping him in the holster—keep Rivers off the field in the 4th quarter. Screen passes, quick slants, and dump passes to the running backs on first downs will keep the Raiders out of 3rd and long situations and it will keep the Denver defense honest.