Oakland Raiders Week 1: Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
Hello Raider Nation, and welcome to the first edition of PHK for the 2010 season. Some of you may remember the column from last season, but it is something I will be rolling out each week like I did last year.
The pressures section will talk about those who I feel are under the most pressure for varying reasons going into that week's game.
The hurries section will be quick hit points and random observations about the team in general.
The knockdowns section will be dedicated to highlighting those misconceptions about the Raiders that have been proven to be wrong in the previous game or to that point in the season.
I hope you enjoy and please give any constructive feedback on what you like, what you don't, what you'd like to see, and anything else you may like to say.
Without further ado, I give you the first in a season's worth of Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns - Raider edition.
Pressures: The Entire Offense
That's right. After years of futility on offense have caused both the fans and the defense to come to resent the entire concept, the Raiders made some significant improvements in the offseason and they and the fans have very real and tangible reasons to get excited about the prospects of scoring some points.
This unit as a whole is under pressure to produce based on the expectations built from the improvements made and the very real need for fans and players alike to finally have confidence in the offense. After the bed-and-breakfast season was followed by the JaMarcus Russell error, Raider Nation is salivating for a viable offense.
There are a few under more pressure on this offense than others, and they are spotlighted in the next few slides.
Pressures: Jason Campbell, QB
Campbell is instantly the best quarterback the Raiders have had here since Rich Gannon, and I'm including the occasionally productive but mostly upsetting Kerry Collins. Campbell is a big guy with a big arm, but his tendency to check the ball down and play conservatively has been called into question.
Well, this preseason Campbell threw numerous downfield passes and looked to be a guy who is at his best when aggressive, which his career stats bear out:
32 career losses: 34 attempts per game, 216 yards per game, 6.33 yards per attempt.
20 career wins: 27 attempts per game, 194 yards per game, 7.26 yards per attempt.
As you can see, in losses Campbell may throw for more yards but does so less efficiently, averaging nearly a yard less per attempt yet requiring seven more per game for a measly 20 extra yards.
Yards per attempt has a direct correlation to throwing downfield, and this stat line suggests that when Campbell is more aggressive throwing the ball he's more efficient and his team has a better chance to win. He also doesn't need to throw as much, limiting chances for mistakes.
Campbell is under pressure to produce, but he also has been gifted a bit of a grace period due to the incredible ineptness of Russell at quarterback.
Having said that, Raider Nation loves Bruce Gradkowski, who can produce, so as a result, the pressure on Campbell is a little greater than it could be. If we had no viable backup, Campbell could do no wrong following Russell, but he'll have to play well to keep his job with Gradkowski in the mix.
Fortunately, all signs from preseason, interviews, and Campbell's attitude suggest he's going to come out and bring this offense back to where it needs to be.
His propensity to play safe in Washington can be directly attributed to the fact that he never felt confident that the job was fully his, and Washington certainly never did anything to make him feel comfortable.
Now he is wanted in Oakland, unfettered from turmoil, and ready to rock. He can play without looking over his shoulder every second of each game, and that alone should allow him to flourish.
Pressures: The Offensive Line
A recurring theme in Raider articles this offseason (and many previous) is concern over the offensive line. The line was not good last year, heavily contributing to the injuries and poor play of both Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye.
They also were pushed off the ball in running plays and failed to open any semblance of running room most of the season.
This offseason, the Raiders drafted OT Jared Veldheer from tiny Division II Hillsdale in the third round, and combine superstar Bruce Campbell of Maryland in the fourth round.
Veldheer has played so well and learned so quickly in the offseason that he's replaced the ineffective Samson Satele at center and will start against the Titans on Sunday.
Each lineman has their own unique pressures to worry about this weekend:
"Super" Mario Henderson, LT
Henderson is tasked with protecting Campbell's blindside, something he did mostly well during the preseason.
The one mistake he made was huge and almost knocked Campbell out of the game. Henderson is under pressure to show that he can handle the speed rushers from Tennessee, as they are light on the edge but quick and like to blitz their corners and safeties as well. I think Henderson is up to the task
"Big" Bob Gallery, LG
Gallery's job is simple: Keep doing what you're doing, and for goodness sakes, stay healthy! When Gallery was in the starting lineup last season, the Raiders averaged almost 20 more yards rushing per game than when he was sidelined.
He's under pressure to be himself and avoid injury, period.
Jared Veldheer, C
Drafted as a LT prospect, an injury to Satele and his inability to block bigger, stronger tackles had Cable give Veldheer a try at center. It worked out so well that the youngster is now the starter, having shown not only the skills but the intelligence to play such a demanding position.
The Titans fans are rabid, and it's worth noting that Titans road opponents have committed more false start penalties than any other road opponents in the league. For four straight seasons.
So this crowd has an effect.
Veldheer is under tremendous pressure to ensure the right protection calls are made, that the center-quarterback exchanges are clean and efficient, and to keep the line in check in a very loud and hostile environment.
The kid has shown the skill and acumen to be up to the task, but it is certainly a tall order.
Cooper Carlisle, RG
Carlisle's job is simple: pass protect and don't commit any stupid penalties. With the Titans crowd an obvious factor as outlined above, he worries me. He's getting older and slower, and was never a dominant lineman to begin with. Carlisle is under pressure to show he can actually block someone in the passing game and to keep the yellow laundry in the official's belts.
Langston Walker, RT
Big LW doesn't have a whole lot of pressure on him other than the usual a lineman faces. Keep your assignment and stay disciplined. Walker has actually looked good in both pass protection and the running game, and should only get better as the season wears on.
He's under pressure to provide help to Carlisle, who has shown often this preseason and last season that he needs it frequently.
Pressures: Darren McFadden
The joking caption on the picture aside, if McFadden can stay healthy, he will produce. Of that I am confident.
Many are criticizing McFadden, even saying he's approaching Russell-esque bust status. I suppose, based on his career production and propensity to go down too easily, that's almost fair at this point.
McFadden has been somewhat disappointing thus far as he's rarely shown the burst and acceleration that made him a coveted prospect out of Arkansas. Injuries have played a part, but his own indecisiveness, upright-running style and inability to break tackles have also played as big a role.
With Michael Bush limited or even unable to go on Sunday and "Huggy Bear" Fargas no longer in the mix, McFadden will be fed the rock until he's ready to puke on Sunday.
He's under enormous pressure because the Raider running game is essentially him this weekend, with Rock Cartwright and Michael Bennett sure to get touches but McFadden will be the feature back without question.
He's under pressure as well, because the defense will count on him running and getting first downs to keep them off the field and keep them fresh. Something they haven't had in years and sorely need.
He'll also be expected to produce in the passing game as an outlet receiver for Jason Campbell and may even be split out or put in the slot. He's a talent, but he needs to produce and his window is shrinking.
Big things have been expected from McFadden since he was drafted, and with the exception of a huge game against the Chiefs in the second tilt of his rookie season, those big things have failed to manifest.
Raider Nation is getting impatient with McFadden, and with Bush healing rapidly, he needs to show well here to ensure that he continues to get the ball when Bush is healthy.
Pressures: Hue Jackson, Offensive Coordinator
Last season, Tom Cable tried his hand at head coach, line coach, and offensive coordinator.
It didn't work out very well.
In the offseason, the Raiders hired their first true offensive coordinator since Tom "Iowa B&B" Walsh was coaxed out of the kitchen and back to the sidelines by Art Shell in 2006. His name is Hue Jackson.
Jackson has a track record of developing players into stars, such as receivers Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincinatti, running back Stephen Davis in Washington, and most recently, quarterback Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
So he knows his way around all the positions.
Jackson, however, is under enormous pressure to bring some life and excitement to an offense that has been sorely lacking in both for years. Although we didn't see the full repertoire in the preseason for obvious reasons, there was enough shown to get excited.
The screen game looks to be back. There is some power running going on, not just zone blocking. There are more downfield throws, more intricate routes, more intriguing useage of the various talent on offense.
Jackson, however, needs to establish a healthy mix of run and pass and show that he can effectively coach production out of what is currently a talented offense with potential but little to hang it's hat on in the way of production.
With Campbell, a rejuvenated O-Line, McFadden healthy, and Hue Jackson's proven coaching track record and ability to coax greatness from players, this offense, though under heavy pressure to prove to everyone they have improved, will have no problem doing just that.
Pressures: Rolando McClain
Rolando McClain was drafted with one purpose in mind: give us a big, aggressive presence in the middle to rally the defense and stop the run.
Praised by everyone from Alabama coach Nick Saban to Raiders defensive coordinator John Marshall as one of the smartest players they have ever coached, McClain has the mind to match the body to get the job done.
"Captain" Kirk Morrison is a Raider fan favourite, but his inability to stop the run before eight or ten yards downfield got old and he needed to be replaced for this defense to move forward.
Enter McClain, who comes in with the pressure of being the defensive quarterback as a rookie, of being primarily responsible for Chris Johnson and probably spying Vince Young this weekend, and of replacing a Raider favourite in Morrison who, although slender, led the team in tackles the last three seasons.
McClain was steady but not spectacular in the offseason, but the expectations on his shoulders are enormous. His draft position, intelligence, size, and skill coupled with the Raiders weakness against the run over the last seven years combine to put incredible pressure on the young man to produce, produce consistently, and produce very quickly.
Pressures: Tom Cable, Head Coach
Coach Tom Cable, as I mentioned, tried to wear a number of different hats last season, and that hurt him when it came to managing the game and making smart adjustments.
Now, he's strictly a head coach with a little dabbling on the O-Line, but he is not calling plays and drafting offensive gameplans. That gives him a lot more time to be a head coach and to concentrate on in-game management and adjustments on the fly that every NFL head coach needs to be able to make for success.
Cable has already shown a fantastic ability to relate to his players, have his players buy into his system, foster relationships with his fellow coaches and players alike, and, as a result, he is slowly changing the losing culture into one of confidence.
He is under pressure to show that he can be a good in-game coach and make necessary adjustments. He's under pressure to show he's more than an excellent glorified babysitter; he's under pressure to show that he is as a good of a game coach as he is a player's coach.
I love his confidence and positive attitude, and truly feel that with so many responsibilities off his plate, he'll show us that he can be a great head man.
- Still can't believe Stevie Brown a) didn't make the roster and b) cleared waivers for practice squad. That's a good thing, though, and I expect to see him on the 53-man roster soon.
- Like the pickup of Jay Alford; he played well under Mike Waufle when they were with the Giants
- Would like to pick up another OL after we dropped Pears for Alford, but who else do we release?
- I think Darren McFadden is going to have a huge game and maybe match or surpass Chris Johnson's production this week in total yards from scrimmage. He's a great receiver.
- Like the idea of Stanford Routt still playing in the slot in the Nickel defense; he has the experience and Chris Johnson does not
- Love the depth, size, and strength of the defensive line and expect them to pressure Young and hold Johnson in check, relative to what that means for Chris Johnson
- I didn't include any other defensive players in the pressures section, but obviously Routt and Lamarr Houston all have pressure on them as new starters to produce
- The defensive unit as a whole is under pressure to keep Johnson to reasonable totals, but I just think this unit gives us the least worries and I have the most confidence in them to do their jobs and do just that.
Knockdowns: Raiders Cant Draft
The Raiders have been thoroughly trashed and derided for their draft choices for years now.
While they've whiffed on some (Russell of course comes to mind), they've actually drafted better in the later rounds than they've been given credit for.
This season, the Raiders were roundly praised for their draft, which saw all players taken save Stevie Brown (we all know how much sense that one made) make the 53-man roster. Three of the players drafted in McClain, Lamarr Houston, and Veldheer are starters, with Bruce Campbell maybe there soon.
Jacoby Ford, Jeremy Ware, and when healthy Travis Goethel and Walter McFadden will all see time on the field, and Ware and Goethel will be core special teamers.
Numerous articles have been written regarding the fact that the Raiders actually draft better than they are given credit for (former draft choices Tyler Brayton, Fabian Washington, Philip Buchanon, Kirk Morrison, and, until his release, Jake Grove are all starters in the NFL for different teams) and pick some good players in late rounds (Louis Murphy in the fourth, Mario Henderson and Thomas Howard in the third, the list goes on) so I won't go into that.
What I will say is that when Stevie Brown joins the active roster at some point this season, and it's got to be inevitable, all Raiders draft choices from this season will be on the roster and contributing weekly.
How many other teams can say that?
Knockdowns: The Raiders Need a GM Because Al Davis Has Lost It
Jason Campbell for a fourth round pick.
Kamerion Wimbley for a third; Quentin Groves for a fifth.
All three starting.
Whatever happened this offseason, it appears that Al Davis and the Raiders stopped going for the quick fix and determined that solid football players, and not big names, were the way to go.
They pilfered three starters who have all looked excellent in the offseason for chump change from three different teams.
They had a better draft than 90 percent of the league, and depending on whether these guys reach their potential based on how they look so far, this could be the best overall draft by anyone in a while.
While a bona fide GM would be nice, Al Davis and the Raiders braintrust proved beyond a shadow of a doubt this offseason that there is still some football smarts in the building and yes, they actually know what they're doing.
So the season is upon us. Most weeks the slides won't be as skewed to the pressure side of things, but this team rightfully has big expectations after a stellar offseason and years of losing.
Pressure applies, but I think they can handle it.
In fact, I know they can. This is a different group of players who believe in each other, themselves, and the Raider franchise.
It's high time the Oakland Raiders were relevant again and kicking some NFL ass. Expect it to begin at about 1:08 EST on Sunday in Tennessee, when we hit Chris Johnson so hard our helmets become gold-plated.
The pressure is on; and this squad can more than handle it on the way to pounding the Titans on Sunday.
As I said this will be a weekly column that in the future will have less pressures and probably more knockdowns. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!