Oakland Raiders Week 2 : Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
Hello again, Raider Nation, and welcome to the Week 2 edition of Oakland Raiders PHK.
I was hoping to have fewer pressures, more knockdowns, and generally a more positive vibe to work from this week, but unfortunately our beloved Raiders didn't give us much to smile about last Sunday.
As a result, many folks are under pressure again this week, only that pressure has been amplified due to an extremely disappointing opening game.
Without further ado, I give you Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns, Week 2.
Pressures: Tom Cable
Coach Cable. A likeable guy. A confident guy. A positive guy. An offensive line genius.
Wait a second here.....likeable, yes. Confident, yes. Positive, yes. O-line genius? Hell no!
Since Jon Gruden left, the Raiders' head coaching position has gone through more changes than Chastity Bono. We've seen Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, and now Tom Cable in just the last seven seasons.
It's a precarious perch, one which Cable seemed to have two feet firmly on during the offseason when he was retained and seemingly allowed to help out with personnel.
But this team's biggest weakness has been the offensive line, a faction of the team which Cable made his NFL bones coaching. Cable has proved to be a mad scientist when it comes to the offensive line, but by cobbling together mismatched parts and bringing the best out in them. And not by performing crazy experiments that succeed greatly like, say, Mike Martz does on offense.
Nope, he's a mad scientist in the sense that he's bat guano crazy with some of the things he does. I've been discussing this with some members of Raider Nation, and we've concluded that Cable's ego is the biggest factor in O-line difficulties.
A few years ago, Robert Gallery was a huge bust at the left tackle position. Coach Cable came in, switched him to guard, and got stellar play from the much-maligned lineman.
Ever since, he's been trying to do the same with other players, with far different results. His ego makes pet projects out of lineman with little talent, like Kwame Harris or Samson Satele.
Because Cable's reputation goes with these guys, he keeps them in the lineup far longer than their play warrants, simply because he does not want to admit he screwed up. Hence, the experiment with Jared Veldheer at center.
After the offensive line couldn't protect Jason Campbell last week, Cable chose instead to focus on the fact that they opened some running lanes. He simply will not cop to the fact that an area that should be a strength, given his background, is the biggest weakness on the team.
Cable also talks a good game about an attitude shift and a shift in player focus, but it never seems to come to fruition. This team doesn't win back-to-back games under Cable and often saves its worst performances for lesser teams they should beat.
That has me nervous for this Sunday.
Cable is under pressure to have this team ready to play, and at some point he has to stop being such a control freak regarding the offensive line, because his way is not working.
He talks a good game, but rarely does it manifest in actual on field performance. Raider Nation has given Cable a long rope due to the desperate need for coaching continuity and his affable nature, but if this team is flat in their home opener against a beatable opponent, many will be calling for Cable's head.
With good reason.
Pressures: Offensive Line
This obviously goes without saying. Even if you didn't watch the game, one peek at the Oakland Raiders B/R page over the last week says it all. The line stunk last weekend, and that's being kind.
Although Coach Cable would have you believe they weren't that bad, that's simply his pride talking. (See the previous slide.) The guy just will not give in, and as a result this line and the rest of the team is suffering, especially Jason Campbell's body.
Jared Veldheer showed last week that he's a great blocker, especially for such a young kid, but that center is not his bag. Granted, his first game snapping the ball since high school was in one of the most hostile road environments in the NFL against one of the quickest defensive lines in the league.
Wow, talk about setting a kid up to succeed, huh?
In a tough situation, Veldheer showed that he can pass-protect well on the interior and that he's capable of doing so in the running game, though he still has some work to do. But he also showed an inability to call proper protection schemes, to snap the ball cleanly, and to adjust the snap count when the D-line is getting off the ball extremely quickly.
Which is no surprise, since he's never really played the position.
His size and strength are much better suited for tackle, but his short arms (as fellow writer Carl Cockerham astutely pointed out) make him much better suited for guard, which would address one of the most glaring needs on the line.
Cooper Carlisle was manhandled last week and simply doesn't have anything left in the tank. But since Cable won't admit his mistake, get rid of Satele, and bring in a legitimate center so that Veldheer can shift to guard, we have another tackle prospect, Bruce Campbell, being groomed for guard. Because we were desperate for help at the position, we drafted two talented tackles—who are now playing center and guard.
Makes complete sense.
Once again, my theory is that Cable's conceit—that he can touch the line and turn it into gold—is dragging this line down, down, down.
This weekend we're missing Robert Gallery, who is now considered our best lineman. Fortunately the Rams' front seven isn't nearly as quick or good as the Titans' front seven. Unfortunately, Gallery's replacement is Erik Pears, who was recently released for showing he can't cut it as an NFL lineman.
No Justin Hartwig, no Kevin Mawae. No "Hotel" Adams.
Nope, Erik Pears.
This entire unit is under pressure to show that they can actually block somebody in this league, that they are NFL players. There isn't much more to say: that was one of the worst collective performances I've ever seen last week, Cable's dismissals notwithstanding.
They are also under pressure to handle their assignments cleanly, so that Zach Miller can get back to doing what he does best: catching some passes. He wasn't drafted to block, folks.
Pressures: The Wideouts
The offensive line woes certainly contributed to the lack of production from the wideout position against the Titans. With Jason Campbell having no time to set and throw the ball, the receivers also had no time to complete their routes, spelling disaster for the downfield passing attack.
The Raiders chose to stand pat with their young receivers instead of going after a veteran presence like Laveranues Coles or Terrell Owens when they were available. They tried to get T.J. Houshmandzadeh, to no avail. So, moving forward with the youngsters:
Louis Murphy has to catch the ball better. He's capable of big plays, but has yet to show he can be reliable on the routine ones. It's imperative that he run good routes, keep his eyes on the ball, and concentrate for the entire game against St. Louis.
Johnnie Lee Higgins is still finding his way back after being forgotten about last season; he's a good slot receiver that can break a big play, but he too is unreliable in the passing game.
Darrius Heyward-Bey had improved so much in the offseason that the team felt the need to issue a press release as an "I told you so" to DHB's critics.
Well, those critics are crowing right now because DHB was mostly invisible last week. I don't care if he "graded out well," as he was apt to say last season, or if he cleared out the safeties to allow for underneath routes.
He needs to produce.
The pressure is on the wideouts to produce something—anything—in the passing game. Now, they can be forgiven a touch for last Sunday due to the fact that the pass rush constantly disrupted their timing and Campbell rarely looked downfield even when he did have protection.
The pressure is still on these kids though, because the team needs the passing game to improve, and that's on all the pieces. If pressure is on the O-line and Campbell, then it has to be on the wideouts as well.
Without Chaz Schilens in the mix to eat up yardage and provide a second safety valve after Zach Miller, the wideouts have to have better game understanding. If Campbell is under pressure, run back to the ball.
If he's scrambling, find a seam and sit down so he can find you. Adjust your game accordingly; if protection breaks down, don't stand there in your normal break and expect the ball. Give your quarterback a target to throw to before he gets killed.
These guys are young, and these nuances of the position, what to do when the play breaks down, seem to escape them. They'll need to learn quickly if this lack of protection continues.
Pressures: Raider Defense
I call the defense as a whole because they got burned for big plays by both the run and the pass.
While the defense showed solid effort for the majority of the game, breakdowns in coverage and run fits and tackling once again caused the Raiders to be burned for a 74-yard touchdown run by Chris Johnson and a 56-yard TD pass from Vince Young to Nate Washington.
Tennessee is a tough team to defend.
Young is almost better with his legs than his arm; having CJ in the backfield allows the Titans to use the option to confuse defenses and get them out of position. Young ran the option on the first play from scrimmage, gained over 20 yards, and the defense was served notice: Be on your toes for the rest of the game because you never know what to expect.
They bottled up Johnson well on his other 26 carries, allowing an average of about 2.4 yards. But the 74-yarder was a killer; all the wind seemed to go out of the Raiders after that run.
Tyvon Branch, a solid strong safety who was one of the Raiders' better defenders last season, was victimized on both big plays, as well as a Bo Scaife TD late in the game. Branch did not have a good game, and he was so distraught that he Tweeted an apology to Raider fans.
Richard Seymour was a beast inside, seemingly swallowing up Johnson every time he tried to run. But Seymour went out with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, and the Raiders defense just isn't the same without him on the field.
After a strong showing in the preseason, the Raider pass rush was nonexistent, save for a strip-sack by Kamerion Wimbley. This is due in large part to Young's elusiveness, the number of bootlegs run by the Titans, the Titans excellent O-line, and the fact that they didn't have to throw often to win this game.
This team is under pressure this week to generate a pass rush against a young, inexperienced Rams line, but most importantly, to stay focused for the entire 60 minutes. They were given little help by the offense last week, forcing them to stay on the field the majority of the game (again), but this is something they should be used to by now.
The defense is also under pressure to make a big play for once, maybe take one to the house. It's been far, far too long since the defense turned the tide of the game with a big hit or big play. With Nnamdi shadowing Clayton, and Bradford too young and inexperienced to know better than to challenge him, we may see it.
- Consider me a part of the camp that wants Huff moved to corner and Mike Mitchell to start. Also, activate Stevie Brown and see what he can do.
- Moving Huff to corner improves coverage over Routt and Johnson, and replacing him on the back end with Mitchell or even Eugene improves tackling immediately. This would help two positions and makes a lot of sense
- We cut Yamon Figurs to bring back Erik Pears; well, that Figurs.
- Michael Bush, if he does play this weekend, will be limited, but just having his big body to bruise the front seven should help soften the defense for some bigger plays
- The Raiders need to get pressure on Sam Bradford; even though the kid showed last week he's tough and will hang in there under pressure, he's a rookie, he's injury prone, and he'll make mistakes.
- The Raiders defense is better suited to bottle up players like Steven Jackson, who doesn't have the shiftiness of Chris Johnson. The interior lineman are good tacklers and showed against Tennessee they can stuff the line of scrimmage.
- Jackson doesn't have the big-play ability of Johnson, but he's just as dangerous in the passing game and could wear the defense down hammering for four- and five-yard gains.
- The screen game, such a weapon in the preseason, was shut down early by the Titans and the Raiders never went back to it. This team needs to go back to their strengths, even if they are stopped the first time or two.
Knockdowns: Darren McFadden Is a Bust/Can't Be an Every-Down Back
Last week I predicted Darren McFadden would outgain Chris Johnson from scrimmage. I was wrong. They tied, each finishing with 150 yards. But Johnson gets all the praise since his team won the game.
Receiving the most significant amount of carries since his rookie season, Darren McFadden ran tough, ran hard, ran low, and ran well in the Tennessee game. He effectively shattered the notion that he cannot be an every-down back, as he was the only running back the Raiders used all day (with a few minor exceptions).
McFadden carried the ball 18 times for 95 yards, which is a nice average of 5.3 yards per carry . Not bad for a guy who is criticized often for running high and being unable to break tackles. He showed great improvement in both of those areas on Sunday.
McFadden also showed his value in the passing game, catching six passes for 55 yards and being Jason Campbell's much needed bail-out option while Campbell was running for his life.
Despite poor push from the offensive line, little fullback help, and no passing game to speak of, McFadden was still able to average 6.5 yards per touch and was basically the Raiders entire offense.
In fact, despite the result of the game, it's clear that statistically Darren McFadden did in fact outperform Chris Johnson. Yet, he's gotten little to no love from anyone outside of Raiderland. Check the stats:
CJ - 27 carries, 142 yds, 1 TD, 5.3 ypc; 4 rec, 8 yds, 2.0 ypc; 31 touches, 150 yds, 4.8 ypt
D-Mac - 18 carries, 95 yds, 5.3 ypc; 6 rec, 55 yds, 9.2 ypc, 1 TD; 23 touches, 150 yds, 6.5 ypt
They both scored touchdowns; but Johnson's yardage was gained in spectacular fashion with that 74-yard burst, while McFadden's was more a consistent effort. Still, to statistically outplay the "best" running back in the league against an excellent Tennessee defense with little help from the line or passing game is extremely impressive.
One performance does not a career make, but McFadden showed in this game that, when fully healthy, he can be as dynamic and effective as any back in the league.
Knockdowns: This Team Was Ready for Prime Time
All the offseason moves caused such heightened optimism that I think many folks surrounding the Raiders, myself included, had unrealistic expectations going into Tennessee.
Now, the team has enough talent to compete with anyone, but as I was thinking about things yesterday, long enough removed from the emotion of the game to think objectively, I wondered to myself:
If there were another team who wasn't very good last season but made some savvy off-field moves, yet opened on the road in Tennessee and started a rookie center who hadn't snapped the ball since high school to a new quarterback with a young, unproven wide receiving corps, would I really think they could win?
My answer was no. It was my emotional investment in the Raiders, coupled with the excellent offseason moves and the seeming attitude shift, that had me believing they could win. But when I analyzed the cold, hard facts, it seemed very improbable.
Still, that emotional investment can carry you far, and it carried us all to have very high and possibly unrealistic first game expectations.
I'm not saying the Raiders aren't capable of beating the Titans; I'm saying that thinking they would under these circumstances was perhaps a little unrealistic. The players themselves have acknowledged that they perhaps bought into their own hype a little too much, which caused them to fall flat on Sunday.
Well, we all thought this team was ready for Opening Day, but from the very first snap of the game, it was abundantly clear that Cable and his staff once again failed to get this team up and ready to play an important game. Despite Cable's multiple assurances that this team was different, that they were fired up and ready, we saw the same type of effort that's been all too common lately.
The Raiders weren't ready for this game in any phase, and it showed all over the field.
The defense played well most of the time, but there was a distinct lack of passion and intensity from everyone, which is a disturbing trend that more than anything holds this team back from reaching their potential.
The Raiders better be ready this weekend, because the Rams are improved, young, fearless, and have nothing to lose by playing loose and aggressive. The Raiders need to match that attitude if they want to be ready to play with the big boys later on in the season.
Knockdowns: The Return Game Is Ready to Roll
After the praise heaped upon him by special teams coach John Fassel and head coach Tom Cable, you would think Yamon Figurs was Josh Cribbs: an elite return man who's a threat to go to the house any time.
After fumbling the opening kickoff, showing no get-off or vision on any returns, and contributing one lousy catch on Sunday, Yamon Figurs is now Shaun Bodiford: looking for work.
I was never sold on Figurs, as anyone who read my recent articles would know, and wanted to see Jacoby Ford return kicks. It's my impression that was a big reason why we drafted him.
Also, young and dynamic Nick Miller was kept around on the 53-man roster last season despite a broken shin, so it was safe to assume the team saw something in him that they liked. Miller made the roster again this year and is healthy.
So now that Figurs is gone, JLH and Ford will return punts and kicks, but the Raiders haven't decided who will do what yet. To which I say, what?
The idea to cut Figurs was probably debated for longer than five minutes by the coaches and administrative staff. So how the hell do you not have a contingency set and ready to go when you pull the trigger and cut the guy?
I'm sure this is another example of Cable trying (and failing) to be sly in the media, but seriously, it just makes us look that much more dysfunctional.
On the plus side, the kick coverage teams played a good game, alleviating a major concern. Of course, we'll get a better gauge of that when we play the Kansas City Chiefs, whose return game with Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas scares the bejeesus out of me.
As I stated in the introduction, I was hoping for an improved ratio of pressures to knockdowns this week, but not many positives could be gleaned from that performance.
One positive is that it was the first game of the season. The team started a new quarterback under a rookie center with a new offensive coordinator, lacked two key offensive pieces, and played in one of the harshest environments in the NFL.
This week, we return home to friendly confines, where our team has seen us at our worst already, so it can only get better. We're playing a young team with a rookie quarterback and inexperienced offensive line, a team that has been worse than we have for years now.
This is a winnable game: it has to be won (and won well) for the good vibes and confidence to fully return to Raider Nation.
Hopes were very high starting the season, perhaps too high. Our confidence was rattled after the Tennessee game. A good performance is essential to regain the trust of those of us who believe this team is much improved; we'd just like to see it on the field.
Thanks for reading the second of what will be a weekly feature here. I know I've missed some, so please let me know what you think.
I know I'll be hearing about Campbell not being in the pressure section. If you read my last couple of articles, I've hammered the guy enough for one week. We all know what he needs to do, and I like him, so I'm just hoping to see a better Jason this weekend. Hoping he gets more of a chance to show it.
BUT DON'T SLIDE SHORT OF THE FIRST DOWN AGAIN, DUDE!!!
Like I always say, any and all comments are welcome and encouraged. The light is still at the end of the tunnel and we will right this ship, folks.