Oakland Raiders Week 3 : Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns

Justin SmithCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2010

Oakland Raiders Week 3 : Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns

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    Comin to getcha, BEER BOY!!Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders go into week 3 trying to improve their season record against the Arizona Cardinals.

    Well...it's that time again. That's right, I know you've all had your calendars marked since last week and have been waiting for it, so here it is: Oakland Raiders pressures, hurries, and knockdowns, week three edition.

    Unfortunately, as it's been so quiet on the Raiders front this week, there isn't much to write about.......oh wait, there was some quarterback decision made yesterday. That's not important though....

    Anyway, all the moving and shaking in Raider land recently coupled with our first win in this young season has led to a renewed sense of optimism. So let's not delay.

    Let's get to it.

Pressures: Coach Tom Cable

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Don't worry Tom; you're entrenched in this spot until further notice.

    I know you probably thought that your savvy (or desperate to save your job) move to bring in Bruce Gradkowski, and your innovative (and potentially disasterous) idea to rotate Mario Henderson and Jared Veldheer at left tackle during the Rams game may have bought you a week's reprieve from scrutiny.

    In reality all it has done is amplify the pressure that has been on you since the beginning of the season.

    Tom Cable owes Bruce Gradkowski a case of beer. Or a new I-Phone. Or a harem of hookers. Hell, he owes Bruce whatever Bruce damned well wants, quite frankly.

    Because Bruce has saved Tom's job twice now.

    To coach for the Oakland Raiders is to be under permanent pressure. Al Davis is known for many things, but patience is not one of them. Cable bought a repreive last season by finally convincing the boss that JaMarcus Russell was holding the team back and putting Gradkowski in as starter.

    Bruce bought him two employment-saving wins before being poleaxed behind Cable's "strength," our incredibly inept offensive line.

    Well, Cable is back this season, and his "strength," the offensive line, is now what's holding this team back completely.

    In order to once again save his job, he needed to do something drastic. So not only did he yank Jason Campbell as starter a mere six quarters into the season (a drastic and desperate move to be sure, but not a bad one, honestly), he quelled his own Jared Veldheer at center experiment after one game and moved him back to his natural left tackle position.

    Cable is under immense pressure this weekend to show that his desperate yanking of Campbell for Gradkowski was the right move; and Hue Jackson is on the hook for this one as well, as he had a heavy hand in suggesting the move in the first place.

    Cable also needs to show that his continued Jenga-like assembly of the offensive line is going to have positive results. I swear he's like a kid that gets a new Lego set and tries to mash them in with all the old parts and then is confused when they don't seem to go together all that well.

    Not to mention that with Bruce now the starter, there are no excuses for this team to come out flat and unprepared this weekend. If that happens, with Bruce loose in the huddle, it's all on Cable.

    In fact, by inserting Gradkowski into the lineup, Cable has eliminated Campbell as a scapegoat and must now take all the heat himself if things blow up in his face.

Pressures : The Offensive Line

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    Okay, I'll buy a steak for anyone who actually blocks their man this playEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Much like Coach Tom Cable, the offensive line is beginning to look like a fixture in the good 'ol "Pressures" section. Gee, what a coincidence. Cable AND his baby under constant pressure.

    The only part of this team under more pressure than the offensive line is whoever is playing QB that day.

    After a horrifying first half performance partially contributed to Jason Campbell being yanked as starting quarterback, the patchwork line actually blocked quite well in the second half.

    Pass protection aside, Darren McFadden is the second leading rusher in the NFL right now, so we have to give the line at least some credit for the fact that D-Mac has been a yardage eater despite not breaking any big plays to pad his stats. They've been solid in the run game.

    It's pass protection that's been lacking, and that's as big an understatement as Braylon Edwards' beard is ridiculous. It's not been lacking; it's been non-existent.

    As I mentioned in the Cable slide, the ill-begotten Jared Veldheer to center experiment has been put on hiatus. Shortly into the Rams game, Veldheer was pulled in favour of Samson Satele, who actually played alright thereafter.

    Veldheer was then sent to left tackle, his natural position. Made sense; except, he platooned series by series with incumbent Mario Henderson. This actually worked quite well, as although Veldheer had a rough start with a penalty and sack given up, McFadden was able to find running lanes when both players were in the game, and they kept Gradkowski clean in the second half.

    Tackle is not the ideal position to platoon; you'd like a quality starter there consistently. But the Raiders don't have that luxury, so Coach Tom Cable has stated the platoon is going to continue until further notice.

    Yet another inventive but perplexing Cable trial & error experiment that could blow up like so many childhood chemistry sets.

    The line is under continued pressure to get better in pass protection. Yes, Gradkowski stayed clean in the second half of the Rams game, but that was due as much to his quick trigger and maneuverability as it was to effective up-front blocking.

    These guys have to step up, especially in the pass protection game. And they will continue to be under pressure until they prove they can protect a quarterback in this league.

Pressures : Bruce Gradkowski

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    The Bruce gets loose from James Hall last SundayJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    This one's farily obvious. Jason Campbell was brought in to the Raiders to erase the painful images and memories of the wasted JaMarcus Russell era. He was brought in to save this team.

    Campbell is a former first round draft pick who improved his statistics in Washington in each of his four years as a starter despite a lack of talent and coaching continuity around him.

    To thrive in that environment made him the perfect player to step into the dysfunction that has been the Raiders, adjust seamlessly, and play as well as he ever has. Optimism was high in Raider Nation.

    Only something strange happened: he didn't play very well at all in the limited time he was in there. What is worse, he didn't spark the team. The energy level was Russell-esque; and while that can't be pinned solely on Campbell, there was certainly some intagible factor lacking.

    Enter Bruce Gradkowski, the fireball of kinetic energy that just continues to put his head down, keep his mouth shut, and beat out former first round picks for the starting job in Oakland.

    Gradkowski has the perfect mentality and energy level to energize a team that's down or lackluster, but many question whether he can have that kind of effect as a full-time starter week in and out.

    Is he that consistent leader, or is he more of a Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson, someone who can come in in spurts and spark the team but who can't keep that energy level or consistency on a regular basis?

    Well, with Grads we have a body of work to consult. He was an effective starter in Tampa Bay in his rookie season, but had Chucky as his coach, and Gruden is notorious for chewing up and spitting out QBs. Hence, the inexperienced Gradkowski didn't last.

    Last season, he started four games, and won two of them, against quality opponents in Cincinatti and Pittsburgh. So he's shown that he can bring that same verve and fire to the field whether starting or in spot duty.

    He's under pressure this weekend to show that the coaches made the right decision, that the Raider organization and fan base are right to believe in him, and that he gives this team the best chance to win. He also needs to keep inspiring the team and having them play hard each play. Why the coaching staff doesn't do that, I don't know, but someone has to, and Bruce is that guy right now.

    Like it or not, overstatement perhaps, but Jason Campbell was thought of as the saviour of this team; unfortunately for Bruce, anything less from him will be a disappointment. But Bruce "Almighty" definitely welcomes the pressure.

Pressures : Stanford Routt

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    The rarely seen side-roundhouse interception techniqueEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Although he has been struggling this season without his partners in crime, QB Kurt Warner and fellow WR Anquan Boldin, he's still a physical specimen that needs to be accounted for at all times when he's on the football field.

    That means that this Sunday he should get a heavy dose of the Awesome One, Nnamdi Asomugha. Consistently in the debate with Darelle Revis as to who is the best cornerback in the NFL, Asomugha is so good that quarterbacks simply don't throw it to him any longer.

    Due to his isolation and the fact that he sees less action than Meg Griffin, Asomugha Island actually makes more logical sense than Revis Island. But I digress.

    The Raider coaching staff and Nnamdi himself both expressed excitement in the offseason at the prospect of moving Nnamdi from his customary right corner position, where he shuts down his half of the field, to shuffling him around and allowing him to shadow the opponent's No.1 receiver.

    We haven't seen it yet, because neither the Titans nor the Rams have a true, bona-fide, no questions asked No. 1 receiver.

    But Arizona does. It's Fitzgerald, and of that there is no doubt.

    With Asomugha shadowing, and history tells us most likely shutting down, Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona QB, whether it be Derek Anderson or rookie Max Hall, will be looking toward No. 2 receiver Steve Breaston an awful lot on Sunday.

    That means that Stanford Routt has to continue the improvement he's shown since being given the starting cornerback position opposite Asomugha.

    Although burned in the Titans game a couple of times (and he didn't get safety help, so it wasn't his fault) Routt bounced back nicely last weekend to provide the clamps on Laurent Robinson and Danny Amendola, and had a really nice pick which he adjusted to in mid-flight.

    Routt is going to be under enormous pressure to show that he can handle a heavy workload against a good receiver in Breaston, and still come out ahead. He's not used to as much work as he'll get this weekend, and he needs to show he's ready.

Hurries

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

     

    • D-mac is the man. He's now showing us all that not only is he capable of being the featured back, he thrives in the role. He's still yet to break a big one too; but I see it coming soon
    • Speaking of coming soon, Michael Bush practiced in full and may be ready to go for the Arizona game. No official word yet, but he's without limitations. His power would be a great compliment to D-Mac's speed
    • Welcome back, JLH. Loved seeing that return on Sunday; hopefully that's a sign that he's back to his old shakin-bakin-heart breakin ways
    • Oh Stevie Brown, what an oddysey for you thus far kid. First, the Raiders tell him he's made the team after preseason. Then, they cut him. He clears waivers, and is placed on the practice squad. Then, the team promotes him on Saturday to the active roster for the Rams game. He plays, and makes a fantastic special teams tackle. After all the plays he made in the preseason, being on the active roster, and making plays on special teams, the Raiders waive him again. Fortuntately, he's cleared waivers again and will most likely rejoin the practice squad. Sheesh. I bet he loves this organization right now
    • Although many of us agree that Jason Campbell is the physically more talented and impressive of the quarterbacks out of he and Bruce Gradkowski, there is just something about the vibe Bruce brings to the team that cannot be explained, but is just awesome
    • Still, it bothers me that the coaching staff aren't the ones injecting fire and verve into this team. It's actually troubling that it took our backup quarterback coming into the game to inject some life into these guys
    • Along those lines, maybe it's time for them to look in the mirror and question why it is they don't seem to bring passion and focus to every game. Because that's the one factor this team lacks on a regular basis, and it heavily contributes to the struggles of the team
    • Expecting Gradkowski to be the catalyst for that energy on a regular basis is a dangerous proposition, especially considering his size, injury history, and our offensive line

Knockdowns : The Raiders Run Defense Is Awful

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    The biggest gang tackle since Joslyn James' birthday partyEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Now in the past, this statement was unfortunately all too true and all too fair. But this year, thus far, the Raiders are showing very strong improvement in this area.

    After giving up over 200 yards to the Titans in week one, the Raiders are currently 29th in rush defense in the NFL. But that doesn't tell the whole story. The Raiders shut down Steven Jackson last weekend almost completely, and shut down Chris Johnson on all but one carry.

    The rest of their body of work, however, has been phenomenal.

    In fact, the Raiders are one Chris Johnson touchdown run away from being talked about as one of the more improved defenses in the NFL. The pass defense is staying steady and consistent, but the run defense is an area that has shown marked improvement.

    According to Football Outsiders.com, the Raiders rank 11th in run stuffs at the line, and 11th overall in rush defense efficiency. Once again, it's only two weeks into the season, but those two weeks saw the Raiders face Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson, so it's pretty impressive.

    The addition of Rolando "Hulk Hogan" McClain, Kamerion Wimbley, and Quentin Groves to the linebacking corps has certainly payed dividends thus far. They are all big men with speed who tackle well and are rarely out of position, limiting the 10+ yard runs that killed the Raiders in the past.

    After McClain's powerbomb on Sunday, teams will think twice about running near him anytime soon.

    Also, the play of the interior line against the run has been stellar. In the Titans game, Richard Seymour was instrumental in bottling up Johnson early and often, and when he went down with an injury, "Big" John Henderson and Desmond Bryant slipped in seamlessly and stuffed Jackson all day long last weekend.

    If the run defense continues like this, it bodes well for the improvement we all expect from this team and helps out with time of possession, field position, and keeping the offense in rhythm. In short, it's huge.

Knockdowns : The Raiders Can't Win Their Home Opener

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    Raider Nation......greatest fans in the World!!Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

    If you listened to many experts this offseason, there was a sense of optimism from them regarding the Raiders.

    Although some (like Sapp, Mortensen, other Raider Haters) basically took the "same old Raiders until they prove otherwise" stance, others jumped on the bandwagon of good trades, good drafting, and coaching continuity and rode it to predict vast improvement for the team.

    After they laid an egg against Tennessee week one, it was back to "same old Raiders," for most of those same experts. All it took was one poor game for everyone to bail off the Raiders ship like it was the Titanic. And with their recent track record, it was tough to blame people, honestly.

    The sentiment then shifted to the Raiders being bound to lose their home opener to the Rams, because the Raiders can't win at home and certainly not their home opener. Recently history supported this theory.

    I heard this a lot, and I kept thinking "you do know we're playing the RAMS, right?" but that fact didn't seem to matter to most of the prognosticators. Nope it was all "Raiders recent home struggles suggest..." and "Haven't won their home opener since 2004...."

    Well, we won. It was ugly, it was against an inferior opponent, and it was much more difficult than it should have been. But we won. A win is a win, dammit.

    So that ends that little line of thinking.

Knockdowns : Michael Huff Can't Tackle

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    Rashard....wait for me, man!Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    This picture was an all to familiar representation of the Michael Huff tackling technique. Take a poor attack angle, don't get your body in on the guy, and then arm tackle a strong dude that has a head of steam.

    Amazingly, this technique often proved ineffective.

    Perhaps it was the activiation of Stevie Brown; perhaps it was knowing he was responsible for the two big plays in the preseason; perhaps it was a sense of personal pride.

    Whatever happened, Huff came out last weekend and tackled like his life depended on it. And if by life you take it to mean starting job and potential NFL roster spot, perhaps it did. 

    Huff took good angles to the ball, held tackles until the rest of the team could get there, kept good positiioning, and most importantly, didn't overpersue the football. He stayed solid in his fundamentals, and as a result turned in one of his best performances against the run in my memory.

    Huff was widely considered a future star when the Raiders drafted him No. 7 overall in the 2006 draft, but other than effectively blanketing some of the better TE's in the league like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, has been a major disappointment in regards to his on-field performance.

    His coverage skills are above average for a safety, but his tackling skills haven proven to be below average. Hence, Raider Nation was calling for a Nnamdi-like shift from safety to corner for Huff as well. The Raiders have talent and depth in the secondary, so this move was feasible.

    But it's good to have a player with Huff's coverage skills at free safety, and if he can tackle like that on a weekly basis, then the last line of defense just got that much stronger and his role as a safety becomes that much more important. If this is permanent, then safety is the best place for him.

    As an added bonus, those big plays that kill us all the time could be a thing of the past.

Knockdowns : Jason Campbell Is the Answer In Oakland

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    As much as it pains me to write this, as I've been a big fan of his since his Auburn days, Jason Campbell has of yet not proven to be the answer/saviour he was anointed to be in the offseason.

    In fact, he's not even the starting quarterback any longer, after a whopping six quarters of work.

    Entering yet another new offense, Campbell spent the offseason working with his receivers, devouring the playbook, and engendering good will amongst his teammates and the coaching staff.

    His performance in Washington, where he seemed to rise above terrible teams to put up decent numbers, gave Raider Nation a cause for celebration when we pilfered him from the Redskins for a measley fourth rounder in 2011.

    There were many reasons, tangible, concrete reasons, to think that Campbell would be a huge part in the turn around and return to glory of this edition of the Oakland Raiders.

    Perhaps, after JaMarcus Russell, we expected too much too soon.

    From the first snap of the regular season, Campbell looked tentative and unsure. He performed quite well at times in the preseason, with no sense of panic and hurriedness to anything he was doing. But in the regular season, he didn't look comfortable; he didn't look focused.

    He looked scared. And with good reason.

    Our offensive line failed Jason Campbell. Completely and utterly failed him. In that first game, Campbell was under constant pressure from the Titans' front seven and never got into a rhythm. Despite that, he put up good numbers in the game and played as well as could be expected under fire.

    Last week, against St. Louis, a weaker opponent with a weaker front seven, Campbell was expected to turn things around and show us the QB we saw on those two opening drive touchdowns in the preseason. The line was supposed to play better.

    But they didn't; Campbell was once again flustered all first half and could get nothing going. He did move the team, but then they stalled in the red zone. He threw an ill-advised pick into triple coverage and missed an assignment on a critical fourth down play. In short, he wasn't poised or composed as we expected him to be, and he was pulled after an ineffective first half for Bruce Gradkowski. 

    Campbell is a very talented guy, but he needs time to go through his reads and set up in the pocket. This line didn't allow him any of that at any point in those six quarters.

    His struggles can't all be blamed on the offensive line; when he has had time, he's chosen to check the ball down rather than get it upfield to receivers that were open more often than not.

    This was a knock on Campbell coming to the Raiders, but it was assumed that it was because he never had a hold on the job in Washington that he played so conservatively. We now see that's just his way.

    His conservative approach and need for time to throw the ball are the main reasons the more aggressive, quick triggered Gradkowski is now starting and Campbell is holding a clipboard for the first time since his second year in the NFL.

    One positive to take from this; a player that was thought to be the saviour is now the backup. You can't beat that QB depth.

Conclusion

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    Aw Yeeeaaaaaahhhhh!!Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    So the first two weeks are in the books, and we're sitting at 1-1, which is what we could realisitically expect after playing the Titans and the Rams.

    The defense is improved as advertised. They're getting after the ball, covering the pass quite well, and gang-tackling like never before. If John Marshall continues to scheme aggressively, then the sky is the limit for this speedy and talented crew.

    This team as a whole is under pressure this weekend because I think after beating the Rams and having Grads come in and take the starting job, the optimism that pervaded the offseason is returning in spades. After watching Arizona struggle mightily their first two weeks, there is no reason to think that the Raiders can't win this game.

    Although it is Arizona's home opener, there is the added bonus of no time change for the Raiders, making it a less difficult road game than those on the East Coast in terms of travel and such.

    All that was missing from this team was passion and fire; with Grads behind the wheel, those two intagible factors have become palpably tangible, and should carry us forward with the vigor we need to be successful.

     

     

    Well Raider Nation, let me hear it. As always, any and all comments are welcome and encouraged.


    GO RAIDERS!!!!!