Hey Zach....I'm going this way man!
Hello again Raider Nation! I hope you all are feeling well this fine day.
The first quarter of the 2010 season is over, and the Raiders, despite showing improvement on offense and sporadically on run defense, find themselves with the same 1-3 record they had at this time in 2009.
Apparently Coach Cable's assessment that the Raiders were "one competent quarterback away from being a playoff team" was a little simplistic, as we no longer have JaMarcus Russell, yet we are still struggling to win games.
But one cannot deny that this offense is more impressive and effective than in years past. Although I know we'd all be feeling better if our improved offensive numbers had translated into more victories, there is no denying that this team looks better while losing.
That, however, means jack squat to Raider Nation, Raider players, or the rest of the NFL. It's wins that matter, and by that measure, the Raiders are no further ahead this season than last.
Solace can be taken in that we deserved the Cardinals game; but reality must be faced in that we lost it.
Seabass missed that field goal; it's reality, and we're 1-3 instead of 2-2.
Here are some awards, surprises, and disappointments from the first quarter of the Oakland Raiders' 2010 season.
McFadden races through the open field against Arizona
This is a no-brainer. Darren McFadden, in both the rushing and receiving game, has been the Raiders most consistent and dynamic offensive threat from the opening snap this season.
Heavily criticized for his inability to break tackles and hold on to the football, McFadden came into this season noticeably bigger and stronger, and has run with an aggression not seen in his first two NFL seasons.
As a result, he ends plays going through defenders and falling forward rather than being pushed back and bullied. He is also holding on to the ball tightly.
The biggest knock on McFadden in his early NFL career has been his lack of durability. His propensity for injury reared it's ugly head in the fourth quarter against Houston this past Sunday as, while accelerating into an outside run, McFadden pulled up lame and grabbed his right hamstring.
After being severly limited his rookie season with turf toe, and then last year with a knee injury, McFadden was enjoying a stretch of healthy play he hadn't enjoyed thus far in the NFL. At this time it's not known how severe the injury to his hamstring is, but it is not the one he tweaked in training camp.
It would be a shame if McFadden were to miss much time, because he's on pace for his first 1,000 yard rushing season, and with his receiving skills is set to surpass 1,500 total yards and show everyone just how dynamic of a player he is.
He's shown us, week in and week out, and that's why he's by far and away the Raiders offensive MVP for the first quarter.
Honourable Mention : Zach Miller
Seymour celebrates one of many good plays
As I was trying to come up with someone, nobody stood out. I couldn't think of any one defensive player who stood out thus far this season, for positive reasons anyhow.
Richard Seymour, when he's on the field, is a disruptive force. He's had multiple tackles for loss, has freed up the ends to rush the passer, and improves the Raiders defense all around when he's in there.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been on the field as much as we'd like due to a (surprise!) hamstring injury.
I don't know what the Raider trainers are doing, but they should probably go back to school and take the "Hamstring 101" part of Kiniesiology. You know, stretching and hyrdration and stuff.
Whenever Seymour has been on the field, though, he's been tough. Opponents have been running the ball at will, but not much inside. Seymour has shut down the interior of the line. Note that most of the Raiders' opponents big runs have been off tackle or to the outside, and often occur when Seymour is not on the field.
If the pieces around him were playing more complimentary football, it would be obvious just how big of an impact Seymour was making. Sometimes it's lost in the shuffle, but I shudder to think where this defense would be without him.
Hounourable mention : Planet Asomugha
Long snappers don't get much credit but are very important
It was tempting to give this to Shane Lechler, again, as usual, due to the fact that not only is he booting punts into the stratosphere again this season, he is doing it more efficiently with a better in the 20 percentage and hang time to allow coverage to converge.
That's where Condo comes in. Not only is he as steady as you can get at the long snapper position, never, and I do mean never making a bad snap, but he is a demon on kick coverage, more often than not the first man down the field to make the tackle after snapping the ball.
Condo is the epitome of a grinding, hard working guy that does his job despite it being unglamorous and unrewarding, and just does it as well as possible. He's on his way to another Pro Bowl season if he keeps up the good work.
Honourable mention : Shane Lechler
Gradkowski looks for room against the Texans
There have been some surprises thus far this season. Some have been good, some not so good, but certainly things we didn't expect. Such as:
- Nick Miller hasn't seen the field. After holding him on the roster last season, and having injuries throughout the wideout corps, it's amazing to me we haven't even SEEN him at all. If I didn't see him in preseason, I'd swear Coach Cable made him up entirely
- Stevie Brown is on the team. That's not a surprise in and of itself, because he certainly should be. What's surprising is that we cut him. Twice. What's more surprising is that he cleared waivers both times
- Jason Campbell is the man. What's surprising is that he was given such little time to show whether he could be or not. Yanked unceremoniously after a mere six quarters of work, Campbell didn't get the chance to show what he could do; and now, he's working and waiting. It just goes to show the level of desperation for the Oakland coaching staff
- The best draft class in years is making little to no impact at all. Lamarr Houston and Rolando McClain were drafted to improve the run defense; the Raiders are 31st in the NFL against the run. Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldheer were drafted to shore up the offensive line; the Raiders still can't block anyone. Jacoby Ford was drafted to add some dynamics to the return game. That one, I believe, is simply a matter of time and will come to fruition. This is still a great draft class, but the immediate impact hasn't been what was expected
Derrick Ward guys? Really? Derrick WARD?
It used to be a matter of pride when the Raiders would lead the league in penalties. Renegades, tough guys, hard men were they all, but they were also talented and good enough to overcome those penalties.
And so, it was a badge of honour.
Today? A badge of shame that contributes to the mediocrity of the team year in and out.
The Raiders played a very clean and disciplined game against Houston last Sunday, committing only two penalties and none in the first half. But until that game, they were once again the most penalized team in the game, and many of those penalties came on first down on offense and third down on defense, the worst possible time to get penalties in either situation.
Where the lack of discipline has been staggering, though, is in the run defense. Or lack thereof.
Preaching fundamentals of gap discipline, square feet and shoulders, and forcing the play to your teammates, coaches and players alike swore it would be different.
Bigger linebackers and linemen were drafted and acquired; perceived weak links like Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard were either jettisoned or benched. Things were going to improve.
Except they haven't. The gap discipline is only present in the A gaps from the interior tackles; the defensive ends have done a poor job holding contain and forcing outside runs back inside; the defensive backs have forgotten how to tackle properly or take good angles; and the Raiders are once again 31st in the NFL in rush defense.
It all boils down to a lack of fundamentals and discipline, things that are consistently preached as being improved from one year to the next. Well, Coach Cable, as they say: don't sing it, bring it. I don't want to hear it talked about any more; I want to see it executed on the field.
I'm going to go over some of the coaches one by one here:
Tom Cable - the fact that he is an offensive line coach by trade, and the offensive line coach is the most glaring weakness on this team, says that he can't even run his own engine. His ego has ruined the offensive line, his poor time management has cost the team points, and his inability to coach any effort out of his players has lost the fan base faith in Coach Cable.
Hue Jackson - limited by a poor offensive line, Hue has been calling some pretty lame plays thus far this season. Although I personally don't have as much of a problem with his playcalling as some others, other than his red zone deficiencies the first few weeks, he's certainly improved the offense but it still isn't where it needs to be
Sanjay Lal (receivers coach) - He has not earned his paycheck. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy do NOT use good fundamentals when catching the ball. Their route running has improved, but they both jump needlessly to catch the ball, both body catch the ball, and neither attack the ball in the air or with their hands. Lal has utterly failed these two young men in my opinion
John Marshall - Marshall, when he's aggressive, is a great schemer. When he's vanilla, he's as good as you can be being vanilla; not very. Marshall hasn't been aggressive enough consistently this season despite a stable of pass rushing beasts and fast defensive players, and for that he gets a fail from me
Mike Waufle (defensive line) - Waufle was a coach with the Raiders when they were last good, back in the early 2000's. He was also the architect of the Giants' line that harassed Tom Brady in the Super Bowl in 2007. Given some pieces to work with, he was expected to make good things happen in Oakland this year. Though scheme is limiting, it's disappointing that there is little to no pass rush from the front four, and that the edges are being gashed in the run game. Waufle thus far has been no better than Dwain Board, his predecessor.
Now, people want to see a winner. In this economy, people aren't going to pay to see a loser.
I get that, and the Raiders haven't won in some time.
But the offseason moves and sense of improvement were supposed to cause an increase in attendance; were supposed to spike ticket sales.
Well, the Raiders just had their lowest attendance in almost ten years on Sunday.
It's understandable, it's inevitable, and it's no surprise that a team that isn't winning, who has been a disappointment thus far this season, and who seem to never live up to their promises isn't drawing a lot of fans to their home games.
It's all those things; and for those reasons, it's extemely disappointing. Because for attendance to climb back to respectability, the team must as well.
So, as the attendance is disappointing, so is the team. And vice versa.
When attendance is good again, we'll all have a lot more to smile about.
So the first quarter is over, and for me I'll say this. The offense is better than I hoped; the defense worse; the special teams worrisome; and the coaching staff a work in progress that I see some good signs from but I don't expect Cable to be around much longer unless drastic improvement is made.
On to the next three quarters of the season, where hopefully things will get better, starting with the Chargers this weekend, to whom we've lost 13 games in a row.
Win this one, which is very possible, and it'll make the season taste much better. At 2-3, with a win over the dolts under our belts and off our backs, it'd bolster confidence going foward.
A loss, falling to 1-4 with yet another defeat to the Chargers would be a stake through the heart of Raider Nation right now.
Although each week has been important for the Raiders, I see this upcoming game as the make or break point for this season.
Against a division rival who's owned us for years, winning would feel so good and bring so much excitement and confidence.
Another loss to the Chargers would be pyschologically damaging to both the team and the fans, and would be tough to come back from.
It's strange, but for years the major concern was the offense and scoring enough points to keep up to teams. Now, the major fear is the defense and them holding teams down enough for a reasonable result.
Why can't we just put them both together for one good, solid Sunday and kick some ass?
We can; and must, this Sunday. It is imperative that the second quarter of the season get off to a better start than the first.