Oakland Raiders Week 5: Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
Well, it's that time again folks. That's right, I know you've all been waiting, breathless with anticipation.
After a week in which some key players are hurting, the defense let us down, and we're trying to figure out just who the hell this team is, it's time to sit back, relax, and check out the weekly PHK, Raider edition.
This week the Raider squad we roll out onto the field may look a little different, with the noticeable absence of Darren McFadden. He's been a key cog for this team thus far, the first quarter MVP, and the offense is going to need to step up in his absence.
With that in mind, let's get to it.
Pressures: Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy
Bruce Gradkowski had a passer rating of over 110 against the Houston Texans; but a rating below 30 when throwing to his wide receivers. That is simply unacceptable.
There is a major disconnect between the quarterback and the receivers on this team. Darrius Heyward-Bey has shown improvement, but has recently regressed back into his bad habits of jumping for each pass despite it rarely being necessary, not being ready when coming out of his breaks, and not attacking the ball when it's in the air.
Louis Murphy isn't 100 percent and his hands never have been.
Jacoby Ford got on the field, and Jonnie Lee Higgins had a nice reception, but it is Heyward-Bey and Murphy that truly need to step up, especially with Darren McFadden sidelined this weekend.
The Chargers pass defense can be had as long as Bruce gets some protection. Now that's a big if, but both Murphy and Heyward-Bey have the size and speed to get separation from the Charger cornerbacks.
What they haven't shown yet is the ability to produce on a consistent basis. Murphy is a big-play threat and has shown more possession ability this season, but his drops at costly junctures continually hurt this team.
The Raiders need these guys to step up, because although Michael Bush is a capable replacement for McFadden, it's D-Mac that has been keeping this offense moving.
The Raiders need someone other than Zach Miller to be a reliable pass catcher, or else we'll be constantly seeing 8-9 in the box again, the running game will stagnate, Miller will be blanketed, and this offense will cocoon back into the patheticness of recent vintage.
Both DHB and Murphy are under pressure to get separation, look for the ball, and actually catch it when it comes their way. They are under pressure to play like NFL receivers on a consistent basis; not just once in a while.
Pressures: Michael Bush
Michael Bush has had a strange odyssey with the Oakland Raiders.
Originally pegged to be a 1st round draft choice and a Heisman favourite, Bush severly broke his leg in his junior year of college. Despite the severity of the injury, Bush's talent was enough that the Raiders took a chance on him with a fourth round pick.
When Bush arrived and got healthy, he was immediately relegated to the PUP and the practice field. Although he was upset and baffled by the decision, Bush put his head down and worked his tail off to get 100 percent healthy and be ready to contribute.
Coming into this season, with McFadden's early-career struggles and injury prone nature, it was widely speculated that Bush would be the Raiders feature back and McFadden would be the complimentary piece.
Well, Bush suffered a "Bennett" fracture to his left (carrying) thumb in the Raiders preseason contest against the San Francisco 49ers, and although he healed at a rapid pace, is just now ready to come back to take the full load.
The timing is perfect, as McFadden is laid up yet again by a hamstring issue and won't be able to play this week.
Prior to this season, Bush had been the Raiders most prolific back over the past two seasons, having the Raiders last two 100 yard performances and generally holding the faith of Raider fans that he was the best option.
But McFadden, when healthy, has been one of the top five running backs in the entire league this season, using his speed and elusiveness in a combination with a new found running fury to hold the second most yards from scrimmage by an NFL running back this season, just behind Houston's Arian Foster.
Michael Bush is under pressure to keep the Raiders running game going forward and maintain the production McFadden has shown thus far; to hold onto the ball with his newly healed thumb; and to run effectively to keep the defense off the field and alleviate some pressure on the passing game.
In short, he's under a lot more pressure this week than he normally would be due to the production of McFadden. Bush has shown in the past he's capable of the same kind of production.
Raider Nation has fallen in love with D-Mac and will expect a high level performance from Bush on Sunday. McFadden's success has put that much more pressure on the ample shoulders of big Mike.
Pressures: Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff
If you were to talk to a Raider fan last season and this offseason, we'd all be too happy to tell you how Tyvon Branch was a rising star, and a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl this season.
That was then; this is now.
We currently have, in my opinion, the weakest pair of starting safeties in the NFL. Tyvon can still tackle; he just can't get in position to make one at the line of scrimmage. He just can't shed blocks, read and diagnose plays, or get to the ball quickly enough to make the tackle. But he can tackle.
Michael Huff on the other hand can't tackle. He also takes terrible pursuit angles, but is okay at reading and diagnosing plays. He can't get off blocks either, but it doesn't matter, because even if he does he either tries to alligator-arm tackle his opponent and lets them run right by, or he backpedals and gets run over.
Huff can cover, has good instincts but can't tackle and is timid and soft. Branch can tackle and is aggressive, but has terrible instincts and couldn't cover a pile of bricks with a tarp. Put them together, we'd have one good safety.
Branch has regressed enormously this season, and Huff looks like he's just never going to get it.
Mike Mitchell has knocks on him regarding his coverage, but on Sunday against Houston he covered Joel Dreesen twice, and although Dreesen caught the ball, he got no YAC and was stopped short of a first down.
Stevie Brown has shown a nose for the ball in camp and preseason, and even on special teams in the regular season has shown he can tackle, has good speed, and is always around the ball.
I know football is a team sport, but no two individuals on this team have been more responsible for opposing touchdowns than Branch and Huff. They are under pressure to get their act together, or to continue to hear Raider Nation clamor for Mitchell and Brown; or anyone that can stop somebody.
Pressures: Rolando McClain
When he was drafted No. 8 overall this past April, Raider fans were happy. Finally, we thought, a smart choice of an NFL-ready player at a position of need that is widely considered a future star.
When his first order of business as a Raider was to request the playbook, and he showed up in fantastic shape with a sharp mind and ready to go, it only reaffirmed these thoughts and beliefs.
Four games into his NFL career, those beliefs still exist, but have been tempered somewhat based on his erratic on-field play.
McClain's aloofness and arrogance hasn't endeared himself to anyone in and around Raiderland either. His insistence that the game isn't too big or fast for him, that it's no different than the SEC, is belied each and every week he is sealed off a running lane or toasted by a back or TE in pass coverage.
McClain has the intelligence and physical talent to be a success; you can see that very easily. He's under a lot of duress having to quarterback the entire defense as a rookie, and he's taken a lot upon himself at a young age.
But by all measures he was supposed to be able to handle it and excel.
Well, thus far there are often players out of position pre-snap; McClain himself has been easily blocked and walled-off by opponents; he's shown little aggression or instinct in diagnosing and attacking running plays; and he's been toasted frequently in the middle of the field when in pass coverage.
I still feel McClain is a future Pro-Bowler and these are just growing pains, but he's under pressure to show us something, anything, resembling the playmaker he was supposed to be when selected No. 8 overall.
Hell, even sound, fundamental football at the MLB position would suffice at this point.
- I'm no happier than anyone else that Louis Murphy dropped that pass last week, but you have to give him credit for refusing to use his injured clavicle as any kind of excuse. He took responsibility and made himself accountable, which is needed more often on this team
- I'm getting sold on Mike Mitchell more every week. He stepped in to WLB when both Groves and Howard went down last week, and played solid in run support. He covered Kevin Walter a couple of times and kept him short of the first down, and showed well against Dreesen. He needs to be on the field more often
- So does Jacoby Ford. This guy is ONE step away from breaking a big play, and has shown he can run routes and catch the ball. The way we use our personnel (or don't) sometimes baffles me
- Hey Hue, way to remember Marcel Reece is on the team. He's pretty dynamic if you give him a chance
- The offensive line, after a better performance in Arizona, regressed again last week. Bruce was sacked four times in the first half (none in the second) and that's only because he moved out of a couple other ones. These guys HAVE to improve
- Speaking of which, Bruce needs to learn to slide sometimes. I love the passion he brings, and I called Campbell out for his slide against the Titans, but Bruce is going to kill himself. He actually took the hit to Bernard Pollard; and quickly learned he's a bad guy to try that against
- Michael Bush is a bad man with a chip on his shoulder, and as such I expect a big game from him this week. He's never felt fully loved, and rightfully so, and runs with that anger evident. Love it
Knockdowns: The Raiders Fold Like a Cheap Suit When Things Go Wrong
A recent quote from Raider nemesis Marty Schottenheimer has been edited for emphasis and placed in the Raider locker room for effect. The actual quote itself is harsh enough, but doctored up by the coaching staff it essentially says that the Raiders aren't tough, and if you push them around they'll fold and beat themselves.
It calls their manhood into question; which is why it's being used as motivational material against a team they hate and whom Schottenheimer used to coach, the San Diego Chargers.
The sad thing is, the quote wasn't invented out of thin air. Raider teams of recent vintage have certainly been guilty of going to pieces when the chips are down. One mistake leads to another, to another, to bickering and infighting, to implosion, to another blowout.
It's been a tried and true formula; get the Raiders down, and they don't have the fight to get back up.
Last Sunday, something funny happened. After Arian Foster scored on a red zone TD reception to put the Texans up 31-14, Houston's 17th straight point, I expected the Raiders to lay down faster than Tiger Woods in a room full of porn stars. And gladly accept at least as much abuse.
But instead, the Raiders drove for a touchdown; the defense stiffened; the Raiders drove for a field goal; and the defense stiffened again.
Suddenly, there was hope. Hope that this team would fight back; hope that they gave a damn, damn it!
Who knows what would have happened had Louis Murphy held onto that fourth down pass? But he didn't, and it was game over.
Still, those who know and love the Raiders saw something different in that fourth quarter. We saw a team that refused to pack it in despite long odds; we saw a team fight to the bitter end.
Though the result was unpleasant, watching that fight gave hope.
Knockdowns : 24 Points Will Win Any Game
Coach Tom Cable is fond of spewing theories about the Raiders that have little or no fact to back them up. Such as:
"We're a competent quarterback away from the playoffs."
"The offensive line isn't that bad; they just need to be coached up, it's just little things."
"If we can score twenty four points, we can win any game."
With the perception that the Raiders have a good defense widely spread, this last theory actually didn't sound too far fetched. Until, that is, the reality of the defense out kicked the coverage of the perception, and they began playing games.
Thus far this season the Raiders have given up 38, 14, 24, and 31 points in the first four games. That means that Cable's theory is validated by only one of those four games. So Cable is right about his 24 point theory 25 percent of the time. Or 20 percent more than he's right about much else.
This defense is not playing well right now. Hell, they're playing downright terribly. The Texans have a great offense, but they didn't even have Andre Johnson playing.
Until the Raiders show they can even come close to stopping the run, this defense is in big trouble. And that means that coach Cable's 24 point theory may still prove to be true.
If those 24 points are scored in the first half.
Knockdowns: At 1-3, This Team is No Better than in Years Past
Okay, so despite adding a lot of talent and excitement in the offseason, and supposedly being a better team, the Raiders have the same 1-3 mark at the quarter point of the 2010 season that they did this same time in 2009.
Many critics like to point to this fact when people suggest the Raiders are improved, and break out that old lovely cliche "you are what your record says you are."
If that's the case, the Raiders record says that they're no better than this point in 2009. In fact, due to this year's schedule being lighter than last up to this point, the argument could be made they are worse. That, however, is ludicrous.
Despite the statistics, this team has more talent on defense. I'm not going to waste time quantifying that statement because, frankly, they've done little on the field to aid me in doing so.
But on offense, the numbers don't lie. These past four games mark the first time the Raiders have had 20+ first downs in four straight games since 2002.
The offense is ninth in the NFL in yardage, and the running attack in the top five. Darren McFadden has the second most yards-from-scrimmage in the NFL.
So this team is moving the ball on offense better than it has since the days of Gannon, Garner, and Brown. The record is the same; the team is not.
They've been in three of the four games, winning one, losing one they should've won, and falling short against the Texans, but they simply have not learned how to win or finish. This team has little in the way of winning or finishing experience, and it shows at late points in the game when the game is on the line.
But the team is better; they just need to learn to act like they've been there before, and the wins will come.
We're past moral victories and happiness in competing. We want wins. We need them.
No more so do we need a win than this Sunday. The Chargers have our number, and losing anything to anyone thirteen straight times is enough to make you upset, angry, embarrassed, and frustrated all at the same time.
This team needs to show they've actually improved this Sunday. The defense needs to come to play. They have to want to hurt some people, like they did in the season opener against the Chargers last year when we injured at least four of their players.
There isn't much else to say: we have to beat the Chargers. We just have to. If we can put a full, 60 minutes all around team game together, we can certainly do that. This is the biggest game of our young season; and I'm going to miss it because I have to pick up the wife and kid at the airport in Toronto three hours away!
So watch and cheer for me Raider Nation; yell at Rivers and curse out Gates and throw things and drink a pint or three on my behalf. I'll be cheering silently in the car as I drive up the highway, wishing I had satellite radio.
Thank you for reading as always; remember, all comments whether good, bad, or ugly are welcome!