Oakland Raiders Week 8: Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns
Oh Raiders, how you confuse and confound us so.
One week the Pop Warner-like offense is stalled by the San Francisco 49ers in a putrid effort leading to an uninspired loss.
The next week, they look like the Oregon Ducks on offense and roll over a division rival, putting up the most points in franchise history and showing everyone that this offense is no longer of the bed and breakfast variety.
Which team is the Oakland Raiders? As always, when an entity fluctuates between two extremes, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
I'll tell you which team the Raiders are not: the Oakland Raiders of the past seven years. Sure, there are still glimpses, but they are becoming fewer and farther between, like a drunken hook-up that still calls once in a while no matter how many times you change your number.
The Raiders showed last week that when all three phases of the team play with intensity and focus, they can accomplish good things. That bodes well going into the future.
This is a big game, as a win would put them at 4-4 and keep them in the thick of the division race. If the Raiders beat the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and even if the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills, the Raiders will still have a chance to pull within a half game when Kansas City rolls into Oakland next weekend.
This Raider team has the distinct advantage of playing in the Black Hole on Halloween. The stars are aligning nicely, as the Seahawks aren't nearly as good on the road as they are at Qwest Field.
The vibe is once again good around the Raiders, but there are still some things that need addressing this weekend if they hope to come away with a victory. With that in mind, here are this week's pressures, hurries and knockdowns.
Pressures: Jason Campbell
Nobody typifies the Raiders' eclectic play this season like Jason Campbell. He has put up the two highest passer ratings of his career (in wins over San Diego and Denver) and his worst career passer rating sandwiched right in between (in the loss to the Niners).
When Campbell has played with confidence this season and looked down field, such as the first drive of the Niners game, the majority of the second half against the Chargers and the entire game against the Broncos, he's played extremely well and moved the ball very effectively.
When he has been tentative and lacking confidence, he's checking the ball down, bailing on plays early, and generally looking lost and confused out there.
His confidence seems to be where it should after having time to acclimate himself to the playbook. Although the running game is good enough that the quarterback does not need to carry the team, they do need solid QB play to have a chance to win.
Campbell is under pressure to continue to believe in himself and look down field for big plays rather than scanning the field for half a second and then checking the ball down. He's gotten better at this, but Seattle has the No. 2 rush defense in the NFL and will be keying on Darren McFadden.
It's imperative that Campbell plays with the confidence and efficiency he's shown he's capable of if the Raiders want to win this game.
Pressures: Special Teams
One of the Raiders' stronger points this season has been the play of the special teams. Kick coverage was a worry in the preseason after surrendering punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns, but with the exception of the Arizona game coach John Fassell has plugged the leaks and kept opponents to reasonable numbers.
One thing overlooked due to the score of last week's game was the field position advantage the Raiders enjoyed due to Sebastian Janikowski kicking a career-high seven touchbacks in Denver. Now, in Denver the air is thin and the ball travels farther; but Janikowski is capable of touchbacks in any stadium at any given time.
He currently has 20 touchbacks this season on 41 kickoffs, or 48.8 percent. That is second in the NFL behind Billy Cundiff of the Baltimore Ravens.
With the always-dangerous Leon Washington lurking for the Seahawks, that is huge. The Seahawks are No. 1 in kick returns in the NFL, averaging 32.2 ypr and scoring two touchdowns this season.
They aren't quite as dangerous on punt returns, coming in at No. 14 in the NFL, and Shane Lechler is once again the best punter in the NFL, so advantage Raiders there.
Olindo Mare hasn't missed a field goal yet this season, and is one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. However, the Seahawks' punting game is in the lower third of the NFL and can be exploited.
The Raiders have played well on special teams this season but can be vulnerable. They are only No. 22 in the NFL in kick return yardage allowed, and don't forget, the last time the Raiders played an NFC West opponent, Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling took the opening kickoff to the house in a game the Raiders lost by one point.
Special teams play is always important, but against a team like Seattle that relies on special teams to help them win games, it is of paramount importance this weekend.
Make no mistake, Seattle's special teams play has been a key factor in getting them to their 4-2 record and first place in the NFC West, helping them beat teams that are better than they are on paper.
That is why the Raiders special teams are under pressure to continue to perform at a high level. A slip on special teams against a team like Seattle could be deadly and swing momentum in a negative fashion.
Pressures: Rush Defense
The Raiders were given a bit of a reprieve on run defense last week as a result of the quick 24-0 lead and beatdown of the Broncos.
However, the Raiders still sit at No. 28 in rush defense, and that's after holding Denver down last weekend. They are still giving up five yards per carry and face a Seattle team with a rushing attack that features two completely different backs.
Marshawn Lynch has given the Raiders trouble in the past, rushing for over 100 yards in 2008 when the Bills beat the Raiders in Buffalo in Week 4. Justin Forsett is the kind of quick and shifty back who gives the Raiders one-gap scheme fits because of his cut-back ability and quickness.
It's simple; the Raiders' rush offense is one of the tops in the league, and the rush defense one of the worst. The rush defense is under pressure to hold Seattle to respectable numbers on the ground and put the ball in the hands of Matt Hasselbeck.
If the rush defense can hold up its end, Hasselbeck will be forced to throw, and he was sacked five times last weekend by an Arizona team ranked in the lower half of the league, with a weaker pass rush than the Raiders.
In other words, stop the run and make the last three hairs on Hasselbeck's head fall out.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Don't Force Turnovers
One of the biggest factors in the Raiders' recent struggles has been turnovers, or lack thereof. You could say the Raiders are the Supreme Court of the NFL; they rarely, if ever, turn anyone over.
Despite having Nnamdi Asomugha at one corner, they are routinely in the bottom tier of the NFL in both interceptions and fumble recoveries. Couple this with the fact that they have struggled to stop the run, and it's not difficult to understand the lack of success in Oakland.
Part of this has been luck; part of it has been lack of talent; and a big part has been coaching and passivity.
Defensive coordinator John Marshall now has the jar in his office, and it showed last weekend.
Speaking all of last week about the need to make a big play on defense, Marshall spoke of how they were emphasizing being aggressive and going after the ball in practice. To Marshall's credit, he identified an issue, made it public and said he was going to fix it.
And he did.
Chris Johnson jumped Kyle Orton's first pass of the game and set the tone with a pick six. The next play from scrimmage, Stanford Routt held Demaryius Thomas up while Michael Huff came in like a rabid wolverine and ripped the ball away.
I have never, ever seen the Raiders that aggressive going for the ball. Even up 38-7, Huff was trying to rip the ball out of Knowshon Moreno's hands on his touchdown catch like it was his long lost kidnapped child. It was refreshing and oh-so entertaining to see these Raiders getting mean and nasty.
Every time the Raiders hit the Broncos, especially in the first half, you could see the intensity and aggression. They were hitting to punish, to send a message. The message was received by the Broncos all right, but even more so by the Raider Nation.
You want old, nasty Raider football? Well we can do that, and here it is!
Now, let's hope it's here to stay. Putting Lynch on his back and knocking out a few gold caps would be a good start.
Knockdowns: Jared Veldheer Is Not Left Tackle Material
The rotation at left tackle, according to Tom Cable, was effective. But Raider Nation knows better. We could see that Jared Veldheer was pass blocking just a little better than Mario Henderson. We could also see that his run blocking was quite a bit better.
Cable must have agreed because Veldheer got his first outright start at left tackle against the Broncos last Sunday.
The Raiders went off on the ground, gaining 328 yards and essentially doing anything they wanted. Jason Campbell had to scramble a few times, but for the most part could have written his memoirs while looking for a receiver down field.
Veldheer was a huge factor in both aspects. If you go back and watch the tape, you'll see that the vast majority of Darren McFadden's big runs in the first half, while Veldheer was still at LT before replacing a concussed Samson Satele at center, were to the left side behind the big Hillsdale College graduate.
Veldheer also held the line with strength and confidence in the passing game, and although it was only one game, showed that not only can he be an effective left tackle (and center, too!) but perhaps even a very good or dominant one in the future.
He played, by far, his best game as an NFL lineman and did it at the most important position on the line. That can only be a good omen for the future of this line, who so desperately need continuity and effective play.
Knockdowns: This Team Is Not Buying Into Coach Tom Cable
This one is as much for myself as anyone else. If you read my archives, you will see that while I have always liked Tom Cable, I haven't always liked his coaching style.
I've felt that he's a little too relentlessly positive and glosses over real issues with lip service. In short, I've felt that if he wasn't a football coach, Tom Cable would make an excellent politician given his ability to say a lot with little substance, and spin everything in a positive manner no matter how dire the circumstances.
Well, it appears, at least for this now, that I was wrong. Coach Cable has this team buying in, believing they can win and playing hard and with intensity. He still needs to show that he can get them to do it for two weeks running, but I can't remember I saw a Raiders team as inspired as they were last week.
Cable's early-season tinkering with the offensive line actually appears to be paying some dividends, as pass protection has improved the last three weeks and the run game continues to be effective.
While Tom Cable may not have any sort of coaching pedigree, he's beginning to earn the respect of his team through consistency and respect for his players and coaching staff alike.
Every Raider is behind Cable and believes he is the man who can lead them back to prominence. I was skeptical, and I honestly will remain so, but after the inspired performance last week and the subsequent attitude this week, I am beginning to believe in him a little bit more.
The most impressive thing on the heels of last week's performance has been his ability to a) celebrate hard initially and b) get back to focus on the Seahawks shortly thereafter.
Raider teams of the recent past may have rode this one victory for the rest of the season, but Cable will not allow that. He's made it clear that playing that well has set a new standard, and that he's going to hold his players accountable to that new standard. He didn't talk about winning two in a row or challenging for the division lead.
He simply talked about the need to focus on and beat the Seahawks, which is exactly the right move by a coach who is growing right along with his young team.
Last week was one of the most satisfying wins in my time as a Raiders fan, but it will lose some luster if we fall flat this week. As I mentioned earlier, I think this team has turned a corner and isn't going back.
The attitude of accountability and focus Cable has preached this week is somewhat new, and shows that this team has gotten over the hump of appreciating a good effort and building on it. Now, they want to win, and expect to win.
This weekend's game is huge for a few reasons. Playing well will validate this team even more, but playing poorly will lead to some doubt as to whether this team will ever put together two solid back-to-back games.
There are division race implications with the Chiefs coming to town next week, and I am very curious to see if this new ball-hawking, aggressive defense sticks around or if they return to their standard packages and stop trying to separate opponents from the football.
One thing is for sure: As a Raider fan, it's hard to feel better than we all did last Sunday, and it would be so great based on the timing of the game if we can carry that momentum forward and beat the Seahawks. Hell, it's not like we haven't done it before.
The Seahawks have lost five in a row in Oakland and haven't beaten us at home since the '80s.
I truly believe this team has turned a corner and will not have a let-down on Sunday. I truly believe we will win this game, if for no other reason than universal karma, that not even God himself should be able to beat the Raiders in the Black Hole on Halloween.
Thanks for reading, and all comments whether good, bad or ugly are always welcome.