At the end of training camp, Oakland Raider's offensive coordinator Hue Jackson referred to the mind-set in Oakland by saying, “we’re trying to build a bully here.”
This bullying was not evident through the first six games of the season as Oakland compiled a 2-4 record. The Raiders ran into a red brick wall—the “red zone”—there was no production, whilst on defense opposing running backs were given the red carpet treatment.
But, following a 17-9 reversal to the 49ers, the Raiders had an epiphany somewhere between Candlestick Park and Alameda. This team was sick of losing.
The Raider Nation has suffered greatly over the last seven years, enduring a record number of double-digit losing seasons. It has been a long road.
It was evident progress was being made and improving on 5-11 last time out still seemed a realistic aim. But still a break-even season (8-8) was dreamland. The playoffs were fanciful, despite the paucity of play in the AFC West.
Beating the Broncos and the Seahawks was always entirely possible, but it has been the manner of victory that has really got the attention of the entire NFL. Is the Oakland bully for real? The Raiders have so utterly dominated their last two opponents in all phases of the game, that it is impossible to bracket the current team with the 2002-2009 incarnations.
The defense completely shut down both Denver and Seattle’s running game and gave them nothing through the air. The offense has played such an all-court game that the OC could change the spelling of his name to “Huge Action”.
Darren McFadden is currently averaging more rushing yards per game (111.3) and more combined yards per game (147.5) than any other back in football.
So where does this leave the Raiders and their aspirations for the rest of the season? A winning season perhaps? A shot at the playoffs? A divisional crown?
First things first: Oakland should look no further ahead than Kansas City this Sunday. Everything else can wait until the bye-week which follows the Chiefs game. KC is leading the AFC West and a loss to them would give the Chiefs a two game lead with a game yet to play. A wild card berth is unlikely, so winning on Sunday is the only realistic route to the playoffs.
The pressure has been there for the past two weeks, but it has been a different kind of pressure. Playing for survival is different than playing to get into the playoffs. Coach Tom Cable is the most important man this week—he needs to keep the Raiders grounded and focused on beating the team in front of them.
It would be psychologically wounding to Kansas City if the Raiders bullied them for 60 minutes this Sunday. Take no prisoners, don’t let up; attack, attack, attack!
Although the Raiders themselves should not be allowed to look beyond KC, it is interesting for the Nation to look ahead to the rest of the season.
In a nutshell, the schedule is a beast from here on in. Three further AFC West games against bitter rivals, two games against two of the best sides in football—Steelers (5-2) and Colts (5-2) and two further games against the Dolphins (4-3) and Jags (4-4).
No easy games.
If the Raiders do beat KC, they enter the bye-week 5-4. Up next is a road trip to Pittsburgh, which is going to be tough.
If Oakland can take three wins amongst the games against Miami at home, a visit to San Diego and Jacksonville and a home game against the Broncos, then Oakland could conceivably be 8-6 going into the last two games against the Colts at home and then away to the Chiefs. This will be playoff football two weeks early! What a turn-around that would be.
Fantasy or fiction? The Raiders need to beat the Chiefs or else none of this matters!