Oakland Raiders Week 13: Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns
So the Raiders, having won four of their last five games and three in a row heading into the bye, had some momentum and looked better than they had in many, many years. Optimism abounded.
During the bye week, the Chargers and the Chiefs both lost, and the Raiders' upcoming opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins, suffered significant injuries that would make them vulnerable to the Raider attack. Things were looking good for the 'ol Raider squad.
Then, Coach Tom Cable, during the bye week, had a wild idea. "Step inside this DeLorean, gentleman," he said, "and let's see where it takes us."
Well apparently it took them back to 2006, because that's the Raider team we've seen on the field since the bye week ended two weeks ago. Boring, uninspired, uncreative and downright horrifying to watch.
The last two games, this team was pads and shells of its former self. Not since the Tom Walsh bed-and-breakfast fiasco has this team looked so inept so often on offense for consecutive weeks, with viable personnel on the field.
Hey, at least in years past we had JaMarcus Russell and his terribleness to blame, fair or not. But Jason Campbell isn't always terrible, so it's hard to pinpoint the offensive struggles on him. No, instead, the team has returned to playing flat, uninspired, boring football that sees them lose in spectacular fashion all while seeming like they didn't even play most of the game.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the San Diego Chargers, a team that struggled mightily earlier in the season while trying to get over injuries and shore up their special teams. Well, the Chargers have hit their typical late season roll, and have revenge on their minds in San Diego this weekend. They also have a weak schedule and a very realistic shot at taking over the Chiefs for the AFC West lead (which the Raiders have played themselves out of the last two weeks).
Bottom line: Oakland is struggling and regressing, San Diego is surging and improving, and this game is in San Diego, where Oakland hasn't won since Angelina Jolie was actually good looking.
Not much positive to look at if you consider recent weeks, but the Raiders have played quite well in the division this year, currently sitting at 3-0. If they can somehow win this game, they can stay in the hunt, but a loss surely dooms them to another offseason of what ifs and what nows.
Pressures: Jason Campbell
Here he is again, Jason Campbell. It's becoming a broken record. I don't have much to say this week: The job is now yours for sure, kid. Bruce is on IR so he isn't coming back. Time to show us if we should keep you or go in a different direction next season.
The way Cable handled the starting QB situation leading up to the Miami game was terrible, and it proved costly. So did starting Gradkowski, who at no point this season showed he was worthy of the job. Not that Campbell really has either, other than when he was getting a lot of help from the rest of the team.
Campbell is under pressure to simply play passable quarterback consistently. Not great one minute, terrible the next. Just even-keeled and effective, consistently. That's it.
It's not too much to ask, but it has been too much for either him or Gradkowski to accomplish this season. Cable said last season that we were a quarterback away from being a playoff team; despite the addition of Campbell and the team and fanbase infatuation with Gradkowski, you could argue the same is true this season.
No more looking over your shoulder, Jason. No more worries. Just cut it loose, kid. Just cut it loose.
At this point in the year, I am not adverse to seeing Kyle Boller on the field if Campbell continues to be unable to play passably from one game to the next (or one quarter, or one down, or one snap, etc.).
Pressures: Tom Cable
Coach Cable has enjoyed a hiatus from the pressures section due to pre-bye success, but after this team has regressed so far that they're calling themselves the Los Oakland Raiders, it's fair to wonder what is going on with this team.
One thing I will give Cable, regardless of success on the field, is that he's been consistent off the field. He didn't get overconfident when we were playing well, much as he doesn't get too despondent when we lose. He's a realist with an optimistic twinge, and he's kept that attitude since day one.
However, he and his staff have shown consistency in another, less impressive area: the inability to adjust when the predetermined game plan has gone awry or has been neutralized by the opposition.
With the distinct lack of effort given by the Raiders the last two weeks, it's also fair to wonder whether they truly bought into Cable's ideals, or whether the winning on the field just made it seem that way.
Cable is under pressure to show that he actually did have this team at one point, and that he hasn't lost them. Because after the familiar horror show that was the last two weeks, it's safe to question whether they are reverting to the same old Raiders.
His mishandling of the quarterback situation recently has also cost this team. I can't help but thinking that Campbell would've played a little better if he knew he wasn't on a short leash. At the same time, a healthy Bruce can bring a lot of energy; it just didn't happen that way.
Still, the way he left it to the last minute and played mind games with the press and the fans was pretty weak, and certainly not conducive to the "cut it loose" and team-first concept he preaches regularly.
Cable has said the right things this week, as usual, but with a twist; he's not shrinking from the failures, making excuses or intimidated by the Chargers this weekend. You have to respect a guy that sticks to his guns and takes accountability when things don't go well, which is what he has done.
But he must channel that energy into a renewed and singular focus for this team, or this is one Cable service that'll be cut quicker than a newborn Jewish boy.
Pressures: Pass Defense
Say what you want about them, but "Corky" Rivers and the Sunshine Gang are one hell of an offense. Rivers may have more pictures of him with stupid looks on his face than any player in NFL history (go ahead, google him; it's worth it), but he's also played better than any other QB in the NFL this year.
Yes, I said it. And I mean it.
Look at Rivers this season; three weeks ago he threw for 100+ yards and two TDs to a guy who was activated that day from the practice squad. He's made Patrick Crayton look like a top-flight NFL receiver. He's revived Randy McMichael. He's single-handedly led the Chargers to the No. 1 offense in the NFL.
Hell, you could put ME out there and I bet Rivers would hit me for 6-and-100 for a TD. He's that good, and don't worry, my fingers are independently trying to choke me as I type this, so upsetting is it. Upsetting, but true unfortunately.
The Raiders pass defense has been excellent all season; except the last two games. The Raiders top corner, Nnamdi Asomugha missed the Steelers game and was decidedly not himself against the Dolphins, and their No. 2 corner, Chris Johnson, missed both games. This didn't help.
It also left rookies Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden in trial-by-fire situations against the Steelers and Dolphins respectively that did not go well for either greenhorn.
The past two games have been exercises in futility in both pass rush and pass defense. No surprise there; with no rush, it's pretty easy for any NFL-caliber QB to pick a defense apart.
The Raiders went into the bye week tied for first in the NFL in sacks, but have failed to generate much pressure against the depleted offensive lines of the Steelers and the Dolphins. The results have been Ben Roethlisberger and Chad Henne having all the time in the world to throw the ball, and the game flowing accordingly.
The pass defense is under pressure to get back to their roots. Too often recently there has been a lack of communication on the back end, leaving blown coverages and open receivers. In some cases this season the Raider front four has been so good at generating a pass rush that it overshadowed these back end issues.
The lack of a healthy Asomugha or Johnson coupled with no pass rush the last two games has exposed those issues in spades, and Corky and the Sunshine Gang have shown the ability to get theirs whether there is a rush or not.
The key here is getting in Rivers' face, because he's slightly less effective when pressured. He can also become rattled if you get to him enough. I put the pass defense for this game squarely on the massive shoulders of our lineman and linebackers, and John Marshall to be aggressive.
Ware and McFadden are going to get burned. Hell, I know this statement will get grenades lobbed at me by the Nation, but even Nnamdi hasn't played great this entire season. He's given up more passes than we usually see, and QBs aren't fully afraid to attack him anymore. Our coverage is not great, which is why our pass rush must be.
- It's pretty amazing how stagnant the passing offense has been without Zach Miller healthy. The Raiders' leading receiver again this year, Miller hasn't been right since about Week 7, and the Raiders' passing attack has suffered mightily as a result.
- Now that Jason Campbell doesn't have to look over his shoulder, I assume he'll play better. If he doesn't, why not Kyle Boller? Oh, because Cable wants to keep his job, that's why.
- Speaking of which, I think he comes back next year unless we lose out, which I don't see happening. Although they've regressed the last two weeks, the previous five weeks' improvement was not a mirage and this team is building toward something. It just may take longer than we'd hoped after the three-game winning streak.
- We've become somewhat spoiled as a result of that streak. Before the season started I think you would find any rational Raider fan stating they'd be happy to be .500 after 10 games, and even 5-6 after 11 games due to recent failings. But this team showed what they are capable of, and now .500 or close isn't good enough. Which is a good thing.
- Jacoby Ford is awesome. Maybe he can be our receivers coach, because Sanjay Lal has not gotten the job done. Ford obviously attacks the ball in the air out of instinct, because it hasn't been taught to any of our other receivers.
- Hue Jackson is on notice: Use the weapons you have or get out of dodge, please. We've seen this story too many times, and you don't have the excuse of running a B & B to fall back on.
- I think Cable and Jackson are both good coaches but both coach scared, and that hurts this team. Marshall falls into that category as well. When we've been good, we've been aggressive and taken it to other teams in all phases; but when we've been horrible, we've been passive and bent over, and it's not fun.
Knockdowns: Darrius Heyward-Bey Is Ready to Break Out This Year
He has improved. He's actually caught some passes and made a few plays this year, unlike his rookie season. So, I guess, negligible though it is, it's an improvement.
But Heyward-Bey was supposed to break out this year. The Raiders even released a statement to the press, essentially an "I told you so" about how good the kid looked in practice and how much he had improved.
The season began, and he caught a few balls in the Titans game, and it did indeed look like he'd improved. Then, he had a career game against the Chargers and followed that up a couple weeks later with a six-catch, 100+ yard performance, including a beautiful catch and spin in which he burned his defender and then outran everyone to the end zone.
But since then he's been battling injuries yet again, and against the Dolphins, he was shut out. Not just shut out; you didn't even know if he was on the field.
He's shown some flashes and made some plays, but the kid is still invisible far more than he's productive. Most players in any sport make their biggest leap between their second and third years, and we can only hope so for this guy.
Honestly, he's a great person and a very humble and respectful kid, so as a person he's solid. He works very hard and I respect him for his effort in practice and his kind demeanor.
But as a football player? Sometimes I forget he's even on the roster, and that should never happen to someone with his physical skills that was drafted No. 8 overall.
It's terrible to have two wide receivers with the physical gifts of DHB and Chaz Schilens that you essentially feel lucky to get anything from, due to a lack of production and an inability to stay healthy.
Do we use him properly? I don't know. But something doesn't add up, and that something is DHB's production yet again this season.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Can Run on the Dolphins
After looking very much like a top five pick through the first 10 weeks of the season, Darren McFadden came out of the bye and ran right into a brick wall in Pittsburgh.
That wasn't cause for too much concern, as many, many good backs have hit that same wall. It didn't help that Pittsburgh put up a lot of points and essentially neutralized the run game. Many chalked it up to an anomaly born of Pittsburgh's excellent defense and some rust coming out of the bye, and expected much better results against Miami.
Perhaps there would've been, had the Raiders been able to hold the ball. But therein was the problem itself; when the Raiders had the ball, they couldn't do anything with it. Thus, the defense was on the field for a whopping 41:38 of the game, or roughly 70 percent of the game.
It was widely believed that McFadden was rounding into form and now healthy, showing the skills that made him the fourth overall selection in the 2008 draft. But it wasn't just a lack of blocking or poor play calling that stalled the run.
McFadden seems to be back to running tentatively, and one can only wonder if he's 100 percent healthy as a result of that observation. Nothing has been said, and perhaps he just had a stumble or two. He's shown in his best games that he gets better as the game goes on, and score and ball control has eliminated that possibility from the past two games.
Still, after being controlled at the line of scrimmage and getting smacked around by Pittsburgh, I expected the offensive line to relish an opportunity to get back to punishing on the ground at home. They got controlled again, and McFadden and the entire offense suffered as a result.
With the offensive line, receivers and Gradkowski failing to show any threat of a passing game when given a chance, the run offense was doomed from the start, and the Dolphins simply choked the Raiders out.
The Chargers are one of the better defenses in the NFL against the run, but Michael Bush was able to go over 100 yards in the Week 5 victory in Oakland. I expect the Raiders to use Bush more this week than they have recently, to free up McFadden to do some damage on the outside.
This offense needs to put the last two games behind them and rediscover their strength. McFadden needs to have a short memory and not let these performances sap confidence from what was shaping up to be a phenomenal season.
The stats may say differently, but we saw in the last meeting the Chargers can be run against. Now let's go prove it.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Have a Renewed Energy and Focus This Season
Back to back terrible performances have many wondering, and rightly so, if the same old Raiders are making an unwanted comeback. I'm saying no. Part of that is the relentless optimism of a fan, but another part is the very rational belief that this team lost something during the bye week that can be regained.
They lost their mojo, but they also lost their guts. They lost their momentum, but they also lost their focus. They lost their intensity, and with it, their desire.
For years this team has had more talent than its record reflected, but something always held it back. There is always the penalties and lack of discipline; sometimes it was coaching, sometimes it was execution. But always there was a twinge of apathy, malaise.
Well, this team stifled that for most of a glorious five-week span earlier this season, and spoiled us all with a glimpse of what talent coupled with focus, intensity and desire can bring for this team.
To be sure, poorly timed injuries to key pieces have greatly contributed to the morale dip on the team, but in the NFL injuries, even to key cogs in the system, are not reasons to come out flat and lifeless.
When some players on the team flat out admit that they came out with no energy or intensity against the Dolphins, in a home game that has playoff ramifications, it is downright heartbreaking and sickening.
Especially when you consider that this team has shown in spades this season that if they play hard for a full sixty minutes, good things can happen.
In order for this to work, the offense has got to help the defense out a little bit, or a divide could end up happening again, much like the Walsh debacle.
A good offensive performance, regardless of outcome this weekend, would go a long way to alleviating the fears of the fanbase in addition to the defensive personnel that are not only wounded, but damned tired as well.
A better effort is needed in the trenches to have a sniff of a chance against the Chargers. San Diego is playing better than most teams in the NFL right now and are right on track for their late season surge into the playoffs.
The Raiders showed earlier this season they can hang with the Chargers in a shootout, but that will not be their best bet to win. There isn't much to say after the last two weeks other than the Raiders need a much, much more inspired performance as an entire team.
The lack of effort and intensity in two very important games after having a week off to re-energize is very upsetting, and this team absolutely has to play much, much better to talk an already unstable Raider Nation back in off the ledge.
Better play more often this season has allowed the Nation to avoid a sky is falling mentality, but after seven long years of futility and some early season promise, it's slowly creeping back to that point.
And it must be stopped, by coming into San Diego and punching Corky and the Sunshine Band right in the teeth.
As always, thank you for reading, and all comments, good, bad and ugly are always welcome!
Enjoy the games folks!