State of the Oakland Raiders, Week Three
The Oakland Raiders defeated the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 22-8 last Sunday. For the Raiders, it was their second consecutive win at Arrowhead Stadium. Prior to last year, the Raiders had been winless at Arrowhead in the previous four tries.
It's the first time since 2004 that the Raiders were able to avoid an 0-2 start to the season. It's the earliest the Raiders have won a road game in any season since 2002, when the Rich Gannon led Raiders beat the Steelers in Heinz Field during Week Two of the 2002 season. In that game, Gannon threw 64 times and Terry Kirby returned a Pittsburgh kickoff for a touchdown. Yes, it has been a while.
These Raiders were led by a powerful ground game, spearheaded by rookie RB Darren McFadden (164 yards). McFadden doesn't do all the dirty work himself, he was supplemented in his efforts by Michael Bush and Justin Fargas, not to mention a great effort from the five guys up front: Mario Henderson, Robert Gallery, Jake Grove, Cooper Carlisle, and Cornell Green.
For the defense, Kirk Morrison and Tyvon Branch intercepted Chiefs' co-starters Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen. The much-maligned run defense held Larry Johnson under two yards per carry.
The Raiders' domination against the Chiefs atoned for the drubbing they took from rival Denver just six days prior. According to Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, the Raiders have been the most average team in the NFL through two weeks, although their path to mediocre has been anything but run-of-the mill. It's simply the product of averaging awful with great.
The Raiders' offense is at it's most promising since 2004. This is more in spite of QB JaMarcus Russell than because of him. It's too early to say with certainty how good Russell will be for the Raiders, but the Raiders have no semblance of a passing game right now, and opponents know that.
This makes the power of the rushing attack even more impressive. The Chiefs weren't exactly playing with eight guys in the box every play, but they are a talented defensive team that was powerless against the Raiders' rushing onslaught.
It's not totally fair to rip Russell, who completed some nice passes down the middle of the field against a pass-heavy defense for Denver in the middle of the blowout on Monday. The early returns on ball security and game management from the QB have not been good, but ball security is a coachable skill, and he's still very young.
If the Raiders are going to compete for the AFC West crown, the young talent on defense will have to play like seasoned veterans. They struggled mightily against the run last year, and really expected to improve this season. The defensive effort against Denver was lacking, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan got the Raiders turned around fast.
The team might be without star DT Tommy Kelly for up to four games, as he was arrested under the suspicion of DUI. The Raiders can ill-afford to lose Kelly up front, but he's already technically in violation of the NFL's player conduct policy, so Raider fans will just have to hope for the best.
The biggest disappointments in Oakland thus far have been the defensive backs brought in via free agency: DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson. Both were absolutely torched in the Denver game, but were much better against Kansas City. Though neither is going to have a chance to produce at the level at which they were paid, the Raiders will be fine on defense if they can play like they did against Kansas City for the rest of the season.
Fourth round rookie Tyvon Branch (UConn) got his first career interception off of Damon Huard. The Raiders have invested more draft value in their secondary than any team in the AFC West over the last six drafts, and it's been very disappointing that the Raiders had to turn to the outside for help despite that fact. If Branch can develop into a starting defensive back for the Raiders, it takes a lot of pressure off of the coaches to keep playing their overpaid players.
Branch, McFadden, Mario Henderson, and Russell are all Raider draft picks in the last two years that MUST produce for the Raiders to have a serious shot at taking the AFC West this year. The team needs to carry this momentum to an upset of Buffalo in Orchard Park to move to 2-1 and get right back into the playoff picture—something that seemed unfathomable only a week ago.
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