Oakland Raiders Week 2: Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns (Pregame Edition)
Hello, folks, and welcome back to my weekly column, Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns. This season, I will be doing two versions: A pregame spread on Friday that outlines who is under pressure for the upcoming game (plus things we learned from the previous game), and a post-game piece on Monday to see if my pregame article had any merit or was just completely off-base.
I hope you join me throughout the season as the Raiders continue their climb back to the top of the AFC West.
Week 1 is in the books, and for the first time since the Super Bowl year of 2002, the Raiders have won their season opener.
Not only did they win, they were dominant in the trenches, holding Denver to less than three yards per carry on the ground; sacking Kyle Orton five times and forcing numerous other holding penalties from the offense.
Oh, they also went for almost 200 yards on the ground themselves. But that's par for the course these days.
Yes, the bully came to play, but they also went a little overboard at times, resulting in 15 penalties for over 130 yards. A lot of that can be chalked up to the emotion and intensity of an opening night game under the prime time lights against your biggest rival. I don't anticipate the chippiness to be at nearly the same level in Buffalo on Sunday.
While the Raiders won, and looked quite good doing it in many aspects, there were also a few causes for concern and some players that will be under pressure to produce more this coming weekend.
The Raiders travel to Buffalo on a short week to play a 1 PM game on the East Coast. It is a perfect storm of negative travel factors for the Raiders, but that cannot be an excuse. Hue Jackson has stated that this team needs to play Raider football regardless of the circumstances, and has challenged them to step up.
Buffalo went into Kansas City and completely dismantled a Chiefs team many—myself not one of them—were high on after they won the AFC West last season. Buffalo's performance, coupled with the long travel on the short week, make this a very difficult task for the Raiders.
Are they up to it? Who needs to step up? What did we learn from the Broncos game?
Let's find out.
Pressure: Jason Campbell
Jason Campbell did nothing special against Denver, completing 13 of 22 pass attempts for 105 yards. Those numbers are pretty pedestrian, but the way the Raiders were running the ball and controlling the clock, Campbell didn't need to throw the ball any more than that.
When he did complete passes, seven of them went for first downs, and he made some key plays on key third downs to keep the clock rolling and the chains moving. He also threw a TD pass and rushed for another. So he didn't have a bad game at all.
However, he'll be under pressure this week from the majority of fans who interpret stats as a way of measuring a performance.
We in Raider Nation know that Campbell is capable of throwing the ball well and putting up numbers, but even we get exasperated with his propensity to check the ball down and not take any chances.
Although he managed the game well Monday night, Campbell missed Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey more than once for what would've been huge gains. He cannot be afraid to throw the ball downfield, and must become a little more aggressive.
In his career, when Campbell's YPA is over seven, he is a more effective quarterback. In his first three seasons, Campbell averaged less than seven YPA, and had a rating under 80. However, the last two years, he's averaged 7.2 YPA, and his rating has jumped to 85. That doesn't tell the whole story, as his teams also win when he throws the ball with more aggression.
Campbell is under pressure to make a few plays with his arm and maybe his legs as well, because the Bills are improved in the trenches and McFadden won't run over and around them as easily as he did the Broncos.
A more balanced attack will be needed to beat Buffalo, and Campbell is under pressure to do his part.
The Raider linebackers were in the backfield all Monday, shutting down the run and even putting some pressure on Kyle Orton when the front four wasn't in beast mode.
However, if there was one aspect the defense struggled with a bit on Monday, it was underneath coverage of backs and TE's in the passing game.
Combine that with the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick completing seven of 17 passes to TE's or backs in their season opener—including two TD's to TE Scott Chandler—and it's easy to see why the Raiders linebackers are under pressure in pass coverage this Sunday.
Against the Raiders, 14 of Kyle Orton's 24 completions went to backs or TEs, including a drop off over the middle to back Lance Ball that went for the Broncos' only offensive touchdown.
The Raiders' defense dominated in the trenches, and Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt stepped up and showed everyone outside of Raider Nation that Al Davis' bunch can still cover without Nnamdi Asomugha.
But the linebackers were often confused pre-snap regarding coverage. I noticed it, so certainly Orton did too, calling more than one audible to take advantage of the soft underneath and complete some easy passes.
The Raider linebackers are under pressure to cover well and take away the short and intermediate underneath routes against a Bills team that thrives on quick hit passes and yards after the catch.
With WR Stevie Johnson hobbled this weekend, Fitzpatrick will likely lean even more on the reliable Jackson and newfound favorite Chandler. The Raider linebackers need to be ready.
Pressure: Team Discipline
The Raiders have long been an undisciplined team. Since I became a fan of the Raiders roughly 20 years ago, they are always at or near the top of the NFL in penalties and penalty yardage.
At times, they've had a good enough team to overcome these penalties. In recent years, the lack of discipline simply added to the woes of the overall experience. However, in the past, that same lack of discipline helped foster a generation of fans and an attitude that stays with the team to this day.
Many in Raider Nation are okay with the penalties as long as we're winning. I don't disagree; I'm okay with pretty much anything short of ritual sacrifice if it means winning games. And hey, if John Elway is willing to volunteer, well, fire up the pyre!
But seriously, Hue Jackson wants this team to play smarter football. He preached it in the preseason and made a point that cutting down on penalties and playing smarter football was a huge point of emphasis for this squad.
Imagine his displeasure when they opened with 15 penalties for 131 yards on Monday night.
Personally, I feel this game was an anomaly when it comes to the rash of 15-yard unnecessary roughness and personal foul penalties. These two teams hate each other, got chippy from the first snap, and stayed on each other all game.
It's the pre-snap penalties that worry me, and they seem to come consistently from the RT position, whether it's Stephon Heyer or Khalif Barnes over there.
The Raiders dominated against the Broncos, but the scoreboard didn't reflect that domination due to the numerous foolish penalties that either stalled Raider drives, or extended Bronco ones.
The Raiders are under pressure to play far more disciplined this weekend. Simply, not playing the Broncos in a season opener on Monday night will cut down a lot of the 15-yard penalties, but Buffalo fans are loud, passionate, and excited about the prospects of being 2-0. That means the O-line needs to hold their water and play smart.
They are under pressure to show they can perform on the road, keep their wits, and stop shooting themselves in the foot. They are under extra pressure this weekend, because with a short week and a 1 pm start time, the Raiders already have enough factors working against them without having to battle themselves, as well.
They were good enough to overcome their penalties on the road against Denver; it's tough to say they could do it two weeks in a row. So smarten up a bit boys.
- Jacoby Ford looked nervous and as if he was trying to do too much on Monday. Last year he played exceptionally well with no expectations; this season, he's started a little rough with the glare of the lights on him
- Ford tweaked his hamstring Monday and may not be available against the Bills. That would be a big loss, even with his jittery play last week
- For some reason Nick Miller is getting the majority of the snaps in place of Ford and DHB, who tweaked a knee in practice yesterday
- As a result, Derek Hagan, who was a head-scratching healthy inactive last week, isn't getting many reps with the first team. After having an impressive preseason, and with Hagan possessing the most game experience of any receiver, it's confusing as to why he's being seemingly jobbed by the staff
- If this continues, I'm going to start calling Hagan, Neo-Javon
- Also banged up from Monday are Richard Seymour (ribs) and Michael Huff (groin). Seymour is expected to play; no word on Huff as of yet
- Mike Mitchell, the hard-hitting, playmaking strong safety who has yet to see the field this year, has been doing some running on the practice field and indicated his knee is much better. He stated he feels ready for Sunday, but it's up to the staff. Just a hunch, but thus far these coaches don't like guys to play without practicing much, so I expect Mitchell to be sidelined at least until the home opener
- The Bills and the Raiders, perennial NFL whipping boys, both looked impressive in their season openers and this promises to be a far better contest that many thought prior to the season
- The Chiefs, at least so far, are who I thought they were. Let's hope that continues; but no more season ending injuries, okay? As much as I hate the Chiefs, it was terrible to see young, talented players like Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry lost for an entire season. I hope those guys don't suffer any permanent, detrimental effects to their games, being so young and so talented
- Terrelle Pryor met with the NFL to appeal his suspension yesterday. No word yet, but it probably won't be overturned (May be reduced). I have many opinions on this and will write an article sometime soon; not enough room here.
- Michael Bush was the unsung MVP of the Broncos game. The "Bush Push 2.0" allowed Campbell to score on his sneak, and his pounding of the Broncos at the end just pushed them over the edge and they couldn't keep up. He's a very, very important player to us and showed it again on Monday
Knockdowns: Raiders Offensive Line Is in Trouble
The Raider offensive line has been maligned by everyone from opposing fans to pundits, Raider Nation to former coach Tom Cable (and even the old lady two doors down who always makes you take ribbon candy but knows nothing about football).
And with good reason. Despite being able to run the ball effectively—often more a product of Darren McFadden's speed and elusiveness—they haven't been able to keep their quarterback clean, or healthy, for many years now.
Though it's only been one game, against a suspect pass rushing team, the season opener continued a run of excellent pass blocking that began in the preseason.
Jared Veldheer, the LT, committed a ton of penalties and was turnstiled often last season.
Rather than curl into the fetal position and complain about the speed and level of play in the NFL as compared to football factory Hillsdale College however, Veldheer instead took his time during the lockout to open his own strength and conditioning facility in his native Michigan, and work his tail off to add twenty pounds of muscle while improving his speed and explosiveness.
It's worked so far. Veldheer shut down Von Miller repeatedly on Monday, on one occasion folding him over so far Miller's jersey looked like an origami pumpkin. He's been a beast since the season began, and shows no signs of slowing down.
The rest of the offensive line have made protecting the quarterback a priority, as despite receivers being covered often on Monday, Jason Campbell was sacked only once.
They have improved in the pass protection game while changing their philosophy in the run game, but it didn't hurt the results. The Raiders pushed around the Broncos front and second level, and D-Mac often found large creases to run through against Denver.
It's been one game, but this offensive line certainly looks far, far better than the 2010 version. In trouble against "Von Doom?" Sorry, but these guys were a group of Mr. Fantastics.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Aren't Ready for Primetime
The Raiders had lost eight straight season openers.
The Raiders had lost eight straight primetime night games.
The Raiders broke both those streaks on Monday.
In fact, since Hue Jackson joined the Raiders, they have broken a ton of streaks:
13 straight losses to the Chargers
Seven straight losing seasons
Seven seasons of 10+ losses (a dubious NFL record that makes me sick)
And various other less important ones like the six—or was it seven?—game losing streak to the Chiefs, etc.
Hue gets in the heads of these guys, challenges them, and puts them in a position to succeed. He practiced at 10 pm all last week in an effort to prepare these guys for playing late and under the lights. It worked.
The Raiders have struggled in 1 pm East Coast games, and will be travelling to Buffalo on a very short week to boot. In order to address this and adapt, Hue has the team practicing at 10 AM all week and preparing as if they are on East Coast time.
It worked in Denver; let's hope it works in Buffalo. One thing is sure, though: Hue Jackson has been a Raider streak buster, and this team is certainly ready for anything that comes their way from now on.
Knockdowns: Darrius Heyward-Bey Is Terrible
While four catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns is certainly nothing to write home about, Darrius Heyward-Bey has been so ineffective that it was the equivalent of a breakout game for him.
The reason is more for the catches he made than the stats they wound up as. He caught two clutch passes late in the game that allowed the Raiders to continue to move the chains and milk the clock, while clearing room for McFadden to run all game long by both blocking and running his coverage down field.
In short, he was as effective as he's ever been, and showed flashes of excellent potential production.
He made a very nice adjustment to a slightly off-target long bomb thrown by Campbell in the first half, outracing his coverage and tracking the ball over his shoulder and catching it solidly.
He made another nice catch in traffic later in the game, and had no drops whatsoever. He also showed some aggressiveness in running after the catch, breaking tackles, and getting down field.
While certainly far from a Pro Bowl performance, it was extremely gratifying to see DHB be the best receiver on the field for the Raiders and make plays not only underneath, but upfield, and when it counted.
Hopefully it is the beginning of bigger things, but one thing is for sure: this kid CAN play in the NFL. He showed that Monday.
In case you missed it, because I haven't harped on it enough, the Raiders have a tough task this weekend, travelling to Buffalo on a short week to play a 1 pm game against a Buffalo team that absolutely dismantled the KC Chiefs last weekend.
On paper, it seems the odds are stacked against the Raiders: but Hue Jackson doesn't believe in paper, or making excuses, and he's said that this team is coming to play Raider football regardless of rest, time of the game, or any other factors.
I believe him.
Jason Campbell will need to make some more plays this weekend, but he's infinitely capable of doing so. Lost in the pounding Buffalo gave KC is that their defense still gave up 120 yards on the ground, despite many claims of them dominating in every facet.
The Chiefs could run the ball against the Bills, though they are better. But I believe the Raiders have an edge in the trenches, and will make more big plays than the Bills to eke out a hard fought victory.
Either way, NFL, take notice. Both of these teams are improved, and they aren't going away. It should be an excellent game; especially if the Raiders play up to their capabilities.
Hue will make sure they do, and Ralph Wilson will be a little somber as a result.
Thank you for reading as always; check back Monday for the postgame PHK that addresses the points I've made in this article and looks at what really happened in the game.
Comments as always are appreciated and encouraged. One love, Nation!