Oakland Raiders Week 4: Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns
Now, THAT was a gratifying win. Beating a long-time and hated conference rival while out-muscling a supposedly "physical" team and shutting up the biggest mouths in the sport were all great in itself.
Winning at home in front of a rare—but not for long, I'm thinking—sold-out crowd against a formidable foe by sticking to the game plan and getting solid play from all facets of the team were pretty great too.
Being over .500 in September for the first time since 2004 is pretty good as well.
But the best thing about this all? It's only the beginning. This team is not stepping anywhere but forward for the first time in a long time. And it feels really, really good.
This team is different, no question. For years, Raider fans have wanted to believe we were better than we are. After all, this is a storied franchise with a history of success and our fans want that. Even if we had to invent it.
Admit it, Nation. You talked up a team you knew was poor over the last seven years at some point, yourself not even believing what you were saying, but hoping (just HOPING).
Many derided Raider fans as we spoke of the young talent we're stockpiling, pointing to Al Davis' love for combine stars that can't play football. Talent has never been the problem in Oakland, though. Just football players.
Well, these combine stars can play football, no question. And are. And are playing it well.
Still, they face a very stern test against an angry and embarrassed New England Patriots team that got the same Buffalo Bills treatment last week that the Raiders received in Week 2. Only New England hadn't traveled across the country on four days rest, whereas the Raiders had. Just saying. Take that how you will.
New England is so upset, and Tom Brady so despondent over throwing four interceptions, that Brady actually cut his hair! I mean, this must be serious if Tom Terrific is willing to shore off his locks to rid himself of the bad Buffalo juju. The Raiders could be in trouble.
Who in this game is under the most pressure? What have we learned about this team thus far? And what, exactly, is going on regarding some of the lesser-publicized Raider stories and players?
Let's check it out.
Pressure: Raider Linebackers and Safeties
You may have heard of Wes Welker. He's a real "gym rat" who's a "football junkie" that is just like a little "whirling dervish" in the slot. He's also coming off a career high in yards and catches (16 catches for 217 yards), and ticked off that his career game went for naught as the Patriots blew a lead and lost to the Bills.
Welker has a lot of superlatives reserved for him, you see. And with good reason. He's flat out one of the most difficult and frustrating players to cover in the NFL, and as a result puts up massive numbers in the passing game, all while helping Brady look as good as he does.
Brady is a great QB, but Welker certainly bails him out time and again. The two of these guys play pitch and catch each and every week, and Welker is always open; never dropping the ball when found.
Despite the rise in nickel, dime, and even quarter coverage packages, Welker often finds himself matched up with a linebacker or safety. When this happens, he almost always makes a play. He's too quick and slippery for either to cover.
The Raiders have struggled somewhat this season in the underneath passing game, giving up big gains to running backs, slot receivers, and tight ends on occasion thus far this season.
They tightened up the coverage last weekend against the Jets in the second half, but LaDainian Tomlinson got loose on more than one screen pass, and Dustin Keller was open more than Sanchez found him.
This is an issue on top of Welker, because the Patriots have a decent tight end with a little size in Rob Gronkowski. In fact, he's huge, he's fast, and he's got great hands—a matchup nightmare.
Meanwhile, Rolando McClain has shown an excellent ability to not only cover the middle of the field in the passing game, but to get his hands up and make a play on the ball when it's thrown. He has great instincts in the passing game, and is improving every week.
He's helped by Tyvon Branch, but who I've been impressed with as he's filled in for Huff and others with injury is Jerome Boyd. He's shown the ability to stick his nose in the run game, but he's also been very effective covering backs and tight ends in the passing game. He hits hard, has good speed, and is aggressive; he's played well.
The one thing the linebackers and safeties have to remember: Do not over play Welker or let him fool you. If you over play Welker, he's gone (as he's faster than people think he is). He is my main concern this weekend, and if the Raiders can keep him somewhat in check, it'll go a long way to them winning.
Throw in the young but talented Chimdi Chekwa, who showed last weekend the NFL isn't too big for him and he can cover receivers quite well, and you have some fast, hard-hitting youngsters ready to take Welker and Brady out of their game.
They are under pressure to do so, because if the Patriots use their passing attack like a defacto run game with the same effectiveness they have thus far this season, their record-breaking offensive attack may continue unabated. Slow down Welker and the quick, underneath pass, and the Patriots are out of their comfort zone.
Pressure: Raider Pass Rush
The Raiders are picking up where they left off last season, with 10 sacks in three games (which is tied for 4th in the NFL).
The Raiders had five sacks each against both Kyle Orton in the opener in Denver, and last week against the "Sanchize" in Oakland.
In between there, against a prolific passer that gets the ball out uber-quick and makes hot reads faster than you can say "Amish Rifle," the Raiders sacked Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick exactly zero times.
Brady is like a quicker, more experienced, and better Fitzpatrick.
Against the Bills it wasn't so much a lack of penetration as it was Fitzpatrick getting the ball out of his hands faster than the speed of light. The Raiders would mount a rush, only to see the ball whiz by their head harmlessly.
The Bills, though, offered a blueprint for stymieing Brady, as much as that's possible. Get your hands up. If you can't sack him—which is extremely difficult to do due to the excellent offensive line and Brady's preternatural mental makeup—then at least disrupt the play.
This worked wonders for Buffalo, who knocked down three passes at the line and deflected another that was intercepted—one of four a noticeably frustrated and flummoxed Brady threw on the day—by Drayton Florence and returned for a touchdown.
The Raiders, though, have something they didn't against the Bills, and something that helped them physically punish the Jets last weekend: They HATE these guys.
Richard Seymour remembers all too well how Bill Belichick did him dirty, and never has a word to say about the man despite glowing praise for all things New England. You can bet he's had this one circled since the day he was traded. His knowing smile this week said it all: I will kill New England, and I will enjoy it immensely.
Raider Nation remembers all too well the "tuck rule" game and how the Patriots have fared since that fateful day. Though a long time ago, after Brady himself admitted the Raiders got jobbed, it's still a tough one to let go of and one that will always stick around.
Plus, it's the Patriots. Boston-area sports fans, through recent success, have become the most insufferable and arrogant of the bunch, and none are worse in that respect than Patriot fans. This is a team impossible to like by choice; and I don't think anyone but Patriot fans would disagree with me.
Anyhow, the Raiders are under pressure to get Brady under pressure, because that guy can slice up a secondary like a Ninja if he gets enough time in the pocket.
Pressure: Jason Campbell
This is nothing negative, as Jason Campbell has been stellar this season. The guy has really stepped up his leadership and command of this team, and every word, deed, and step to the line of scrimmage exudes confidence and authority. This guy has arrived, and he knows it.
The only reason he's under any pressure is because there is still a misconception that Campbell himself cannot guide the Raiders to victory.
Despite all the good press and buzz surrounding the Raiders, Campbell is still thought of as a question mark, and you get the impression from experts and such that the Raiders are one Run DMC injury away from regressing to the putrid Art Shell offense circa 2006.
That's simply not true. Campbell, in the two victories, hasn't had to throw much because the running game has been so prolific. When he did throw in those games, he was solid, and almost every throw he made was clutch and moved the chains. Perfect.
However, when he had to win a game all by himself in Buffalo, he did his job. He led the Raiders to three second half touchdowns with his arm alone, and his only bad throw of the day—and it wasn't even bad, it just resulted in an INT—was a hail mary pass that was thrown so well it was almost caught.
Bottom line is Campbell is better than people have given him credit for, and he can win a game if it's need of him to do so. He's under pressure to make some plays, because New England can score.
But so can the Raiders, and so can Campbell. He's under pressure from those who still don't believe in him, despite his repeated success as the leader of this team. He's under pressure because New England can score, and he will have to help the run game keep up.
- Soon I'll dedicate more space to the kid who definitely deserves it, but what Moore can I say about Denarius that all the experts and pundits haven't said already? The real deal? Understatement of the century.
- Oakland's return game looked much better against the Jets with Moore and Taiwan Jones back there. Nick "Running in Quicksand" Miller is my best guess for the player soon to be Terrelle Pryor on the 53-man roster
- Quentin Groves going out early was scary, which is funny. How many people would've danced a jig if Groves got hurt last year?
- I said it before at the beginning of the season, and I'm certainly not backing off it now: if he stays healthy, in this offense with Hue and Al Saunders running things, Darren McFadden will lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage.
- However, they NEED to start looking for D-Mac more in the screen game. It's hard to nitpick an offense that's rolling along this well, but some quick-hit passes out of the backfield would be nice
Knockdowns: The Raiders Will Miss Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller
When the Raiders lost both Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller this offseason, many people thought they'd take yet another step back after improving last season.
Those in Raider Nation who love Asomugha, but understood his success was as much a product of overall team futility as his own play—not to say he isn't a top corner, but he rarely was tested here—realized that although we'd miss his coverage skills, his presence on the field wasn't the be all, end all for the defense, as the team even went 2-1 without him last season.
Zach Miller, on the other hand, was looking to be a huge loss. Until, that is, the Raiders signed Kevin Boss away from the New York Giants. Though hurt the first two games of the year, Boss made two big catches against the Jets and caved in numerous blockers on the edge to give Run DMC, Big (Michael) Bush, and others lanes to run.
Boss is a better blocker, but apparently not as good in the pass game. Miller is a beast of a pass catcher at TE and was much loved in Raider Nation, but he isn't exactly setting the world on fire in Seattle. That could have as much to do with Tarvaris Jackson as Miller, but when he basically said he took more money to go to a lesser team, he wasn't quite as revered in Raider Nation any longer.
The Raiders have struggled somewhat in pass coverage, but thus far this season Asomugha's replacement at the No. 1 corner spot, Stanford Routt, has the best burn percentage in the NFL and is vastly outplaying his departed peer. Routt already has a pick and a ton of pass knockdowns. In fact, without Asomugha, the Raiders still lead the NFL in pass breakups with 28.
Youngsters like Joe Porter at safety and Chimdi Chekwa at corner have shown flashes of excellence. Porter is solid in run support and underneath coverage, and aside from Routt, Chekwa was the most impressive DB on the field for the Raiders against the Jets. Even though Burress caught that TD pass, Chekwa was a second skin on him and it took a perfect throw and catch to beat him.
DeMarcus Van Dyke has been slowed by injuries early in his rookie season, but I like what I've seen out of him as well, and it wasn't lost on me that Chris Johnson struggled and so did the entire pass defense against the Bills after DVD got hurt. He has more positive impact than most realize.
The bottom line is that though Nnamdi and Zach are great players who's loyalty through the hard times made them beloved Raiders—and, you know, them being the only competent players for a while—this team is better without them, and are showing it.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Cannot Beat Strong Competition Straight Up
This one is pretty simple: For years it was thought that for the Raiders to beat an elite team, they would have to get very lucky and have many factors go their way.
Even when it did happen on the rare occasion, it was chalked up as an anomaly and the Raiders were tossed back onto the slag heap for another go-round.
Well, after pummelling a Jets team that prides themselves on beating people up in the trenches, people can no longer gloss over a Raider victory against an elite team.
Not that I'm saying the Jets are elite; that remains to be seen, even if they've been elevated already by the media and their own egos. What I am saying is that the Raiders physically dominated and handled a respected AFC runner-up two years running in every facet last weekend.
In years past, that would've been considered lucky.
Now? People are taking the Raiders seriously, and giving them plenty of praise. I have to be honest—after years of being the NFL's punching bag along the lines of teams with lesser history and an owner that isn't an NFL icon like Detroit and Cleveland—I'm not sure how I feel about this sudden good will toward the Raiders.
It's like someone being mean to you for a long time, and then suddenly they're nice to you because you have money or something they want. It's a lie, and it's usery; but you go along with it.
The media glad-handing lately feels like usery; because as recently as two weeks ago, the media was still trashing this team for lack of organizational structure, for letting its best players walk, and for generally being inept.
Now? Genius building through the draft and a young, up-and-coming team built on size, speed and strength that will be tough to deal with.
It's funny—and sickening, really—how wishy-washy the mainstream media is from week to week. But it's also fair; you have to be good to be complimented, and the Raiders are now. I just don't know how I feel about everyone else liking them after suffering with the Nation for so long.
I guess we probably all feel a little entitled to enjoy our early success with each other before everyone else joins the party. But if, and when, we beat the Patriots this weekend there will be no slowing the train.
Well, another huge home test against another tough AFC East opponent this weekend when the wounded, angry, and embarrassed Patriots come to town.
Though I, like all Nationers, hate the Patriots more than anyone not from the AFC West, I wanted them to hold on last week, because the prospect of facing a rested and happy Patriots team is far less daunting than one coming off a blown lead and QB so angry he cut his beautiful hair after throwing four picks.
I don't care. This Raider offense is unstoppable, and if the Pats can't even stop the Dolphins, Oakland's going to score lots of points. Can the Raiders stop them? Probably not, but more than the Pats can stop them I think.
The bully-in-training's special teams is superior; their defense is better; and the offense is pretty much on par, as Campbell has shown he can play any style as long as it helps the team win.
This team is poised to win a second big game in a row and serve notice to everyone that they are, indeed, back. Many believe it already; this will cement it in stone.
Thanks for reading as always! Comments encouraged, appreciated, and welcome.