Oakland Raiders Week 5: Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns
And a team to whom, unfortunately, the Raiders lose more often than not. Of course, that was the old Raiders, not the new, improved Raiders we've seen the majority of this season.
Houston will be without Andre Johnson, widely considered the best wideout in the NFL. They were without Johnson last year in Oakland, and Arian Foster ran all over the Raiders. Foster had over 120 yards, after halftime. Foster was shut down in the first quarter because of a violation of team rules; it didn't matter.
As soon as he entered the game, the poetic RB took off for a long TD run in which he showcased his long strides, ability to break tackles and then his love for himself with a grandiose TD celebration.
The Raiders were defeated, and embarrassed at home by a rival that we've all grown to hate. Kind of like last weekend's opponent.
I cannot overstate how much mistakes cost the Raiders last weekend. They were the better team on the field; when they got out of their own way. But from the moment Richard Seymour went a little too far—and did he REALLY deserve a penalty for that?—the Raiders hurt themselves more than the Patriots did.
The Raiders and their mistakes cost them the game against the Patriots. I'm not one to complain about officiating often, but all I will say is that the Patriots are a good enough team to win without substantial help—and double standard calls—from the officiating squad.
The Raiders are under pressure to clean things up this weekend, Jason Campbell must continue to play well and avoid the baffling mistakes he made last weekend and the coaching staff has to continue to feed McFadden, who inexplicably was taken out of the game plan for large chunks of time last weekend.
Hue has guaranteed a division title; I like the bravado, but now, he and the team have to put their money where his mouth so often is.
Can they do it? What else have we learned about the Raiders? Is Houston as good as people think? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions?
Turn the page and find out.
Pressure: Jason Campbell
Here he is again and will be often unless he stops making those one step forward four steps back mistakes he made last weekend.
Now, to say a man as big as Vince Wilfork was hidden sounds like a bit of a joke, but he truly was. I didn't even see him until he had the ball. Campbell had to, though.
But the interception in the end zone? You can see at the end of that play, DHB, who has played better than he's given credit for this season, separated and was open in the end zone. Rather than look anywhere, Campbell tried to throw it away. The simplest throw in sport. Instead, he threw it right to Patrick Chung.
The Raiders at that point, based on their red-zone numbers for the year and the fact that the Patriots D couldn't stop Steven Hawking from throwing for 400 yards, would've scored a TD and most likely taken the lead into halftime.
Instead, a deflated defense held well enough to keep the Patsies to a field goal, and the Raiders were down. They never recovered.
There was no rhyme or reason for that pick. It was dumbfounding and amazing. I still can't believe it.
Campbell is under pressure to show he can dual with an elite quarterback—Schaub—and help this team win while avoiding brain cramps and mistakes that cost them possessions. I really like Jason Campbell, and he's played very well this year, but without that pick in the end zone, the Raiders probably would have won last weekend. We were strongly outplaying them to that point, then, things turned around.
Campbell needs to bounce back, but more importantly, he needs to stop doing things like this to silence the doubters and critics. Because when he does stuff like that, they look right.
Pressure: Raider Run D and Rolando McClain in Particular
This one is simple. The Raiders were supposed to improve against the run and cut down on penalties this year. They've done neither.
Rolando McClain was supposed to begin getting it this year, working hard and leading this defense. He was supposed to be a difference maker. He's been none of that.
The Raiders have, at times, shown excellent play in the trenches against the run. But once again, the defensive philosophy is "the quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard!" which is all well and good, and we do it fairly well.
However, we do it at the expense of a run defense, and it's killed us. We held Brady somewhat in check last weekend, and if you don't believe me and say "well he didn't throw that often" he threw over 30 times and completed barely 50 percent. Those are pedestrian numbers for any QB, but downright ugly for Brady.
But we couldn't stop Stevan Ridley or the Law Firm. So, the Patriots used a balanced attack to beat the Raiders. Simple.
In the "build a bully" model, the offensive line is doing their part. Rushing the passer, the defensive line is doing their part.
Stopping the run? The linebackers, and McClain in particular, are nowhere to be found. Quentin Groves has been far more effective than McClain, and he was a cast-off, not a first-round pick drafted for the sole purpose of stopping the run.
McClain is not aggressive, at least not nearly as aggressive as when he came in. He gets pushed around by lineman, tight ends AND backs. And he doesn't get off blocks well. Often, he looks like he's running in quicksand.
I keep thinking he'll come around, but maybe he won't. Maybe he's just not as good as we'd hoped. Regardless, the entire run D is under pressure because the Texans will run it a boatload with Johnson injured, and why not against the fourth worst rush D in the NFL?
McClain is under pressure to show that he belongs in the middle of this defense; that he deserves the role of leader. Because thus far, not just his on-field play but his churlishness and deflection of blame to the media, smacks of immaturity, not leader. It's time to step up; it's key for this team's success.
Pressure: Raider Secondary
Also simple, some key pieces are hurt, and Schaub is an elite quarterback.
The loss of Andre Johnson helps the Raiders, but with Joe Porter and DVD set to start in place of Michael Huff and the young but thus far impressive Chimdi Chekwa, inexperience and raw talent are the order of the day.
Expect Schaub to target DVD early and be surprised that the kid can cover. If he looks for the ball, I expect a pick. He's got great instincts but horrible ball skills. It'll come.
Porter has been a pleasant surprise, especially in run support. But he's been toasted in coverage often, and it's going to be more responsibility than he's used to. Hopefully, he answers the bell.
The Raiders need to play well on D, because their offense has been lights-out this year. If the defense can match, this team can beat anyone. If the defense continues to give up 65 percent completions and 400-plus yards of offense, they can lose to anyone.
Simple. The secondary is under pressure because they are hurt, young and inexperienced and because the offense has more than done their job this year. The defense needs to step it up.
- Darrius Heyward-Bey has played well this season. He hasn't caught a ton of balls, but when he has, they've been for first downs, and he's made some plays after the catch. He's also blocked very, very well for McFadden downfield. Of course, it's DHB, so all anyone will say about this bullet is "he dropped an easy first down!" Yes, he did. And for the first time all year. That's something.
- I continue to be baffled by the fact that McFadden rarely if ever gets his name called for screen passes. That's counter-intuitive to Al Saunders' past play-calling and detrimental to the team
- It's a shame that rookie Chimdi Chekwa is hobbling; he was really improving week to week and showing some special skills. I think he's going to be a good one
- Before Quentin Groves came on this season, I would've said we should go after Aaron Curry with a late-round flier. But Groves is playing well thus far and seems to be getting better by the week, although he was a little weak against the Pats run last weekend.
- It's amazing how many big plays the Raiders give up in the run game. As a fan, it's sickening to feel and almost know that the instant a back gets past the first level it's going to be a 30-plus yard gain. In fact, whenever an RB hits a hole at speed, I always say "Uh oh" out loud, because I just know our LB's won't fill that gap, despite what I said about Groves above. Oxymoron yes; I stand by it though
- That may explain why the Broncos and Jets got a combined 109 yards against the Raiders, yet they are still fourth worst in the NFL against the run. Big plays mean a putrid 5.9 yard per carry average that is Georgia Tech-like. Embarrassing and costly.
- As Richard Seymour said, stopping the run is a mindset. Well, start using your heads, boys. Because you aren't there yet.
- Speaking of which, can someone tell Desmond Bryant he went to Harvard? Shouldn't he be smart enough to avoid the myriad 15-yard head-slap penalties he gets every single game that do nothing but hurt the team? Just because you have a club on your hand doesn't mean you have to use it, Des. Think please.
- It's a shame young Sho-Nasty is injured. Although he didn't have the stats, he was a disruptive force that was coming on in recent weeks and is good at setting the edge. Expect Seymour to rotate over at times, with the new, improved Jarvis Moss seeing a lot more deserved playing time
Knockdowns: Jared Veldheer Cannot Play Left Tackle
As I allude to in-the-picture caption, Jared Veldheer is still flying squarely under the radar despite putting together a Pro-Bowl caliber season thus far at left tackle.
Despite facing Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller—who has four sacks in four games and looks like the real deal—Marcell Dareus, Calvin Pace and the myriad Jets front, scheme, blitzes and rushers, and the Patriots collection of pass-rushing misfits last week, Veldheer has given up exactly: 0 sacks and one QB hit all season.
It's a tough test with Mario Williams, rejuvenated under Wade Phillips' new 3-4 defense and rookie sensation JJ Watt this weekend, but Veldheer, and the rest of the line, show they are up to the task.
The Raider O-line has been a laughing stock for years, and experts were quick to pounce and throw dirt. However, I hear no mention of how well they are playing this year as a unit, despite leading the NFL in rushing and giving up the least amount of sacks in the league.
This line has been nothing short of dominant, which is why the offense has looked so good. Jason Campbell, his brain cramps from last weekend aside, has had time, and it shows. He's going through his reads, he's not checking the ball down nearly as often—and after the Wilfork interception and Hue's subsequent sideline comments it'll probably decrease further—and he's striding into his throws. He's confident in the pocket, and that comes from having his blind side well taken care of.
Veldheer did struggle last season, giving up 11.5 sacks and having quite a few penalties. However, he was coming from D-II college where the game and talent level is, well, a little light compared to the NFL. It was, of course, going to take him some time to acclimate and adjust, and he didn't do it well last year.
With that in mind, he returned to his native Michigan during the lockout, where he and a friend opened a strength and conditioning center for local college and NFL prospects. Veldheer added 10-plus pounds of muscle while getting quicker and more agile, and it's certainly shown this season.
The Raiders have yet to develop any cache outside of Darren McFadden and the lovable and impressive Denarius Moore. However, if he shuts down Mario Williams this weekend, it can no longer be denied Veldheer has developed into one of the better LT's in the NFL. And he's in his second season.
Meaning the Raiders drafted a franchise LT from a small D-II school in the third round. Yeah, this team sucks at drafting. What's that? Oh right. Moore was in the fifth. Just wanted to put that out there.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Are Ready To Play with the Big Boys
I thought so too, but last weekend showed they are still a shot of personal discipline and better execution away from being able to win one against an elite team.
We slaughtered and physically beat up the Jets the week before, but they have shown all season they are not an "elite" team. At least not in the vein of the Patriots.
The Raiders have a chance to bounce back and show they are in the upper echelon by winning a very, very tough road test in Houston. Houston rarely loses at home, rarely loses to the Raiders and have their swagger back after Arian Foster looked like his old galloping self last weekend.
The Raiders, on the other hand, have to be wondering why, every time they are ready to take that next step and get a seat at the adult table, they take one step forward and two steps back. And why they beat themselves rather than losing to teams.
I'm not delusional or trying to sugar-coat a loss; the Raiders beat themselves more than the Patriots beat them last weekend. The key penalties on the first drive, when the Raiders had Brady flummoxed and ready to get off the field on a 3rd-and-14, started it all. That was on Seymour, who was FAR too excited to play this game. He lost his cool, which doesn't happen a lot, but when it does, it hurts this team.
Jason Campbell's interceptions, one of which cost points and defied human—or inhuman, animal, insect, or any other breathing creature's—logic, were another key contributor. Campbell throws that pass to DHB instead of Patrick Chung, and this is a different ball game, because although the Pats were scoring at will, so were the Raiders, and the Pats defense has proven to be even worse than ours.
The referees certainly picked up on the lack of discipline and called a decidedly one-way affair; but the Raiders made it too easy for them. Still, I hate the Patriots and the heavy petting they receive from the league. It's sickening.
Regardless, the Raiders have improved in many ways, but they still aren't over that hump yet, the one in which they can beat an elite, or even solid, out of division opponent in a way that makes the rest of the league stand up and take notice.
Yes, that kind of happened when they beat the Jets. Until people realized the Jets are paper champions who scare nobody except good taste and decorum and diminished the Raiders win, as the media likes to do.
Until we win a game like this weekend, nobody but Raider Nation will believe we are truly back. It's time to show them we can win a big game. It's time to bring that Silver and Black attack back and have it mean something just a little more, like it should.
It's simply time to step up in weight class and knock someone senseless. Houston, though tough, has a glass jaw and a few well-placed blows should do the trick. Our defense, though, has to strike said blows, or it will be yet another disappointment as we try to get a place at the table.
If the Raiders lose this game, the sky is not falling, but that would mean falling under .500, and with the Chargers playing Denver, a realistic shot at being two games behind San Diego five games in.
Hue Jackson has preached that this team needs to be able to win in any circumstance, so travelling to Houston and playing at 1pm is no reason this team can't bring their A-game. They dominated in Buffalo under much tougher—the toughest a team has faced all season, in fact—circumstances for the first half but ran out of steam in the second.
Hopefully, they learned from that.
Jason Campbell will bounce back; I love what I've heard from him this week. We saw the bad, old Campbell last weekend, but I believe in this guy—even if I'm the only one—and I think he even outplays Matt Schaub this weekend.
Andre Johnson provides Schaub a handy dandy security blanket, but Schaub has a losing record when Johnson is out—five wins, six losses—and his passer rating drops by more than 20 points. Translation: Schaub is only Schaub when AJ is on the field.
The Raiders know how important this game is and will prepare accordingly. There are some injury concerns, but the Raiders are also getting Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford back healthy, meaning a vastly improved receiving corps just got even better.
The defense knows this is on them, and they've been talking all week like prideful men who are sick of letting their teammates down. Let's hope so, because the offense has done more than enough.
If the defense can reciprocate, it should be a pleasant afternoon at Reliant Stadium. If not? A long ride home.
Cheers all, and thanks for reading as always! As you know, questions, comments and anything you'd like to say within reason is welcome, encouraged and appreciated!! One love, Nation!!
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