Oakland Raiders Week 7: Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns
So a few minor things have happened since I last wrote an article two weeks ago today.
Minor things like the man, the myth, the legend, THE Oakland Raider, Al Davis, passing away. For those of us who thought of Al as some clandestine Blackbeard, forever immortal and pulling strings behind the scenes, it was tough to believe.
For those of us who, during our time in Raider Nation, had issues with Al but always loved and respected him, and saw him for the brilliant man and leader he was, it was difficult to accept.
For the media, peers, colleagues and football people who suddenly forgot anything negative about Al Davis and sung his praises, it was time to repent.
Though Davis had become a caricature of himself in some media circles, the response to his death was respectful, full of praise and empty of vitriol. As it should have been.
Despite recent failings and a caustic nature with the press that caused them to vilify Davis any chance they got, his successes and body of work speaks for itself, and could not be touched. Nor was it. Tribute after tribute from press member after press member sang one solid refrain: Davis was tough to deal with, but good at everything he did, and he did it his own way without any apologies. That is a legacy to be proud of.
Then, Jason Campbell went and injured himself. Kyle Boller came in and immediately showed that the Raiders were in trouble if he was their QB going forward. The Raiders panicked, and sent two high draft picks to the Cincinnati Bengals for Carson Palmer.
You know, a couple of minor details.
Was the Palmer trade a good idea? Can he contribute right away? What does this mean for Jason Campbell? Can the Raiders continue to dominate the AFC West? Who's under pressure to perform? What have we learned about the Raiders recently?
Turn over to find out.
Pressure: Hue Jackson
I like Hue Jackson, but he's getting a little Rex Ryan-ish lately. Calling the Palmer trade "the greatest trade in football" is a good sound bite, but there is no proof on the field as of yet.
When you combine that with his poor clock management over the last two weeks, and the fact that the Raiders continue to be penalized like it's going out of style despite Hue's insistence that they're working on it, well, Hue has to keep his head in the game a little bit more.
He's been a great coach thus far, and our offense has hummed along under him. But the wasted timeouts and poor clock management is something that he needs to shore up. As a rookie HC, it's bound to happen, but it's something he needs to work on.
But the reason he's under so much pressure is Carson Palmer. He's put all his eggs in Palmer's basket; he clearly was never sold on Jason Campbell despite Campbell's excellent play this season and the end of last.
Campbell's injury simply gave Jackson the justification for bringing in a better QB. That's never a bad idea; unless you now have a non-existent 2012 draft as a result. When you consider Campbell could possibly be back in six weeks, it's evident that Jackson was simply waiting for the opportunity to jettison Campbell for someone he perceives as an improvement.
Hue Jackson is under enormous pressure to have Carson Palmer perform at an elite level, because nothing short of elite recoups a first and second—possibly another first-round pick when you barely have any to trade in the first place.
Hue is supremely confident in his ability to run the team, and apparently to make personnel decisions and, frankly, give up more for Palmer than he probably needed to. If Al Davis were still alive, that deal either a) doesn't get made or b) we don't give up as much. But it is what it is, and Jackson's legacy is now tied to Carson Palmer in total.
Fortunately for Jackson, Palmer is a very talented and gifted player, so it may pan out. Either way, Jackson is now under enormous pressure to show that he didn't overpay out of desperation.
Pressure : Carson Palmer
Hey Carson, hope you enjoyed your time off. We just traded for you on Tuesday; here's your playbook, meet DHB and the guys you're going to be throwing to, and get ready to start on Sunday.
Now, I don't want Kyle Boller starting either, and Terrelle Pryor isn't ready. Palmer has some familiarity with the Raiders system and terminology, having worked directly with Hue Jackson on the Bengals in 2004 and 2005.
Incidentally, while Jackson was the WR coach in Cincinnati, Palmer had his best season and played lights-out. Jackson was also instrumental in recruiting him to USC back in the day and grooming him from his early years. These two guys go way back, and the marriage makes perfect sense and was, frankly, almost inevitable.
However, Hue hasn't done Carson any favours in the short term. He traded away the Raiders first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional second-rounder in 2013—it becomes a first if the Raiders make the AFC Championship game this season or next, which would actually make it worth it—for a QB who hasn't played since last December and who honestly didn't look like his Pro Bowl self when he was playing.
The Raiders swept their division last season and this season have played well. They are considered playoff contenders, and some even think they could supplant the San Diego Chargers and win the AFC West.
When Campbell got hurt, those aspirations dipped. Suddenly, the Raiders would be lucky to win eight games with Kyle Boller, and perception changed drastically. The Raiders, knowing they have a talented team that can make noise now, went out and got the best QB available for a King's ransom.
Those aspirations? Well the question has gone from Can the Raiders make the playoffs? when Jason Campbell was QB to "Can Carson Palmer lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl?"
The Raiders cache, and expectations, skyrocketed with the acquisition of Carson.
So yeah, the expectations on Palmer are a little bit high. The price the Raiders paid was extremely high. And if the Raiders don't make the playoffs, Palmer makes mistakes that cost the team, and it looks like Campbell would've done just as well, Palmer will be public enemy number one in Oakland, fair or not.
That's a little bit of pressure, but Palmer has been in pressure situations his whole life and he looks poised to thrive in the midst. I like what I've seen and heard.
UPDATE: I should've vetted this a bit better, I suppose, but rumour now has it that Boller will in fact start on Sunday. Of course, Hue alluded to the fact that Palmer, Boller, and Terelle Pryor are all "ready" if needed, so who knows what will happen? I'm still excited to see Palmer throwing to our young, talented players, but now it may be Week 9 after the bye. I apologize.
Pressure : Darren McFadden
The No. 1 rusher in the league under pressure? Sure he is; he always is.
Teams know the Raiders are going to run the ball, and that that means a heavy dose of D-Mac. When Jason Campbell was in there, it was all well and good. Campbell isn't an elite QB but he was good enough and savvy enough that teams couldn't stack eight or nine in the box to key on McFadden.
However, when Campbell was injured in the first half of last week's game and Kyle Boller came in, McFadden suddenly found himself with no room to run.
Enter Carson Palmer, who will keep defenses at least as honest as Campbell. In fact, with Palmer's arm strength and skill set, I believe D-Mac will find more room to roam than he's seen all year. But that probably won't happen until Palmer is fully acclimated sometime after the bye week.
McFadden, although playing well in all phases, hasn't broken 100 yards in two weeks and isn't getting as many touches for some reason.
The only reason there is any pressure on McFadden is because Carson Palmer is going to start, and he's rusty and will need the protection of an excellent running game to keep the team balanced. If somehow the Chiefs are able to stifle McFadden and make the Raiders one-dimensional, I'm not sure this Carson Palmer can handle it quite yet.
Carson Palmer can win a game by himself, but it would be a lot to ask for him to do it in his first start with a new team four days after he got to Oakland and just learned his receivers names. That's why D-Mac must step up; Palmer needs the help.
It's a good thing Run DMC is the best back in the league; shouldn't be an issue.
- As much as I love Matt Shaughnessy, the front seven actually looks better against the run without him in there. Desmond Bryant has really stepped it up, and Lamarr Houston is a beast
- Having said that, it's needed to have Sho-Nasty rushing the passer. When he gets healthy it would make sense to switch him to situational pass rusher and keep Bryant, Seymour, and Houston on the field for running downs
- I'm also loving the resurgence of Jarvis Moss. That guy is a relentless ball hawk with a non-stop motor who I love watching.
- Aaron Curry is looking like another rejuvenated reclamation, though I know it's only been one game. Still, he set the edge nicely, played good positional football and drove through many fundamental tackles. He looked really good.
- Louis Murphy looked scared and rusty on Sunday. It's a good think DHB and others have emerged as reliable targets, because I don't see Murphy giving us anything this year. His confidence looks shot.
- Jacoby Ford, welcome back. We missed you. Love ya kid!
- I expect Kevin Boss to start seeing more looks now that Palmer is in the mix. Palmer is great at utilizing his tight ends in the red zone.
- Shane Lechler, congrats! I know he's wanted to throw the ball his entire career, and he likes to remind people he was a QB in high school and the Raiders emergency QB. Well, that was a perfect spiral out to Boss for the fake field goal touchdown that was, in my opinion, the play of the game and much needed after Campbell got injured.
- With that said, kudos to Hue and Al Saunders for getting creative and trying to manufacture offense after Campbell was injured. Good job.
- However, they still need to throw the ball to D-Mac more often. I mean, one catch? He should be getting 15-20 carries and at least five catches a game. He's leading the NFL in rushing and getting touches, but he's still underutilized.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Would Crumble Without Al Davis
On the contrary, they have continued to move forward and in fact have made some very bold moves to improve their immediate situation.
If Al Davis is still alive, I don't know that the Carson Palmer trade happens. Davis was bullish on Jason Campbell and loved Terrelle Pryor; he probably would've used another stopgap solution - perhaps a trade for McNabb or something of that nature—until Campbell was healthy.
However, with Al unable to dissent, Hue Jackson got the man he's wanted since he came to Oakland in Carson Palmer. It's no secret that despite saying the right things and praising him publicly, Jackson had a hand in benching Campbell last season and has been looking for an upgrade.
Poor Jason Campbell. He plays at an elite level at Auburn, gets drafted in the first round, gets off to a decent start in Washington, and then has to deal with mis-management, injuries, coaching staff turnover and new playbooks every season.
He gets to Oakland, gets benched, plays his way back on the field, plays well, gets in good with Hue, Hue becomes head coach, Campbell has continuity for the first time in his career and is playing well and being a great leader, and then he gets injured.
Oakland immediately trades for a Pro Bowl QB and basically says: thanks for holding the spot, JC. Now it's time to move on, buddy. Good job.
Perhaps that's why I'm not as excited about Palmer; because I really like Campbell as a player and person and I feel just horribly for him. I can't even imagine what went through his head when he heard about the trade.
Hue has certainly shown, and shown swiftly and decisively, that the Raiders will continue to wheel, deal, and make bold strokes even with the old Pirate now up in the sky. Many wondered what the Raiders would do when Al died. The answer is clear: the exact same thing. A commitment to excellence; just win, baby!
Knockdowns: The Raiders Can't Stop the Run
Two weeks ago, the Raiders were #29 against the run, giving up over 140 yards per game and a putrid and embarrassing 5.9 yards per carry.
Now, they haven't stepped into the elite class of a Baltimore yet, but the past two weeks, against good backs like Arian Foster and Peyton Hillis, the Raiders have stepped up.
I alluded to it earlier, but the loss of Matt Shaughnessy on the defensive front has actually enabled the Raiders to put a better package of personnel on the field to stop the run.
Normally, the front four is Sho-Nasty, TK, Seymour, and Houston. With Shaughnessy injured, Seymour slides to DE, making the line now: Seymour, TK, John Henderson, and Houston.
This gives the line more size and strength, well sacrificing little speed. In short, it is a better lineup for stopping the run, and the results have shown it to be so.
After holding down Foster, Tate and the Texans and then outright shutting down the Browns last week, the Raiders have moved up to #16 in rushing defense and cut their yards per carry average down to 4.9, one full yard.
Well not elite yet, it's encouraging improvement, and bodes well for the future. The Raiders are #2 in the NFL on offense in rushing the ball, and the old NFL equation is simple: run the ball, stop the run, win games.
Wow. A tumultuous two weeks, what with Al passing away and the Raiders jumping to the head of the class and finagling Carson Palmer from the Bengals.
I have to take a wait and see on Palmer. I know how good he can be; but the fact he's never won anything significant, has been injured, and has turned the ball over a lot give me pause. I simply need to wait and see how he looks before passing judgement.
Unless he ends up in the AFC West, I will be rooting strongly for Jason Campbell next year. That guy got this team back to a point of looking good and efficient, and never got any credit for anything he did. He got a raw deal in Oakland, mostly through circumstance, and I hope things work out for him.
I expect the Raiders to run the ball right down the Chiefs' throats on Sunday, I expect D-Mac to continue his career long success against the division rival, and I expect Hue to use his new toy and have Palmer take a couple of shots down field on Sunday.
Regardless, the Raiders are a better team, are at home, are still inspired by Al Davis, and should walk away with a win to go 5-2 heading into the bye with some serious feel-good vibes and excitement to come.
However I may feel about Campbell, Palmer, and what transpired, I am very excited to see this offense with Palmer at the helm. It could be amazing; or it could not. But either way, I'm pumped to see what may come.
Thanks for reading as always folks. Comments are welcome, encouraged, and appreciated.