Oakland Raiders' Letdown Is Cause for Concern

Brian ParkContributor IAugust 30, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 29: Quarterback JaMarcus Russell #2 of the Oakland Raiders sits on the bench during the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 29, 2009 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Look on the bright side, Raider Nation. Preseason records are rarely ever a good indication of a team's future success.

Last year, the Lions went undefeated in the preseason, so you can only imagine how the Detroit faithful felt being blindsided by the worst season in NFL history.

Still, the dejected look on Tommy Kelly’s face as he walked back to the sidelines following the point after to make it 31-0 said it all.

The Raiders, a team with such vast potential, who came into the pre-season with good vibes and some nice momentum, have had their proverbial bubble burst.

This isn’t to say though that the season is lost before it has even begun. Hope springs eternal in Oakland and the Raiders have a lot to look forward to in the 2009-2010 campaign.

Given JaMarcus Russell’s improved play this offseason and a weakly perceived AFC West, it’s more than reasonable to believe that the Raiders will finish in the top half of their division.

However, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this Silver and Black optimism. As former two-time Super Bowl winning Raiders head coach and current analyst Tom Flores expressed, Saturday afternoon’s 45-7 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints was a flat-out embarrassment.

It’s hard to point out any particular negatives in a game like this, but given their ineptitudes that began last week against the 49ers, the defense bats leadoff in what is a lineup of problematic issues and misgivings.

After allowing 275 yards rushing to the lowly San Francisco 49ers, head coach Tom Cable and defensive coordinator John Marshall made run defense a clear point of emphasis in training camp this week.

But given the 536 yards of total offense the Saints put up on Saturday, it’s safe to assume the Raiders’ defense has, instead, regressed.

Drew Brees was nearly perfect in only three offensive drives, throwing for 179 yards and three touchdowns on 14-for-17 passing.

A three-time Pro Bowl quarterback he might be, but the Raiders’ defense made Brees out to be the physical manifestation of Touchdown Jesus.

While giving credit to where it is due (great execution and perfect game planning on the Saints’ part), the Raiders were just plain awful.

First and foremost, as it was a problem last week (and last year), the Raiders’ poor tackling and inability to bring down ball carriers with initial contact are proving to be drive-savers for opposing offenses.

From first and goal of the Saints’ opening touchdown drive, fullback Heath Evans ran his way into the end zone nearly untouched.

Mind you, it was on first and goal, and Evans was met by only one Raider defender, Trevor Scott, who failed to bring him down with initial contact.

Again, in the following scoring drive, on second-and-6, Brees connected with Lance Moore on a quick slant that should have gone for only four yards, but instead, went for eight and a first down.

On that play, Moore was quickly met by Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson, but Johnson’s inability to firmly wrap up Moore led to the yards after the catch.

Poor fundamentals were a major reason why Marshall was brought in as defensive coordinator. Marshall is noted as a tough, no-nonsense disciplinarian, much like Cable, who places a high priority on solid fundamentals.

However, despite a rudimentary approach in the first week of training camp, the Raiders have failed to improve in this department.

To avoid a repeat performance, it has become gravely obvious that an emphasis on fundamentals should be a primary focus of the staff’s throughout the regular season.

The Saints benefited from a quick strike offense that provided plenty of options for Brees. Any defense would be hard pressed to stop such an attack, but you would at least like to see the Raiders to put up a better fight.

The word from camp has been that the players have been spirited and have competed well, but that attitude has failed to translate onto the field.

In any sport, the elite teams will have offenses that will misfire more times than not, but great defenses are a constant. If the Raiders intend to make the jump back into national relevance, as many around the organization believe they can, the defense must adopt a completely new mindset.

Great defense is part skill and good game planning, but it is driven to success by a sedulous approach and an aggressive attitude.

In Saturday’s performance, the Raiders were neither in both regards, and instead, seemed unprepared and conveyed a lackadaisical attitude.

The general feeling about the third game of the preseason is that it is the best measure of a team’s future success and provides a good barometer of where a team stands.

After all, the projected team starters usually play opposing starters for at least the first half, and teams prepare for their third preseason game as they would a regular season game.

Raider Nation certainly doesn’t hope Saturday’s offensive showing is any indicator of what is to come.

Given the strides JaMarcus Russell has made and how well the offense has performed, for the most part, in its first two pre-season games, Saturday wasn’t so much a foretelling as it was a momentary, albeit disastrous, letdown.

Against the Saints, Russell was pressured more than he was in the first two games, and that was made evident from the first drive when the Saints’ pass rush batted the ball out of Russell’s hand as he was rearing back to throw, resulting in a fumble.

Still, despite the added pressure, Russell played well (12 for 18 for 153 yards) and has made great strides this preseason in being asserted as the definite starter.

Russell’s good performance was lost, however, because the Raiders failed to develop any sort of consistency in their offensive drives.

Public enemies number one and two for the Raiders’ offense was untimely turnovers and penalties. By their first possession of the second quarter, the Raiders had run only six plays on offense.

Offensive drives were either cut short by turnovers or stalled by penalties that usually came with big plays.

For example, on that first possession of the second quarter, the Raiders got a big 22-yard run from Darren McFadden taken back on a holding call.

In the second half, on what was an absolutely beautiful ball delivered by Russell, Louis Murphy made the reception, turned up field for a nice gain, but promptly coughed up the ball for his second fumble.

The Raiders can be an offensive force given the usual formula of good protection and disciplined play, but Russell and company were hard pressed to do much given their inability to control the ball.

There are some who swear by a team’s time of possession, while others argue its irrelevance in a big play-driven offense, but wherever Cable stands on the issue, he certainly won’t be keen to the fact that the Saints held on to the ball almost 20 minutes more than the Raiders (39:27 to 20:33).

Penalties and turnovers never come at a good time, but this seemed especially true on Saturday. When it comes down to it, these problems, like those on defense, find their source in poor discipline and fundamentals.

Fortunately, there are still two more weeks to improve. Two more weeks to refocus back to the first week of the preseason, when fundamentals and technique constituted the daily grind.

Saturday was a serious letdown, but it is yet the pre-season. For all the poor tackling, biting on play fakes, breakdowns in pass protection, and turnovers the Raiders accounted for, 45-7 doesn’t stand in any relevant record book or count towards the Lombardi Trophy.

Losing by 38 and falling to a preseason record of 1-2 might not look pretty, but if a 4-0 preseason leading to an 0-16 regular season means anything, Raider Nation has reason to believe two weeks is enough time to refocus efforts to a successful 2009 season.


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