What could be so great about a 21-13 loss to close the season? The answer is that nothing can teach you more about your team than playing a good team. Your weaknesses will be revealed and exploited. The loss will leave the last taste in your mouth about the season so the offseason becomes a much clearer path.
The Ravens were a playoff team last year and playing them showed us that the Raiders were not that far off as they lost 21-13. This is the loss that saved Oakland! It revealed things on both sides of the ball that were killing the Raiders. Two of these players are no longer with the team. Another was a need that we addressed this offseason.
We start with Jamarcus Russell. I won't get into the QB rating or anything else because it's really simple. Frye was the starting QB for the Raiders on that day. The Raiders trailed 14-10 at halftime while Frye was knocked out of the game in the middle of a good drive. Russell completed the drive with a field goal to make it 14-13. Russell then went on to throw a pick and fumbled leading to the 21-13 loss. Is it not obvious what better QB play would have done for us?
Now we shift over to the defense and stopping the run. Sure a great DT helps out, but our DTs were not the biggest problem here. I know most Raider fans love Kirk Morrison and can point to his numbers. He led the Raiders and was one of the top tacklers in the NFL.
However, that isn't the whole story. A 4-3 MLB is going to make a lot of tackles because the defense is designed that way. I loved the Oakland kid just as much as anyone, but the eye in the sky doesn't lie. Perhaps he should have been left at OLB because he has neither the physicality nor the nose for the ball to play MLB.
Week 17 showed us everything we need to know about Morrison at MLB. Raven running backs combined for 242 rushing yards on 31 carries and scored all three TDs. 140 of those yards were on three plays. Early in the game, Ray Rice went 27 yards on a play that he started up the middle and slid just off tackle. Morrison was not blocked on the play so the d-line did their job. Morrison was in the middle of the defense with his head down as if he were looking for a fumble. By the time he finds Rice, he's gone.
His lack of physicality cost us on a 78 yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee. While scraping to the hole, he was put on the ground by TE Todd Heap, who isn't known as a physical runblocking TE. McGahee went off tackle for 35 yards late in the game while Morrison was still in the middle of the defense doing pirouettes. On a goal line play, Morrison jumped into a pile while McGahee walked into the endzone.
We were also shown that we didn't have much of an offensive line. Frye ran for his life all day before that physical Baltimore D knocked him out of the game. On top of that, the running game that the Raiders have had since Cable's arrival was no longer there. The "thunder and lightning" combination of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden had only 27 yards on 15 carries. Bush had 177 himself in week 17 of the '08 season so that may have fooled them into thinking the o-line was fine at that time.
Meanwhile Jason Campbell, who was a Redskin at the time, probably put himself on the NFL's radar with a great performance. Campbell completed 28 of his 42 passes. He gained 281 yards through the air with two TDs and no INTs.This performance was topped off by a dime to Malcolm Kelley between defenders. That dime would end up going for 84 yards.
Week 17 is what led to our amazing offseason. The Raiders brought in can't miss MLB Rolando McClain and DT\DE Lamarr Houston to deal with the run. Combine stars OT Jared Veldheer and converted OG Bruce Campbell were brought in to help our o-line. Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson, takes over the play calling duties so head coach and o-line guru Tom Cable can whip them into shape. Jason Campbell was aquired via trade to stir the whole drink. Thank you Baltimore! You guys are the best thing to happen to us in years!