Direct Snap: 10 Oakland Raiders That Surprised in Win Over St. Louis Rams

Justin Smith@smittstylesCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2010

Direct Snap: 10 Oakland Raiders That Surprised in Win Over St. Louis Rams

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    The Bruce is Loose!!
    The Bruce is Loose!!Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders defeated the St. Louis Rams, 16-14 at Oakland Coliseum yesterday for their first win of the season.

    Though many expected the Raiders to win this game, it was not easy, nor was it a sure thing at any point. The fashion in which the Raiders won, with stifling defense and a spark from backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, was not expected but certainly welcome, as Raider Nation was starving for a victory from a squad who has greater expectations than usual this season. 

    Some players and coaches surprised by stepping up their games at the right time and getting the job done when needed, exceeding expectations.

    Others went the opposite route and disappointed by not living up to expectations. 

    This slide show is dedicated to those players and coaches, no matter which camp they fall in to.

Coach Tom Cable

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    Yes Al, Im putting Bruce in, dont worry
    Yes Al, Im putting Bruce in, dont worryEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Coach Cable has been a good company man since he came to the Raiders.

    From always being quick to throw cold water on negativity, to ensuring that he toes the line in press conferences and interviews regarding revealing anything Raiders, to never criticizing the boss, Cable has proven to be the perfect guy to run the Raiders under Al Davis.

    If only those skills translated to on-field decision making, says the peanut gallery. 

    Raider fans have become all too familiar with Cable's strange Frankenstein experiments along the offensive line, his propensity to stick FAR too long with players that aren't getting it done, and his odd and sometimes baffling on-field playcalling and time management maneuvers.

    However, at halftime of the Rams-Raiders game yesterday, Cable made a surprising move that saved the Raiders day—and perhaps the season—but almost certainly his own job.

    Trailing 7-3 and getting the ball on offense coming out of the half, Cable knew the team needed a spark. The Jason Campbell-led passing offense was stagnant for the second week in a row, and Cable knew in his heart of hearts that if his Raiders lost to the Rams, he'd be lucky to get a gig in the Lingerie Football League.

    So he made a drastic move. He benched his starting quarterback, a guy who granted was struggling but was new and taking time to gel with his new offensive teammates and coaches, in favor of a journeyman who is popular and fiery but doesn't have the physical skills of the starter.

    He put in Bruce Gradkowski for Jason Campbell. And the Raiders transformed into an entirely different team.

    Cable surprised us all by pulling the trigger on an idea I know most of Raider Nation was swirling in our heads as halftime approached. But with Campbell being new, and just getting his feet wet, there was no chance Cable would do something so drastic.

    Except he did, and I truly believe that had he not, the Raiders would have lost this game. Surprising to say the least.

Bruce Gradkowski

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    Aw shucks guys, stop. Your embarassing me!
    Aw shucks guys, stop. Your embarassing me!Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Bruce is Loose.

    In Bruce we Trust.

    Bruce Almighty.

    Whatever cheesy catch phrase or nickname you want to apply to Grads, one thing is for sure: He gives this team and fanbase the warm fuzzies way down in the cockles of our hearts. Even in the sub-cockle area, the guy has a way of sparking this team and bringing confidence to the players, coaches, and fanbase alike.

    Down 7-3 going into halftime, with a passing offense stuck in neutral for the second week in a row, I actually asked myself, "Will Cable bring in Grads?" Although I thought it was a drastic move that was perhaps a little unfair to starter Jason Campbell, it was clear this Raider offense wasn't moving anywhere with Campbell behind center.

    Well, sure enough ol' No. 5 trotted out of the tunnel and got behind center. Though it was surprising, it wasn't really surprising, as Cable was most likely looking at saving his job. Well, things started happening.

    Darrius Heyward-Bey was plucked from the Missing Persons list and actually caught some balls. Louis Murphy made plays; Zach Miller is still on team!

    Gradkowski's skill set is similar to Campbell's in that he has good accuracy and mobility. The biggest difference, and needed behind the Raiders' often porous offensive line, is Gradkowski's ability to get the ball out of his hands very quickly and his willingness to use his mobiity to slide in the pocket instead of taking off when the play breaks down.

    Bruce showed incredible pocket awareness and command of the huddle, and brought an infectious attitude of fun and enjoyment to the offense even when plays didn't go well. Zach Miller had a rare drop on a sideline out, and Gradkowski was smiling and laughing with him, because he knows Miller won't drop many more of those and he's got a great rapport with his teammates.

    The coaches, players, and fans all love Gradkowski and the passion, fire, and energy he brings to the team. The defense, confident in the offense for the first time this season, absolutely stifled the Rams in the second half and showed the kind of effort and talent we all know could become a staple of this team. The defense often seems to give up when the offense stagnates; with Grads under center yesterday they were working in unison, which was a thing of beauty. 

    In short, although it was a surprise that Gradkowski was put into the game this quickly into the season for a healthy Jason Campbell, the fact that the Raiders were a better team and won with him on the field is certainly no shock.

Jason Campbell

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    Theres been too much of this so far this year for Campbell to be effective
    Theres been too much of this so far this year for Campbell to be effectiveJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    I have been a Jason Campbell fan since he played for Auburn, and I was one of many who expected him to be a savior of sorts for an organization that has been searching for a decent quarterback since Rich Gannon's retirement in 2003.

    So I'm almost as stunned as he is that he was benched yesterday for not getting it done. I wasn't surprised he was benched, as the Raiders need to win now and Coach Tom Cable's job was flashing before his very eyes. No, I was surprised, and still am, that he was struggling so mightily.

    Everything in Campbell's career path said that he was going to play well here this season. His numbers have improved every year in the NFL despite his team going backward; he has the size and arm strength of a prototypical Raiders vertical passer. He's played through extremely adverse conditions in Washington for years and put up excellent numbers.

    Logically, it was a surety that he would be an improvement over JaMarcus Russell and a key cog in the Raiders return to greatness.

    Yet, after a game and a half in 2010, he looks tentative, meek, lost, and confused playing for this team. Granted, he's received little to no protection from his offensive line, but Gradkowski made lemonade yesterday with the same group of lemons blocking in front of him.

    Campbell goes though his reads more deliberately and doesn't get the ball out of his hands quickly enough to play behind this offensive line. He rarely if ever looked downfield to his receivers even when he did have time, and generally played a very conservative style, causing the offense to stagnate and spin its wheels and wasting good running efforts from Darren McFadden.

    I'm extremely surprised that Campbell, given a new lease on life outside of Washington and coming to a franchise starved for decent quarterback play and a return to the vertical passing game, has been unable to look remotely comfortable or capable in this offense.

    For a player of his talent, maturity, leadership, and work ethic, it's surprising that he has been unable to remotely succeed for this team, but having him as a backup quarterback gives the Raiders excellent depth at the position, and with he and Gradkowski pushing each other every week, can only increase production.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

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    Heyward-Bey was all up on the Rams defenders yesterday
    Heyward-Bey was all up on the Rams defenders yesterdayEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    This picture here illustrates one of two plays in which a Rams defender could've been called for pass interfence on Darrius Heyward-Bey yesterday.

    From the early going, when Campbell was still in at quarterback, it was clear that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wanted to get DHB involved in the offense. He made the first catch of the game, and Campbell went vertical to him down the left sideline in the second quarter.

    The Raiders have tried to get him involved before, though, and he usually makes a quick grab and then disappears for the rest of the day. After his first catch, and Campbell struggling to move the ball through the air, it looked like another repeat coming yesterday.

    And then, Gradkowski entered the game and began looking for DHB frequently. DHB responded by catching the ball, something he's been roundly criticized for being unable to do.

    The most surprising thing about DHB yesterday was his field awareness; he ran excellent routes, and his timing was great, but when plays would break down he was coming back to the ball and making himself available.

    He was also using his size and strength to wall off defenders, break tackles, and gain extra YAC.

    His aggressiveness in not only catching the ball but heading upfield with the ball in his hands was surprising, as that's been a big knock on him. But he showed yesterday that he has the size, strength, and speed to make big plays when he's being confident and aggressive with his moves.

    We watched this young man have his best day as a pro yesterday, and you couldn't help thinking as you were watching the game that he was growing up before our very eyes. That's just the kind of game a young player needs to boost his confidence and prove to himself he can make plays in this league. That is a potentially career-launching type of game.

    After yesterday, the days of DHB being missing in action are going to be a thing of the past.

Daniel Loper

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    I couldn't find my Raiders jersey....sorry.....
    I couldn't find my Raiders jersey....sorry.....Getty Images/Getty Images

    The offensive line was a major concern coming into the season, and after the Tennessee Titans manhandled the Raiders in the opener, became a matter of national security in the Raider Nation.

    Then, the news came down that Robert Gallery, our best and most consistent lineman, would be unavailable to play against the Rams. Panic quickly set in within Raider Nation, as this was a significant blow to the weak link of the team.

    Daniel Loper to start? Who, many Raider fans said? That big ginger dude that's always standing next to Samson Satele? Hope Jason Campbell's insurance is paid up, was the general thought process.

    Loper hasn't done much of significance in the NFL, having been drafted by the Titans in 2005 and signing with the Lions in 2009, He has never seen much action until signing with the Raiders this offseason.

    Adding an unknown piece to a part of a team that thrives on continuity is usually not the best recipe for success, but you know what?

    Loper did not give up a sack or a pressure, and blocked well on a line that enabled Darren McFadden to gain 143 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per carry.

    So to say that it is a surprise that a guy who never started an NFL game coming in and replacing the Raiders best lineman seamlessly and effectively is like saying Rex Ryan talks a lot of crap; a understatement of epic and Biblical proportions that simply doesn't capture the scope of what's occurred.

    Loper deserves our attention and gratitude today, Raider Nation, because he did what most of our linemen have failed to do for the better part of a decade—effectively block someone without taking stupid penalties.

Jared Veldheer / Mario Henderson / Samson Satele

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    Hey Morris and Fargas; get outta here!! Nice selection, Getty!
    Hey Morris and Fargas; get outta here!! Nice selection, Getty!Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    These three need to be group together because they are all married to each other, at least for now.

    After the P.T. Barnum-like Jared Veldheer tallest center in the world experiment was put to rest after the first offensive series in the Rams game yesterday, Veldheer was moved to left tackle. You know, his natural position. Where he probably should've played before, instead of...but, I digress.

    Coach Cable, after the first series yesterday, obviously saw something he didn't like with Veldheer at center and slid him down the line, causing a domino effect which brought Satele in at center and saw Mario Henderson slide to the bench.

    Veldheer and Henderson proceeded to switch in and out at left tackle for the rest of the game. Veldheer received a holding penalty on his first snap at left tackle, and allowed defensive end James Hall around him for a sack, but other than that played very well in pass protection and in the run game.

    Henderson, despite as he described it "going cold" in between series due to inconsistent snaps, played his most effective game of the season as Gradkowski stayed clean and McFadden ran for over 100 yards in the second half.

    Satele played his most effective game in some time, controlling the middle, pass protecting well, and clearing some running lanes up the middle.

    It was easily the best overall performance of the offensive line in some time, and that is surprising considering all the shuffling and adjusting that had to made with cobbling together parts like Satele, Loper, and Henderson/Veldheer at left tackle.

    Coach Cable has been taking a lot of heat, and rightfully so, for the play of the offensive line, but this mismatched unit was actually quite effective yesterday. Of course, Gradkowski's quick release and pocket awareness also made them look better than they played when he was in the game.

Defensive Coordinator John Marshall

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    Let Me Release The Hounds!!!
    Let Me Release The Hounds!!!NFL Photos/Getty Images

    Without actually being able to see the shelves, we'll probably never know if Al Davis really does cut off and store the testicles of his defensive coorindators in a jar in his office, but the rumor stays strong and steady every year.

    Despite exotic packages and blitzes that are rolled out in practice and preseason every year, the Raiders stick with the traditional man-to-man, single-high safety staple since Al was coaching in the 60's when the games begin to count.

    This offseason, the Raiders added numerous pass-rushing threats via trades, free agency, and the draft, acquiring hybrid rushers like Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, and defensive end Lamarr Houston amongst others. The Raiders had multiple pass rushing threats that could play in multiple positions and multiple formations. It was time to unmuzzle the dogs and let them loose.

    Which is precisely what defensive coordinator John Marshall did in the preseason, taking his testicles out of the jar and getting creative, helping to lead the Raiders to an NFL-best 15 sacks over the four preseason games and leaving Raider Nation with a sense of anticipation as to what this team could accomplish, given the chance.

    Unsurprisingly though, Marshall's testicles were neatly returned to the jar after the preseason, and the Raiders' same old same old vanilla defense was shredded like paper against the Tennessee Titans last week.

    With Sam Bradford coming to town, we all hoped Marshall would provide some excitement and some different looks for the rookie QB. You know, what any other defense would do when facing a rookie. We hoped, but knew better.

    Well, imagine how surprised we all must have been when the Raiders brought the house on the Rams' first possession, creating two sacks and forcing a punt. The Raiders blitzed periodically throughought the day. It was always effective, and it was probably as much of a surprise to the Rams as it was to anyone who knows and watches the Raiders. 

    After changing things up and keeping the Rams offense off balance, Marshall then went back to the vanilla defensive scheme for the second half. By then it was effective because the Rams were shell-shocked from the exotic looks and blitzes being thrown at them early in the game.

    Marshall surprised us all by either being allowed to change things up and get creative or saying I'm taking my testicles back and making something happen.

    Either way, it was the defense we've all wanted to see, and it better continue.

Lamarr Houston

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    Comin to getcha Sammy!
    Comin to getcha Sammy!Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    After recording two sacks in his first preseason game against the Cowboys, big things were expected from Lamarr Houston. He kind of disappeared the rest of the preseason, and wasn't much of a factor against the speed and scheme of the Tennessee Titans last week.

    Yesterday was a completely different story.

    Houston was a beast from his defensive end spot, holding the edge nicely on run plays, getting off blockers and showing good gap discipline and tackling well. His size and strength allow him to play double teams and still stuff the run if it's in his vicinity.

    But it was his pass rush that was the true pleasant surprise.

    It wasn't a surprise in that we know what he's capable of based on his pedigree and preseason performance. What was a surprise was how frequently he was in Bradford's grill.

    After recording an early sack. the Rams tried everything to keep Houston away from Bradford. They chipped with tight ends and backs, double-teamed him with tackles and guards, and even tried rolling away from his side on a few occasions.

    Nothing worked.

    Houston was in the St. Louis backfield almost as much as Steven Jackson, there to meet and greet Bradford any time he was ready to make a play. When you consider the Raiders' defensive front was playing without their best player, Richard Seymour, to occupy double teams, it's that much more impressive to consider what Houston accomplished with his pressures and hurries yesterday.

    This is a sign of big things to come from this kid, and it was fun and exciting to watch.

Stanford Routt

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    Hey, Ram, get off me....thats MY ball!!
    Hey, Ram, get off me....thats MY ball!!Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Playing the corner opposite to Nnamdi Asomugha is like being the ugly, nerdy girl that's friends with a hot popular girl: you get a lot of unwelcome passes thrown your way while people try to get closer to your friend.

    That's the life of Stanford Routt, and often times Routt was like that girl if you get her drunk enough and appease her insecurities; accomodating and willing to let something happen.

    Routt has struggled in coverage over the years, trusting that his speed and athleticism would allow him to make up for lapses in concentration and technique. That was more acceptable when he was the nickel corner with less responsibility, but this year he is the ugly stepsister to Nnamdi Asomugha, meaning he's getting a lot more passes thrown his way.

    Last week, although Tyvon Branch bricked it on the safety help, Routt was torched for a Nate Washington TD and other receptions where he was out of position and not ready to play the ball.

    Yesterday, however, Routt was like Elmer's Glue on the outside, breaking up three pass plays, blanketing Mark Clayton and Laurent Robinson in coverage and coming up with a spectacular interception which he tracked all the way and made a great last-minute adjustment to in the air to come down with the ball.

    Routt has the physical skills to be a dominant cover corner, but his mental lapeses and lack of focus have killed him and the team at times. Yesterday, he was on point the entire game, kept his eyes on the prize, and was rewarded with a very good all around game.

    If Routt can play like that every week, the Raiders will be a difficult team to pass against to be sure.

Desmond Bryant

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    Desmond SMASH puny Ram!!
    Desmond SMASH puny Ram!!Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Subbing for the injured Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant himself wasn't 100 percent healthy yesterday, coming back from a hyperextended elbow that explains the Terminator-esque sleeve he's wearing in the picure here.

    The Raider defense is a completely different animal with Seymour in there, as his ability and reputation is such that other teams have to focus heavily on him and thus the rest of the defenders get to breathe and roam a little more freely. Since Seymour joined the team, the vast majority of big plays given up by the Raiders have been when he's not on the field.

    Quite simply, he makes the entire defense better, and not having him yesterday could've spelled potential disaster for the Raider defensive front.

    Enter Desmond Bryant, second-year man from Harvard and Raider fan-favorite. After missing the Titans game with the elbow issue, Bryant practiced well last week and was ready to go yesterday against the Rams.

    He immediately steadied the inside of the line by dropping Steven Jackson for no gain early in the game. Official statistics give him one solo tackle with one assist, which to me is ludicrous. He was in the mix on almost every S-Jax short or no gain run, clogging the middle with his size and strength and persuing down the line when the ball was pushed outside.

    Stats aside, Bryant had a Seymour-like impact on the game yesterday, in that the interior linemen had to account for his whereabouts and his size, speed, and strength caused enough disruption along the line to allow Lamarr Houston and Tommy Kelly to live in the backfield yesterday.

    It may not show on the stat sheet, but Desmond Bryant surprised by playing a very effective Richard Seymour yesterday and allowing the rest of the defense to remain free to make plays.

Conclusion

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    Murphy celebrates a TD Catch
    Murphy celebrates a TD CatchGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    So the Raiders won their first game of the season against the Rams, and now sit at 1-1, tied with the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos for second place in the early AFC West race. The surprising KC Chiefs are 2-0 and sit in first, but that most likely won't last too much longer.

    I wanted to keep this slide show positive throughout, but I had to put Campbell in here. I am truly and utterly surprised at how terrible he has looked thus far this season. I've been a big fan of his for some time, so I take no pleasure in the fact that he's struggling, but Bruce gives this team a better chance to win.

    It boils down to confidence, and this team just has that when Bruce is in the game. Something about Campbell's demeanor was not injecting much life or confidence into the team. Being a fan of Campbell I'm sad to see him benched, but I want this team to win and Bruce just frankly gives us a better chance to do that right now.

    Regardless, we were mostly pleasantly surprised by some of the performances we saw yesterday. The reason why you didn't see Louis Murphy or Darren McFadden in here is because I wasn't surprised at the way they played yesterday.

    McFadden is quickly becoming a top NFL back, and has certainly put to rest the thought he cannot be an every down back. Murphy has been our biggest receiving threat for two seasons now and showed last year that with Bruce in the game he's a threat at all times. 

    This offense is suddenly looking potentially dangerous when Chaz Schilens and Michael Bush come back from injury, which is a prospect that has me giddy right now. 

    With the Cardinals—who looked terrible against Atlanta yesterday—next on the slate, a 2-1 start is suddenly very, very realistic, as is the continuation of good vibes and confidence that have returned after a major hiccup last weekend in Tennesee.

    This Raider team has shown that when they play with intensity and confidence, they play well. No surprise there.

    What did you think Raider Nation? Did I miss anyone? Anything? Great to write something after a win, and remember, all questions and comments, whether good, bad, or ugly, are welcome!

    P.S. A special thanks to Raider fan Fred Kindel for the idea behind this slideshow.

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