Oakland Raiders Week 12 : Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
Well, that was ugly. From the pass defense to Richard Seymour's smack to the entire offensive unit, the Raiders played very badly last Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Going into Heinz Field against an excellent Steeler team is tough enough on most days, but facing them a week after they got whipped on that same field by the rival New England Patriots, and without Nnamdi Asomugha or a fully healthy Zach Miller was a recipe for disaster.
Many of us were rightfully optimistic that we could play well in this game based upon recent performances, but from the middle of the first quarter on Pittsburgh took away the run game, made the Raiders one dimensional in the one dimension they struggle with, and took the fight to them, Seymour's slap down not withstanding.
We're very fortunate that Seymour did not get suspended based on the current emotional climate of the league when it comes to violence, and we're also lucky the score in that game was only 35-3.
Now, it's time to move on, put it all behind as an anomaly in an otherwise promising season, and focus on the Miami Dolphins.
The Raiders performance last week led to more questions than we'd like, but this team is still heading in the right direction and has a winnable game this weekend in the Black Hole against Miami.
With that in mind, I bring you Week 12 pressures, hurries, and knockdowns, Raider style.
Pressures : Jason Campbell
Jason Campbell has had a strange season, and I'm not talking about the starter, backup, starter situation.
I'm talking about on the field here, where his performances have been more up and down than gas prices in summer.
For a guy who has carried the label of average but not spectacular his entire career, this season he's been anything but average.
He's been spectacular. Or he's been downright horrifying. There has been no middle ground for a guy who's middle name had been middle ground.
In the Raiders losses to the 49ers, Titans and Steelers and in the first half of the Chiefs game in which the Raiders struggled, Campbell's quarterback rating has hovered in the mind boggling range of the low 20's.
In the Raiders wins over the Broncos, Seahawks and Chargers, and in the second half of the Chiefs game, his rating has hovered in the equally mind boggling range of the high 110's.
Now there is a common denominator here; the run game.
Campbell has excelled at the play-action pass this season, and when the Raiders run game is on track, it's obviously much easier to freeze the defense, thus Campbell gets time, the line has more leeway in blocking, and things happen down the field.
When the run game isn't producing at the usual levels, the play-action pass is taken away, teams begin sending the house on Campbell, he has no time, and he panics and plays like a frightened doe.
Although I expect the run game to bounce back on familiar turf and after getting whupped last weekend, Campbell has to show that he's able to play an even game regardless of what's going on around him. He needs to show the ability to make plays when everything isn't going well.
He did that well in the Chiefs game late, but his confounding ability to play some of the worst QB ever is an ever dangling fear that only some consistency will alleviate.
Pressures : Hue Jackson
Part of Jason Campbell's problems in the aforementioned games has been Hue Jackson's inability to adjust when the run game isn't producing immediately.
In the 49ers game, Darren McFadden was out with an injured hamstring. Michael Bush is a great back, but McFadden has shown this year he brings a different element to the Raider offense that opens things up for everyone else.
Bush was shut down for the most part, and after a promising start the Raider offense, and Campbell, stagnated as they abandoned the run and the Niners kept constant pressure on Campbell.
The same was the story in the Steelers game. The Raiders couldn't get anything, and I mean anything, going on the ground early, a credit to the Pittsburgh defense. But Jackson didn't adjust, didn't try any outside rushes or end arounds or anything to utilize team speed when nothing else was working, so Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh and sheer ugliness ensued.
Jackson himself admitted after both the Niners and Steelers losses that he did a poor job of recognizing the defense and adjusting. That's troublesome, but the first step to fixing a problem is admitting the problem. While I admire Jackson for owning his mistakes, I wish he'd have learned from them the first time.
Granted the Steeler game got away from us, tying his hands to a point, but he also provided some of the rope.
He's under pressure to show he's learned that this team thrives on creativity and the innovative utilization of the vast amounts of speed he has at hand. He needs to learn from his mistakes, and go back to the aggressive and interesting play calling we've seen throughout the season.
Pressures : Offensive Line
Once again, the issue of the run game stalling against the Steelers leads to another familiar face(s) in the Pressures section.
The offensive line had been playing well in recent weeks, seeming to gel and getting into a real groove in the run blocking game. When those big boys up front are road grading people, they always pass block better because they're juiced up and ready to fight. It's natural.
Even the much maligned Cooper Carlisle was showing great ability as a pulling guard, getting out in front of a lot of McFadden's big runs and getting through to the second and even third levels at times. Things looked to be coming together.
The Steelers manhandled the offensive front in the run game from the early going, but Campbell actually had some time to throw early. But the run game quickly stagnated and was abandoned altogether, and the line was assaulted with Dick Lebeau's famous exotic blitzes and rush schemes, getting outright devoured in the process.
The Miami Dolphins are no slouches when it comes to rushing the passer, sacking the QB 26 times this season, sitting tied for 9th in the NFL. The Raiders line is 3rd last in the NFL in sacks allowed, having given up a whopping 32 thus far in 10 games.
That doesn't bode well against a Dolphins squad that boasts the quick and powerful Cameron Wake, a two time CFL Defensive Player of the year out of Penn State that has 9.5 sacks this season. Being Canadian, I probably knew about Wake before most people, and I'm not surprised he's doing well.
Wake isn't the only threat though. Rookie Koa Misi has shown ability from the OLB position to rush the QB, and NT Tony McDaniel, though not much of a sack threat, will be a tough assignment for Samson Satele and is a disruptive force up the middle.
This line is under pressure to regain the confidence they had before the Pittsburgh game by running the ball early and often down the Dolphins' throats. It's easier said than done, as Miami is active in the 3-4 against the run and gives up only 3.9 yards per carry.
But these guys are most likely embarrassed about last week and full on ready to bring some pain. They must for the Raiders to win this game.
- I was going to put the pass defense in the Pressures section, but they get a reprieve due to Nnamdi being out. Still, though he's looking good he's not a full guarantee for Sunday, and these guys need to get their act together, even with Brandon Marshall out
- A big part of that is getting more of a rush from the guys up front. Losing Trevor Scott hurts; he's been playing well of late. Shaughnessy is more than capable of stepping up, though, and we still have depth at end
- To wit, Jarvis Moss was a solid talent out of college and is back at his natural position now. He didn't produce in Denver and there's no guarantees, but he's shown ability in the past
- The Dolphins, originally looking to be hurting severely on the offensive side of the ball, may have their full line and QB Chad Henne ready to go for Sunday
- Not that we should be worried. Henne has a knee problem and is already a fairly stationary, pocket QB, and has more interceptions than touchdowns this season. Though better than Tyler Thigpen, they are both prone to mistakes
- It would've been nice if Jake Long was out, but we should still be able to get to the QB even though the Dolphins have given up only 19 sacks thus far this season
- I think we can pressure them and dominate the lines of scrimmage because frankly, these guys got whooped last weekend and will want to prove to themselves and everyone else they are better than that. That's the hope, at least
- I fully expect Richard Seymour to have a monster game this weekend, partially due to feeling lucky he's even suiting up. The smack to Big Ben may have been provoked, but Seymour reacted in a way that was bad for the team and unprofessional. He knows it and knows he was lucky not to be suspended. He's issued a very good apology in which he owned his mistake, and will move on and let his play speak for itself, of that I'm sure
Knockdowns : The Raiders Are Ready To Join The Upper Echelon
After reeling off 3 straight wins, two in very impressive fashion, the Raiders were 5-4, getting some good press, and tied for first in the AFC West.
Many streaks of the negative variety had been broken: the Raiders beat the Chargers for the first time in 13 games, they won back to back games for the first time in two years, and were. 500 or better after 10 weeks for the first time since 2002.
In fact, during the Raiders' three game winning streak, they played so well that they were being talked about as potentially joining the upper echelon of the NFL. They even crept into the Fine Fifteen on Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, and found themselves in the top 10 of many power ranking lists.
Well, after being taken apart piece by piece by the Steelers, one of the upper echelon teams the Raiders were poised to join, it seems there is still some work to do before the Raiders join the elite.
I touched on it earlier, but consistency at quarterback is paramount to get them to the next step. Neither Campbell nor Gradkowski have shown the ability to play well on a consistent basis, which hinders this team from making the jump.
However, there are other things. The defense, though vastly improved and playing at a high level, still has holes. The offensive line is still not a top tier unit, and the receiving corps doesn't produce the way it needs to in order to have this team jump into the top tier.
If you'll notice, the majority of the concerns revolve around the pieces of the passing game. Still. The Raiders have shored up many other parts of their team into solid, consistently producing units, but the passing game still struggles far too often.
The team is improved across the board, playing better football than they have in years, and still has a good shot to make the playoffs with some good play and some good luck.
So they are on their way; they just aren't there yet, despite what some of us and some of the media may have thought.
Knockdowns : The Raiders Wouldn't Get Blown Out By The Steelers
I said myself in a comment thread last week, and lost money because of the belief that the Raiders were no longer a team capable of being blown out. I thought with the play of the run game and the defense, that we would be in every single game.
Now, I attribute Nnamdi Asomugha's absence as being a healthy to why we were blown out, because Mike Wallace was able to run fairly wild, but this team showed some of their old flaws in this game that were a concern.
As repeatedly mentioned, the theme of this game was a lack of passing offense due to a choked off running game, which led to an inability to produce points or stay on the field and allow the defense to rest.
This game was a perfect storm of bad news for the Raiders, with Nnamdi out, Miller hurting, Pittsburgh being a great team and angry and raring to go, and a long road trip for a 1 p.m. East Coast game. And it played out that way.
As a result, this team was handed it's worst defeat of the season, not just on the score sheet but just in general in every aspect of the game. That, however, is an improvement over recent years, in which 20+ point blowouts were the norm rather than the exception.
Much like the Raiders not quite being ready to join the top tier teams, they showed they can still be blown out, which I personally didn't think was possible due to the makeup of the team.
But much like the Raiders even being in the conversation of the elite earlier this year, they have improved to the point where not only is being blown out a rarity, but they've turned the tide and done it themselves this season.
And that is something we haven't been able to say for a long, long time.
I know I typically do three pressures and three knockdowns, but a third knockdown would've essentially been a regurgitation of the previous slides. The Pittsburgh game was horrible; not much more to expand on.
Though that game knocked down some positive notions, I feel that due to all the football factors as well as non-football factors concerning that game, and considering the opponent, their state of mind and their home field, it's fair to chalk it up as an anomaly and move on.
I really think we match up well with the Dolphins regardless of who they start at quarterback. The run defense still shut down Mendenhall last Sunday despite the rest of the debacle, and they continue to play well over the last four or five games.
Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are both the kinds of backs the Raiders have an easier time with, as they are more powerful, straight ahead runners. The Raiders have typically struggled more with agile, shifty runners who cut back and punish over pursuit of the ball.
This is a big bounce back game for the Raiders, as they were riding high going into and coming out of the bye, and now they've been grounded somewhat after a humbling performance last weekend.
Miami faces similar circumstances we did last week; on the road in a different time zone against a pissed off opponent that was owned the previous week.
I didn't like those factors against us last week; I absolutely love them for us this weekend.
Thanks as always for reading; as always, all comments good, bad, and ugly are fully welcome.