After a rocky first half of the season that saw many important Raider starters and role players go down with injury, the Raiders are finally set to be at nearly full strength.
The bye week comes at a great time for this struggling team. Several key players will return to the team and others that are simply slowed by nagging injuries will have a chance to rest and come back healthy.
On Monday Tom Cable was asked if this team's offensive woes can be placed solely on the players being injured? To which he had this reply:
"You can. For one, you're losing your best offensive lineman. That gives you a lot of solidity inside. It will help open up the run game even more. You're getting a receiver that can impact the game. Those are all things that lead, not only just to more yards, but, obviously, to more points."
Of course, this is also the guy who tells us one week that JaMarcus Russell is not getting his throws because his receivers are not catching the ball and the next week the receivers are not getting the ball because the throws are not there. All the while, he tells us time and time again that JaMarcus Russell is improving and Darrius Heyward-Bey is doing his job.
But while no one really thinks that the problems on this team can be placed squarely on the injured players, having them back should be a great help.
"I think change will come with us getting very healthy on offense," says Cable. ‘You're going to get two starting offensive linemen back, you're going to get a starting tailback back, arguably your best receiver back"
The starting linemen he is talking about are left guard Robert Gallery and right tackle Cornell Green. Gallery is possibly the most important piece to this Raider team. He is the best lineman the Raiders have and he runs the zone blocking scheme to perfection. His run blocking and pass blocking skills are invaluable. Cornell Green, on the other hand, was not playing well even when he was healthy. While Khalif Barnes and Eric Pears were both terrible, Green is not really a big step up from those two.
The starting tailback is Darren McFadden. I actually saw it as a positive for the Raiders when McFadden went down with injury because it is my theory that Al Davis is forcing Cable to start McFadden simply because Dmac was a top pick. But McFadden has been the weakest running back on this team since he arrived. He has never displayed the versatility or game breaking speed that got him drafted so high. In fact, every running back as far down as the fifth round in 2008, has better NFL numbers than McFadden. On the Raiders, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush have both routinely outperformed McFadden as starters. I can only hope that their performances in McFadden's absence have convinced Cable and Davis (not necessarily in that order) that they should be the one and two. While using D Mac as the change up back. Perhaps even throw in a wildcat/wild hog play now and then? I won't be holding my breath on that one.
The "best receiver" the Raiders will get back is Chaz Schilens. When he went down in the preseason, it was thought that he would be back no later than week 4. But he was behind schedule and then when he did try to come back he reaggrivated the injury. He sure would have come in handy at San Diego. That is where he went to school so aside from his usual hard work and preparation, he would have an added incentive to play well. You can bet he wouldn't be running into his fellow receivers or bobbling catches. It seemed as if the moment Schilens went out, Russell starting playing his worst football. While it seems hard to believe that one receiver can rattle a quarterback that much, it sure can't help matters.
And complicating things was that players just kept going down with injury after that.
"If you remember when they all kind of went bang, bang, bang and it started with Chaz," said Cable. "[I could tell] losing him in the preseason that that was going to impact us, albeit a preseason game against Dallas, I think we scored 31 points when he was in the lineup. Now I'm not saying we're going to score 31 points every time, but it gives us a guy who's proven it. Last year, particularly in the last few weeks, he really came on as a football player and I thought he picked it up in camp where he left Off."
Ok so, that takes care of the offense (supposedly). What about the defense?
The defense has played well at times but there are still players that are out or have not been playing at 100%. Cable mentioned a few in his injury report.
"Jon Alston got a little neck strain and a mild concussion in the game so he'll be day to day as well. Ricky Brown will be out. Greg Ellis is going to have a knee scope on Wednesday so he will be probably into next week before we really know where we're at with that. Gerard Warren has a foot bruise and should be limited and then Chris Johnson is day to day with a groin strain."
With Alston suffering his second concussion of the season and Ricky Brown out indefinitely, it seems likely that Ekejiuba will be stepping in at strong side linebacker for the time being and perhaps even after the bye week. We will keep an eye on that situation.
Greg Ellis will be having arthroscopic surgery on his knee that has been giving him considerable pain the past few weeks. There is no word yet how long he could be out. Matt Shaughnessy played considerably well in his stead last week at San Diego. But Ellis would be missed as the third down pass rushing specialist. Jay Richardson will most likely take over his role until he returns.
Chris Johnson has been bothered by his groin strain for a few weeks and it has limited his play. Opposing teams have picked on him even more than they would normally because of it. He will have the bye week to heal and his return to health will be probably the best news this defense could get.
As for special teams, there is just one player that the Raiders have been missing this season: undrafted free agent Nick Miller. His value is obvious considering the Raiders held a roster spot for him. The team could have put him on injured reserve and just brought him back next season. This which would have opened up a valuable roster spot but they kept him on the roster until his broken foot healed. Well, now his is back and set to take over the kick return duties. So we finally get to see what this little speedster can do.
The Raiders will be playing the lowly Chiefs in their first game after the bye. The Chiefs, of course, are one of the two teams that the Raiders have beaten this season already and are one of the worst teams in the NFL with just one win on the season. This game is very winnable and with the returning players to go along with the healing of some aches and pains, the Raiders will be playing in their most winnable game of the season.