The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for this team. Right in the middle of the season where the players and coaches can look back at the first half and try to fix the problems and improve upon the things that worked.
I know what you're thinking, "there were things that worked?" Actually yes there were quite a few things that worked. The problem was that the efforts by the many were overshadowed by the mistakes of the few. Or the other way around; whichever you choose. But either way, the mistakes were much more prevailant than the glimmer of hope amongst them.
Despite the 2-6 record and the ridiculous amount of points given up compared to points scored, finding those players and coaches that shined is still a worth while endeavor. And finding those that are most at fault is definitely worth it. This team's horrid play on the field is no accident or fluke. If you watched the games, it is often very plain to see why this team loses. When the other teams are not pounding on them, they are shooting themselves in the foot. And blame can most definitely be handed down. Keep in mind though, that often the fault lies in a number of places. But rest assured, they will all be here.
And on that dreary note, let's get to the bright spots shall we?
Yes, it is sad that the number one Baller is the punter. But on the bright side, he is arguably the best punter of all time. So it only stands to reason that he is here. He has a Baller 4 times so far this season-- 2 times he topped the list. He routinely and effortlessly launches the ball and pins opponents deep in their own territory. In week two he had punts of 66, 70, 53, and 59 yards and it was extremely vital to the Raiders pulling out the win against the Chiefs. In week five he punted 7 times with three downed inside the 20 yard line. He had 3 punts of 59 yards, one for 54 that was muffed to set up a Raider TD, and one for 46 that pinned the Giants inside their own 10 yard line. The next week he had 7 punts again. He had punts of 58, 59, 45, 58, and 53. The other two were both downed with no return. This time it was in a winning effort against the Eagles. In week seven he averaged 52 yards a punt on five punts. Two of those punts went for 61 yards and two were downed inside the Jets 10 yard line. The Jets only attempted one return all day and it went for just 4 yards. The Raiders hope to see less of him over the second half of the season but they are quite confident that when he does trot onto the field, he will put the opposition in a tight spot.
Zach was a Baller 4 times during the first half of the season. In week one he outshined Antonio Gates when he had 6 six catches for 96 yards. On top of that he was a blocking machine, opening up holes for Raider runners all day. He proved right from the start that when the Raiders want to score, they go through him. Every single Raider scoring drive, Zach either had a pivotal catch or block. After week one, opposing teams were keying on him which may have taken him out of the equation much of the time but it freed up other receivers and backs to get the ball. By week five against the Giants, he was a Baller once again. In an otherwise horrible showing for the Raiders, he was a bright spot with 4 catches for 69 yards. The next week, he had his biggest game of the season in the Raiders' win over the Eagles. He caught 6 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown on the day. And that touchdown made the rounds of highlight reels. It was just a simple short pass but Miller caught it and rumbled 86 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest pass play for the Raiders since 1983. Add the 5 catches for 52 yards that he had in week eight and he has recorded 28 catches for 421 yards thus far. That's good for sixth in the AFC. His yards per catch (15.0) is the highest in the entire NFL among players with at least 20 catches. The way the Raiders offense has struggled makes his numbers all the more impressive.
A Baller four times as well, Seabass has been Mr Automatic this season. Every kick is an upright splitting blast that looks as effortless from 50 yards as it does from 25. He is a perfect 12 for 12 in field goals and perfect on extra points as well. He is fifth in field goals in the AFC but every other kicker ahead of him has missed at least two while his field goals have all been no-doubters, every one. Of kickers with at least 11 field goals, he is the only one to be 100% and he has the second longest field goal in the entire NFL (54 yards). On kickoffs, he is almost as impressive. He is third in the NFL is touchback percentage (30.8). Unfortunately, he is often the Raiders only points but it is nice to know that when the Raiders get inside the opponents' 40 yard line, he can be counted on to put some much needed points on the board.
He was the missing piece that this defense needed. The preseason saw just about every team the Raiders faced running all over them. And the main problem was the defensive end position. Nearly every big run was coming from around the edges. Greg Ellis was a nice addition but without a solid end on the other side, teams could double Ellis and still run through the Raiders easily. And as if his run stopping abilities weren't enough, he can damn sure rush the passer. He was picked up from the Patriots in a trade just days before the Monday Night opener against the Chargers. He was inserted into the starting lineup after being in Oakland for ONE DAY and he utterly dominated. In his press conference he said he would play on Monday and that the fans would notice him because he "will be the one on top of the quarterback". Then he went out and backed up those words more than anyone expected. He had two sacks and several run stuff in the game to utterly confuse the Chargers. In the week six win over the Eagles, he had 4 tackles (2 were for a loss), 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. He would have had three sacks but McNabb threw the ball to the turf as Seymour was pulling him down. The Raiders beat down the Eagles on defense and much of the credit goes to Seymour. He was a Baller twice in the first half of the season but both times, he topped the list. Even in those game he didn't make the list, he was a strong defensive force. He is tied for the team lead in sacks with 4 so far this season.
Tyvon was a Baller 4 times in the first half of the season. He has made the Raiders and their fans forget about Gibril Wilson altogether. Branch appears to be all the strong safety he was an more. He also wants to be a Raiders and come a heck of a lot cheaper than Gibril Wilson did. He led the team in a tackles three times this season. Many of those tackles came in the run game. In week three he had 6 run stuffs and 2 of those were tackles for loss. In week five, while the defense overall was being torched by the Giants offense, Branch played pretty well. He was second on the team in tackles with 7 solo tackles and 3 assists. Of those tackles, three were run stuffs for little or no gain. In week seven, he again led the Raiders in tackles with 7 solo tackles and 1 assist. He also had a forced fumble. In week eight while he had 4 solo tackles and 2 assists, he was a force on special teams as well with two return tackles, one as the gunner. He has been great in coverage all season while playing tightends extremely well and given up very few catches. He is second in the entire NFL in solo tackles among defensive backs. And just so you know, Gibril Wilson is tenth.
It took an injury to Darren McFadden for Fargas to get the ball with any regularity. McFadden went down in week five and as of week six, Fargas was a Baller. And he stayed one for the last three consecutive weeks. He was a key contributor in the Raiders win over the Eagles. In that game he had two runs of 14 yards and one for 20 yards. One of this 14 yard runs ended with him laying the wood to Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, knocking Mikell out of the game. Previous to his 20 yard run, the longest run by a Raider back was 15 yards which McFadden did just once in five games as the starter. In week seven he had his second straight really nice game. He had two especially nice runs on the day. One for 35 yards and the other for 17 yards. In week eight, he was not the starter although he was the Raiders leading rusher. He also had one of the few touchdowns the Raiders have scored this season. He has 263 yards rushing in just three games of extensive action. Compared to just 146 yards for McFadden despite starting the first five games. Fargas is far superior to McFadden in this system and to say he has better balance is to point out the obvious. Not to mention Fargas can hold onto the football.
He began the season with a chipped bone in his wrist that was causing him considerable pain. And despite that, he was still a Baller twice in the first three weeks. In the week two win over the Chiefs, he had arguably the biggest play of the game when he came up to tackle the KC receiver for a short gain IN-BOUNDS to keep the clock moving and send the Chiefs into half time without scoring. He was replaced by John Bowie late in the game and taken into the lockeroom to receive pain medication. But when the Raiders needed him the most, in the Chiefs last gasp final drive, Nnamdi went back in to shut down his half the field. He also didn't give up a single catch to his assignment as per usual. In week three as usual they weren't throwing to his side of the field so Asomugha was forced to make his stat line contributions in other areas. On consecutive drives Nnamdi stopped a Broncos' rusher on third down to force a field goal, had two open field tackle on a sweeps for little or no gain. In the Jets game in week seven he was at it again. He had a tackle on a short catch to the Jets running back in the first quarter and had two other run stuff tackles. He even had a QB pressure in which he pulled defensive end style swim move on the blocker which caused Sanchez to try to scramble where he was tackled for a very short gain. Not only is he the best true shutdown corner in the league, but he has the run stuffing skills of a strong safety or a linebacker.
Carlisle has really come into his own this season. He has been the most solid run blocking lineman on this Raider team. He was named as a Baller three times this season and probably could have been one a couple more times. On a weak and beat up offensive line, he is a breath of fresh air. He consistently opens huge holes for the running backs and protects the pocket nicely as well.
So while the guards are integral to the run game, Henderson holds down the pass protection for JaMarcus Russell's blind side (sometimes I wonder if both of sides are Russell's blindside actually). Last week he gave up his first sack in a season and a half. That kind of security is really nice to have. He also seems to have developed quite a swagger out there. He also plays virtually mistake free football.
Huff started the season making the Baller list in the first three games. Three interceptions will tend to do that for a guy. And while he seems to have come back down to earth a bit since then, he has still played quite well. And hey, three interceptions in the first two games of the season is still a nice accomplishment. In week two I was calling for a search party to find the real Michael Huff. In the third game, while he didn't have any interceptions, he had quite a few really solid tackles. For those of you who have watched his lackluster tackling in the past, you know how much of an positive that is for him. He seems to be finally showing some of that potential that got him drafted #7 overall in 2006. Better late than never.
It probably seems odd to that a 2-6 team has so many Ballers on it. But when you watch JaMarcus Russell play, it removes the mystery behind it. His terrible play is the main thing standing in the way of this team's success. He was a Buster seven times in the first eight games and three of those times, he topped the list.
In the first game of the season he was 12 of 30 for 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions for a 35% completion rate and an average of 11.5 yards a throw with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. You can't blame it on the drops either. There was only two on target balls dropped in this game. When he went down with injury, Gradkowski came in and the boost in efficiency was immediately noticeable. But three plays after he went out, he was in Cable's ear begging to be let back in the game. He cost the Raiders another 9 yards on a sack that he couldn't escape because of his bad wheel. The very next play, he locked onto Jonnie Lee Higgins on a pass which gave Eric Weddle a chance to get a bead on him and hit him so hard he likely received a mild concussion. Getting his receivers killed can be added to the list. The crowd at the coliseum booed when Russell came back in the game after his injury. And for good reason.
In week three it was more of the same. He had two interceptions on the day, both resulting in Bronco scores. Of his 12 completed passes on the day, only 2 were not either a check-down or a screen for a total of 61 yards.
In week five he had a whopping three fumbles and he completed just 8 passes through the entire game for 100 yards. 6 of those 8 passes were completed after the Gaints were up 28 to nothing and the game was already out of hand. The two passes he completed before that went for a TOTAL of SEVEN yards. He also didn't have any on-target drops in this game so Cable couldn't make excuses for him in that regard.
In week seven he fumbled on the first play of the game and the Jets get the ball on the Raiders 4 yard line and score. Later he throws a gift wrapped interception that the Jets return to the Raider 4 yard line and score. Later he throws a ball to a well covered Todd Watkins and it is intercepted in the end zone. After a lofted ball to the middle of the field that was luckily not intercepted he is removed from the game. Afterward he had this to say "I don't think this is personal, I really don't. It's a bad combination of: one guy doesn't do something right one time and he doesn't do [something right]. You know, it all plays [into] the play. But I personally don't think it's me." And there lies the biggest problem of all.
In week eight he threw an interception on his first pass. He had a shade over 60% passing (63.6%) despite throwing only two passes to wide receivers (neither of which were over 10 yards). With an even serviceable quarterback on this team, they could be pretty good. As it stands the Raiders have a guy who is ranked 30 in yards per catch, 29 in completions, 26 is passing yards, and is dead last in the NFL in completion percentage, TD passes and quarterback rating. Ugh.
Big was only listed as a Buster once, but each Buster is laced with his destructive influence. This team is assembled by Al Davis and this game plan has his meddling fingers all up in it. I pointed out that Al Davis needs to have a few of his untouchable toys tacken away from him for this team to win. That becomes more and more painfully obvious every week. JaMarcus Russell is the biggest (pun intended) problem on this team. He is starting because Al Davis insists he does. Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped more balls in each game than he has caught all season long and yet he continues to get the start. This team lacks discipline and it has spread like a cancer. It only takes one bad apple (JaMarcus) to spoil the bunch and that is exactly what is happening. Until every player is forced to be equally accountable for their actions, this team will be defeated before it even steps on the field.
Ah yes, the infamous DHB. With all of his speed and potential...and dropped balls. He has caught a grand total of 5 passes all season for 74 yards. That is a decent game for most NFL receivers. And DHB has been the starter for eight games. Both he and Tom Cable keep claiming that he is doing his job. That he is occupying defenders and clearing out the middle. Is that what a team drafts a player #7 overall to do? Last I checked, teams draft a receiver that high and pay them all of that money was for him to catch the football. Correct me if I am wrong. And if he is not getting open, is that because the other team double and triple teams him or is it because he is not running crisp routes and not breaking away from defenders? Sure sometimes he might break away and Russell doesn't see him. But every time? His biggest reception of the year was one in which he was sitting in the middle of the field wide open. In week three he had two passes thrown to him, both were intercepted. After the game Russell said something to the affect that his receivers were not running the correct routes. Pretty sure he was speaking of Heyward-Bey specifically. In week four he had 1 catch and 2 drops. In week six he had no catches, one drop and an end around that went for a loss of one yard. In week seven DHB had two catches but he completely and totally dropped the best chance the Raiders had of scoring on Sunday. It was a perfect soft ball placed right in his hands and then through them to the ground. In week eight he had just one bobbling catch for 10 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey is by far the worst receiver in the first round thus far despite being the first guy chosen. And he will likely start the rest of the season because he is paid like a starter. Nevermind that he plays like he should be unemployed.
Cornell Green, Eric Pears, Khalif Barnes
This is the three-headed monster that has shared the duties at right tackle for the Raiders this season. None of them has been able to effectively keep the opposing pass rushers out of the backfield. They also can't seem to stop getting penalties called on them. Nine times during the first half of the season, at least one of these three has been a Buster. Twice there were two of them because Eric Pears also made for a terrible left guard before moving over to right tackle with the injury to Cornell Green. Three of the first four weeks, Green was a Buster. In week four they shared the dishonor. Then in weeks five and six, Pears replaced Green at right tackle and replaced him as a Buster. Khalif Barnes took over at right tackle in week seven and closed out both week seven and eight as a Buster. Green had 4 false starts, 2 holding penalties, a sack given up and a QB pressure. Pears had two false starts, a holding penalty, 4 sacks(3 of which Russell fumbled), 2 run stuffs, and a tackle for loss that resulted in a safety. Barnes had three false starts, 2 run stuffs given up, and 3 sacks. One sack he performed the triple threat of sack, tripping penalty and fumble that put the other team in instant scoring position. That total from the right tacke position is 8 false starts, 3 holding/tripping penalties, 8 sacks given up, 4 fumbles given up, 5 run stuffs given up, and a safety. Calgon take me away.
We would be here all day if I were to break down the exact plays that went through him and why he didn't make the play, so I will try and keep it simple. He was a Buster five times during the first eight games. In week 3 he gave up two touchdowns; one receiving and the other rushing. In week 5 he gave up an 8 yard catch, a 17 yard run, a 19 yard touchdwon run a 55 yard run, a 19 yard run and a 13 yard catch. In week six he gave up a 32 yard screen play, a 43 yard screen play, a 14 yard first down catch, and a 25 yard run. In week seven he was part of the sad defensive effort that gave up over 300 yards rushing to the Jets. In week eight he gave up the first touchdown to LT, an 11 yard first down run, a 5 yard catch, a 30 yard catch, a 9 yard run, and an 11 yard run to set up first and goal. That is a lot of offense and scoring to go through one guy. It appears that he would be best suited moving to outside linebacker. But for now, the Raiders have no other options in the middle.
He was a Buster three times this season for his poor decisions in games and the lack of motivation on this team. While many will say he is just a puppet, he allows himself to be one and that is little excuse for this team's collapses. If it wasn't for blame displacement, he would be higher on the list. As it stands, he only topped the list once this season because I must take into consideration who he answers to. He continues to have Javon Walker inactive for games dispite Chaz Shilens being injured, Jonnie Lee Higgins hurting, Darrius Heyward-Bey being nonexistent in the offense and Louis Murphy dropping far more passes than he catches. The Raider offense is vanilla and predictable. It has no gimmicks to tricks up it's sleeve. Defenses know just what they are getting from the Raiders and since JaMarcus can't execute the passing part of the offense, they just stop the simpleton running attack with it's battered offensive line and that's the end of it. This team looks incompetent and unmotivated. And aside from Cable's lack of inspiration, he is having to deal with his beating up of an assistant, an ex-wife and a crazy ex-girlfriend (allegedly). Distracted much?
What the hell happened to the Raiders' special teams? Last season under coach Schmidt, the Raiders had one of, if not THE, best special teams play in the NFL. They were lights out in coverage and even better on returns with 5 touchdowns. This year the special teams looks like a shell of it's former self. Not only does the kicking team give up huge chunks of yardage on nearly every return but the return team hasn't been able to gain any good field position on their returns. In week four the Raiders gave up an inexcusable 95 yard free kick touchdown. Then in week six Fassel had to call a time out at one point when he couldn't get the correct personnel on the field in time. How difficult is that really? It is pretty much the same guys each time. Then in week seven the punt coverage team gave us a blooper reel worthy fake punt play in which the Jets punter was running right along with the return team? Ever heard of keep someone at home just in case the Jets do that? I have never seen anything like it. The dude was 20 yards down the field before ONE GUY (Ekejiuba) finally noticed that he was running with the ball and stopped him.You can't put the lack of returns all on Higgins either. He looked superb last season with three return touchdowns. All the blockers are the same. The only difference here is Fassel. I don't know for sure but I would bet that the Raiders return yards are dead last in the NFL. I need to look that up. Not like it makes much difference anyway. Bad is bad.