The stage has been set for the Raiders to face the Jets in Oakland on Sunday. The Raiders having come off a big win against the Eagles and the Jets coming off of their third straight loss. Both teams are in desperate need of this game to keep their season hopes alive.
It would seem that the Jets are ripe for the picking. Mark Sanchez has thrown ten interceptions in the last two games and he will be without two of his top three wide receivers, Jericho Cotchery and Brad Smith. Which leaves Braylon Edwards as the only proven weapon left at receiver. This is bad news considering Edwards has looked more like he is playing volleyball out there than football and his tipped balls have resulted in a few of the interceptions charged to Sanchez. The defense will be without two Pro Bowlers in corner Lito Shepherd and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. By outward appearances, it looks like a good possibility for a win.
But the Raiders will face greater enemies than the Jets on Sunday. They are not only common enemies, but also enemies they have battled this season several times.
After the strong defensive performing in the opening game against the Chargers and the week two win over the Chiefs, the Raiders were feeling pretty good and a lot of people were talking. Most of it was good talking. Although not all.
Warren Sapp said publicly that the Raiders season was already over. A statement that sounded like utter nonsense on the face of it. His point was that whenever the Raiders defense has a good game and start to feel like they are doing things right, they put it in cruise control. They get overconfident.
"Oakland plays worse when they have confidence", He quipped. "Oakland plays worse when they feel good about themselves... Not even a little bit. Not even a little confidence... they'd walk in reading, I'd be, 'What you doing with the paper?'... this season is over before it ever begins... write 'em off."
This is something that Raider fans scoffed at (as well as your truly). But then the Raiders went on a three game stretch of epicly horrific proportions. In those three games against the Broncos, Texans and Giants, the Raiders were outscored 96-16 which made some infamous history as the worst three game stretch by any Raider team since 1963. The offense was not scoring but more importantly the defense was not stopping anything. Sapp could not even have predicted that his words would have been validated so profoundly.
But then, after the horrible performance in the meadowlands, in which the Raider lost to a resounding score of 44-7, the Giants Antonio Pearce had some harsh words for the Raiders.
"We're playing that game the other day and, honestly, it felt like a scrimmage, like a practice... There was no vibe... There was nothing. It was quiet... It was shocking to be out there in that game and get that kind of feeling...It's sad"
And how do the Raiders respond? They go out and completely stuff the Eagles and mount them on their mantle for all to see. So it seems that the best way to get these guys to respond is through negative criticism. Something the Raiders were getting plenty of in the offseason. No doubt resulting in how they came out swinging (not just Cable) against the heavily favored Chargers.
But now that means they are right back in the same state of mind they were after week one and two. Everyone is talking about the big win and the dominating defensive performance. The pigeon seems to be making the bulk of the news but there is also a lot of talk about how befuddled the Eagles were and how surprised everyone was at the agressiveness of the Raider defense. Putting the Raiders back in the same situation that, according to Warren Sapp, and proven in weeks three thru five, is a trap for this team.
It is like a rollercoaster ride. They are criticized and verbally abused by the media, they fight to prove the doubters wrong. They succeed and are praised, which leads to complacency and overconfidence and they get pummeled. Then the doubters say "Never mind. You suck" and the process repeats itself. This is a rollercoaster this team MUST get off immediately. This game will be a big test. If they can stop this rollercoaster, they may just turn the season around entirely.
But there is just one more thing...
And that sudden agressiveness they displayed against the Eagles has many wondering if they can duplicate it. Or if Al Davis will even allow them to duplicate it. Sure they caught the Eagles off guard with the blitz packages they were running. The Raiders hadn't run anything like that all season so the Eagles were not able to prepare for it during the week. Now the cat is out of the bag and the Jets will be studying those packages and be prepared for them.
So the mission now is disguising those packages so the Jets don't know WHEN the Raiders will be bringing the house. The Raiders will have to switch it up to protect against the inevitable play fakes, screens, draws and check downs that the Jets will use to try and counteract any overpersuit by the line backers and defensive line.
Then, of course, there is the predictability of the offense. This has been a problem all season. The offense is so vanilla, it is sickening. There is very little that is tricky or mysterious about it. You just can't win that way. Very seldom can even the best team do exactly what the defense was expecting and still have success. That may seem rather like a big "No Duh" but apparently, Al Davis and/or Tom Cable is not getting the same message as the rest of us.
There were some really nice things accomplished by the Raiders last week. They cannot rest on those successes and just keep doing the same thing. It is absolutely imperative that they build upon those successes and throw in just enough wrinkles so plays like those screen passes to Gary Russell continue to result in first downs. You can bet Rex Ryan and company watched plenty of film and will be waiting with bells on for the Raiders to run those same plays in the same fashion and then BAM!-- drive over and game over.
Be sure and log into TFDS on Sunday for LIVE in-game updates straight from the press box at the Coliseum. It's the only place you can get this kind of minute by minute, play by play analysis of what is happening on the field and how it all unfolds. It the next best thing to being there. And, hey, it's free.