I am nearly at a loss for words to describe what occurred in Oakland Colliseum on Sunday. The 3-1 Eagles come to town looking like one of the NFL elite teams all set to face the 1-4 Raiders who just came off of a monumental beat down at the hands of the Giants. The Raiders may as well have not shown up right? Well, I guess this would be the classic example of "games are not played on paper". Because the Raiders stopped the high-flying Eagles offense in their tracks and moved the ball against that great Eagles defense as well as they have against anyone this season.
So what happened? Some say that it was motivation from the comments that Antonio Pierce said following the Giants game in which he said playing the Raiders was like a "Scrimmage". He was not wrong either and while he didn't sugar coat what he said, he wasn't trying to twist the knife either. He was right. And if that gave the Raiders the motivation to go out and do what they did on Sunday, then he should keep talking. If it was something else that was the key, then hopefully it can be duplicated the rest of the season with equal success.
Whatever the motivation was, the entire Raider team was buying in. They were on a mission and as Annie Lennox taught us, you "Don't mess with a missionary man." So let's break down this week's Ballers and Busters...um...missionary style.
Coming into this game, fans were screaming "Feed me Seymour" and feed us he did. He gave us a generous helping of 4 tackles (2 were for a loss), 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. He was in the Eagles backfield all day, terrorizing the Eagles lineman. He would have had three sacks but McNabb threw the ball to the turf as Seymour was pulling him down. We haven't seen Seymour wreak this much havoc since week one against the Chargers. Some credit goes to Greg Ellis of course because the Eagles were clearly keying on Ellis as the Raiders' sack leader. Yessir, the Raiders have two fine defensive ends now. Seymour is definitely worth the 2011 first round pick the Raiders gave up to get him.
This Russell/Miller connection needs to have it's own nickname or something because as Miller goes, so goes the JaMarcus and the Raiders. He had 6 catches on the day for 135 yards and a touchdown. His first catch went for nine yards and was short of the first down which led to the Raiders second 3 and out to start the game. Nothing special really. But the next catch was a bit more special. It was just a simple short pass but Miller caught it and rumbled 86 yards for a touchdown. The play has made the round of highlight reels for two days. It also happened to be the longest pass play for the Raiders since 1983!! We're talking Jim Plunkett to Cliff Branch people! Yeah, it's hard to believe it has been that long. Back to the game at hand...To start the second quarter, he had a 9 yard catch and a 20 yard catch to set the Raiders up for their first field goal of the game.
How many times has Fargas has his starting job taken away from him only to earn it right back? This is the best the Raiders running game has looked all season. He also had the longest rush by any Raider all season when he broke off a 20 yarder. Previous to that run, the longest run by a Raider back was 15 yards which McFadden did once this season. Prior to that, the longest was a 13 yard run by McFadden. By comparison, Fargas had two 14 yard runs in this game alone. His other notable runs include two first downs and a hard fought 5 yard run en route to the Raiders first field goal. One of his 14 yard runs ended with him laying the wood to Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, knocking Mikell out of the game. Fargas has earned the right to get his starting job back and I hope he is rewarded in kind. He also had a fantastic block on a blitzing linebacker to Russell's blind side that gave JaMarcus the time he needed to find Zach Miller on his 86 yard touchdown.
In a season with few highlights for the Raiders, Murphy has created a good number of them. What is all the more impressive is that Murphy is a baller this week without catching a single pass or even having a single yard of offense. He contributed elsewhere. The big highlight of the day was of course the 86 yard Zach Miller touchdown catch. A highlight that saw Murphy nail a would-be tackler to free Miller for big yards. But Murphy wasn't done yet. When Zach got down to the ten yard line, he looked to stopped there but who should come running into the picture but Louis Murphy to lay the final block that allowed Zach to take it to the house. It was some of the finest blocking I have ever seen. That play must have really gotten under the skin of Asante Samuel because in the next Raider drive, Samuel was called for a personal foul on Murphy that put the Raiders in field goal range.
It had begun to come clear that the toothless defense was because of Al Davis' reluctance to allow the blitz on a regular basis and this game was solid proof of that. I have been very critical of Marsall this season and I am not taking any of that criticism back. I simply am sympathizing a little with his predicament. I have never seen the Raiders blitz as much as they did in this game and the Eagles were not ready for it AT ALL. They were lost and confused and McNabb was running scared. On almost every third down, the Raiders brought the house at McNabb to much success. That game plan was an integral part of this win. One good thing that comes out of the timid style the Raiders played up to this point is someone is going to be caught off guard if/when things change. This time it was the Eagles. Way to grow a pair Marshall. Keep it comin'.
Yet another guy who normally has Buster reservations. But this week Nnamdi Asomugha went out early with an eye injury (he is ok) and Routt filled in admirably. This proves that as long as the opposing QB has to make their decision quickly, Routt and the other Raider corners can hold down the receiver. The first nice play we saw from Routt was when he stepped into a poorly thrown ball from McNabb and took it in for a touchdown. And event that some pats on the back and making this list are all the credit he will ever get because the refs called him for a pass interference that didn't happen. On top of that, Cable was so livid that he was called for a rare unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. So instead of a pick six to put the Raiders up 14-3, the Eagles are gift wrapped 25 yards. You made that play in my book Routt. And the refs know it too. Also in the game he had a pass defended on third down and a coverage incompletion on fourth down for the final play of the game for the Eagles.
The ideal situational pass rusher. He came in on third down on the Eagles first posession: SACK. He came in on third down on the Eagles next posession: SACK. After that I think they wised up a little. But the damage was already done.
He punted 7 times in the game, pinning the Eagles inside the 20 yard line twice. His first punt went for 58 yards with a short return. His second punt went for 59 yards and took an unlucky bounce into the end zone for a touchback. His third punt hung in the air long enough that the Eagles just stayed away from it and it was downed on the 11 yard line. His fourth went for 45 with a short return. His fifth punt was a 58 yarder that, even with a short return, was stopped at the 14 yard line. His sixth punt went 53 yards with a short return. His seventh and final punt was a high kick that was fair caught at the 20 yard line. His punting continues to save the Raiders from any kind of bad field position.
Mario Henderson, Cooper Carlisle, Samson Satele
Overall, the line played pretty well in this game but while the remaining two offensive lineman (which I will get to later) had their share of mistakes, these three played virtually mistake free football. Which, as usual, is the best an offensive lineman can hope for. On top of that, they get a considerable amount of the credit for the success in the running game with the holes they opened up.
Yes, the obligatory Janikowski mention. Two field goals, one from 46 yards out, the other from 29 yards. The 46 yarder looked as effortless as the 29 yarder.
And by popular demand (a demand I happen to agree with but wavered on) we have "the other Russell". He was extremely valuable for his screens and check downs in this game. He caught every one of them and took most of them for first down yardage. His first notice was not so good when he was beaten on the pass rush to allow a sack on Russell. Then in the second quarter he plowed the way for Fargas to run for 11 yards and a first down. His first play of the day was a nice catch on a ball that was behind him that he took for a 5 yards. Then he started to really do his damage (to the Eagles). He caught an 18 yard screen to set up the second Raiders field goal. Then near the end of the fourth quarter he had a 19 yard screen to allow the Raiders to run more time off the clock. His best play though, was his 13 yard screen catch that sealed the game and allowed the Raiders to kneel it down the final seconds to end the game.
Robert Gallery gets more and more popular each week that goes by. Morris is just...not good. On a play in the first quarter, he gets manhandled and allows Michael Bush to be tackled for no gain and the Raiders couldn't pick up the ensuing third and long. Just before halftime, he is beaten by his man who nearly sacks JaMarcus Russell. To start the second half, after a nice 9 yard run sets the Raiders up with second and 1, he false starts. On the next play, Bush gets those five yards back on set up third and 1. At which point, Morris can't get push on this man and the run gets stuffed for no gain. The Raiders go for it on fourth down and don't convert. Khalif Barnes is healthy now and after another week of practice, he could step in an play left guard until Gallery comes back. Look for the possibility of that happening. I just wonder if Satele would keep his starting job at Center.
Yet another game without a single catch for him. He only even touched the ball one time and it was an end around that went for a loss of one yard. Wait, I take that back, he did touch the ball more than once. The first time was on the second play of the game. He touched the ball as it bounced off of his hands, straight up in the air and was almost intercepted. So technically, he touched the ball twice in the game. Next week Michael Crabtree is going to be playing for the Niners. I wonder if he will eclipse DHB's TWO catches before halftime or if it will take him the whole game? I am sure the cackling from NFL analyists will start back up immediately.
Again he leads the Raiders in tackles (8-3) and again he is a Buster. How does this keep happening? Same reason-- he gives up huge plays that eclipse those great plays he has. He gave up the first big play of the game when he was blocked easily on a 32 yard screen play. Oddly enough, he had the next tackle for a 4 yard loss and then a tackle for a short gain. Those plays gave him a temporary reprieve. But a couple of Eagle possessions later, he was in trouble again. He was way out of position on yet another screen. This time it went for 43 yards. He was bailed out by Richard Seymour on two of the next three plays to stop the drive. Just before half time, after a JaMarcus Russell interception gave the Eagles great field position, he gave up a 14 yard first down catch to the tight end that set up the Eagles second field goal and give the Raiders no time to make an attempt to score again before half. To start the second half, he wasn't in his gap when Brian Westbrook burst through the middle for 25 yards to set the Eagles up in field goal range again. So if you were counting, that is 114 yard just on those four plays. The longest run play for the Eagles and the second and third longest pass plays-- all through Morrison. He did some nice things in this game and I don't want to pile on, but until he can limit these huge plays from happening, he will be a Buster. That's how it goes.
The special teams still suck. Both in the return game and the coverage units. And just to top it off, in this game the Raiders had to call a time out at one point when Fassel 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. It might only vary slightly when you are trying for a block or trying for a return. Tom Cable was extremely angry at Fassel on the sideline for having to waste a valuable timeout on special teams. But what should really be making him angry is the lack of any semblance of a return game. There is absolutely NONE. Every return goes for little or not yards and is often for negative yards. And you can't put that all on Higgins. 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.
The other culprit on the offensive line and magnet that draws my ire. He was not Kwamesque (to coin a phrase) but he was still bad. He gave up a tackle for no gain on Fargas in the third quarter. Then the next Raider posession ended with him giving up a sack on third down. Good news is that we could see the return of Langston Walker at right tackle next week. I am not saying that Walker is the answer but could he be worse than Pears? I don't think so (knock on wood).