I know many you are reading this thinking that the first solution I am going to present is to bench JaMarcus Russell. But at the risk of pointing out the obvious and living down to your expectations of me, I am not going to do that.
I am approaching these solutions with the idea in mind that benching Russell is the one thing that will not happen. Just as I will assume that John Herrera will continue to threaten reporters for the way they question Raider players and insult/threaten/berate analyst/former players who are critical of the team. Some things are just constants that we have to deal with.
Instead, I will focus on the things that will change and things that can change. Cable said in his press conference on Tuesday that this team is ready for a breakthrough. Some of that may be key players coming off of injury, but mostly the breakthrough will depend on the decision that Cable makes in the coming weeks. Russell is not going to suddenly have an epiphany and the skies are not going to suddenly open up. Something has to change-- and fast.
Here are some ideas:
Start Michael Bush
The last good performance by any running back on this Raider team was Michael Bush shredding the Buccaneers for 177 yards at the end of last season. And yet Darren McFadden was just handed the starting job at the beginning of this season. A role in which he has decidedly failed. His longest run from scrimmage this season is 15 yards, which came last week against Denver. A game in which he had a whopping three fumbles. Sure he hit's the hole fast but he, more often than not, goes down at first contact. He goes down so easy, you'd think he was trying out for Rock of Love. Michael Bush never goes down easy. If he is met at the line by a defender he usually earns a hard fought few yards before he is stopped. Defenders don't want to tackle him. This move should have been made shortly after last week's game. Which brings me to the next item...
Utilize McFadden's versatility
Fargas is back healthy again so he and Bush can share carries out of the backfield. This means there is no reason not to finally use Darren McFadden the way that we had all understood he would be used all along. McFadden was being lined up as a wide receiver often in camp. Other times he would line up in the backfield only to take an audible and split out as a receiver just prior to the snap. It is obvious that McFadden needs to be out in space (like, alone on the field) to succeed. And with the apparent dearth of receivers that have caused the starting of two rookies, the position can use all the help it can get. Which brings me to the next item...
Activate Javon Walker
Something fishy is going on with Cable and Walker. Walker was healthy by the time the final preseason game came around. He was suited up and almost went in the game but was pulled by Cable after only a few steps onto the field. that is the closest Walker has gotten to game action. Despite being finally healthy, looking fantastic in practices and being a former All-Pro receiver, he has yet to see the field this season. I think that Cable has been unofficially punishing Walker for getting that surgery behind the team's back. Javon claims to have no clue why he hasn't been activated yet. While the Raiders are completely lost on offense with rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy starting every game and the occasional Todd Watkins sighting. Isn't this team winning and JaMarcus' confidence much more important than some stupid doghouse treatment? Louis Murphy has been a pleasant surprise but he is not enough. Which brings me to my next item...
Start Jonnie Lee Higgins
It is bad enough that Russell is without his most reliable wide receiver, Chaz Schilens but he doesn't get his leading wide receiver from last year either? Cable claims that Higgins isn't starting because of injury. The problem is that Higgins sustained that injury at the end of the opening game, however Higgins should have been the starter over DHB in that game. Louis Murphy showed in camp that he is much more polished than DHB and therefore he deserved to start. But Higgins proved last season that he deserves to start. There is no reason why a rookie that missed much of camp with injury and dropped as many passes in practice as he caught, should be starting over the Raiders leading wide receiver from a year ago. The thinking going into camp was that Higgins would be focusing more on his duties as a receiver as opposed to return man this season but the opposite has come to pass. I could understand if there were clearly better options at the position but there aren't. As I mentioned Javon Walker is not being activated, Nick Miller is hurt and Chaz Schilens has been hurt as well. You thought I was going to say "Which brings me to my next item" again didn't you? I'm more unpredictable than M. Night Shamalan. What a twist!
Run Russell, Run!
Russell's best play in last weeks game was the one in which he tucked the ball and scrambled for a 16 yard gain. One of the few times he has done that. And why not? Sure, he is not known for being a running quarterback. But so what! Every single decent quarterback in the NFL recognizes when it is time to tuck the ball and run regardless of how immobile they might be. Without that threat, his receivers will never get open for him. He has always been an elusive quarterback. On top of that, he is very big. If/when he runs the ball, defenders have difficulty getting him down and they usually aren't barreling toward the big fellah either. If he always showed the threat of running, the defense would have to keep someone in the box to defend it. That would be a linebacker and therefore, one less guy coming pressuring him or one less guy that can double up on Zach Miller in coverage.
Stop dumbing down the playbook
Believe me, I understand that JaMarcus Russell is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He may need to be fed the playbook in small doses to be able to get it all down. But that is not really the problem I am referring to. The problem is that the plays they are calling are predictable. There is nothing tricky or complicated about them whatsoever-- from a defensive standpoint. The best play of this season was the misdirection toss to McFadden for a touchdown against the Chiefs. The only good news there was that the Raiders lulled the Chiefs to sleep with their vanilla offense so they did not expect a play with that kind of trickery. And I use the term "trickery" loosely. That play was not all that tricky. It was simply at the same level of any other NFL playbook or any college playbook for that matter. Actually, it was right out of the spread offense which is the type of offense that this team would be perfectly suited for. The only reason I don't suggest that is because there is NO WAY they could suddenly switch to the spread offense now. JaMarcus' head would explode. I only hope that they have a lot more spread offense type plays already in the works that we just don't know about.
Start Samson Satele at center
The Raiders traded for him in the offseason after Jake Grove signed for big money with the Dolphins. It is understandable that, despite Satele's natural athletic abilities, it would take him some time to get used to the zone blocking scheme. Apparently Tom Cable underestimated that span and started him early in the preseason only to see Satele struggle. And without the help of a cool montage, he was unable to reach his prime in a short passage of time. By the final preseason game, veteran backup Chris Morris was given the job as the starting center. Well it has been over a month since that time and it may be time to give Satele another shot. This move would not be worth bothering with if Morris was holding down the job well, but he isn't. Morris had his worst game as a Raider last week against the Broncos and he wasn't all that great before. I do, however, applaud him for moving over to left guard in week two when Gallery went down with injury. Morris' versatility is invaluable...as a backup. Not as a starter.
The other ways that this team can turn it around are much easier. There are simply a few key players that will be coming off of injury in the coming weeks that will open up the options for this team.
He is practicing and it is not for certain where he will fit into the lineup. Odds are, however, that he will be starting at left guard as early as this coming week. He has said that he would need a lot more practice at right tackle before he was ready to move to that side. He has also expressed a sincere disinterest in taking over at right tackle. However, with the likelihood of him unseating Mario Henderson at left tackle very slim, he may change his tune. Barnes would be an upgrade to Eric Pears, who started at left guard in week three. Eventually however, it would be an enormous benefit if Barnes were able to take over at right tackle for Cornell Green. Every game, Green seems to have a few miscues, holding calls, and sacks given up. By midway through the season the line could look like this: LT Mario Henderson, LG Robert Gallery, C Samson Satele, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Khalif Barnes. That is a damn solid lineup that would make this offense the best it can be.
Officially Schilens is questionable for this week's game. When he went down with the foot injury in the preseason, he was the most dependable receiver on the team by a long shot. He is also the hardest worker as well as possibly the smartest receiver on the team. He runs crisp routes and has fantastic hands. To get him back, whether it be this week or next, will be the biggest step forward in the passing game for this team. And that will open up every other facet of the offense.
Making an NFL roster as a 5'8" undrafted free agent takes some serious skills, and Nick Miller has them. Not only is he a lights out return man, but his receiving skills are truly superb. He could be healthy fairly soon which might make Justin Miller's return to the Raiders a short stay. Then again, he could end up taking Jonnie Lee Higgins punt return duties afterall. That will depend on several factors. It is conceivable that by the time Nick Miller returns (so to speak), which could be as early as next week, this offense could have every one of it's receivers healthy (and active). Hopefully, with that kind of selection, Cable won't opt for the two rookies to start any more. Although at this point you never know.
So basically, despite the doom and gloom after possibly the worst game the Raiders have played since ‘06, there are possibilities and hopes for a turn around. The Texans are up next. They have a very good offense and a not so great defense. If there was ever a time for this offense to get on track, this is the game. After that there is a tough road ahead. A road that the Raiders can't afford to set off on with a 1-3 record and a battered self image.