Last week, I spoke of the Raiders game when I said the win was "probable". And as it turns out, I was right on the money (as I pull a muscle patting myself on the back). The Raiders showed up to play on Monday night and gave the Chargers all they could handle. And for three quarters, it was a lot more than they could handle. The Chargers looked flat on offense and defense for most of the game and it was because the Raiders dominated in the trenches.
Phillip Rivers was his usual petulantly childish self and LaDainian Tomlinson was persona non grata. This is one of those games that begs the question of "moral victory". Unfortunately, when the Raiders go out and blow the lead to bring the Chargers consecutive win streak against them to 12, there is little room for morality.
The Raiders sent a message on Monday night though. Despite being ranked at or near the bottom in countless polls, including the ridiculously bias, hate filled poll here on Bloguin, they showed that they were a force to be reckoned with.
Now it is time to give credit to the "force" and blame for the farce. And in the words of Tom Cable: "Bring it!"
Holy crap, was he ever "as advertised". I think it is safe to say that he will be (and was on Monday night against the Bills) sorely missed by the Patriots. He was put in 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. It started on the first play of the game too. The Raiders lined up, then Rivers changed the play at the line and the Raiders Dline shifted to their left. Then Gerard Warren waved Seymour over to cover the next gap over. Then when LT went right where the Raiders expected he would, he changed his gap and ran right into Seymour. The chargers went three and out on the posession. What does Seymour do for an encore? On the third play of the next drive, after a 66 yard kick return by Darren Sproles, he had his first sack as a Raider. Then the next play he teamed up for another run stuff at the line. The next play, Tomlinson fumbled to give the Raiders the ball back. Then just before half time, after yet another big return of 59 yards by Sproles, Seymour had his second sack of the game to stop the drive and hold the Chargers to a field goal. So, Richard Seymour was a Raider for one half of football and he already had two run stuffs and two sacks. Welcome to Oakland, Richard. You will get paid and be around a long time with that kind of play.
Remember way back about two weeks ago when all the talk was that Murphy was dropping all the balls and Darrius Heyward-Bey had turned the corner? Well, whatever that was, it didn't show up for the regular season. Murphy was tremendous in this game. He caught the first pass by any Raider wide receiver and it didn't happen until the two minute warning at the end of the first half. But he did more than catch passes. His first play was the second play of the game in which he blocked his defender to allow Darren McFadden to pick up 9 yards on first down. He had two other passes thrown to him in that drive but one was way too high and the other was intercepted through no fault of his own (I will get to that later). Now to that first catch. It was a 10 yard catch for a first down which was followed by an 18 yard reception on third down. The drive ended with Murphy catching a 19 yard touchdown. YES he CAUGHT the TOUCHDOWN. There was no disputing that but the refs somehow found a way to call it an incomplete pass and waive off the touchdown. This was the worst call I have seen since the tuck rule. Perhaps worse. Even so, the Raiders were forced to settle for a field goal. He later laid a nice block to spring Jonnie Lee Higgins for a 19 yard run on a reverse to set up another Janikowski field goal. And on the Raiders final drive, he helped block for Michael Bush on a run of 9 yards. Then, of course, there is the moment you have been waiting for me to mention; the mammoth 57 yard bomb he caught on fourth and fifteen for a touchdown that sent the colliseum into a frenzy. All in all, he had one hell of a day and already looks like a huge steal as a fourth round draft pick.
Ellis was the first veteran leader to be brought in along the defensive line this offseason. And it looks like he and Seymour are going to make quite a combo. That Tomlinson fumble I mentioned that gave the Raiders the ball back in the first quarter was forced by Ellis. It was one of the biggest plays of the game for the Raiders because the Chargers were in scoring position and were turned away with nothing. Later in the game he had a tackle for a loss of 4 yards on third down for the Chargers-- forcing them to punt. A couple drives later, he had a sack as well. But quite possibly Greg's most impressive play of the game is one that will not show up in any stat line or box score. After the Raiders went three and out, the defense came back on the field, ready to play. A few plays into that drive, Rivers got so frustrated with the pressure, he threw a little tantrum by yelling in Gerard Warren's face. Ellis immediately stepped in and defended his teammate, followed closely by Richard Seymour. And they did it the right way, without yelling or threatening, while Rivers was rightfully called for taunting. It revealed the Raiders new, revitalized defensive line. But mostly it showed the new attitude that Ellis and Seymour have brought with them. They should know that it didn't go unnoticed by this observer.
As per usual he was the best receiver on the field... for either team. Gates was good, but Zach was brilliant. He had six catches for 96 yards. His first play was a fine block that helped spring McFadden for a 9 yard run. Then he had a fantastic finger tip grab to give the Raiders a first down and put them in scoring position. He started the next drive with another nice block that allowed McFadden to go for 8 yards. Then three plays later he had his longest catch of the day in which he broke wide open for a 30 yard gain. It was the longest play in the drive that led to the first Raider touchdown. The next Raider drive, he caught a slant pass on third down and took it 17 yards to put the Raiders in scoring position again. Later, after a Raider three and out, he had a nice block to allow Michael Bush to pick up a tough 4 yards. A few plays later he caught a pass for 11 yards to put the Raiders in scoring position AGAIN (this is getting redundant). After the Raider had three straight three-and-outs to start the second half, Zach kept the fourth one alive with a 25 yard catch on a drive that ended in a chip shot field goal to put the Raiders in the lead to start the fourth quarter. On the final drive of the game for the Raiders, Zach cleared the way for Bush on a 9 yard run. The drive ended with the 57 yard bomb to Murphy for a touchdown. So if you will notice, every scoring chance the Raiders had on the day went through Zach Miller. If he didn't touch the ball, they went three and out... every... single... time. JaMarcus knows which side his bread is buttered on.
The Raiders ran the ball as they said they would. And they had a good deal of success just as we expected they would. The offensive line played excellent in run blocking. And the best of the bunch was Gallery. If you watch his blocking as closely as I do (I am pretty much a total geek about it), he is extremely smart, extraordinarily precise, and incredibly powerfull. That is a great combination for an offensive lineman. This line pulls more stunts than most and he executes them to perfection. Many times he can be seen pushing his man as far as 15 yards down the field to plow a lane for the running back. And that is to say nothing of his pass blocking skills. He may have been drafted as a tackle but I truly believe his run blocking skills make him more valuable as a guard. He paved the way for the 17 yard Michael Bush run on the first play of the game to set the tone. The next Raider drive, he opened a hole for McFadden to pick up a long run and a first down. And when the Raiders were on the goal line and needed three yards they called Bush's number and told him to run right through the hole the coaches knew would open up. And open up it did as Bush shot right into the end zone without impedence. On the Raiders final drive, he peeled off of the defensive tackle on a screen and sought out a linebacker to clear a path for a 13 yard gain for McFadden. As Aso is a shutdown corner, Gallery is a shutdown offensive lineman. Shades of Gene Upshaw.
Whew! After sharing starts with Stanford Routt in the preseason and Johnson not looking all that great, he seems to have waited until the games counted to return to his great corner play. He has the hardest job in football being the guy opposite Nnamdi Asomugha. With Aso closing half the field, Johnson sees a lot of passes. And to play as well as he does is a miracle. The first defensive series, he came up to the line and snuffed out a pass into the flat for minimal gain and the Chargers went three and out. A couple drives later he had a tackle on a run by Tomlinson and a few plays later came up on another pass into the flat and just nailed Darren Sproles at the line for no gain. The first series of the second half, Norv Turner must have told Rivers to test CJ and test him he did. Johnson saw four passes thrown his way on that drive. He batted down the first one. The very next play, he had great coverage on a perfectly thrown ball for a completion. Two plays later he gave up a 15 yard first down catch. And the next play he gave up a catch that was short of the first down. Two plays later, the drive ended with a Michael Huff interception. He bent but didn't break and all told, he only gave up one good catch. After that, Rivers only threw the ball to his receiver ONE time the rest of the game and CJ knocked it down. Many of the sacks and quarterback pressures on the day were a result of his and the rest of the secondary having great coverage.
He was part of two turnovers by the Raiders in this game. The first was the Tomlinson fumble that he recovered. The second was the interception he had off of a Tyvon Branch tipped ball. He also had a nice coverage to force an incompletion on third down to give the Raiders the ball back and allow them to score before halftime. Hiram Eugene started and played well but the turnovers earn Huff a spot on this list this week.
He was second behind McFadden in rushing on the day (55 to 68) but he had a higher YPC (4.5 to 4.0), a longer longest run from scrimmage (17 to 11) and a touchdown. Bush actually got the start because he was given the ball on the first play of the game. Oddly enough, that was when he had is longest run of the day.
As usual, he held an All-Pro defensive end without a sack or even significant pressure all game long. Add it to the long list of great players of whom Super Mario squashed like a mushroom. Oh and he was also much improved in the run game as well which was the one area he needed to improve upon.
Looked Gallery-esque on the other side of the line as he opened up holes for many nice runs.
Was seen at least five times clearing out nice lanes for the Raider rushers. He really can smash through a hole. The Raiders really need him so hopefully he can stay healthy.
Before anyone says anything about that great 57 yard pass he threw on fourth and 15, let me just say that the Raiders should never have been in that situation to begin with and it was nearly all JaMarcus Russell's fault. All things considered, that was a terrible play call at that moment. And if it had not worked (which it very well may not have), that play would have stuck out like the 76 yard field goal attempt by Janikowski last season among bonehead decisions. But since it worked, we were all amazed at the brilliance of it. So aside from that, let's look at the rest of Russell's day shall we? He was 12 of 30 for 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Take the 57 yarder away and he is 11 of 29 for 151 yards no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Zach Miller's two biggest catches went for 30 yards and 25 yards and Zach was WIDE open on both of them. Take those away and Russell is 9 of 27 for 96 yards no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Since it goes both ways, the TD that was but wasn't to Louis Murphy was a 19 yarder so with that he would be 10 of 28 for 115, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. That is just 12 decent throws of 28 for a 35% completion rate and an average of 11.5 yards a throw with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Terrible numbers by any standards. He was way off target so often that it is surprising he didn't have more interceptions actually. Even the defense didn't foresee those balls being that far off their mark. This time you can't blame it on the drops either. There was only two on target balls dropped in this game. One by Murphy and the other by Darrius Heyward-Bey. When he went down with injury, Gradkowski came in and the boost in efficiency was immediately noticeable. The only chance the Raiders had to win that game was with Russell on the sideline. 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. What he did receive is an AC sprain that will keep him out for a couple of weeks. Getting his receivers killed can be added to the list now as well. The crowd at the coliseum booed when Russell came back in the game after his injury. And for good reason.
My mom used to tell me (and I repeat it often) that "One ‘Oh Sh*t' ruins a hundred ‘Attaboy's". That sums up the job Marshall did on Monday. In this case it was "One quarter of ‘Oh Sh*t's ruins three quarters of ‘Attaboy's". This was the theme last season with Rob Ryan calling the shots for the defense. Where the Raiders defense would play well for three quarters or a half and then give the game away with the stupid a$$ prevent defense. How many times do phrases like "prevent defense prevents you from winning" or "why not stick with what has been working for you the whole time?" have to be uttered until the prevent defense goes the way of the dodo? Why were the linebackers ALL dropping into coverage and the middle of the field left so wide open that the running back could squirt out and catch a dump off for huge yardage? How stupid is that? Seriously, you can't leave ONE linebacker in there just for safety sake? If there was one linebacker in on any of those plays, the back never would have made it off the line, let alone got out in the open to catch a pass. JaMarcus may have been the reason the Chargers were able to keep up with the Raiders all game but Marshall was the reason they ultimately lost. Or perhaps it is Al Davis. Him calling thr defensive plays seems to be a popular theory, right?
Was this just a situation where the Chargers were focusing on stopping him? He only got open one time in this game and Russell's pass was right in his chest and the ball promptly bounced off of said chest and to the turf. Not what this team expects from their so-called "number one starter". And certainly not from the seventh pick in the draft. To say he was outplayed by fourth rounder Louis Murphy, is mastering the understatement. DHB was almost non-existent in this game.
As a tackle, as we have heard so many times, the best you can do is to never hear your name. And of course Green heard his name quite often. While Mario Henderson was keeping Shawne Merriman under wraps all game, Green was having a hell of a time keeping Louis Castillo out of the Raider backfield. He had three run blocks on the first two drives. But on the other hand, he had a false start on third and 2 on the first drive. Then on the last drive of the game he had a false start and two plays later had a holding penalty on a play in which he was beaten badly by Castillo. It is great that Khalif Barnes will be healthy soon but Cable says that Barnes will backup left tackle and left guard at first until he gets more practice time in at right tackle. So the Raiders are stuck with Green for a while it would seem.
What the hell happened out there on special teams? There was almost no yardage on returns and they gave up two huge returns to Darren Sproles of 66 and 59 yards. Sproles had enormous holes to run through each time too. Last season under Brian Schneider (who left to coach at USC), the Raiders had one of, if not THE, best special teams play in the NFL. In this game they looked anything BUT. This game seemed backward from last season in many ways. The defensive line and run support was great while the special teams was terrible. The two kind of canceled each other out which led to the same result as the previous eleven meetings against the Chargers.
Here is your first example of stats not telling the whole story. Brown was the Raiders second leading tackler. Unfortunately a few of those tackles were on catches he gave up. The first time we saw him, he was late getting over to cover Vincent Jackson and gave up a Chargers first down catch. The next Chargers drive, he couldn't get off a block as Tomlinson ran for 9 yards. The next play, he was in the right place to make the play but still gave up a short first down. The drive resulted in the Charges first touchdown to tie the game at seven. Still, he was not Buster bound until the final drive of the game for the Chargers. One in which they marched down the field to take the game. On that drive Brown gave up a 7 yard catch, then a 23 yard catch, a 9 yard catch to put the Chargers in field goal range, and a 14 yard catch to put the Chargers in first and goal. On the five yard Sproles TD, he was God-only-knows-where.
That's right, we go from the second leading tackler to the leading rusher. Where was the game-breaking ability we have been waiting so long to see? All I see is a guy who can run fast through a gaping hole. His longest rush was 11 yards and his longest reception was 13 yards. Hardly game-breaking. He fumbled the ball too and it was with the Raiders in scoring position in a game that the Raiders couldn't afford to squander scoring opportunities (as if there is every a good game for that). His worst moment came in which he ran left and looked to use his speed to take the corner but the linebacker dove and tapped his ankle causing him to go down easily. He has almost NO balance or ability to break a tackle. I would much rather have that than speed. A speed that he has yet to really showcase entering his second season with the team.