The Raiders are just a shade over halfway through the 2010 season and it is the bye week so it is time for the Raiders midseason Ballers & Busters.
The Raiders started out slow with a 1-3 record in their first four games. But they sprung to life against the Chargers in week 5 and have gone 4-1 in the last five games including winning the last three straight games. And in a world of "What have you done for me lately" the Raiders have done much to change their outlook as well as who may or may not appear as a Baller or a Buster at this point in the season.
There is still a lot of season to be played and some touch matchups ahead for these Raiders. But they are ahead of the curve with their 3-0 record in the AFC West and in sole possession of first place in the division. Now they control their own destiny which is a statement that has not been made about the Raiders for 8 years.
These are the guys that put the Raiders in their favorable position and those that need to step it up to the level of their teammates.
This team is led by their defense and Seymour is the leader of that defense. He was a Baller 6 times already this season and named Top Baller twice. He leads all Raider defensive lineman in tackles (27) and is third on the team, just below the two starting safeties. The leading tacklers an any team are almost always the linebackers and safeties so that is saying a lot. It also speaks volumes considering that teams have been intentionally staying away from running the ball through his area. And the few times they do, he is usually right there to greet them. At which point he either gets the tackle or forces the runner to switch directions where he is usually tackled for minimal gain. He also has 4.5 sacks but it sure seems like he has had more than that doesn't it?
Seymour's best game came in that big win over the Chargers. Just as Seymour had in his first game as a Raider to begin the 09 season, he terrorized the Chargers. In that game he had a sack, fumble recovery, a tipped ball at the line, a couple QB pressures and several key run stuffs. Ryan Mathews was going nowhere and Philip Rivers was running for his life. Right now Seymour is in line for his first Pro Bowl bid since the 2006 season.
McFadden is an entirely different player this season than he had been in his first two seasons in the NFL. And it has little to do with being healthy. It has everything to do with his new running style. He breaks tackles with vicious stiff arms and finishes off his runs like he is sending a message. Where he used to try and outrun defenders, he now goes through them. He does not shy away from contact, he seeks it out. But when given the opening, he will still run by his prospective tacklers. This new style has had him over 100 yards rushing 4 times this season after having broken 100 yards just once in the two previous seasons. And his play has had him as a Baller 6 times and Top Baller twice.
He is best in the NFL in yards per game (108), 2nd in yards per carry (5.4), and 7th in rushing yards (757) despite having missed two games with injury. He is on pace to break a 1000 yards by week 11. His best game by far came against the demolition in Denver when he racked up 165 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on just 16 carries. He averaged over 10 yards per carry a touchdown every four carries. And he did it in his first game back from a injury. He shows no signs of slowing down and that would make him a surefire Pro Bowler and a favorite for the comeback player of the year. Well deserved.
He went down with an injury in the week eight win over the Seahawks. But even with his one catch for 8 yards in that game, he is third in the NFL in receiving yards per game among tight ends. Only Antonio Gates and Jermichael Finley have more. And Finley has 160 fewer receiving yards than Zach does. He is also 4th in the league in yards per catch among tight ends with at least 30 catches. His 4 touchdowns tie him for 5th in the NFL among tight ends as well. He has long been the key to this Raiders offense working and now he is finally getting recognized by the rest of the NFL because with the overall improvement of the team, his stats have gone up as well. He is no longer the one bright spot on a terrible team but rather one of the brightest spots on a really good team.
He was a Baller 6 times this season so far, and Top Baller once. That Top Baller spot was earned in the week 4 loss to the Texans when he had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders lost the game but it was a close game. And the only reason it was close was because of the havoc Zach was wreaking on the Texan defense. The Texan game was amazing but it was not an anamoly either. He is the picture of consistency. He scored a touchdown in four of the seven games he played before his injury. He went over 40 yards receiving in each and every one and went over 60 yards in four of them. The only tight end in the NFL better than Zach this season is Antonio Gates. Which means that, barring the Raiders in the Super Bowl, there is no reason we shouldn't see him in the Pro Bowl in January.
Shaughnessy has been brilliant this season in just his second year after being taken in the 3rd round of the 09 draft. He has been a Baller 4 times and Top Baller twice. Possibly the most amazing thing about his performances is that he hasn't been the starter all season. Trevor Scott is the starter and yet Shaughnessy is the one who makes the plays while Scott has not been named a Baller once this season. Shaughnessy was drafted for his run stuffing abilities but he has shown so much more. He is a nightmare for blockers to contain. His hands never stop fighting and he dips and moves with such furocious veracity that a blocker can't get their hands on him. He can't be pushed out of his gap and he can rarely be stopped from penetrating. The result is a team-leading 5 sacks and consistent tackles for loss.
His best game this season was the week 6 loss to the 49ers. It is no coincidence that he was given the start in the game because the injury to Quentin Groves had Trevor Scott starting back at weakside linebacker. Shaughnessy had 4 solo tackles and a sack in that game. All of his tackles were run stuffs at or near the line and he was in the backfield pressuring Alex Smith several times as well. The Raiders had a chance to win this game several times and Shaughnessy gave them that chance. That's all he can do.
With the high sack numbers being spread around on this team, Wimbley being tied for third with 4.5 sacks is an accomplishment in itself. I said when the Raiders acquired him that he was a tremendous pick up. And after they were done with their offseason acquisitions, it was clear to me that he was the most important addition. He is the strongside linebacker this team has been desperately lacking for many years. His presence on this defense is a big reason why the run defense has gone from consistently one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best. His versatility in playing in coverage, stopping the run, and rushing the passer is invaluable to this team. Those skills have brought performances that have earned him Baller status 4 times this season and one as Top Baller.
It is a toss up as to which was his best game this season. He held a share of the Top Baller spot with the defensive line in the Seahawks win because he had 1.5 sacks in the game. In the 49er game he was tremendous as well and was beat out only by Matt Shaughnessy for defensive Baller. He also contributed greatly in the big win over the Chargers as he had 5 solo tackles and 3 assists.
He is so often the forgotten man on the field for the Raiders. The quarterback just says "forget about throwing to that receiver" and the rest of us hardly see him because of it. He was a Baller three times this season and to be honest, he probably could have been on the list a couple other times. We all just get so spoiled by his lock-down abilities that if he gives up a catch, we think he had a bad game. Honestly though, with him now doing more shadowing of the other team's best receiver, he will give up a few catches. It is inevitable. The flip side of that is, we will see Nnamdi have an interception or three before this season is over.
When he went down injured two weeks ago, the Raiders found themselves in a bit of a bind to fill his shoes vs the then AFC West leading Chiefs. Those are some big shoes to fill afteral. He will be back healthy after the bye to face the Steelers and that is a huge relief for the Raider coaching staff and his defensive teammates. I also suspect he will be Top Baller before the end of the season. Likely it will be after he picks off a pass and returns it for a touchdown. Then he will be named All-Pro once again as per usual.
The Raiders have one of the best defenses in all of football and Marshall is the man pulling the strings. After a slow start and a defense that appeared a bit timid at times, he was finally given the go-ahead against the Chargers and it has been ball to the wall ever since. His blitz packages keep offensive coordinators and quarterbacks on some long hours. And even after all the planning, they still can't be stopped. The pressure he dials up from all directions are the main reason there are two players tied with 5 sacks, two tied with 4.5 sacks and both starting safeties have a couple sacks a piece. With the continued success of the stunts he draws up, we can look forward to more of the same throughout the rest of the season.
He has drawn praise from analysts across the league for being that one guy of whom the defense has matchup problems. He is the entire package. He is a solid blocker, has tremendous hands, and speed to burn. Not exactly something teams are expecting or prepared for when facing a fullback.
He is the unquestioned MVP of the Raider kick coverage and return teams. He is like a heat seeking missile on the ball carrier in coverage and punishing blocker in the return game. He is also a reserve kick and punt returner, backup running back, and backup fullback. So yeah, he is pretty valuable.
He can be a bit feast or famine at times but overall he has improved his technique this season tremendously. He earned the starting job over Chris Johnson this season and the coaches feel confident enough in him to take over for Asomugha when he has had to leave the game.
This is a classic case of upswing and potential. He has made several mistakes this season, that is documented as he was a Buster four times for his mistakes. He was even a Buster for the last game vs the Chiefs. But he is a rookie who has been switched back and forth from center to left tackle and despite it all has beaten out Mario Henderson for the starting left tackle job. He looks to be improving overall in each game and probably would have been a Baller more than the one time if he had been developed at left tackle all along.
How odd I find it that the top midseason Buster is the starting quarterback over the stretch of three straight wins. But here we are anyway. The thing is, if you watched those games, you will see that the Raiders won nearly every game Campbell started more despite him than because of him. The game just before the three game winning streak was the terrible loss to the previously winless 49ers. A game in which Campbell was truly horrible. The worst game of his career and the worst numbers by a Raider QB in the last 20 years. So yeah, worse than JaMarcus Russell ever was, even on his worst day.
The big win over the Chiefs saw him play put up 14 yards passing in the first half. It was the heroics of Jacoby Ford and his miraculous catches off of bad Campbell passes that got the Raider back in this game. The only reason Campbell wasn't a Buster for that game was that he pulled out a few nice throws at the end of the game to allow the Raiders to take it to overtime. Then he threw a nice pass to Ford to seal it in overtime. But even that pass was long and it took every shred of Ford's sub 4.3 speed to catch up to it and make a fingertip grab.
Cable says he is going with Campbell for the Steelers game to stick with the hot hand but I think that is a mistake. The Raiders are going to Pittsburgh and the last Raider quarterback to win there is Bruce Gradkowski just last season. That is the hot hand as far as I can tell. It will take a lot of defense and a little luck for the Raiders to pull out that win over the Steelers. Hopefully the game won't rest on the arm of Campbell.
He started the season as the starting left tackle just as he had the last two seasons. But he played so poorly that Tom Cable felt the need to cycle in Jared Veldheer. Once he felt like Veldheer had enough snaps to take over, Henderson was sent to the bench. But in the short time that the player formerly known as Super Mario was either starting or cycling in and out, he was named a Buster 4 times. I have no doubt that Henderson can still play. He played right tackle in college so perhaps a move to the right side would be the longterm answer. It is entirely possible that in a couple of years we could be talking about the tackle combo of Veldheer and Henderson on each side of the Raider offensive line. And both are young enough to make that combo last for a long time. For now, however, Henderson will ride the bench.
He was a Buster for the first three games of the season and then again in the week 6 crap fest in San Francisco. He seems to have cleaned up his act in during the three game winning streak. Although that could be attribute more to the pressure the Raiders defensive line has been bringing in those games which make his job a lot easier. He was even a Baller for the first time in week 8. He was used as the X-factor in that game and it had Matt Hasselbeck greatly confused all day. Hopefully we will see more of that the rest of the season so Branch can return to the form he showed last season. But so far, we have not really seen much of it. We will have to check back at the end of the season.
For the complete list of B&B, see the Ballers & Busters Index
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