Just a week after the Raiders historic destruction of the Broncos in Denver, and three weeks after breaking their losing streak to the Chargers, the Raiders break another streak. That streak was consecutive seasons below .500 midway through the season. In fact, the Raiders haven't been above .500 past week 4 since 2002 and they have had a winning record just once-- Week 3 of the 04 season they were 2-1.
Now with three wins in the last four games, the Raiders are 4-4 on the season. They have done it in a variety of ways. They beat the Chargers primarily on special teams. They beat the Broncos with a whole lot of offense; a franchise record 59 points to be exact. And they beat the Seahawks with defense.
This was no ordinary defensive win either. This was something no one saw coming from these Raiders. They were not letting anything through and Matt Hasselbeck had no where to throw and no where to run. And if it were simply a defensive game it would be one thing. But while the defense was holding it down, the Raider offense was scoring points. Early in the fourth quarter the Raiders had a commanding lead of 23-0 before the Seahawks were able to barely avoid the shutout by knocking in a field goal. After which the Raiders tacked on another ten points just for good measure.
The Seahawks never had chance in this game in an even more dominating performance than last week's 59-14 victory. Making my job of picking out specific heroes that much more difficult. But I will take a shot at it anyway.
John Marshall, Matt Shaughnessy, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Lamarr Houston, Kamerion Wimbley
I give the defensive coordinator and this dominating defensive line all top Baller status for this game. I have never given such a share of the top Baller spot before but then again, I have not seen a more dominating game from the Raiders defensive line since the turn of the millenium. They held Marshawn Lynch to 7 yards on 9 carries. That's right, he averaged less than a yard per carry. They also had Matt Hasselback under constant pressure. He had no time to throw which led to incompletions and sacks. There were 8 sacks to be exact, with 7 of them coming from these five guys.
Marshall was dialing up blitz packages that were working beautifully. And after he had Hasselbeck sufficiently set up to expect the blitz, he had the safety fake the blitz, and then drop into coverage. He had the Seahawks' number for sure.
Seymour was uncontainable in this game. He is the one player among the four lineman that is credited with 2 sacks in the game. His first sack ended the Seahawks first possession with a three and out that saw them lose 12 yards. His second sack ended the Seahawks 2nd to last possession on 4th down for a turnover on downs. It would have been their last possession except the Raider scored so quickly, they got the ball one more time after that.
Shaughnessy made several big plays and helped to cause a couple others. On the Seahawks 2nd possession, he got in the backfield to pressure the run which resulted in a tackle for loss. Later he had a run stuff for a short gain, a tackle for loss and a sack. His sack came right after one of the Seahawks only big plays of the game and two plays later, they had to settle for a field goal.
I would normally have said that Kelly was taking a cue from Seymour but considering Kelly had a bull rushing sack on the Seahawks very first play from scrimmage, it appear that Kelly was making his own way. Later, although he was not given credit for it, he was in on two other sacks as well.
Houston has been a weak link on this line leading up to this game, but he played up to the standard set by his linemates on this Sunday. In the 2nd quarter, with the Seahawks looking at a 3rd and one, He shot into the backfield to stop the runner and force a tackle for loss. It was another punt for the Seahawks to keep them without a 3rd down conversion in the first half. Then to begin the 4th quarter, after the Seahawks converted their first 3rd down conversion of the day, he sacks Hasselbeck and forced a fumble which Seattle recovered.
Yeah, yeah, I know Wimbley is a linebacker. But he was deployed like a defensive end quite a bit in this game and the result was 2 sacks and three tackles of his own. He was definitely part of the feeding frenzie enjoyed by the Raider defensive line.
I overheard a fan after this game that said Reece was so good at catching the ball, he is playing the wrong position. I felt compelled to tell him that Reece was a receiver in college. With his big frame and receiving abilities, the Raiders acquired him as an undrafted free agent with designs on making him a tightend. But with the desperate need for a fullback, he was more valuable there. But he clearly has not lost any of his catching abilities or his wheels with his new position. Aside from Reece's normal stellar blocking in this game, he made huge plays all over the place. He was 2nd on the team in receiving yards (90), 3rd in rushing (32) and 3rd on the team in total yards from scrimmage (122).
He had the Raider first big play when he took an improbable catch 30 yards for a touchdown. Campbell threw a pass into double coverage and it was a miracle that it ever even made it to Reece. But even with the defenders on each side of him with arms stretched out to knock the ball down, Reece hauled it in and then hauled ass all the way to the end zone.
His next big moment came in the late 3rd quarter. Seattle had just missed a field goal but the Raider were still up just 13-0. Then on the second play of the series, he took a screen pass a took off for 51 yards to put the Raiders in scoring position immediately. He finished things off in the game when, with the Raiders on the 22 yard line, he took the ball 16 yards up the middle to set up the final touchdown of the game.
After posting his first game with more than 2 catches in week 2, he goes out and catches 5 balls in this game for his first game over 100 yards in his career. Most of those yards came on a 69 yard touchdown catch. He also ran a 30 yard end around in the first quarter that led to a field goal for the Raiders first points in the game. His route running looked improved in this game. His first nice catch was a 12 yard comeback timing route in the first quarter. Then he had another 12 yard catch in the 3rd quarter. He laid a nice block on his defender to help spring Marcell Reece for his big 51 yard screen play later in the 3rd. He almost destroyed everything he and the Raider had worked for later when he let a ball bounce off his hands and into the air. But it was luckily caught by Michael Bush and taken for a big gain so disaster averted. Then he got back in the good graces of his teammates and fans when he took a sideline pass, avoided a defender and had nothing but daylight to the endzone.
It feels pretty good naming Branch a Baller once again. After being a regular on this list last season, he has been regular on the Buster list though most of this season. I have often pondered if Branch's issues were really more indicative of how he is being used. This game gave me more evidence that points in that directions. He led the team in tackles (5-3) as he normally does. But the difference was that they were not tackles made after long catches or big runs. They were quality tackles for a loss, a sack, or a short gain. He was the X-factor in packages as he should be. He would crowd the line of scrimmage and half the time would come chasing after the quarterback and the rest of the time, he would drop back into coverage. It kept Hasselbeck guessing all game, and usually he guessed wrong.
Branch's first big tackle came on 3rd down of the Seahawks second possession. It was on a short catch in which Huff missed the tackle. If Branch hadn't come up and made the tackle, it would have resulted in a first down and more. Instead, it was a 3 and out-- one of many in this game.
Two possessions later, he was sent on a blitz on first down to sack Hasselbeck for a loss of 9 yards. They wouldn't recover and the result was a fourth straight three and out.
My personal favorite play he had (being the geek I am), was one in which Branch left his receiver and was up on the line looking like he was going to come on a safety blitz. Hasselbeck saw this and made his mind up to go to the receiver Branch had left. But at the snap Branch quickly dropped back to cover the receiver and Hasselbeck threw it over his receiver's head and out of bounds. Seattle would be forced to try a 51 yard field goal of which would be missed to head into the lockeroom for halftime.
Then in the fourth quarter he had his biggest play. Stanford Routt defended a pass that the receiver tipped up in the air and he was Tyv-on the spot to grab it out of the air for the interception. The Raiders would score on the very next play from scrimmage to go up 23-0. The rest of his tackles were on a 4 yard run, and three 5 yard catches. Two of those 5 yard catches were short of the first down including the final play of the game for the Seahawks.
He led the team in rushing yards (111) and tied for the team lead in yards from scrimmage(135). Most of his yards came on one play. It was the Raiders first drive after the half and he took it 49 yards right up the gut. He looked as if he might outrun his potential tacklers, but after a series of changes of directions, he was eventually caught from behind. The big run set up a short Janikowski field goal to go up 13-0. His next biggest run came on a pitch right that he took for 20 yards. The next play he ran for 5 yards. Two plays after that he took a pass in the flat, laid a stiff arm on a defender and took it for 11 yards. It would set up another Janikowski field goal to go up 16-0. The rest of the game, he was just doing work and ended the game with at 5.3 yards per carry. It was his fourth game of the season over 100 yards rushing and his third game in which he averaged over five yards a carry.
This was Campbell's best game as a Raider by far. He had a respectable game last week in which he threw two touchdown passes and didn't make any big mistakes while letting the Raider run game do the work. This game he surpassed the 300 passing plateau (310). He also added two more touchdown passes in this game. Yet again, he didn't do anything spectacular and he had his share of questionable decisions. But in the end, he got it done. He executed the Raiders' game plan without any turnovers as well. He seems to have come a long way from that horrible performance in San Francisco.
Bush had over 100 yard of offense on the day (106) and a touchdown in the game despite have just 9 plays called for him. His biggest play was one in which he was not supposed to touch the ball at all. The ball was passed to DHB but it bounced off the receiver and was tipped up in the air. Then Jacoby Ford got a hand on it and eventually Bush came down with it in stride where he took his find 55 yards down the field. The drive would end in a short field goal to go up 16-0 to start the 3rd quarter. His biggest run came on the Raiders' final drive of the game and it went for 30 yards to set the Raiders up in scoring position yet again. Two plays later, Bush would run 5 yards to paydirt for the final score 33-3.
Nnamdi hurt his ankle late in the game which left the Raiders extremely thin at corner. Before he went out, he didn't allow a single catch. And the moment he went out, the Seahawks tested his replacement. Huff was forced into corner duties and instantly gave up a long catch. As if we needed a reminder of how valuable Asomugha is to this team. He was only tested a few times. And the result was a coverage incompletion, another coverage incompletion and a pass defended.
Techincally, the entire line played exceptional just as they had last week. But the best of the bunch wsa Carlisle. He was often seen creating good sized holes in the line and blocking on several big runs. He was among the primary blockers on McFadden's 49 yard run as well as Marcel Reece's 51 yard screen.
The only area in this game that the Raiders didn't dominate was on special teams. And Eugene was the culprit on quite a few of those problems. Leon Washington had a punt return of 43 yards and a kick return of 45 yards all the while the Raiders return men had gangs of defenders around them every time they saw the ball. On the opening kickoff he was called for a block in the back penalty that started the Raiders on their own 10 yard line. Then later in the first quarter he was in position to make the tackle on the punt return but he missed the tackle and the return was taken 43 yards to the Raiders' 27 yard line. Later in the game, he could hold his block and gave up the tackle on the punt return attempt.This is a guy who is on this Raider team primarily for his work on special teams. Which makes it that much more damaging that he made several mistakes in what is supposed to be his specialty in this game. And with the playmaking abilities of Stevie Brown, we could soon see Eugene as the odd man out.