The Raider Nation was buzzing with excitement to see this new and improved Raider team for the first time in a 2010 regular season game. And just like every other season opening game the past eight years, the Raiders lost. Also just like many of those years, they looked completely incompetent.
As many times as the woeful 2006 season has been referenced throughout the years whenever the Raiders have a bad game, I can honestly say, this game was truly worthy of the comparison. The glaring similarity being that the Raiders couldn't even seem to get the ball from the center to the quarterback much of the time. And when they did accomplish such a feat, the quarterback could not find time to throw the ball.
The defense showed flashes of the improvement we all had expected to see. But there were still several lapses that caused them to give up the big plays of which we have grown sickeningly accustomed. The lingering questions remain, as they have for the better part of the last decade. Those questions always seem to surround pass protection and run defense. To say there is room for improvement is to put it nicely. But whether they have the personel to make those improvements is another story altogether.
Here are some guys this team may be able to build upon and those of whom the only direction they could go from here is up.
He almost literally WAS the Raider offense in this game. Anything else that happened from an offensive perspective was window dressing. This is definitely the best I have ever seen him play. Even better than his big game early in his career. In this game McFadden did some things most people didn't even know he was capable of. He took the ball down the middle consistently while breaking tackles, stiff arming, spinning and pushing through tacklers for extra yards. On top of that, he found some good holes and showed great instincts as well.
He didn't pull off any spectacular runs in this game. What he did was break off chunks of yardage of around 7 yard plus on nearly every carry. He finished averaging 5.3 yards per carry which exactly matched the Titans' Chris Johnson. It is all the more impressive considering Johnson had his big 76 yard run to raise his average that high. McFadden just earned his methodically. He finished with 95 yards rushing on 18 carries. He also had 55 yards on a team leading 6 catches. His most impressive catch was a 7 yard dump off in which he was met by a defender at the 3 yard line and plowed through him and dove to get the pylon for the Raiders only touchdown of the day. It was a tremendous effort that would have been nice to see from some of his teammates.
He was the one true bright spot in this game. And it has been a long time coming. Now, let's see if he can stay healthy and keep it going.
He was given the starting job at weakside linebacker after the final Raider preseason game. Many people wondered exactly what he had done to earn the start or what Trevor Scott had done to lose it. Well, as it turns out, Scott was just seen as being more valuable to this team as defensive end and in the interest of putting the best 11 guys on the field, Cable went with both Scott and Groves. Both played well but Groves really showed his run stopping prowess in this game to earn Baller status. He was second on the team in tackles with 5 solo and 6 total. Most of those tackles came at or near the line of scrimmage, with one being a tackle for loss. That decision to start Groves looks like the right one so far.
Another run stuffing force in this game. Seymour was a beast for sure. It was reminiscent of his first game last year versus the Chargers. His first big play came in the first quarter when he recovered a fumble by Vince Young and ran it back 13 yards. It would give the Raiders the ball at the Titans 34 yard line and set up the first score of the game by either team. The rest of the game, he just created havok along the line.
Every one of his 4 tackles was either for no gain or a loss. I would be remissed if I didn't mention the big 76 yard touchdown run by Chris Johnson because he shot through the line just near Seymour. But Seymour was being vicously held on the play and it wasn't called. I mean, this was a textbook holding too. Seymour was trying to get to the hole to make the tackle but the offensive lineman had his arm wrapped around Seymour's neck and shoulders. Seymour put his arms up to try and alert the officials that it was occurring but they either weren't paying any attention or just didn't care. If he had not been held, he would likely have been able to stop the big run from happening and added to his tally of run stuffs.
He averaged a hair under 50 yards per punt on four punts. Mostly due to them being moon shots that gave the coverage team all day to get to the return man. His longest went for 68 yards and it was a beauty. The Raiders were on their own 20 yard line which had Lechler standing from around the 10. As soon as he kicked it, you could tell it was going to be a big one just by the thump sound it made coming off his foot. The ball hung in the air so long it had a layover in Cleveland before it came back down... on the Tennessee 12 yard line! That is nearly 80 yards in the air. The returner brought it back 12 yards to the Titans 24 yard line. On his other three punts, the hang time and placement helped hold the returns to 7, 2, and zero yards.
He was the Raiders second leading receiver behind McFadden. He finished the day with 4 catches for 43 yards and had the largest play of the day for the Raiders when he caught a pass for a 27 yard gain. He would have had a lot more if Jason Campbell had had time to throw.
Yeah, I know he is a rookie and it was his first time playing center in an NFL game, blah, blah, blah. This list isn't about factoring in details like that. This is about game performance and that's it. And by that standard, he was absolutely terrible. He had no business playing starting center on an NFL field on Sunday. With that in mind, let's go through his day, shall we?
First drive he gave up a run stuff, and a tackle for loss, and finished it off with a high snap that had Jason Campbell running to chase it down. Luckily for the Raiders, Campbell was able to pick it up and run back to around the line of scrimmage to keep the ball in field goal range.
Then for a few drives, it seemed as if he was putting it together. But just before halftime, with the Raiders on the move, he fell apart again, big time. The Raiders were knocking on the door in 1st and 10 at the Titans 21 yard line. But then Campbell lines up in a shot gun and Veldheer doesn't snap the ball, causing a delay of game penalty. The Raiders line up again, this time in 1st and 15 at the 26 yard line. Veldheer snaps it this time but it is low and wide of Campbell and he has to scoop it off the turf and try to make something of it. But wait, it doesn't matter because Veldheer is called for holding on the play. Now the Raiders are lining up again, this time in 1st and 25 at the 36 yard line. A couple of dump off catches to the running backs manage to get the Raider back into a more makable field goal range, but they are unable to make up all the yards and settle for another Janikowski field goal. Not exactly what the Raiders needed when the Titans having already scored 24 points in the game.
Veldheer wasn't done though. On the Raiders first drive of the second half I saw something I don't think I have ever seen before. Veldheer snapped the ball early and with the rest of the Raider line not moving because they knew the snap count, the Titans defender were racing into the backfield untouched and Campbell simply took a knee to avoid ending up in the emergency room. An odd moment in an overall embarrassing day.
Langston Walker, Mario Henderson, Cooper Carlisle
As happens all too often on this Raider team, several offensive lineman share a spot on the Buster list. Let me not be mistaken here though, this doesn't mean they each get a third of a spot. No, they all are full on Busters. I just don't see any point in listing them one by one. Better to line them up together like a firing line and just fire at will. So let's go through these turds in order of their numerous 'offenses.'
First drive: Langston gives up a run stuff and the drive ends on the next play.
Second drive: Cooper give up a sack in which he is bailed out by a Titan personal foul call. Langston has a false start penalty.
Third drive: Ends when Mario is left standing dumbfounded as his man rushes around him to clobber Campbell on a sack and force a fumble that the Titans would recover, already in scoring position. The ball was fumbled right at Mario's feet but he was still staring into space, wondering what had happened and didn't even know the ball was there.
Fourth drive: Surprisingly free of mistakes
Fifth drive: Cooper gave up a run stuff on first down and it ended with a three and out.
Sixth drive: Cooper gave up a quarterback pressure that ended in an incompletion. Next play Mario had a false start penalty. Same play, after the penalty, Langston did his best matador impression to give up a hard sack and another forced fumble. This time luckily Marcel Reece recovered it but it was an 8 yard loss. After the penalties and poor play, the Raiders were unable to convert on 3rd and 23.
Seventh drive: This was Veldheer's masterpiece. No mistakes by the three stooges here. Last drive of first half.
First drive: Mario had a another false start penalty. Langston gave up a run stuff tackle for loss. Cooper had a holding penalty that was declined because the Raiders were on third down anyway. The result was a missed 53 field goal attempt by Janikowski to remain down 24-6.
Second drive: Langston comes off his defensive end to take on a blitzing safety which causes Cooper to switch to taking on the defensive end only to have a blitzing linebacker go right by him and pressure Jason Campbell into a bad throw that was intercepted and returned to the 3 yard line. The Titans would score a touchdown a few plays later.
Third drive: With the Raiders at the Titans 3 yard line looking to score, Cooper takes off his matador outfit only to reveal a Kwame Harris jersey underneath and has the obligatory false start penalty. It was only after a terrific McFadden run that the Raiders were able to get the TD afterall.
They managed to finish out the final two drives without screwing up but at that point, what difference did it make?
Branch's mistakes began early in this game and just seemed to get worse as the game wore on. His first mistake was on the Titans 2nd drive in which he was called for a costly pass interference penalty on third down. With the drive still alive, the Titans threw a long bomb for a 54 yard touchdown on the very next play. Routt was the one burned on the play but Branch was the closest safety and offered no help. Instead Branch was busy covering the same man that Huff had already covered. Hard to say when watching it if Branch was where he was supposed to be but Routt looked back at the safeties as if to say "What the F@#k, guys?!"
A few drives later, Branch was fooled on a misdirection play just enough to not get out to cover Chris Johnson on an option play. It resulted in yet another 3rd down converstion. This time it put the ball at the Raiders' 15 yard line. Also yet again, the Titans would score a touchdown on the very next play.
Then came the coup de gras of Branch's day. The very next play the Titans ran was the first play of their next possession. That was the play in which Chris Johnson ran through a gaping hole in the line for 76 yards and a touchdown. When he came through the hole, he was met by Branch, at which point Johnson put on a move that juked Branch practically out of his cleats-- the proverbial "ankle breaking." Johnson didn't hardly have to slow down and was gone just like that.
Branch wasn't done either. An interception returned by the Titans at the end of the third quarter had their drive starting on the 3 yard line. The Raiders were able to keep them out of the endzone on the first two tries. But on third down, they ran a fade route to the tight end and Branch didn't cover him in time, resulting in an easy touchdown.
So if you were counting that was two touchdowns given up by Branch and two other touchdowns on the very next play after Branch allowed the Titans to keep a drive alive. Oddly despite Branch leading the team in tackles, this was probably his worst game as a pro.
I realize a lot of Campbell's problems are directly attributed to the lack of pass protection. But Campbell had plenty of poor play outside of the protection breakdown issues. His biggest problem was his decision making. Poor decisions like throwing a little 5 yard dump off on 3rd and 13 on the first drive. The Raiders were in 3rd and long in the first place because he had a delay of game penalty.
Another poor decision came on third down when he scrambled and had the first down marker in sight only to slide (if you could call it that) down 2 yards shy of it. That play came right after he had thrown too high and incomplete to Louis Murphy. The same type of errant throw ended the next drive with a three and out. His next poor decision was attempting a quick screen to Louis Murphy despite the fact that his man was not playing off of him. The result was an easy tackle for loss on the play.
Another poor decision was trying to force a ball to Zach Miller when Campbell was under pressure. Zach was in double coverage and the ball was thrown behind him and right to the defender for an interception. The turnover would result in the Titans final touchdown to seal the victory.
Outside of his poor decisions, he was just inaccurate. He routinely overthrew receivers that had gotten behind their man including one that could have been a touchdown. Other than the 27 yarder to Zach Miller, the next longest went for just 16 yards mostly because he missed the connections. He was clearly rattled by the pressure even when he had time to throw. I found myself thinking time and time again "Gradkowski would have made that throw." Hopefully he can regroup and show more poise in the future.
He started out the game with a couple of nice tackles in the first quarter. But as soon as the 2nd quarter started, everything went sour for him. In the quarter he was blocked for a first down run, gave up a 21 yard catch on third down, was blocked again on a another first down run, and missed the tackle on a Javon Ringer run that he easily took 15 yards for a touchdown. That was Huff's last play in this game. He went out with an undisclosed knee injury and was replaced by Hiram Eugene for the second half.
I can't help but wonder what Cable's thinking was in starting Veldheer for this game. If it was simply a case of Veldheer getting more snaps as the future center for this team, why the heck wasn't he playing in the final preseason game against the Seahawks? That game didn't matter. He could have gone out and made all the mistakes he needed to make in that game and learned the job in a real game situation. It seems like Cable sacrificed this game for the Raiders to get more snaps for Veldheer. That just should never happen.
As bad as Samson Satele has been at times, there is no way he would have gone out the way Veldheer did and destroyed any chance this team had of winning. If Veldheer wasn't ready, how did Cable not realize it ahead of time? He is a former offensive line coach, it is supposed to be his area of expertise. Satele should have started for the Raiders until Veldheer was ready. Just like Darrius Heyward-Bey should not have started last season at receiver. But at least with DHB, we kind of understood why. This one made no sense. There is no room in the NFL for this kind of 'trial by FIRE.' It can only backFIRE on Cable and it's these kinds of decisions that could get a coach... I think you get the idea.