The Raiders met up with the struggling Rams in week 2. But regardless of how bad the Rams are supposed to be, the Raiders still have plenty of issues of their own to work out. Not the least of those worries is how the offensive line will perform.
The offense struggled mightily last week against the Titans and therefore the entire offense stalled. The defensive line had it's issues as well although, those problems look much less dire and far more fixable.
This game seemed to be a season in microchosm as there were several changes as different positions along the offensive line during the game as well as the quarterback position. The Raiders looked like an entirely different team in the second half than the first. The offense in the first half couldn't do anything and the defense couldn't stop anything. But something happened in the lockerroon during halftime and the Raiders suddenly began playing inspired football.
Rams running back Stephen Jackson had 112 yards of offense in the first half. In the second half, he had a total of just 13 total yards. The Raider offense was outgained in the first half. But their second half was so tremendous that they finished with over 400 yards of offense-- their best since 2005. They also gave up just over 200 yards of total offense which is their best showing since early 2008.
Coach Cable appears to have chosen the Rams game to experiment and see what works on this team and what doesn't. And a lot of good answers came from those experiments.
And since outlining which players did the job and which ones didn't, is what Ballers & Busters is all about, here is how it turned out:
That inspired football we saw out of the Raiders can be directly attributed to the shot of adrenaline that was introduced when Bruce trotted onto the field. At half time, the Raiders were behind in every category. They were down 3 minutes in time of possession, 2 less first downs, with just 8 completions for 87 yards. And on five possession, they scored on just one (a field goal) to go into the lockerroom down 7-3. But that would all change instantaneously with Gradkowski on the field. The Raiders would scrore on their first two possessions of the second half and three of the first four as Bruce Almighty methodically moved the Raiders down the field. After those four drives, the Raiders would take the lead 16-7. That would be all the points the Raiders needed. Gradkowski finished with 11 completions for 162 yards and a touchdown. He had an interception but it was on a pass that was tipped at the line. The Raiders would finish with 9 more first downs and over 13 minutes more in time of possession. That is not a coinicidence. This win can be directly attributed to Gradkowski's efficient running of this Raider offense and his quick decision making.
Ok, who is this guy and what has he done with Darren McFadden? Whoever it is, he is amazing. He runs behind his pads, shoots through creases in the line, and plows through defenders for extra yardage. He had 95 yards rushing last week and that was impressive enough. This week, he outdid that effort to finish with 145 yards rushing. It was the first time he went over 100 yards since his second game as a rookie. He also had his longest run from scrimmage when he broke off a 30 yarder in the third quarter that ended on the 4 yard line and set up the Raiders only touchdown of the day. Before he had even made it past the line of scrimmage, it was a great run. He made possibly the best cutback I have ever seen from him as he started left just enough to get the defense to commit, then saw his hole and avoided a would-be tackler, and shot through the line and was 20 yards down field in an instant.
As amazing as his footwork is these days, it is the way he finishes his runs that is by far the most impressive and surprising. He is spinning off defenders, stiff arming, and carrying defenders like I have never seen him do before. He said he worked out out at the Michael Johnson camp this offseason which is great, but Michael Johnson was a sprinter. He didn't teach McFadden to mow over defenders like this. But, hey, whatever it is DMac has been doing, he should keep doing it.
Murphy was a big play machine in this game. So what's new right? He has been the Raider big play receiver since his first game as a rookie. And when he and Gradkowski get on the field together, they are like a well oiled machine. Murphy had 6 catches in this game for 91 yards and a the Raiders only touchdown. The touchdown catch was his shortest of the day (5 yards) and on his other five catches he averaged over 18 yards a catch.
I don't really know how to best quantify this being the best game of his career. Simply because, by comparison to every other game he has played in, this is more like the ONLY game of his career. We are talking about a guy who had 9 catches and 6 drops last season. He had one catch last week to finally break into double figures. Only took him 12 games as a STARTER to do it. Then he goes out in this game and catches 6 passes for 80 yards. Even with all the hype coming from coach Cable about how well he was preparing in preseason, I still didn't see this coming. And anyone who says they did, is either lying or fooling themself. Welcome to the NFL DHB.
Two games in the season, two sacks. Being on pace for 16 sacks is a pretty good pace. His sack came on the third play of the game. Then he spent the rest of the game racking up run stuffs and QB pressures. One tackle for no gain, one tackle for a loss, and one hit on Sam Bradford as he threw for an incompletion on 3rd down. He ended the day tied for the team lead in tackles with 4 solo tackles and an assist to go with his sack.
The Raiders run defense may have started out giving up large chunks to Stephen Jackson, but Tommy Kelly was still having a good game. He was credited with 3 solo tackles but I credit him for at least two more because he shut the gap down causing the runner to be stuffed at or near the line. He had a good first half and the rest of the defense came up to his level in the second half. That weight he took off is proving to be a really good thing for him. Which seems odd considering how much people were screaming for a big nose tackle type on this team. Kelly is playing in that spot now and playing probably better than he has in a couple years.
Gotta give Nnamdi some love here. He simply shut down his side of the field as usual. He was seen twice in this game. Once when the Rams tried to run a pick on him knowing that was their only hope to get a catch on his side. The Rams were called for the penalty and Nnamdi gets the credit for the 15 yards they were marched back. The other time was when he took out Stephen Jackson in the open field to stop a screen attempt for short yardage. He hurt himself on the play but was back in the game shortly thereafter. On a side note: Meanwhile Darrelle Revis was getting burnt by Randy Moss for a touchdown and is out for at least a game with a hamstring problem.
Just like last game, Campbell was having all kinds of issues trying to run the Raider offense. Yet again, he had little or no time to throw and he was running scared. And if Campbell had been the only quarterback to play behind that line in this game, all the blame could easily have fallen on the line in the court of public opinion. However, he was not the only quarterback to play for the Raiders. And when the Raiders put in Gradkowski it became painfully obvious, that Campbell was not only part of the problem, but perhaps the greater portion of the problem.
Not to say that Campbell couldn't play well with a decent line in front of him. But he clearly cannot play well with the lack of protection this line is offering. He completed just 8 passes for 87 yards and an interception in this game for a QB rating of 47. Those first half stats I mentioned, were due in large part to his ineffective play. He should definitely be relegated to second string until either Gradkowski either gets injured or actually does something to lose the job.
Jared Veldheer, Mario Henderson
Henderson barely played in the game and still managed to give up a hit on Campbell that forced a fumble. Luckily Campbell was able to pick it back up and pick up a couple yards on the scramble.
Veldheer was the main culprit of the two of them. But that was mostly due to the fact that he played more of this game than Henderson did. They were both pretty bad. Veldheer was the first big experiment Cable tried out. He had him at center last week in an epic disaster. This week, after Henderson struggled at left tackle last week, Cable decided to try Veldheer back at the position for which he was drafted (what a concept). He looked terrible as expected really because even though it is his natural position, he hasn't been playing it all camp and preseason. It is hard enough to catch up to the speed of the NFL without getting thrown out there without a single shred of experience at the NFL level. Hell, Veldheer has only faced even top level college talent once in his life when he played in the Texas vs the world game his senior year.
He seems to make his mistakes in bunches too. His first two mistakes came on the same play just like last week. This time, he gave up a QB pressure on Campbell AND was called for holding. It is really bad when you hold a guy and STILL give up pressure on the quarterback. The very next Raider possession ended when he gave up a strip sack. He and the Raiders are lucky he saw the ball come out and fell on it to keep the Raiders in field goal range. Then near the end of the game, he had a false start on third down that put the Raiders in third and long. The ball was tipped and intercepted on the ensuing long pass attempt. He didn't lose the game for the Raiders with his mistakes so hopefully he will learn the easy way and be the better for it from here on out.
He had the worst game of his career last week as far as I saw it. I wouldn't put this game in that realm mainly because he had a few nice plays. But he was the main in coverage to give up both of the Rams touchdowns in the game. Or at least he was supposed to be in coverage. Instead he was just nearby and/or trailing on the play as the receiver pulled down the TD. The second TD came right after he had given up the catch for the first down.
Loper was playing in place of the injured Robert Gallery. He seemed to make his mistakes whenever the Raiders were knocking on the door. His first transgression came when the Raiders apparently forgot he wasn't Gallery and tried to run behind left guard on 3rd and one. The result was a tackle for loss which then led to Janikowski missing a 46 yard field goal attempt. A few drives later he gave up a QB pressure that caused an incompletion. The next play was third and long in which Jason Campbell was strip sacked. This time Janikowski would hit the 38 yard field goal. The first play of the next drive, he screwed up the screen play attempt and it fell incomplete. And again, oddly, the next play was a strip sack. He finished the game by giving up a run stuff on the first play of the critical final drive.