I have to admit, this was not a fun one to break down. It is easy to break down a blowout whether it be at the hands of the Raiders or one in which they fall victim. There was also a lot of positives on both sides of the ball for the Raiders. So how then do they let this game come down to the wire and then blow it? How do they let several gifts handed to them by the Cardinals go to waste?
Those are questions I will attempt to answer while simultaneously still giving the credit to those players that performed their duties admirably. As always we start with those that did their part and more to pull out the win. Then I will outline those of whom I believe the fault lies for squandering the efforts of the former.
These are the kinds of performances Raider fans are coming to expect from the steal of last year's draft. Since this 4th round pick stepped onto the field for the Silver and Black he has shown a kind of savvy typically reserved for seasoned vets. He had six catches last week in a win over the Rams and had another 5 catches for 119 yards in this game. His longest catch went for 70 yards. But that catch was made less than ten yards from the line of scrimmage. Murphy and the defender met at the ball but the firey receiver strong-armed it away from him. Then he spun around and shot up the sideline and wasn't caught until 60 some yards later. His final catch didn't go as far but was equally impressive. It went for 25 yards and would have gone for much more but Bruce Gradkowski threw it short and Murphy had to slide and come back to scoop it off the turf. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged the call in desperation but it was upheld and rightfully so.
After going two full seasons with just one 100 yards rushing game, he has now had two in a row. He had another touchdown as well. To be accurate, he had 25 carries for 105 yards. His first nice play was when he had an 11 yard run that set up the first touchdown of the game for the Raiders on the very next play. Then just before halftime, he had his best drive of the game. There was six plays on the drive and McFadden touched the ball 4 of those plays. The first play he ran for five yards. Two plays later he ripped off a 33 yard run. Then the next play he picked up 18 yards on a screen. Two plays after that, he walked into the endzone on a pitch play. If you were counting, that was 59 yards of offense and a touchdown on one drive. The rest of the game, he just churned out tough yards to try and keep the offense moving and the Cardinals honest.
It is good to have him back. This defensive line is a different unit with him in the game. He tied for third on the team in tackles with 4 solo tackles and 2 assists. The amazing thing about those numbers is that all 4 solo tackles and one of the assists was either a tackle for no gain or a tackle for loss. He also had a sack in the game (also a tackle for loss technically). His first big play was on the Rams 2nd drive in which he shot into the backfield to pressure the quarterback on a designed screen pass but he didn't give up on the play and came back to tackle the running back for no gain. Then the first play of the 2nd quarter, he got in the backfield again to stuff a run for a loss. The first play of the third quarter for the Cardinals offense, he stuffed another run for a loss. Then he ended that same Cardinal possession when he teamed up for a sack on 3rd down. He had his final run stuffing tackle for loss came in the fourth quarter and it too was a tackle no gain. Then on the very next play, he pressured Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson forcing him to throw the ball away. In total, the Cardinals had a negative 5 yards on Seymour tackles in this game.
His high booming punts were directly responsible for the two muffed punts by the Cardinals in this game. It is not his fault the Raiders couldn't make the most of those extra possessions. He also averaged over 50 yards a punt and had two punts downed inside the Arizona 5 yard line. So to break that down, out of 5 punts, he had two that were muffed giving Raiders the ball back and two that were down at the 3 yard line. Meaning only one of his punts wasn't of the game changing variety. And that one was his longest of the day, traveling 57 yards with just 4 yards on the return. Spectacular.
For the first time, I think, EVER, Nnamdi lined up against and shadowed the opposing team's best receiver. In this case it was against arguably the best receiver in the game-- Larry Fitzgerald. Nnamdi would surrender just ONE catch the Fitgerald on the day that went for 18 yards. So, again I say; Darrelle Revis can keep his "holding his receivers under 35 yards" garbage. Nnamdi is the highest paid corner because he is the best corner in the game today. End of story.
He one of the two touchdowns on the day for the Raiders. To go along with 4 catches for 64 yards. His touchdown catch was his first of the day and his longest reception of 22 yards. His other receptions went for 21, 15, and 6. And he could have had as many as two more touchdowns but Gradkowski missed him. One was a fade route Gradkowski threw too long and the other was thrown too high and nearly intercepted. There were actually a couple of other times Zach could have had big catches but was missed on the pass. But overall a fine day for Zach.
Sprung McFadden on a couple of his nice runs inscluding his 2 yard pitch run for a touchdown. He also laid a nice pass block to give Gradkowski time to hit Zach Miller on his 22 yard touchdown in the first quarter. He also recovered a crucial fumble on a QB sack.
He was the best offensive lineman for the Raiders on this day. And while usually that wouldn't be saying much, there is still something to be said for him playing what appeared to be mistake free football. He also showed his blocking prowess in the the zone blocking scheme which was the sole reason he is on this team. While it can be hard to tell sometimes exactly where the key blocks are coming from, I did notice several times on McFadden touches, it was Loper out in front paving the way. He also didn't give up any sacks or have any penalties.
Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, John Fassel
This was the toughest part of the analysis of this game. Usually when a person thinks about a team having an overall collapse in the coaching arena, the fault must fall on the one in charge of it all-- Al D...er... Tom Cable. But that just seems too easy. And since I am not one to take the easy way out, I just couldn't go with the obvious choice. At least not him alone. On the other hand, I couldn't just throw a blanket over the problem by saying something like "The Raider coaching staff" because the defense played quite well for the most part. That wouldn't have been fair to John Marshall and company to blame them for what happened on Sunday. So let's look at a few key points in this game that contributed to this loss.
The first one happened in the first few seconds of the game. It was another big kick return. This time, like several other times, it was taken to the house to put the Raiders down 7-0 before a single ball was snapped. And it wasn't a bad kick either. It went 2 yards into the endzone and was taken out 102 yards to score. And as has been the case so many times before, John Fassel draws my utter disdain.
The next instance that had me mouthing "What the f--k?" and shaking my head came near the end of the first quarter. The Raiders were in range for a long field goal (54 yards) and couldn't even get lined up properly with the proper personel. Players were running in and out of the game, one of them plowed over an unsuspecting Kyle Boller who was actually slow to get up off the field after the collision. And in the end, they had to call a timeout. The question here is, who is more to blame-- Tom Cable or John Fassel? It was a special teams play so I am inclined to believe it is more Fassel's fault but I can't completely absolve Cable of fault in that mess.
Then on the very next Cardinal possession, Cable made a seriously boneheaded decision. One that ulitimately gave the Cardinals a touchdown. With the Cardinals in 3rd and 1 on the Raiders 23 yard line, they were called for an illegal shift. The penalty would have put them in 3rd and 6 but Cable declined the penalty to make it 4th and 1. I was immediately thinking, "What the hell is he thinking declining that penalty?" And, as I expected, the Cardinals went for it on 4th and 1 and converted to keep the drive alive. Does Cable not understand that teams, when between the opposing teams 20 and 40 yard line, will almost ALWAYS go for it if there is about a yard to pick up? A chance at a touchdown is preferable to a long field goal try and with just a yard, the odds are pretty good they can pick it up. They DID pick up the yard and three plays later, scored a touchdown to take back the lead 17-13. Monumentally terrible decision by Cable that cost the Raiders dearly.
The very next Raiders possession had an auspicious beginning. After a couple plays and a first down, the Raiders call the same play they had attempted and failed in the Rams game. One in which Gradkowski dropped back, threw a lateral pass behind the line to McFadden, McFadden acts as if he is going to throw it but instead laterals it back to Gradkowski who then attempts to find and open receiver. Last week it was a lateral pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey who threw it back to Jason Campbell. But in both cases, the end result was the same-- complete failure. Why continue to attempt a play that so clearly does not work? The defense swarmed on McFadden just as it did DHB before, making the pass back to the quarterback difficult and even with the swarming of the defense, there is still somehow no one open to throw to and defenders in position to rush the quarterback. It is a poorly designed play and one that the Raiders apparently don't have the personel to execute. This one falls on Hue Jackson.
The clearcut worst, most utter failure in this game was the Raiders first possession of the 4th quarter. The Cardinals muffed their second punt of the day and the Raiders recovered it already in scoring position at their 16 yard line. The Raiders were given TEN plays, thanks to Arizona penalties, to score and couldn't get in the endzone. A pass defensive pass interference gave the Raiders the ball at 1st and goal at the one yard line. After a run for no gain, a delay of game penalty backed the Raiders up to the 6 yard line. The delay was caused mainly because it took WAY too long to get the play in. Two incomplete passes later, they settled for a field goal. Yeah, I said passes, no runs. This one falls on Cable and Jackson.
If you were keeping track, poor coaching cost the Raider at least 18 points in a game they lost by one on a missed chip shot field goal.
Sure, you can say that this game should not have come down to a field goal to win it. But, hey, that happens sometimes. Sometimes the kicker has to do his job and hit the game winner. Not only that but, if you think in terms of wins and losses and direct results, it doesn't get much more "direct result" than missing a chip shot field goal that will win or lose a game. He missed it, they lost. But it wasn't the only field goal he missed on the day-- he missed three. The 58 yarder I understand. That would have been among his top five in the record books, but the 41 yarder? Any NFL kicker is supposed to make that one. He had his chance to get redemption for the miss and missed an easier one. Bust-o-rama.
Although you may notice I didn't put a picture of Janikowski crouched on the ground after he missed the game winner or Lechler holding his helmet dumbfounded. I figure no one needs the visual reminder especially after we all lived it and have all seen those images several times since then.
Jared Veldheer, Mario Henderson
They shared the duties at left tackle again in this game, and they were both terrible again. Veldheer got it started, giving up a run stuff on a three and out in the first quarter. Henderson came in in the 2nd quarter and was seen not blocking anyone as a defender came untouched to sack Gradkowski on 3rd down. Then in the 3rd quarter, Henderson does what Raider tackles has come to be known for, commit stupid penalties immediately following a big play that puts them in scoring position. This time it was a holding penalty on the first play after Murphy's big 70 yard catch and run. The drive ended a few plays later with a missed field goal. Then to start the 4th quarter, it was back to Veldheer when he gave up a sack and forced fumble that was luckily recovered by the Raiders but for a loss of 13 yards. And since Veldheer seems to like to commit his offenses in pairs, he immediately had a false start on the next play. To finish things off, with the Raiders in 3rd and 2 and barely in field goal range, Henderson had a false start. The Raiders couldn't convert 3rd and 7 and Janikowski missed the 58 yard field goal attempt. This left tackle situation has really gotten out of hand. I know I am really pointing out the obvious on that one.
It is getting really ridiculous putting Branch on the Buster list this season. I feel like I need to keep reminding everyone that he played at a Pro Bowl level last season and was a season Baller. Now three games into the 2010 season, he has been a Buster all three weeks. I think I may have pinpointed his most glaring weakness too-- zone defense. The Raiders switch to zone defense in the redzone and when that happens, he turns into a statue. He had given up 4 touchdowns in the first two weeks and gave up another one in this game. He also had an illegal hands to the face penalty that kept a drive alive that had the makings of a three and out. Then in the 3rd quarter he gave up a 25 yard catch that put the Cardinals in scoring position. It was the biggest play on the drive and two plays later, they would score a touchdown to re-take the lead.
I hate to put Bruce as a Buster simply because I know that this Raider offense would be much worse off with just about anyone else in the NFL behind that shoddy offensive line. But it is hard to escape just how inaccurate he was in this game. He was not exactly the picture of composure either. His numbers were average to decent considering the circumstances, 17 of 34 for 255 yards with one TD and one interception. But there were at least four other instances in which he was extremely lucky his pass was not picked off by the defense. There was a couple times he was running backwards on a scramble as well that only made the odds of a successful completion that much more unlikely. I blamed Cable and Jackson for that failed conversion with ten plays in the red zone, but Gradkowski carries some of the blame for that. He is partially responsible for the delay of game and he threw a couple of off-target passes that would have been a touchdown. This is one of those rare situations in which the difference between Baller and Buster could have been one completed pass.
Jonnie Lee Higgins
His punt return attempts are truly a joke. How many times do the coaches have to see Higgins make a clunky, failed juke attempt that goes nowhere before they activate Nick Miller and put him back there? Miller has proven he can do some damage and is a smart returner. Higgins has proven the opposite. He averaged 2 yards on 3 attempts. One of those returns he was apparently trying to fake out the defender but he faked to the sideline and then ran out of bounds. Just about anything else he could have done would have been a better choice. Oh, and he had no catches on the day either.