Thursday, December 27, 2007

Against All Odds

The deck is stacked against the Raiders beating the Chargers this Sunday. All the "evidence" is pointing towards a complete blowout to end the 2007 season. Vegas has laid the line with the Chargers as huge 9 point favorites. The Chargers dominated the Broncos last week 22-3 while the Raiders were destroyed by the Jaguars 49-11. The Chargers have won 5 straight games. The Raiders have lost 3 straight games. The Chargers are 10-5. The Raiders are 4-11. The Chargers have won 8 consecutive games vs. the Raiders including a 28-14 victory earlier in the season. JaMarcus Russell is making his 1st career start. The Chargers are motivated to win in order to secure the #3 seed in the playoffs. The Raiders are playing to keep their jobs. The Raiders are ranked #31 in rush D. The Chargers have arguably one of the best RBs to ever play the game in LT. The Chargers are back to back divisional title holders. The Raiders have not had a winning record since 2002. In other words, we got em right where we want em!

The phrase "On any given Sunday..." is especially true when it comes to bitter divisional rivalry games. You can throw all the statistics, records, and circumstances right out the proverbial window. This game will boil down to 3 key factors.

#1: Raiders Run D
If the Raiders are going to have any reasonable chance to upset the Chargers, LT must be contained at all costs. It will take an exceptional effort by the Raiders front 7 similar to the performances against Cleveland (Lewis, 56 yards); Chicago (Benson, 76 yards); Denver (Henry, 49 yards); Indy (Addai 44 yards). Text book tackling and winning the individual battles along the line of scrimmage will be paramount.

#2 Kiffin Is Wise Beyond His Years
Head Coach Lane Kiffin has demonstrated an innate knack for game planning, strategizing, and making subtle adjustments when playing a team a 2nd time. After facing Kansas City and losing 12-10, the Raiders bounced back with a 20-17 win on the road. After facing Denver the 1st time and losing 20-23 in OT, the Raiders played their most complete game of the year in the 34-20 victory over Denver. Besides breaking down the film and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the Chargers, Kiffin needs to lean on his leadership abilities to inspire and motivate the team to play with unbridled passion.

#3 Russell Steps Up To The Challenge
JaMarcus Russell holds the keys to the Silver and Black's fortune in his 1st start. Russell needs to be an efficient game manager by making sound decisions, proper reads, and prioritizing ball security. At the same time, Russell needs to be a true playmaker in every sense of the word by avoiding sacks, making plays with his legs and improvisation, unleashing his cannon to make game changing plays. This will be a delicate balancing act for the rookie. Sound yet spectacular. Solid yet scintillating. Cerebral yet physical. Is it asking too much of a rookie in his 1st start? Yes and no. Yes. This is undoubtably a very difficult task. No. We all have high hopes and dreams for Russell to shine when the spotlight is the brightest. In the Sugar Bowl last year, Russell's draft position and millions of dollars were on the line. A country full of captivated football fans were watching. Cool as a cucumber, Russell rose to the occasion with a stellar effort (21-34, 324 yards, 2 TD passes, 1 TD run) resulting in being named the Sugar Bowl MVP and the #1 pick in the draft. Russell's performance vs. San Diego will either confirm that he is a unique and special player or show just how far he needs to climb to become a franchise type QB.

Against all odds > Calico Jack's Prediction:
Raiders 20 - Chargers 17

Monday, December 24, 2007

Baptism By Fire For #2

Jacksonville 49 - Oakland 11
The Raiders were completely steamrolled by the Jaguars. The dismantling began on the 2nd play of the game when RB Fred Taylor took a handoff and went 62 yards for a TD. The Jaguars, one of the hottest teams in the NFL, had a sizable lead (14-0) by the time QB JaMarcus Russell took the field late in the 1st quarter.

In his 1st extended play (3+ quarters), Russell showed the rust of sitting for most of the past year and missing training camp. The rookie QB completed only 7 of 23 passes and had 3 interceptions and 1 fumble. Russell didn't find any offensive rhythm until his last series of the game when he led the Raiders on the lone TD drive (12 plays, 70 yards, 2 yard TD pass to Miller).

Is there anything positive to take away from this game? I believe it was important for Russell to gain valuable playing experience in preparation for the 2008 season. Every rookie QB at one time or another goes through a "baptism by fire". ``He was OK, he was happy to be in there,’’ Jaguars safety Sammy Knight said. ``He wasn’t scared. He was focused, and he wanted to test the waters. He made some mistakes, but you expect those to happen. It’s tough when you’re behind and aren’t running the ball.’’

For a rookie QB to face adversity and struggle is to be expected. WR Jerry Porter made a relevant point when he said``With things being out of hand, it was kind of a blessing. You could say, `the hell with the score . . . you’ve got to let him get his nose bloody some time.’’ Although Russell played poorly, he kept his composure. His supreme confidence in his abilities will help overcome the challenges facing him. ``JaMarcus doesn’t get flustered,’’ Kiffin said. ``It’s not in his personality.’’

Getting Russell ready for 2008, even if it includes a tough outing like in Jacksonville, is an important and vital 1st step to rebuilding for 2008. Prior to the Jacksonville game, Head Coach Lane Kiffin made the following comments that puts the 2007 season in its proper perspective:

"Anytime it's your first year together, you learn a lot about your players, how they fit and the changes you have to make in the offseason," Kiffin said. "You don't want to make a ton of moves right away when you get somewhere because you don't know enough to know. You haven't evaluated the players within your system and given them a fair shot.

"I think the most improving is in Year 1 to Year 2 because you have a full year of people. I'm extremely excited about the future here and our first year of building this thing and getting it going and seeing what we can do."

Up Next: San Diego Chargers visit Oakland
The Chargers have won 5 straight games and need a victory to secure the #3 seed in the playoffs. The Raiders have another opportunity to beat a divisional rival and further develop Russell for 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Still Fighting

Although I don't believe in "moral" victories, the Raiders effort vs. the SB Champion Colts showed a tremendous will to win. This game was a testament to Head Coach Lane Kiffin's strong leadership and game planning abilities. The Raiders fought tooth & nail with the Colts and held a brief 14-13 in the middle of the 4th quarter.

Colts 21 - Raiders 14: Calico Jack’s Six Pack

Raiders Goal Line D is Stupendous:
Facing the high powered, prolific, complex offense of the Colts, the Raiders D buckled down on 3 separate occasions with their back up against the goal line. The Raiders defensive goal line stands was instrumental in keeping the game close and winnable. Instead of giving up 21 possible points, the D allowed the Colts only 6 points.

Goal Line Stand #1 - Indy's 1st offensive possession. Indy had the ball 1st and 10 at the Raider 12. The Raiders D stuffed Addai for 1 yard. Manning throws an incomplete pass. On 3rd down the Raiders hold WR Wayne to a short gain. Raiders hold the Colts to a FG.

Goal Line Stand #2 - Indy's 2nd offensive possession after taking a 10-0 lead on a punt return TD. Indy had the ball 1st and 10 at the Raider 6 yard line. Indy ends up going for it on 4th down from the 1 yard line but the Raiders blanket the Colts WRs and the Colts end up with no points. Without this stop, the Colts would have gone up 17-0 and the game is effectively over.

Goal Line Stand #3 - In the 3rd quarter with the Colts up 10-7, the Colts have a 1st down on the Raider 1 yard line. The Raiders stonewall RB Keith and Addai on consecutive run plays for no gains. On 3rd down Manning fails to complete a pass to TE Clark. The Colts are forced to kick a FG.

109 yards to Pay Dirt:
This was the most amazing Raiders offensive drive of the entire season. Taking over on the 1 yard line after a successful goal line stand, the Raiders executed a methodical, highly efficient 20 play drive that consumed 11:49 of the clock and ended with a 3 yard TD reception by Ronald Curry. This drive had 7 1st down conversions including a 4th down and 1 conversion and a 1st down on a 1st and 20 series. 7 passes & 13 runs. Yes, officially this was a 99 yard TD drive but the Raiders needed to gain 109 yards due to the 10 yard holding call on OG Carlisle.

Punt Return Killer:
The one big breakdown that the Raiders had in this game was on Special Teams. The Colts Rushing went 90 yards on a punt return for a TD. The right side of the Raiders coverage team didn't keep their lane assignments. Giving up punt returns in back to back games is a big concern.

Superman Howard:
Playing in his 2nd season for the Raiders, WLB Thomas Howard recorded his 6th interception for the season. Howard is currently 3rd in the NFL in interceptions which is quite an achievement for a linebacker. To put Howard's 6 interceptions in perspective, here are some numbers to chew on: Howard has as many or equal number of "receptions" as WR Dwight(6); TE Madsen(6); WR Higgins(3); RB Rhodes(3). The next closest LB in interceptions in the league is Indy's Brackett with 4.

1k For Huggy Bear Junior:
RB Justin Fargas crossed the 1000 yard threshold by going for 89 yards on 26 carries and 1 TD. In the 2007 season Huggy Bear Jr. has a been a beacon of light. Unfortunately Fargas' banner year came to a close in the 4th quarter when he sprained his MCL. Starting in only 7 games, Fargas final numbers are impressive (1009 yards, 222 carries, 4.5 ypc) but his value to the team goes beyond the statistics. Fargas, in my humble opinion, has been the heart and soul of the 2007 Raiders. Huggy Bear Junior had been a good soldier, team first Raider biding his time for 4 years awaiting the opportunity to shine. When given the chance by Lane Kiffin, Huggy busted down the door and earned the respect and admiration of the Raider Nation.

Highway Robbery in Alameda:
I hate to end this post on a sour note but I would be remiss to neglect the dubious officiating on a critical, game altering play. With the Raiders down 21-14 facing a crucial 4th down and 9 at the Indy 16 and 1:54 on the clock, McCown attempted a pass to WR Porter on an inside slant pattern to the 7 yard line. The Colts cornerback Hayden had his right arm completely draped around Porter pinning Porter's right arm. The official had a good view of the play and yet didn't call a pass interference when it was clear as day that this was an obvious PI. The Raiders should have had a 1st down and goal to go on the 7 but the non-call effectively ended the game. I'm not the type of fan that makes a habit about whining about the officiating. However in this case, the blind zebra's non-call was extremely disheartening particularly in the context of a close, hard fought game. Uggh. Kiffin said it best in reference to this play: "I'm never one to complain about the calls or make excuses," Kiffin said. "It's just unfortunate that the game comes down to one play, and you don't have a chance to make a play on it."

In spite of the loss, the Raider Nation should be proud of this team's will to win. This is the type of game that lays a foundation for future success and brighter days ahead. The Colts game was a good measuring stick for the 2007 Raiders overall improvements and progress.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Inspiration From Sir Winston

As posted in Jerry McDonald's blog, hanging in every Raiders locker Friday was a copy of a quote by Winston Churchill:

"A competitor will find a way to win. Competitors take bad breaks and drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as excuses to give up. It’s all a matter of pride."
Jerry's blog doesn't indicate whether Head Coach Lane Kiffin was responsible for this motivational ploy. However as the Head Coach and leader of this 53 man team, I think it is fairly safe and logical to conclude it was Kiffin's deed.
Is there perhaps a deeper meaning to this inspirational quote? Besides preparing for Indy on Sunday, is it too much of a reach to suspect that Kiffin is using this quote to send a more powerful message to the entire team? With all of the wild and unfounded speculation (brilliantly covered by RaiderTake) swirling over the past 10 days that links Kiffin to various college head coaching vacancies (Nebraska, Arkansas, UCLA, Michigan), is this message about "not quitting" more profound? Am I crazy to think that Kiffin is declaring to his team that he has no intentions of quitting on them? Just ask yourself 1 simple question: Would a Head Coach with 1 foot out the door even bother to have this quote posted in each player's locker? In my opinion that would be the ultimate hypocrisy. I don't know what the future will bring but my gut instinct tells me that Kiffin is "IN" for the long haul.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

High Risk, High Reward

The Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts are primarily known by Joe Football Fan as a highly prolific offensive team. Peyton Manning is arguably one of the top 5 best QBs in the history of the league. What is interesting to me going into Sunday's battle in Oakland is that the Colts have one of the best kept secrets in football ... their D is equally if not better than their offense. Below is a summary of Indy & Oakland's primary offensive and defensive statistics. What these statistics summarize is that the Colts have one of the best and most balanced teams in the entire league.

The Questions that need to be answered on Sunday:

(1) How will the Raiders respond to the beat down administered by the Packers?
(2) What gameplan will DC Rob Ryan employ to combat Indy's high powered offense?
(3) Will Ryan sit back using his base defense and allow Manning to pick apart his D (slow water torture) or utilize some aggressive, exotic blitz packages (high risk roll of the dice)?
(4) How will JaMarcus Russell perform against the #2 NFL defense?
(5) Will the team view this game as a "nothing to lose" opportunity and play a spirited, high energy brand of football?
(6) What hidden gems does Kiffin have up his sleeve for this game? Onside kick by SeaBass? Fake punt by Lechler? Option pass by Curry?

With the deck stacked against the Raiders, I personally will be disappointed if Kiffin/Ryan play it safe. If you go down, go down with all of your cannons blazing!


Indy (NFL Rank)Oak NFL Rank
Total Offense366.5 yds / (4th)302.5 yds / (23rd)
Total Defense 274.4 yds / (2nd)342.6 / (23rd)
Points Scored29.3/ (3rd)18.5 / (23rd)
Points Allowed

16.7 (3rd)

22.9 / (20th)

McCarthy Whines About "Low" Hits on Favre

In a press conference yesterday, Head Coach Mike McCarthy implied that DE Derrick Burgess made 2 low hits on his QB Brett Favre. As shown in the video highlights accompanying the McCarthy press conference, neither hit by Burgess should be construed as "dirty". In the Wisconsin Journal, McCarthy made the following comments:

McCarthy, though, said Burgess' first hit was the result of being pushed down, "but the other one, (Burgess) went low on him. It was clearly evident. It was unnecessary."

Brett Favre directly contradicted his Head Coach's opinion by stating the following:

"I got hit a fair amount. Some seemed kind of low, but I don't think any of them were on purpose," Favre said. "To me, it's kind of a vague call from a referee's standpoint. Sometimes I think (the defensive player is) either blocked into a guy's (legs) or is stumbling or falling. To me that's what happened on that play and the other ones."

I was pleased that Raiders Head Coach quickly refuted McCarthy's notion of "dirty play" and stood up for Burgess when he made this statement:

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin told Oakland-area reporters Monday Burgess slipped on the first play "and there's no way he was going low (on purpose). Being here with Derrick for a year, that's the last thing that Derrick would do. He has great respect for the game and he has great respect for the players in the game, too."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Recipe For Disaster

The Raiders played one of the elite teams in the NFL on Sunday facing off with the Green Bay Packers (11-2) on the road. In order to win this game, the Raiders needed to (a) play a complete game; offense, defense, special teams (b) win the turnover battle (c) contain RB Ryan Grant (d) accrue a minimum of penalties (e) and make a few big, game changing plays. Unfortunately, the Raiders came up well short on every item of their "to do list" and the result was a 38-7 shellacking at the hands of the Packers. Here is a summary of the Raiders shortcomings:

(a) Team Effort: Offense, Defense, Special Teams
The offensive unit had their worst performance of 2007.
- The Raiders were unable to sustain drives. Out of 12 possessions, the Raiders had only 2 drives that covered at least 40 yards (1 TD, 1 missed FG), 4 drives that resulted in 3 and out punts, 2 interceptions on the 1st play of drives, and the remaining 4 drives ended on downs or went nowhere fast.

- QB Josh McCown was inaccurate with his throws (7-15, 115 yards, 2 interceptions) and Justin Fargas had a difficult time getting in a rhythm (15 carries for 57 yards) to establish the run.

- The offensive unit earned only 10 total first downs for the entire game and had 0 red zone opportunities. The total net yards accumulated was 233 (85 rushing, 148 passing).

- The game got so out of hand that QB Andrew Walter was inserted in mop up duty in the 4th quarter.

The defensive unit had their worst performance of 2007.
- The Packers were forced to punt on only 2 occasions and converted 50% of their 3rd downs. The Raiders defense allowed the Packers to rack up 445 net yards (179 rushing, 266 passing). The average gain per play was 7.5 yards.

- The Raiders D was unable to create a pass rush (0 sacks), did a poor job of tackling, and had numerous blown coverages in the secondary.

The special teams unit had their worst performance of 2007.
- The special teams unit was responsible for 2 Packer TDs. The 1st was a 57 yard punt return TD by Will Blackmon who fielded a short punt from Lechler and went untouched. The 2nd TD was caused by a fumble by PR Tim Dwight who coughed up the ball that ended up recovered in the end zone by Will Blackmon.

- Punter Shane Lechler had 2 short punts (1 traveling only 30 yards) and poor hangtime on his 5 punts.

- Kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed his only field goal attempt from 44 yards out.

(b) Win the turnover battle
Probably the most important element to an upset win on the road is creating turnovers on defense and protecting the football on offense. Losing the turnover battle 3 to 1 made this contest a knock out instead of a TKO.

(c) Contain RB Ryan Grant
Grant sliced through the Raiders defense for 156 yards on 29 carries for 5.3 ypc. The Raiders front 4 got completely mauled by the Packs OLine. On the majority of Grant's carries he reached the 2nd level of the Raiders defense.

(d) Accrue a minimal number of penalties
The Raiders were flagged 9 times for 62 yards. Although some of these penalties were dubious (offensive interference phantom call on Porter and defensive pass interference on Asomugha) the rest were the result of undisciplined play. The offensive penalties killed 2 or 3 drives and the defensive penalties led to 2 Packer 1st downs.

(e) Make a few big, game changing plays
Besides WR Jerry Porter's 25 yard TD grab to end the 1st half, the Raiders were unable to make any game altering type plays. The Packers on the other hand had at least 4 pivotal, impact plays; 57 yard Punt Return TD; 80 yard TD pass to Greg Jennings; fumble recovery for a TD on Raider punt return; 46 yard TD pass to Donald Lee.

Who is Next?
The Raiders host the Super Bowl Champion Indianopolis Colts (11-2). After performing so badly against the Packers, it is important for the Raiders to bounce back with a spirited, well played effort vs. the Colts. I also feel it is important to take the bubble wrap off of JaMarcus Russell and get him some valuable playing experience. In a typical game the offensive unit has usually 12 to 15 possessions. Ideally I would like to see Russell on 2 series in the 1st half and 2 series in the 2nd half.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Black Flag Network Announcement

The Black Flag Network (BFN) enthusiastically raises an ice cold Bass Ale to welcome the addition of “Across the Silver and Black Pond” as a new commentator to the Oakland Raiders experience.

Across the Silver and Black Pond” brings a unique perspective to the life of a Raider fan. Blogging passionately about his viewpoints on the Raiders by way of the United Kingdom, LeighRaider wittily shows that the Raider Nation has no geographical boundaries.

The BFN looks forward to continually building a positive rapport with the Raider Nation. The following Q & A is a means of introducing Raider fans to “Across the Silver and Black Pond” and shedding some new light on how a Brit became a card carrying member of the Raider Nation.

Calico Jack: Tell us how an Englishman became a die hard Raiders fan? When did you begin to follow American football and how did you become a fan of the Raiders in particular?

LeighRaider: We first got the NFL broadcast in the UK in 1982, which was good timing because there was no soccer being shown at the time here due to a TV rights dispute, and we only had four TV channels at that time which gave us some terrible Sunday evening programming. So the introduction of this new sport had little competition for viewers, and it was obviously very new to us. It was fast and colourful, there was hard physical contact and there were Cheerleaders!

People picked their teams for various reasons, alot would choose the first team they saw on the TV and that’s probably why the Dolphins have had a good fan base here because they were on the first show. I think some people picked from the name of the team or location. For me it was much easier, it was the sight of some bloke flying by on a highlight segment wearing Silver and Black, how can that not seal it for you?

Raider Take: When did you begin to follow American football and how did you become a fan of the Raiders in particular?

LeighRaider: The NFL took off in quite a big way over the next few years here and as well as the following of the game on TV every week with live games and highlight shows, teams sprang up here at an amateur level. On a personal level it all coincided with meeting a group of people who are our circle of friends today, and a couple of them were Raiders fans too. In those early days of the Channel 4 coverage here, it was rare to get the Raiders games, as they would try to spread games between all of the teams, so a lot of the time we would have to resort to listening to Armed Forces Network radio. The signal was weak and sometimes intermittent but we crowded around it every week in a bedroom because that was the only part of my house where it worked.

So with a combination of Sunday live coverage, weekly highlight TV shows, the radio, and the UK's weekly NFL magazine - First Down, we became big fans pretty quickly. We got to see the Raiders play in London in 1990, only pre-season I know, but we pestered someone at Wembley Stadium to let us into the Raider practice the day before the game, so got to see some of our heroes up close like Howie Long and an un-suited Lyle Alzado. We were also watching our Britball team Manchester Spartans home and away, and when the World League kicked off with the Monarchs we were there too. Following the Raiders got easier as the TV coverage got better, but its a lot easier post internet and satellite TV where we now have multiple NFL sources to choose from.

CJ: Please share with us one of the highlights of your recent trip to Oakland.

LR: We've been to Oakland three times now and each trip has had its highlights. To be honest every time we come over the a constant highlight to us is Ricky's in San Leandro, that’s our first port of call after the 11 hour flight, and generally our last too. That's where we first got a taste for what the Raider Nation is all about, we were supposed to be calling in there on our first trip as we'd heard about it, and ended up leaving a few hours later, very drunk, so much so that Tina had to take us back to the BART. In fact people we met on that first day in Ricky's are now old friends who treat us like family when we are in the Bay Area.

The game day is the ultimate highlight, after all those years watching on TV and listening to dodgy radio feeds. Everything from the tailgate to the game and just seeing the game live. We will ignore the fact that we have still to see a win though. The tailgate is always great for us, because there is nothing like it here, if you turned up at a soccer stadium with a grill they would look at you like you had gone mad. We have always had great company on our game days. We hang out with our good friend's from Hayward and this year were welcomed into the South Shield fold. The Raider Nation is as advertised and the hospitality and camaraderie is always great.

Another big deal to us, having been fans from so far away for so long, is meeting players who we had only seen on TV or read about. On our first visit we met Jim Plunkett in a San Francisco restaurant and Kenny King and Rod Martin in Ricky's. This time around it was John Vella, Mike Davis, Derek Ramsey and Mr. Rod Martin again. The ex players always have time for you and are usually surprised that they are known by a bunch of Brits.

RT: How easy or difficult is it to catch Raiders games on television in England? When and how are they aired, and do you have any viewing rituals?

LR: We have really good satellite TV coverage these days. We get the choice of two of the early games, two late games and the Sunday and Monday night games. We get all the playoffs live through to the Superbowl, and get NFL Total Access every day which has worked pretty well so far. We even had the Chiefs road game via a link from El Salvador TV. Yahoo run a subscription service on the net too where you can watch any of the games, so I've taken that up for the remainder of the season now. You get to watch the games as much as you like until Tuesday or Wednesday, so I think I'm on my 3rd showing of the win over the Donkey's now, it gets better each time.

Our usual viewing ritual would be all sat in front of our respective computer screens armed with beer and an instant message chatroom open to talk about the game as it unfolds, although now that I have a definite good quality NFL licensed feed through Yahoo last week involved us all sitting around my screen with beer, which most likely will be repeated until the end of the season.

CJ: Who is your all time favorite Raider? Who is your favorite player on this year’s squad?

LR: Tough to name just one favourite all time Raider. There would be Vann McElroy, Howie, Lyle, The Wiz, Steve Smith. We love some of the older players too but these were the ones that we sort of grew up with football-wise. Current squad favourites would be Kirk Morrison, Ron Curry, and I really like how Chris Clemons is progressing.

RT: Are you a novelty in your town/region as a Raiders and NFL fan, or would we be surprised at how many NFL fans there are in your neighborhood?

LR: We could definitely be classed as a novelty where we live. It's not a big town so there's only the six of us that we know of. Across the country there is still a real hardcore following for the NFL in general, which was reflected in the ticket requests for the recent Dolphins/Giants game, something like 500,000 applications which is incredible really. I wouldn't like to say what proportion of us are Raider fans but we have always been well represented.

CJ: What prompted you to start your own Raiders blog?

LR: The Blog started as a bit of a laugh really, with mates here reading it, well it's mostly still them now really! You guys should take a bow at this point .I read Sean's Blog first, sorry Chris you weren't far behind! I fancied a crack at it myself from a standpoint of being a fan over here.I used to read Deadspin quite a lot too, and a Blog falling somewhere between you guys and them would be the feel that I was going for.I got some good early feedback from a friend of mine, which was important, because if it had been really terrible he would have let me know, I think he was surprised that some of it made sense somewhere along the line.

RT: What's your take on JaMarcus Russell--should we continue to simply dip his toe in the water this season, or just dive in and give him some starts before the season is over?

LR: I think that Kiffin might be just about getting right with Russell. If this week was the blueprint for the remainder of the season, I see him getting valuable game time experience while not having any real pressure on his shoulders regarding the outcome of the game. He may get a start but I see the Coach taking it slowly for now, it worked out well against Denver, and we would all like to see a couple more wins at least. It's tempting to want to see more but he will hopefully be the Raiders QB for a long time to come.

CJ: Going forward, what are your expectations for the Raiders in 2008?

LR: My expectations for 2008 have been changing as the season has. After the last couple of weeks, and the debut of JaMarcus Russell, I think that things are looking pretty good. Lane Kiffin has kept the team "In" during that rough six week losing streak and I think that we have a good nucleus to build around next year. Free agency and the draft will have to fill some important spots on the team, as with any club, but I think that we are in capable hands for the first time since Gruden was in charge. I wouldn't like to say how much of an improvement we can make as far as making the post season is concerned but I think we are going to be competitive in the Division again, which is an important progression after the last few years.

Cheers lads & Raise the Black Flag!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mr. Streak Buster

When Lane Kiffin was hired on January 22nd of this year, there were many difficult challenges placed before him. As a 31 year old, rookie Head Coach in the NFL, Kiffin had the daunting task of turning around a team that had just gone 2-14 the previous year. The 2006 team was one of the most futile offensive units in the history of the league scoring a measly 10.5 points per game. Going into the game this Sunday in Green Bay, the Raiders offense has nearly doubled their scoring average (19.5). When the Raiders opened the season vs. Detroit, Kiffin was burdened with many inauspicious losing streaks on the watch of Callahan, Turner, and Shell that needed to be overcome. Although the Raiders have won only 4 games so far this season, let's take a look at the significance of each victory.

Consecutive Losses: The Raiders lost the last 9 games of 2006 and the 1st 2 games of 2007 (Det, at Den). Kiffin had yet to taste victory in the NFL.

Game 3 vs. Cleveland: Raiders break 11 game losing streak. Kiffin earns 1st "W" as a Head Coach in the NFL.

Road Victory: The Raiders had lost the last 10 road games dating back to Game 10 at Washington in 2005.

Game 4 at Miami: Raiders end their string of road losses. Kiffin earns his 1st road win.

Back to Back Wins: The last time the Raiders had won back to back games was game 6 (Az) and 7 (Pitt) in 2006.

Game 4 at Miami: Raiders win 1st back to back games. Kiffin earns 1st back to back victories.

Last Divisional Win: The Raiders had lost 17 consecutive divisional games dating back to a win at Denver in Game 11 of 2004.

Game 11 at KC: Raiders end divisional drought. Kiffin earns 1st divisional win and 3rd victory of the season.

Last Back to Back Divisional Wins: The last time the Raiders had won back to back divisional games was games 15 (Den) and 16 (KC) in 2002.

Game 12 vs. Den: Raiders end divisional back to back drought. Kiffin earns 1st back to back divisional victories and 4th victory of the season doubling up last season's total victories.

With a current 2 game winning streak, you might be asking what's next for Mr. Streak Buster? Well how about 3 consecutive wins? The last time the Raiders won 3 consecutive games goes all the way back to games 11 (at Az), 12 (NYJ), and 13 (at SD) in 2002. Let's keep the current streak, a winning one, alive! Time to grate some cheese. Cheers!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Photo of the Week

Donkey on a skewer ... tastes like chicken.

JaMarcus' 1st NFL Snap

Watching JaMarcus Russell's 1st NFL snap sent chills down my spine. I had been eagerly, patiently awaiting this very moment in #2's career. Although this video is not the best angle of Russell's 16 yard completion to Jerry Porter, it marks the beginning of a rising Nation. It also captures some of Russell's gifts. Sure it is only 1 play but Russell demonstrated the composure, mobility, arm strength, and accuracy that in time will lead the Silver & Black back to glory. Enjoy the video and raise a toast to a new era in Raider football!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

ShanaRat Is Left Toothless

Denver 20 - Oakland 34
Calico Jack’s Six Pack:
1. Russell Makes Debut:
In a long awaited moment for the loyal Raider Nation, JaMarcus Russell came into the game at the 13:48 mark of the 2nd quarter with the score tied at 7 to 7. A jolt of energy surged throughout the House of Thrills as Russell trotted onto the field. Working from a pared down playbook, Russell made some nice throws (4 for 7, 56 yards). On his first play from scrimmage, Russell showed off his cannon by connecting with Porter on a sixteen yard deep sideline, out route. It was the type of throw, while on the move and rolling out, that Russell demonstrated the reason he was selected #1. The velocity and pin point accuracy on this completion was beautiful to witness. Russell played in back to back series in the second quarter. In each series Russell led the Raiders to 2 1st downs. His completions: (Porter 16 yards, Fargas 13 yards, Curry 7 yards, Curry 20 yards).

2. Solid & Sound Football:
The Raiders followed a text book script to dominate Denver. The key component to this script was the efficient QB play from Josh McCown. The Raiders controlled the clock by establishing the run with Fargas (33 carries, 146 yards). The team kept the penalties (3 for 20 yards) and turnovers (1 fumble) to a bare minimum. The offensive unit capitalized on their red zone opportunities (4 for 5; 80%). The defense play stout against the run (Denver had 86 total rushing yards on 29 carries; 3.0 ypc). Our offensive line played their best, most complete game of the year. The pass protection for McCown was excellent (0 sacks allowed) and the run blocking for Fargas was outstanding. The Raiders using the Zone Blocking Scheme better than the Broncos is QUITE an achievement considering that the Broncos have been the forerunner of this system for the past 10+ years.

3. A Diversified Offense:
Head Coach Kiffin did an excellent job with the playcalling duties vs. Denver. McCown (and Russell) used all of the backs and tight end in addition to the WRs in the passing attack. Fargas (RB), Griffith (FB), and Miller (TE) were used on screens, short passing routes, and intermediate routes to help sustain drives. The 4 touchdowns were by 4 different players: Tim Dwigth (15 yard TD catch); Zach Miller (13 yard TD catch); Jerry Porter (13 yard TD catch); and Justin Fargas (5 yard TD run).

4. Defense Deserves Credit:
The Raiders run defense has struggled mightily throughout the 2007 season. In this game, the front 7 did an excellent job maintaining lane assignments and gap control. The Broncos lead back (Travis Henry) had 15 carries for 49 yards. The team rushed for only 86 total yards for the entire contest. The Raider defense created 4 very important turnovers. Howard & Washington had key interceptions in the 2nd half. Both of these INTS led to Raider scoring drives (FG, TD). Robert Thomas stripped Henry for a crucial fumble. QB Cutler also fumbled the ball which was recovered by DE Chris Clemons. The Raiders offense took advantage of this fumble by scoring a short, quick TD drive. The 4 turnovers led to a total of 24 points.

5. Huggy Bear Jr. At It Again:
I’m beginning to run out of superlatives to describe Huggy Bear Jr. This season has been an awakening for Fargas on many different levels. Fargas was the #2 RB going into opening day although he would probably have been the #3 RB if Rhodes wasn’t suspended. Getting a limited number of carries in his 1st 4 games behind Lamont Jordan, Fargas nevertheless showed that he could be a productive change of pace back. When Jordan got injured vs. the Dophins, Fargas stepped in and promptly ran for 179 yards. He hasn’t looked back. Over the course of the following 8 games, Fargas has proven to be a reliable, durable, and highly productive featured back. For the season, Fargas has 863 Yards on 181 carries for an average of 4.76 ypc. In today’s contest, Fargas set a career high for the most attempts (33) in a game. His 146 yards rushing was the foundation of this victory.

6. Next Week's Starting QB in Cheeseland:
It will be interesting to see who will be the starting QB when the Raiders visit the Packers at Lambeau Field. Will Kiffin reward McCown for his stellar performance on Sunday? If Culpepper is healthy, will he be the #1 signal caller considering how well he played vs. Minnesota and Kansas City? Will Russell see increased playing time to continue his player development? Regardless of the current QB situation, the Raiders back to back divisional wins has breathed new life into the organization. Getting a glimpse of #2 and watching Kiffin outcoach ShanaRat leaves my Silver and Black mug more than half full. Cheers!
Calico Jack