Beyond The Sunrise
Oakland 6 - Houston 29
In the opening game this season, the Raiders played a spirited, tough brand of football in a hard fought loss to the Chargers. The acquisitions of Seymour & Ellis gave our defense some real teeth to it. The Raiders were, without question, the more physical team on the field. Offensively, we were able to run the ball effectively. Defensively, we were able to stop the run. In spite of the loss, the Raiders team showed resiliency by overcoming a late game deficit. There was a genuine sense of hope after this game that this season had real promise.
In the 2nd game vs. Kansas City, 2 of our 3 units (Defense, Special Teams) played exceptionally well allowing the team to be in the position to win in the last 2:00. Russell's struggles became quite evident in this game and there was a gloomy sense in Raider Nation that our offense could be as bad as the 2006 Bed N Breakfast edition. Instead of committing to the run in this game, Cable chose to open up the passing attack. The rushing game never gained traction. Since the team overcame and won on Russell's clutch TD drive, there was still hope. We were learning how to close out a game. A "W" is a "W", right?
In the 3rd game vs. Denver, at home with a chance to take a share of the division lead, the Raiders laid a sulfurous egg. The defense was gashed by the Broncos running attack, Russell continued to have more difficulties with his accuracy, and the run game never materialized. There wasn't any acceptable excuse for the Raiders coming out flat and unfocused. The negative feelings about the team resurfaced.
Today's game vs. Houston confirmed the negative outlook. Where is the improvement from game to game? Going into the game, the Texans were the #32 ranked team in run defense. Were we able to run the ball? Net yards rushing = 45. Did Cable make a concerted effort to get Bush more carries? Bush had 3 carries for the entire day. Was Russell more accurate in his passing? Russell completed 36% of his passes (12-33). Were we able to sustain drives? Try 8 first downs for an entire game. Did DHB or McFadden contribute to our offensive attack? Not unless you count DHB doubling his career receptions (from 1 to 2) or McFadden losing 3 yards on 6 carries. The final straw to this blowout was a dismal performance by our special teams coverage units who gave up big yardage on kickoffs and punt returns to include a 95 yard TD return after the safety.
With the team reeling from 2 bad losses, Russell becoming the poster boy for a bad team, and the most difficult part of the schedule looming (NYG, Philly, NYJ, SD), it could get ugly fast. I would like to think that hope is right around the corner if and only if the offensive unit can come up with a few solutions to their woes. Right now, the offensive unit is so bad that the team is playing with 1 arm behind it's back. Here are a few solutions to ponder:
(1) Come hell or high water, this team needs to re-establish the running attack as the foundation of the offense where drives are sustained and toughness demonstrated. Find a spot on the OLine for Barnes to beef up the run blocking. Putting Barnes at LG or RT is worth a trial run.
(2) Cable needs to rethink how he is distributing playing time. DHB needs to earn his starting position during the week of practice and by producing on the field. Our best inside runner (Bush) needs to be given the opportunity to get in a rhythm in a game by getting more than 3-6 carries.
(3) The running backs and tight ends need to become a more integral part of the passing attack. This is especially important and true for a team that has a QB struggling and a team having a difficult time sustaining drives. In this game vs. the Texans, only 3 balls were completed to the RBs and another 3 to TE Miller. Is there any reason why Cable can't incorporate more 2 TE sets and use Stewart/Myers as pass catching TEs? Does it make sense for McFadden to get only 1 passing touch for an entire game? There are dozens of creative ways to utilize McFadden and Bush into the passing attack. This omission points back to Cable's play calling. He knows his offensive unit is in a black hole. It is up to him to find ways to use his personnel to make it easier to pull themselves out of this hole. The players need to ultimately execute the plan. If one of your biggest weapons (McFadden) is only getting a couple touches per game than there is a problem with the game plan.
(4) The most important piece to an offensive lobotomy is for Russell to become a competent and reliable passer. I am not convinced that Russell will transform himself overnight when you've got 2 rookie starting WRs who are having a difficult time supporting him and a non-existent rushing attack. If and when the running attack gets going and Shilens returns there is a glimmer of hope that we can begin to climb the hill again.