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Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Raiders Lose Their Opener

(Note: for those of you who do not care about football or the Oakland Raiders, I suggest you skip this post!)

As a longtime Oakland Raider fan, I have mixed feelings about their opening-game loss today.

First of all, a loss is a loss, as they say, so I am disappointed. But this loss was not unexpected. The Titans were clearly the better team in every aspect, from offense to defense to special teams. Vince Young and Chris Johnson are legitimate superstars. But the lopsided score just hurts.

Now, Jason Campbell looks to give the Raiders a level of competence and leadership that they haven't had since Rich Gannon. After the JaMarcus Russell debacle, Campbell doesn't have to be a superstar. He just has to be reasonably good.

But the play of Oakland's offensive line was a large contributor to today's loss. Campbell was constantly pressured, and our rookie center, the giant Veldheer, made a number of costly gaffes.

Campbell himself wasn't perfect either, but nearly all of his mistakes can be laid at the feet of his supposed protectors. And at no time did I see the kind of bumbling indecision that marked the quarterbacking of the long-gone JaMarcus Russell. However you feel about Campbell's level of talent, he's clearly not clueless.

Now, the number of penalties -- and the sort of penalties they were -- are troubling for citizens of the Raider Nation. It would be one thing if the Raiders were getting called for penalties that showed that they were full of energy and aggressiveness. Then their status as the most-penalized team in the NFL would be a badge of honor. But the number of false-starts is a sign of lack of confidence and preparation.

The fact that Head Coach Tom Cable is a former O-line specialist also fills me with many troubling doubts. Does this mean that the Raiders have an offensive line that is out-performing their apparent lack of ability? Or does it mean that Tom Cable just isn't a very good coach? In other words, is it lack of talent or lack of leadership that is making the offensive line so porous? (Or could it be both?)

Of course, I applaud Al Davis's decision to keep Cable in place this season, especially after several years of turmoil. I think a sense of stability in coaching & management goes a long way. But I'm not sold on Cable being the figurehead of that stability.

And the receiver corp needs to improve immediately. Campbell has the arm and the eye to be a great signal-caller for the Raiders, but what he needs are the time and the targets to complete some passes downfield. Louis Murphy and Zach Miller look to be potentially-good outlets in the long run, and Darren McFadden has also shown flashes of receiving brilliance. But they won't be enough to sustain the offense for the whole season. The Raiders need other receivers to develop into credible scoring threats, as well.

As much as I love the stellar kick/punt duo of Lechler and Janikowski, it's particularly telling that the Raiders' leading scorer is their kicker.

And a respectable running threat would help. But both Michael Bush and Darren McFadden have been too brittle to last an entire season. The brave and selfless Justin Fargas is gone, after failing a physical in the off-season, so any previous semblance of running-back reliability has just evaporated (if it ever existed). And, over the past several seasons, the Raiders have given up too many early leads to make the ground game a viable option.

On the other hand, the Raider defense looked competent. The linemen, led by former Patriot Richard Seymour, were pretty stalwart against the run, and the Raiders were able to somewhat contain the amazing Chris Johnson. But they just don't have enough star-power to make up for an ineffective offense.

And Asomugha, the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, needs help in the secondary. There were numerous blown coverages and mismatches throughout the game. Plus, Vince Young was able to victimize the linebackers repeatedly with his legs, and, even more troubling, the Titans seemed to get more and more comfortable with what looked like a very vanilla Raiders defensive scheme.

As much as I respect Jeff Fisher as the longest-tenured coach in the NFL (and his team did just hand the Raiders a punishing loss), I do wonder what will happen when Cable and his coordinators go up against some of the more devious schemers in the league, like Dick LeBeau's Steeler defense or Bill Belichick's Patriots. I can't help thinking the Raiders are going to be embarrassingly out-schemed, even more so than they were today.

With so many rookies and new faces on the roster, it's hard not to label this season as 'rebuilding year' for the Raiders. And I think that any hopes for a playoff appearance from these Raiders are overblown. I'm just hoping for an 8-8 season, which is something that hasn't happened since my favorite football team's last Super Bowl appearance, way back in 2003.

GO RAIDERS!

Oakland Raiders at Tennesse Titans
September 12, 2010
Final Score: Oakland  13, Tennessee 38

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