Gutierrez: Raiders' First-Half Recap

November 12, 2010, 11:19 pm
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Nov. 12, 2010

Paul Gutierrez
CSN California

Its been a rough ride, I know. But guess what? Its over. Raiders coach Tom Cable, to fans at the preseason Raider NationCelebration in downtown Oakland on Aug. 27.

Label him a soothsayer. A prophet. A visionary. A fool? Because really,who, besides the Raiders coach, honestly thought this team, after anightmarish past seven seasons, would find itself and put thingstogether so succinctly? Improvement was expected, sure. But in thisdominant a fashion, as the Raiders enter their bye weekend?

Indeed, in going 5-4 and holding a winning record this late in a seasonfor the first time since 2002, the Raiders resemble a totally differentoutfit than the one that started the season 1-3.

As such, beware falling streaksand a few team records:

-Riding its current three-game winning streak, Oakland has won three straight for the first time since 2002.

-The Raiders are 3-0 in the AFC West for the first time since 1990.

-In dropping 59 points on the Denver Broncos, the Raiders set a franchise record for most points scored in a game.

-In following the 59-14 blowout of the Broncos with a 33-3 beatdown ofSeattle, the Raiders won consecutive games by a combined 75 points forthe first time since 1967.

-The Raiders beat San Diego for the first time since Sept. 28, 2003,ending the Chargers 13-game winning streak in the rivalry.

-The Raiders beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Oakland for the first time since 2002

Following, then, the positive call it the Silver and Black Division and the negative the Silver and Blechhh Division in recounting theRaiders first nine games.

Silver and Black Division
MVP (Offense): So this is the player the Raiders thoughtthey were getting when they drafted Darren McFadden fourth overall inthe 2008 draft. Yes, the running back has missed two-plus games with astrained right hamstring but he is healthier than hes ever been as apro. As a result, he is running harder than ever before and the resultsare impressive. His 108.1-rushing yards per game leads the NFL and his757 total rushing yards are second in the AFC. Plus, hes caught 24passes for 242 yards. He has six touchdowns. We also saw himeffectively running the Wildcat offense last week.

MVP (Defense): Defensive tackle Richard Seymour already has 39tackles (he had 31 all of last season) and 4.5 sacks (he had 4 in2009). But beyond his improved stat line, the five-time Pro Bowler andthree-time All-Pro may be more valuable for the unity-building sense ofindividual responsibility hes fostered on the defensive line.

Biggest Surprise (Offense): He had the look and feel of aproject when he was taken in the third round out of Division IIHillsdale College. But there was Jared Veldheer, starting at center asa rookie in the opener in a hostile environment in Tennessee. And therehe is now, claiming the left tackle position from Mario Henderson.Veldheer still gets called for too many false start penalties, but hehas shown flashes of dominance protecting the QBs blind side.

Biggest Surprise (Defense): Tommy Kelly dropped 50 pounds andthe heftier tag of underachiever this offseason and has taken to theteachings of fellow defensive tackle Seymour. Kellys five sacks aretied for the team lead and are already a single-season high for theseventh-year pro. He has also become adept as a run-stopper, asevidenced by 22 of his 33 tackles being of the solo variety.
The folk hero returns: He would never admit it publically, butBruce Gradkowski was miffed he was never allowed to compete for thestarting QB position. Plus, offseason injuries made it a non-issue.Until Jason Campbell struggled early and Gradkowski came off the benchto chants of BRUUUUUUUUUUCE! to lead the Raiders to a comebackvictory over St. Louis in the home opener.

Campbell wins the crowd: He may never win a popularity contestwith Gradkowski, but Jason Campbell won fans respect by pulling aGradkowski. That is, he came off the bench to relieve an injuredGradkowski and lead the comeback victory over San Diego. Campbell hassince won Cables trust and three games in a row. Since hitting bottomat San Francisco, Campbell has a passer rating of 104.3 in completing57.5 of his passes for 743 yards, five touchdowns and oneinterception. Its led to Cable reversing field on earlierproclamations that Gradkowski would resume the starting gig whenhealthy. A gentle nudge from upstairs, perhaps?

Asomughas Arizona clinic: Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomughasshut-down of Arizona All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald was one for thebooks. Fitzgerald, who was targeted seven times, caught just one passthrown his way while Asomugha was on him; the eight-yard TD receptioncame in zone coverage.

Millers big day: Not much went right for the Raiders in their31-24 loss to Houston, a game they trailed 31-14 in the fourth quarter.But tight end Zach Miller served notice to the Texans and the rest ofthe NFL with a career-high 11 catches for 122 yards.

Best special teams play I: The Raiders got the jump on San Diegoby blocking the Chargers first two punts. Rock Cartwrights blockknocked the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety andBrandon Myers block was picked up by Hiram Eugene and returned fiveyards for a touchdown.

Right place, right time: With the Chargers in field-goal rangefor a potential game-winning field goal, a blitzing Michael Huff sackedPhilip Rivers and knocked the ball loose to an alert Tyvon Branch. Hescooped the ball up and returned the fumble 64 yards for thegame-clinching touchdown. Branch was sprung free by a crushing block byChris Johnson on Randy McMichael.
Mitchell making his mark:Rumored to be on the chopping block on the eve of the 53-man rosterbeing announced, second-year safety Mike Mitchell has played like asecond-round draft pick. A knee injury to Thomas Howard opened the doorfor Mitchell to play a hybrid linebacker and Mitchells coverage of SanDiegos Antonio Gates and the 49ers Vernon Davis was lauded.

Defending the run: The Raiders front seven are playing with apurpose against the run of late, giving up an average of just 95 yardsper game on the ground. They limited the Chiefs, the No. 1-rankedrushing team in the league, to 104 yards.

Quick start: Thanks to a mind-numbing opening drive deftly ledby Jason Campbell, a pick-six interception by Chris Johnson and afumble recovered by Lamarr Houston at the Denver 21-yard line, theRaiders led 21-0 before the Broncos had run three offensive plays. TheRaiders eventually ran out to a 38-0 lead before calling off the dogs.They entered the fourth quarter leading, 59-14, the eventual finalscore.

DHB has breakthrough: The much-maligned Darrius Heyward-Bey maynever live up to his billing as a No. 7 overall draft pick but he hasalready had a more productive sophomore season than he did as a rookie.In the Raiders 33-3 blowout of Seattle, the receiver caught fivepasses for 105 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, and added a30-yard run on a reverse. Still, he has been shut out in three games.

Reece emerges: Fullback Marcel Reece, who has spent most of hisfirst two seasons on practice squads, has emerged as a hybrid threatwith punishing blocks and soft hands. Perhaps no play illustrated thisbetter than his 30-yard TD reception against the Seahawks as he split apair of defenders on a slant pass on 4th and 1.

Best special teams play II: Shut out by Kansas City at halftime,10-0, rookie Jacoby Ford jumpstarted the Raiders and electrified thesold-out Coliseum by returning the opening kickoff of the second half94 yards for a touchdown.

The big man gets his: Khalif Barnes fashions himself more thanan offensive tackle but no mere novelty. No wonder he playfully rippedCampbell for the wobbly pass he picked out of the air for a two-yardtouchdown reception on a tackle-eligible play against the Chiefs.

Ford drives it home: Not only did Ford spark the Raiderssecond-half renaissance against the Chiefs, he led the comeback withsix receptions for 148 yards, all after halftime. The big catches the29-yard pick-up that set up Sebastian Janikowskis OT-forcing fieldgoal as Ford ripped the ball away from Brandon Flowers on what seemed asure interception; a 47-yard bomb on the Raiders first play of OT inwhich Ford showed his world-class speed to set up Janikowskisgame-winner.

Silver and Blechhh Division

Biggest Disappointment (Offense): Can you be a disappointment ifyou havent even stepped foot on a field yet? When youre as highlyregarded as wide receiver Chaz Schilens, whose talents and injurieshave teased the Raiders and their fans for the past two yearsyes. Lastyear it was a foot injury that limited him to eight games. This season,a knee injury has kept him inactive through nine.

Biggest Disappointment (Defense): Disappointment is probablytoo harsh a term to describe Rolando McClain, what with his stepping inat middle linebacker from Day 1 and wracking up 42 tackles. But he hasonly a sack to his name and the rookie is still over-pursuing the runtoo often, has trouble shedding blocks and is not blowing up plays likeyoud expect a No. 8 overall pick to do. Still, he is an important cogto the revitalized defense.

A bad omen?: Return man Yamon Figurs fumbled the seasonsopening kickoff at Tennessee after bringing it out from five yards deepin the end zone. And while the Raiders did not lose possession it wasrecovered by Ricky Brown the gaffe cost Figurs. He was waived threedays later.

Rough start: Acquired in a draft weekend trade with Washingtonand anointed the next Jim Plunkett by Al Davis himself, quarterbackJason Campbell looked skittish and unsure of himself behind anespecially porous offensive line early on. So much so that he wasbenched after just six quarters. With Campbell at the helm, the Raidershad been outscored by a combined 45-16 by Tennessee and St. Louis.Shades of JaMarcus Russell? Not really. But the cascading boos suresounded JaMarcus-esque.

SeaBass shanks it: It was a historically bad day in the desertfor Sebastian Janikowski, who missed as many field goals in one game ashe did all of last season. The third miss against Arizona, though, wasthe most painful. Having already pulled two misses wide right from 58yards and 41 yards the left-footed Janikowski overcompensated andshanked the potential game-winning 32-yarder wide left as time expired.The Raiders fell to the Cardinals, 24-23.

Red-zone issues: Janikowskis issues revealed an epicover-reliance on the highest-paid placekicker in the game (a guaranteed9 million over four years). In their first three games, the Raiderswere a woeful three for 13 in red-zone efficiency. The most gallingexample? Oakland having a first-and-goal at the one at Arizona andsettling for a field goal.
Stop, stop, BOOM!: Thats how defensive tackle Tommy Kellydescribed the defenses propensity for stopping the run before givingup a long run. Tennessees Chris Johnson (76-yard TD, 142 yards total),Houstons Arian Foster (74-yard TD, 131 yards total) and the 49ersFrank Gore (64 yard-sprint, 149 yards total) proved Kellys point well.

Penaltiesagain: They wouldnt be the Raiders if they werentpenalized with aplomb. Oaklands 718 penalty yards are the most in theNFL and its 70 penalties are second-most, behind the 72 of St. Louisand Baltimore. The Raiders season highs came against Kansas City lastweek, when they were flagged 15 times for 140 yards.

Worst special teams play: Arizonas LaRod Stephens-Howlingreturned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, setting thestage for Janikowskis game-ending meltdown.
Bottoming out at Candlestick: A week after the feel-good defeatof San Diego, the Raiders reverted to their early-season ways acrossthe Bay. They should have blown the 49ers out of the water but couldmuster only a pair of Janikowski field goals despite getting insidetheir 10-yard line in each of their first two possessions. Instead, theRaiders fell, 17-9, and Campbell had a sickly passer rating of 10.7.