Well, that was a fairly boring half of season of football wasn’t it? Not much in the way of ups and downs, just a straight and steady line for this Oakland Raiders football team. Oh wait, that’s just my Thorazine talking.
The Thorazine became necessary, because I was pretty sure I had slipped into a schizophrenic dreamland after the last two Raiders games were victories in grand blowout fashion.
"Did the Raiders just win two games by 75 points, Self 1?"
"Yes they did, Self 2."
"You guys are crazy!"
"Shut up Self 3! We're talking Raiders here!"
Okay, so maybe the Thorazine isn't all bad. Plus, as a positive side effect, it is helping me maintain a balanced outlook. There is a lot of football left and it is not the easiest of schedules remaining. It is important to stay grounded.
Keeping an even keel during the season has never been a strength of mine anyways. This is evident even in the status of this very report. I planned on this being the second of a quarterly report series, but the fourth game was the Cardinals ball (Seabass took the foot out) game, and my quarterly report looked like this:
Oakland Raiders: F super-double-football-is-stupid minus
A friend of mine is constantly telling me you can’t judge a football team by each game. You have to use groups of games. There are too many little things and weird bounces to judge a team game by game. These things have a way of evening out. This is the only true way to get a barometer for a team.
Of course, he is constantly telling me this, because I overreact after every game.
In light of that, here is my initial and quick mid-season report:
@Titans: Where’s that suicide watch number?
Rams: Oh thank the sweet lord.
Texans: Football is stupid.
@Cardinals: After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.
Chargers: Holy jumping Beluga Tits! I love football.
@49ers: JaMarcus Russell may be skinnier, but he still blows.
@Seahawks: How do I get Super Bowl Tickets?
So, eight games into the season, I feel confident in giving a conservative estimate and saying this is the greatest team in the history of creation.
Wait; remember what your prudent friend tells you and where is that damn Thorazine?
Ah…that’s better. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the Raiders. Well, they sit at 4-4. It is the first time, since 2002, that they have entered November with the playoffs still a very real possibility. And just like most teams, the Raiders have their share of shoulda, coulda and wouldas.
The Raiders shoulda won in Week Three, but they very easily coulda lost in Week Five and if they hadn't used the 09 version of the offense against the 9ers, they woulda won.
I’d feel better about the playoff chances of this team if they were 5-3 right now, as the first half of the schedule appears to be more favorable than the second, but 4-4 is certainly acceptable--especially considering that they are 2-0 in the division.
For me, this season was always more about seeing improvement than the actual record and there is no doubt this team is improving.
This team is playing with a physicality that they are bringing for 60 minutes. There is any number of statistical improvements from last year, but none are more impressive than this: Last year through eight games, the Raiders sat at 2-6 and had 1726 yards of total offense. This year the Raiders reached over 60 percent of that number in the last two weeks alone.
The foundation has been laid. Now they just need to keep building. They need to erase the blown assignments on defense that allow for huge plays; they need to, at the very least, be average against a good rushing offense; the passing game needs to show it can be effective when the running game isn’t clicking.
These are all things I am anxious for this team to try and prove in the second half of the season and that, more than anything is the biggest testament to the improvements of this team. It has been a long time since I have really looked forward to the second half of the Raiders season.
It is worth mentioning, that this team has done all of this despite battling a horrid number of injuries. The bye can’t get here soon enough. Still, injuries have been just another excuse this team has turned their back on, opting instead to play through it.
Now if you will step onto the red carpet, pause for the cameras and get ready for the awards ceremony.
Most Improved: Darren McFadden
This is the Darren McFadden no one had even dared hoped for since early into his rookie season. Even though he hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug completely, he caught the nasty hamstring virus, he successfully discarded every other knock against him. He has run inside and outside, broken tackles, pass blocked and shown the ability to be a 30 touch back that gets stronger as the game goes.
Most Improved Jr.: Stanford Routt
I, like most Raider fans, would have been fine with the Raiders cutting Routt and I was disgusted when they offered him the highest possible tender. I had given up hope on him making anything of his career. He had been burned too often. Routt isn’t going to be mistaken for a pro-bowler, but he has solidified the second CB position. Whoda thunk it?
Most Improved Special Edition: Tom Cable
He has learned how to delegate, focusing instead on oversight and his players are buying into his message. These guys come to play every game and that is a stark contrast from last year. He is aggressive and it seems to be rubbing off on the team. Also, the line is improving by the play. The Raiders didn’t spend many resources to upgrade the line in the off season choosing instead to let their head coach, coach them up and it is working right now.
Biggest Surprise: The Running Game
Going into training camp, I was worried about the running game. Coming out of the preseason I was no longer worried, because I was certain it was just going to blow. Now I brag about the run game. The offensive line has not pass blocked, but they have been amazing in their run blocking.
Where’d He Come From: Marcel Reece
I didn’t give Marcel Reece any chance at being a capable enough blocker to make the FB position his. I was wrong. The guy has turned into a capable blocker. He is not going to pancake people, but he will get the job done and he isn’t missing any blocks. He may be the greatest receiving FB ever. Seriously, what other FB can you think of that teams had to worry about as a deep threat?
Thanks for Pulling Your Head Out: Tommy Kelly
Kelly had his baby in the off season and he showed up for camp in shape and ready to go. No, he isn’t living up to his massive contract, but he is making plays far more consistently than the last few seasons.
Conspiracy Theory Award: The Mike Mitchell Rumors
I’ve finally got this figured out. The whole situation made no sense. A radio show host comes out of the blue with inside information on a team where inside information does not get out. He reports that Mitchell is going to be released. Then it looks like it is about to come true, until a weird turn of events has Stevie Brown thinking he made the squad only to get cut at the last second and Mitchell retained.
I believe the coaches wanted to light a fire under Mitchell’s ass. I don’t think they felt he was buying into the system and that his spot was guaranteed. So, they “leaked” the info and played it out like Mitchell barely made it and it is working.
Mitchell looks great as a nickel LB. His coverage on TE is excellent as well as his run support.
Best Off Season Addition: Hue Jackson
Over 1,000 yards of offense over the last two games…. The play calling hit a bit of a lull in the 9ers game, but it has been nothing short of brilliant since. Plus, his attitude seems infectious and has certainly added to the edge that these players now have.
Rookie of the Half-Year: Jared Veldheer
This is a tough call. Rolando McClain and LaMarr Houston are making excellent contributions to the defense as full-time starters, but Jared Veldheer is miles ahead of where he should be.
He has gone from blocking minor league college players to a starting left tackle in a less than a year—all while learning the Center position, too!
Defensive MVP: Richard Seymour
I am giving it to Seymour for his leadership as much as his excellent play. From the start of training camp, Seymour seems to have taken it on himself to help shape the identity of this young team and the dude backs it up on the field.
Offensive MVP: Zach Miller
McFadden may be the best offensive player, but Miller is the heart and soul of this offense. He is talented, smart and all effort. He continually helps this offense hit pay dirt and move the chains on third downs. Seriously, throw to this guy short of the sticks on third down and he turns into Jim Brown until he reaches the marker.
The Nnamdi: Nnamdi Asomugha
What can you say? It was just another excellent half season from the games greatest corner.
Play of the Year: Tyvon Branch’s TD Return of Philip Rivers’ Fumble
This play signifies everything right about this team this year. Awareness, desire, effort and brute force were all on display. Oh and it iced the game and ended the streak of futility against the Chargers.
All in all, the first half was a rousing success. Looking back on this season, it is very possible that the L's to Arizona and San Francisco are going to really sting, but this is a young team. Those kinds of setbacks had to be expected and again, just the fact that this team looks like it may be in a position to lament a loss or two is a major upgrade.