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A Tale Of Two Halves: Analyzing The Raiders QB Switch

An in-depth look at the differences between Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell that were highlighted in the Rams game.

The one good thing about not selling out your games after suffering 7 years of misery is that the fans that do show up are real freaking fans. When these true fans saw the Raiders move the ball decently yet head into halftime trailing 7-3 to the bottom feeding Rams, and they sat with the taste of their vomit still sitting in their throats from the sight of a Jason Russell Campbell interception on badly thrown and horribly decided pass, they had had enough.

Right after the pick, the chorus of boos could be heard through the broadcast. Then the boos quickly turned to Bruuuuuce, or maybe they were Bruce all along. It was hard to tell and in the end the message was the same. It was time for a QB switch. The Nation spoke and the coaches listened. The switch was made.

Actually, the crowd didn’t have anything to do with the switch being made. The crowd was just astute enough to pick up on the same things the coaches had. They want to get a little Kowski with it (patent pending).

In their weekly press conferences, Hue Jackson and Tom Cable, admitted it was first Jackson’s idea to make the switch. Cable also let it be known that it was something they had been thinking about. Cable:

We had talked about it as early as last week, during the week, that we have to play better at quarterback.

So, after six quarters, the Jason Campbell era is officially over. What is it that made them pull the plug so quickly? While it is certainly not fair to compare Campbell to Russell, he does have some of the qualities. This is apparent in Cable's comments and his play on the field.

The comment from Cable’s press conference that shed the most light on the reasoning behind the switch was this one:

…playing with the right energy and the right attention to detail. I think the thing that stood out to me, so you get where I’m coming from, is the same people, same day, same defense, same opponent, same people in the huddle with you, didn’t change the plan, and yet we were able to go out and move the ball and score some points.

In light of the turn events, looking back at Cable’s press conference after Week One, the writing was on the wall for Jason Campbell. The coaches were not pleased and they expected change.

Here are some quotes from Cable, prior to Week Two, that caught my eye:

The most disappointing thing was just coming out and not cutting it loose. I think that, probably more than anything, bothers me on film. we need to be a little more focused, a little more attention to detail, and don’t let this one beat you again. That’s really the big issue.

A little too cautious for all of us, and that’s just unfortunate

One thing we know about us is when we just go play fast and cut it loose in any of the three phases, that’s when we’re a good football team. And I think to come out and to not get busy right away kind of set us back, and we kind of took a backseat approach to it rather than being the driver, and that’s what we have to be.

It’s just things, taking your eyes off your man, making the wrong check in a coverage look, making the wrong protection call, taking a shorter drop rather than a five-step drop.

Things we haven’t done all preseason. Things we kind of felt we had moved beyond. And there they are again.

But I know this was a difficult pill to swallow, because we just expect more of ourselves now.

Again, when you look at the film there’s a lot of guys open all over the place.

The message is now clear. The coaches were not at all happy with the play of Jason Campbell. Essentially what it comes down to and what Cable said this week is the coaches want a QB playing with the right energy and attention to detail.

These are somewhat vague statements, yet that vagueness was apparent against the Rams. Everyone broadcasters, opposing coaches, the fans, the water-boys, the concession workers spitting in your food, the people who went to the football game and expected to see soccer could tell you, the energy of the team changed when Bruce Gradkowski was playing.

Since, this happened in one game and as Cable said with the same players etc. this gives us an excellent chance to put some hard evidence on some intangible qualities, which have been vaguely described.

The passing lines aren’t as different as the results. Gradkowski was 11-22 for 162 yards 1 TD and 1 INT, while Campbell was 8-15 for 87 yards 0 TDs and 1 INT. The difference is more reflective in the score: Gradkowski 13, Campbell 3.

It is even more evident when grading each individual play. I went back and re-watched every pass play from the Week Two contest to get a feel for the tangible results in the differences between the two QB’s.

First, I categorized each QB’s passing play into five categories. I counted all passing plays, even the ones that ended in penalties or scrambles. I didn’t review the hand-off and pitches. I’ll leave that evaluation to someone else after they get done splitting hairs. 

The Categories:

Russell: For decisions that did or should have resulted in a turnover. It is also for a general lack of football awareness.

Wilson: For bad throws and/or bad, but non catastrophic reads.

George: For overly cautious and impassioned play resulting in quick check-downs etc.

Gannon: For running the offense efficiently and making good reads and throwing in timing. Playing as the coaches drew it up. Gannon’s can even be incompletion if the QB has no one open or throws it away escaping pressure.

Stabler: Going above and beyond the offense and making a play. This is for plays made with a scramble or great reads and good throws in the face of heavy pressure.

A quick disclaimer: Some things are obviously hard to tell. I don’t know if the QB is taking an improper dropback and I can’t see the whole field to get the perfect feel for the reads the QB is making. Some plays were fairly borderline. I tried to balance these out over the course of the whole evaluation. As you’ll see, the end results are conclusive enough that a few boderline plays are not enough to swing any conclusions.

Almost all of the borderlines straddled on which category of bad, or which category of good these fell into. To give a point of reference to my thinking here is a good example:

Gradkowski’s interception, I rated as a Gannon. I did this because he made a solid read and Ah You (name of the year) made an amazing tip. A guy that big shouldn’t be able to jump that quickly.

From a standpoint of running the offense, Gradkowski did what a coach would want. The other guy just made a great play.

Then there was the Gradkowski pass that got tipped but fell out of the hands of the Rams defender. I put this into the Russell category. He was throwing off of his back foot in desperation and that had no hope of clearing anyone.

The Results:

Jason Campbell

Russells: 5

Wilsons: 2

Georges: 5

Gannons: 7

Stablers: 2

Bruce Gradkowski

Russells: 3

Wilsons: 1

Georges: 0

Gannons: 19

Stablers: 3 

Breaking this down into to simple categories, positive and negative, 57 percent of Jason Campbell’s plays were negative while only 15 percent of Gradkowski's were. Russells, Wilsons and Georges are counted as negative plays,

This is disturbingly not close. Less than half the time is Campbell running plays like the coaches draw them up.

It is now apparent why it was a popular perception that Campbell is a good offensive line or a stable system away from excelling. He can make plays, but he seems to display a lack of comfort that causes him to make bad choices.

It has also been a popular sentiment to say that Gradkowski is a better fit for this offense because of the pass protection woes. This is a disservice to Grad. He is making solid, quick reads that are good in any situation. Campbell is not. He displayed poor judgment being pressured and with time. 

Campbell is not without the physical tools to succeed behind a suspect line. He moves well and he can throw on the move well. He has flashes of good pocket awareness, but he is inconsistent.

When reviewing every play in this game, there is only one conclusion at which to arrive: The system or the pass protection do not matter. Gradkowski is a better QB than Campbell. Let’s look at some specific plays that illustrate this.

Jason Campbell was lucky to escape this game with only one turnover. He had five plays that easily could’ve resulted in a turnover. Only one did.

A look at those five plays:

2nd down and 1 from the Rams 25 with 1:03 left in the 1st Quarter

Campbell took a 5-step drop and locked onto his WR, Heyward-Bey. On this play there was a single deep safety. The Rams made no attempt to disguise their coverage. Campbell had time. He threw the ball in rhythm, but he needed to look the safety off. He had Miller running deep on the other side. Instead he threw it to DHB and he was lucky the safety dropped it.

2nd down and 4 on the Rams 23 yard line with 4:55 to go in the Half

Campbell had a play action pass with a seven step drop. He didn’t have anyone in his face on the throw and he threw it in rhythm. Again he was facing single deep safety coverage. He over threw a ball to Louis Murphy that may have been picked had the Rams safety not been coming in to give Murphy a helmet to helmet hit that ended up drawing a penalty.

On this play, Campbell had Murphy breaking towards the safety and DHB breaking away from the safety to the corner. It would have been a much easier and open throw to DHB.

1st and 10 from the 38 yard line :29 left in the Half

Then there was Campbell’s pick. Campbell overthrew Murphy, but not the Rams safety.

The Raiders had max protect on this one with three WRs running routes. Campbell had no pressure. He gave a quick pump fake on a little hitch and go to DHB. At that point, the corner on DHB fell, leaving him to be picked up by Rams FS Oshiomogho Atogwe. DHB may have blown past him and been open for an easy TD. At the very worst it is a 1-on-1 against the smaller Atogwe.

Campbell decided instead to throw to the well-covered Murphy. The ball got away from Campbell. A perfect throw and it is probably complete, but Murphy would have been clobbered right away.

Had he thrown to DHB, excluding DHB falling over, that throw does not get picked and has a good chance to be a touchdown.

Those are the INT’s. Then there were Campbell’s two fumbles. 

3rd and 10 from the Rams 11-yard line with 4:07 left in the 2nd Quarter

The Raiders ran a play action pass on a seven step drop. Jared Veldheer gets beat and Campbell doesn’t feel the blindside pressure. Campbell winds up, with a lack of urgency, like he is going to throw a 70-yard pass and he gets stripped.

2nd down and 10 Ball on the Raiders 22 yard line 1:18 left in the 2nd quarter

Campbell is in the shotgun facing a four man rush. He sees Mario Henderson starting to get pushed back and hops up in the pocket. He gets bumped in the back and fumbles. Luckily he recovers it himself.

Campbell could have easily bought himself more time by aggressively running up in the pocket and towards the right sideline.

Many of these plays show a lack of pocket awareness and just a lack of understanding of the situation in general. In contrast look at Gradkowski in a similar situation:

2nd down and 9 ball on the Rams 23-yard line with 11:14 to go in the 3rd Quarter

Gradkowski drops back on a play action pass. Henderson gets beat leaving the Rams DE bearing down on his blindside. Gradkowski feels the pressure and flushes towards the right sideline, staying just out of the grasp of the Rams defenders. Grad kept his eyes down-field the entire time and only threw the ball away when he absolutely had to. 

This highlights another big difference between the two. Campbell has cornered the market on George's. Gradkowski only throws it away when he has to. Campbell is quick to check down and even quicker to throw it away. Nowhere was this more evident then on:

1st and 10 Ball on the Raiders 18-yard line 1:22 to go in the half

Campbell drops back and watches McFadden get held up at the line. Upon seeing this he dumps the ball into the ground. There were Raiders fans closer to him than Rams players. This was not a straight screen. His lineman were blocking on the line and he had WRs in routes. 

Just from what you can see on the broadcast he had JLH wide open short left. There was no reason for him to give up when he did.

Another wonderful example of a set of plays that highlights the difference between the two QBs:

Handling the Blitz in the Redzone:

2nd down and 10 on the Rams 11 with 4:12 to go in the half

The Rams sent seven men in on the blitz and leave all of the Raiders in routes in man coverage. Campbell throws to the right flat over Reeces's head. The ball lands safely past everyone involved. This was his short check-down option. It was a difficult throw. He had DHB and Murphy in single coverage in the endzone. They were out of the picture, but the throw to them would not have been any more difficult than it was to Reece and probably easier.

Here is what Grad did with a similar situation:

3rd and Goal from the Rams 4-yard line with 6:12 left in the 3rd Quarter

The Rams send an all-out blitz and leave all Raiders route runners in single man coverage. Grad quickly assesses the play, backpedals and tosses a ball off of his back foot to Murphy for a score.

This was an easy throw. Murphy had a step on his defender and Grad threw towards a wide open space and let Murph run under it.

There was also the play Cable specifically pointed out as a lack of awareness.

The Raiders first drive saw them stall out on downs at the Rams 4 yard line. Cable was trying to call a timeout when he saw the Raiders were not lined up properly. He later went onto say that Campbell should have noticed.

In fact, Campbell didn’t call any offensive audibles or adjust the formation in his half of play. Gradkowski did on two occasions. Subtle things that can make big differences.

Gradkowski was not perfect and two of his three Russell's came in the redzone. He had a delay of game (I gave that a Wilson) and then on the play right before the TD to Murphy, Gradkowski made a bad read and threw off of his backfoot to Zach Miller. That play could've resulted in an INT. 

Later Grad faced another all-out blitz and Grad threw a quick slant to Murphy who couldn't get off of his bump. He would have been better served to throw to either of the outside guys.

If the Raiders want to win more games than they lose, they will have to clean up those redzone plays. One thing is for certain, they have a lot less to clean up with Gradkowski at QB.

This brings me to my final point: Gradkowski gets basketball calls. The two roughing the passer calls the Rams got on Gradkowski were a little, shall we say, questionable.

Anyone who has watched basketball has heard mention or noticed that the more aggressive team gets the benefit of the calls. Grad brings this to the table. He is the aggressive, love to play, underdog type that is going to get the benefit of calls that Raiders players usually never see.