Know Thy Enemy: Oakland Raiders

Feb 04, 2009 - Alameda, CA, USA - Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis addresses the media while announcing Tom Cable as head coach at the Raiders facility in Alameda on February 4, 2009. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis addresses the media while announcing Tom Cable as head coach at the Raiders facility in Alameda on February 4, 2009. The Oakland Raiders retained head coach Tom Cable on Tuesday, officially removing the interim designation from his title more than five weeks after their season ended Photo via Newscom

The Oakland Raiders continued their run of ineptitude last year, going 5-11 to extend their streak of 11 loss seasons to seven.  Of course, one of those five wins was against a reeling Pittsburgh Steelers.  That wasn’t the first time a defending Super Bowl champion Steelers team suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Raiders.  In 2006, the Black and Gold lost to an Oakland team which would win only two (TWO!) games that entire season.

That was then, this is now.  I don’t know how many virgins (assuming you can find one in California) the immortal Al Davis sacrificed to please his dark master but some sort of mystical forces have conspired to make the Raiders one of the NFL’s most surprising teams.  No word on whether Count Al will make the trip to Heinz Field this Sunday.  I hope he does because I’m kinda curious if he sparkles in the sunlight.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs. RAIDERS OFFENSE

The Raiders finally cut bait on Jamarcus Russell, the biggest draft bust in history.  Jason Campbell brings respectability back to the quarterback position.  Campbell never lived up to what Joe Gibbs saw in him and it seems the change in scenery  has done him a world of good.  His numbers aren’t great (7 TD-5 INT) but he’s been coming on in recent weeks with 5 of those touchdowns over the past three games.

This match-up will be an interesting test for the Steelers D.  Some people like to parrot what they hear on TV or the radio about “the NFL is a passing league, you must throw the ball 55 times a game to win!” which is utter stupidity.  Every team is different and you win by doing what you do well and minimizing what you do bad.  There is no “magic formula.”   Case in point is the Raiders.

Oakland has averaged 25 rushes per game and over 100 yards per game over the last 5 games.   They are 4-1 over that span.  Meanwhile, the Steelers have been throwing a lot more over the past three games, losing two of them.  The Raiders recognize they aren’t an explosive offense and don’t try to be something they’re not.  Too bad Bruce Arians doesn’t follow their example.

Speaking of offensive coordinators, a large part of the Raiders improvement can be traced to Hue Jackson taking over playcalling duties from head coach Tom Cable.  He’s simply decided to put the ball in the hands of his best player, the Reggie Bushesque Darren McFadden.   D-Mac is a multi-purpose threat averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception.  He is backed up by bruising Michael Bush, who could probably start for many teams.

Last week, the Patriots exposed how lousy the Steelers secondary is.  This week, Tom Cable has already said they aren’t going to try copying their example.  Of course, this may be classic coach misdirection.  If we know that they know that we know they aren’t going to pass then they may actually do the opposite of what we thought they said we thought they weren’t going to do.

The Raiders may not have much choice since their top receiving threats WR Darius Heyward-Bey, WR Chaz Shilens and TE Zach Miller are all nursing injuries.  The Steelers are suffering a rash of injuries, as well.  Troy Polamalu hasn’t practiced with a strained achilles tendon, which may explain his steep decline the past few weeks.  Brett Keisel is still hampered by a hamstring while his backup, Nick Eason, has been sick with a mystery illness.  The good news is defensive MVP Lawrence Timmons has practiced and is expected to play.

Since Aaron Smith went down, we’ve been wondering if the run defense would go along with him.  The Patriots, Bengals, and Saints aren’t running teams so those weren’t the most stiff of tests.  Well, this week we play the 2nd best rushing offense in the NFL.  The Steelers rush D is still ranked #1 overall.   Something has to give.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs. RAIDERS DEFENSE

This match-up also presents some interesting questions.  The Raiders defense was so lousy, they traded next year’s first round pick to the Patriots for 31 year old Richard Seymour.   Then they went out and spent their first two picks on Rolando McClain (8th overall) and Lamarr Houston (44th) in an effort to bolster last year’s 29th ranked rushing defense.  It worked so well, they’re now ranked 24th.

On the flip side, CB Nnamdi Asomugha has battled injury but remains one of the best corners in the league.  Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson are the unfortunate duo who get picked on because teams stay away from Nnamdi.  I’m sure a lot of people are saying, “Who?”   Fair question but they, combined with a strong pass rush from Seymour and emerging star Tommy Kelly, are doing something right because the Raiders have the 2nd best pass defense in football.

Which is why I say this is an interesting match-up.  The Raiders strength is secondary, their weakness is stopping the run.  Since Ben Roethlisberger‘s return, the Steelers have steadily moved away from running the ball to the point Rashard Mendenhall, once the league’s second leading rusher, had only 11 carries for 50 yards last week.  Chris Kemoeatu has practiced and is expected to play which means with the exception of Max Starks, our starting offensive line should be back together.

Kemo is a much better run blocker than pass blocker.  Ditto with Flozell Adams.  Same with Trai Essex.  This is why the line looked so impressive in opening up gaping holes for Mendy while allowing few sacks the first month of the season.  The offensive playcalling emphasized their strengths (rushing) and tried to downplay their weakness (pass blocking).  Things have gone awry the past few games as Bruce Arians has attempted to bring his Flying Circus back into town.

Bottom line:  this week we have an offensive line that is good at run blocking for a very good running back facing a defense that is fantastic against the pass but struggles against the run.  Naturally, I expect Arians to roll out his empty backfield four wide set on the second or third play of the game.

Last week, I said that game was the tipping point for the entire season.  I won’t make any grand proclamations this week.   All I’ll say is nobody wants to relive the nightmare that was 2009.   A loss to a Raiders team that is very much improved over the Raiders we lost to last season and it will be deju vu all over again.

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  • Joey

    Raider Fan here! Great article. This is going to be a great game I hope.

    But as a Raider fan, I think our “D” ranking has a lot of reflection in the first few games. In our three wins we held two of the three under 100 yards and it took KC five quarters to reach the century mark! They are playing better!

    Good luck to you guys on Sunday! And may the Raiders win.. LOL!!!

  • Pete

    Great article. I am a 43 year Oakland Raider fan, nice to have a game in November against a respected rival with implications. GO RAIDERS

  • GGRAider

    The Raiders can no longer be fairly characterized as a team which “struggles against the run”. While they certainly had problems in that area during the first four games of the season (as Seymour learned to play DT), over the past four games, the Raiders have given up an average of only 95 yards on the ground. The author clearly struggles with the facts. Go Raiders!!

  • raidervikesh

    i think this article is garbage. the author attempted jab at californians with the no virgins in cali comment. please! this will be a big game for both teams. i can bet the farm that tomlin is showing the tape of the 2009 game day after day. As a raiders fan i can admit that was a flukey win. i mean the duck of a pass that b grad threw to murphy was a miracle. the biggest test this week is going to be the steeler line backers vs. the raiders o-line. particularly veldher vs. james harrison. timmons, foote are all beasts. if they can give campbell time and open up holes for Run DMC we will win the game. i believe our defense can get big rapist to make mistakes because he does like to hold on to the ball. I have every ounce of faith and confidence in my boys. we beat a very good KC team, with divisional implications in mind for both teams, with out our best player on defense, Nnamdi Asomugah, and our top leading receivers, Louis Murphy and Zack Miller. We can do this. just go out there and just win baby.

  • dsa1er

    Good article, but I have to disagree with you saying our Run-D is our weakness..If anything it has become one of our strengths. Sho-nasty,Seymour,Kelly,Houston followed by Mcclain, Wimbley, Groves, followed by Branch, Huff are putting the smack down on opposing teams and as for Asomugha,Routt,Johnson, Mitchell. I dare Roethlisburger to pass. Our defense is playing just as good as anyone,right now. Complete team effort!! My only concern is Campbell throwing to the wrong team.. Raiders for Life!!!!

  • Terrible Team

    This article makes the Raiders out to be the terrible team. The Raiders are terrible, but they will still destroy the Steelers on Sunday. Big Ben is capable of raping little girls, but he has lost every game he has ever played against the Oakland Raiders. It’s just TERRIBLE.

  • WTF

    Seymour is candidate for defensive player of year, idiot. We’ll see on sunday. Waive your towel all you want the only thing it will be good for is drying your tears.

  • littleben

    Wow, the Raiders put together a three game win streak for the first time in recent memory and all of a sudden they have fans again…

    Should be a good game on Sunday, and I expect the Oakland D to continue their string of good performances against Pittsburgh. The Steelers offense has a habbit of making even the most mediocre of defenses look unbeatable. I was entertaining thoughts of a 7th Steeler SB after the 4th game of the season, but I would argue the the team is even worse now that we have #7 back.

    Is it just me or does he seem incapable of playing a decent game for 4 straight quarters? Usually looks like he’s fighting off a hangover until midway through the third quarter, but maybe that has more to do with the inept coaching and playcalling. I’m not a football expert by any means, but when I can guess what play we’re going to run before the ball is snapped, I know the guys who actually study film are all over it.

    The only thing that has been saving our ass is the defense, but that has been fading fast lately, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we let the Raiders off the hook this week and then just implode for the rest of the season.

    We should have never cut Santonio Holmes, and brought back Alan Faneca instead of B-Mac….

    • raidervikesh

      dude to say that your coach sucks… he just won you the superbowl what, 2 years ago?

      • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

        First off, Mike Tomlin did not “win us a Super Bowl,” he won with Cowher’s team.

        And anyway, I assume littleben wasn’t referring to Mike Tomlin, but our O-Coordinator Bruce Arians. Who is an idiot and we win IN SPITE of him, not because of him.

        Please leave Steeler talk to us Steeler fans. You just worry about your team.

  • Ben

    The Raiders are a much improved team. This week will be a real test for the Steelers to see if we are a capable playoff team.

    Defense:

    This week will be interesting to see if the lousy play last week was just an example of an offense (Patriots) and a quaterback (Brady) who have the Steelers’ number, or if this is a harbringer of things to come. The Raiders like to run the football, which is still one of the Steelers’ strengths. The Steelers defense did allow several good runs last week, and could be struggling without Aaron Smith and Brent Keisel. But, if they can rebound to play great run defense and force Jason Campbell to beat them, they will have a good chance to win the game.

    Offense:

    The Steelers need to run the football to set up the play action pass. The Raiders have played better run defense lately, holding the Chiefs’ two-headed attack down. If the Steelers decide to throw the ball 35-40 times, Roethlisberger will be in trouble with Asomugha (bad spelling) and Richard Seymour blitzing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders end up with 5 or 6 sacks.

    Special Teams:

    We’ll see if Suisham can figure out Heinz field on the first try. I’m not convinced, though the way Reed was playing, he could hardly be worse.

    (Optimistic) Prediction:

    The Steelers’ defense will hold D-Mac and Bush to a combined 80 yards and harass Campbell with pressure. Mendenhall and Big Ben will lead a balanced offense to a respectable 20 points and the final score will be 20-10.

    (Pessimistic) Prediction:

    The Steelers will knock Campbell out of the game and local boy Gradkowski will lead another come from behind win in the fourth quarter against the Origami Curtain.

    I hope the former is the case, and the latter will be relegated to bad dreams of the past.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Interesting analysis, Ben. I wouldn’t be so fast to dare Campbell to beat us, though. We could barely handle Colt McCoy and Carson Palmer, one of whom is a raw rookie and the other is having the worst season of his career. Our lousy secondary makes even the most pitiful QB look great.

      I don’t think the Raiders run D is as good as the morons from Oakland posting here are making it out. Frank Gore ran up 149 FOUR games ago. They’re acting like they haven’t given up a 100 yard rusher since week 2.

      Of course, I don’t expect a good game from Mendy because Arians is a buffoon and he wants to throw 40x a game and they just have no clue what to do on offense. I expect we’ll see more of the what we’ve been seeing, two runs then 4 WR sets on 3rd and 2 and all the other stupidity they’ve been doing.

      Oh and don’t worry about the spelling. I just call him Nnamdi ’cause his last name is impossible. Thank goodness the Steelers didn’t pull the trigger on the Ben-for-Nnamdi trade that was rumored. I thought typing Roethlisberger was a pain in the ass…

  • Raiderizzy

    Looking at overall stats can be misleading. The raiders are gelling in their rush defense, and in the last three weeks they have been tough. The Chiefs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for 85 yards rushing two weeks ago. The prior week Seattle netted 47, week before that Denver had 75. The team is improving as the season goes on. This should be a very interesting game.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Seattle isn’t a running team and neither are the Broncos. I grant you holding the Chiefs to 85 combined is impressive but that hardly constitutes “a vastly improved run defense.” I notice how you and some of the Oakland mouthbreathers posting here conveniently ignore Frank Gore dropped 149 on that “great run D” FOUR games ago.

      God, I hate when teams with obnoxious fan bases taste a little bit of success.

  • Sonny

    Over the past 5 games the Raiders D has only allowed an average per game in rushing of 85 yards per game and over the Raiders last 3 games that average has dropped to only 75 rushing yards per game. Over the past 5 games the Raiders have been at the top of the NFL in stopping the run.

    Add in they lead the NFL in percentage of QB hurries and are ranked 2nd or so in total QB Sacks along with being ranked 2nd against the pass and this very young Raiders D is a much improved unit then the one you faced last year.

    Should be a great game and one of the most physical games played this year.

  • littleben

    Gratz to the Black and Gold, thankfully they bounced back with real grit this week. I gotta give them credit for fixing just about everything that went wrong last week: I thought BA actually called a great game with balance and surprises, #7 showed deciciveness and played a darn near complete game (at least from what I saw before CBS pulled the plug with about 9 minutes to go in the 4th…”let’s take you to a more competitive game…”) and the defense was even more than Brad G could handle!

    It feels good to see the Steelers win in convincing fashion despite the fact that we’ve obviously replaced the Ravens as the #1 team that the NFL loves to hate.

    Good luck for the rest of the season Raider Nation, I hope your team lands on its feet. It was nice seeing them become relevant for about a month anyway. The silver lining on such a black day is that since Dick Seymour punched a *Steeler* quarterback, the NFL league office will probably just pretend it never happened. Try that with Tom Brady, and you’re looking at a 2-game suspension and a fine of more $$$ than I’ll make all year.