After five weeks of the 2009 NFL season teams are beginning to define their identities. As Dennis Green would say, "The teams are who we think they are." This does not mean that all teams will remain stagnant in their identity.
There is still a lot of season left. Time enough for teams that are currently treading water to develop that tread into a Michael Phelps sprint. There are also enough games left for teams, looking like serious Super Bowl contenders, to be exposed as frauds or succumb to the injuries that are inevitable in this brutal sport.
The bottom feeders, however, are not going to inspire much hope for anything other than little improvements and moral victories. Signs that ultimately point to nothing greater than the suggestion that next year will be different.
It is completely unrealistic to hope for any team with zero to one win(s) this year to make a run at the playoffs. Strong performances and signs of growth, thrown in with an upset or two in games played with maximum effort, can be enough to salvage the jobs of coaches and give fans a hopeful outlook during the long off season (look no further than last year’s Raiders team).
Ultimately, the chance that any of these teams will create a meaningful impact in this season is reduced to them knocking a team out of the playoffs towards the end of the year.
The Oakland Raiders are different. There is no doubt they will make serious noise the rest of this NFL season.
Not because they are going to make the playoffs or go on a prolonged winning streak, but because the onslaught of criticism cast upon everyone’s favorite red headed step team is going to grow.
This is a team that is widely regarded as the biggest joke in the NFL. I do not get it though- I can’t find the humor in this joke anywhere. Instead I am stuck on the outside, shaking my head, as I try to find positives to take out of a season that gets a lot more black and a little less silver with each passing week.
The Raiders started this season hanging onto tangible signs of hope. They showed signs of improvement at the end of last year. This was a young team with lots of potential.
Russell finished last season strong. Darren McFadden and Michael Bush had the potential to be the best young RB duo in the league. Chaz Schillens was poised to emerge as a legitimate number one while leading a young and improved receiving corps to a long forgotten promise land.
Al Davis listened to his head coach and offensive line guru, Tom Cable, by trading for Samson Satele and picking up free agent Kahlif Barnes to solidify the offensive line. Mario Henderson ended last season like he was going to make the Left Tackle position his.
The biggest concern of the defense was its inability to slow down opponents run game, particularly on the outside of the defensive line. This concern quickly turned into yet another source of hope when Richard Seymour was acquired via trade.
Let’s take a look in to see how these seeds of hope are growing. Russell looks uninterested in improving and has regressed. McFadden does not look durable enough to be an NFL running back. Schillens has not played a game yet.
The offensive line is ineffective, injury plagued and getting worse. Satele has been such a disappointment that Cable benched the guy he hand picked in favor of the incredibly over matched Chris Morris. Kahlif Barnes has spent most of his time healing and currently is having difficulty adjusting to any position that is not occupied by the one healthy and competent lineman, Mario Henderson.
The run defense, while improved, is still giving up to many big plays. While the defensive line has morphed, from a weakness to a strength, it has done little but point out that this team is many changes away from competitive.
At this point in time, any single person who proclaims to be a Raider fan gains a lifelong exemption from having to ever be considered a bandwagon jumper (and should also receive a coupon for free mental counseling). This team literally has zero things going in its favor.
Oh wait… the kickers are good and are having career years. Also, nothing horrible as befallen Henderson and actually he may be proving himself worthy of the off season hope he inspired.
There are so many opinions floating around on the ills and possible cures for the Oakland Raiders that even the most half hearted NFL fan seems to have legitimate answers that would improve them or what ideas on what is holding them back.
When I recently asked four-year old Sally Stevens what she thought of the Raiders she replied, "Al Davis is bat-shit crazy."
This falls right in line with the two popular opinions on the problems of the Oakland Raiders: "Al Davis is a senile, control freak, vampire" and "Jamarcus Russell once had talent and a brain, but he ate them and now they are stuck in his fat ass."
I am not here to retread thoughts on improving the Raiders. These thoughts leave me feeling hollow, because they are unrealistic. Al Davis is not going to change and he is not going anywhere. As far as player changes go, at QB or elsewhere, anything short of trading the Raiders for the Giants is not going to help this overmatched team.
Suffering from the irreversible affliction of silver and black blood, I have realized that I can either continue to be miserable, while hoping and looking for changes that will never materialize- or I can change my expectations and hopes for this team.
If I want to gain any satisfaction out of this season, other than the fulfillment that arrives with victorious hate rooting, I need to change my perception of victories.
Instead of rooting for victories I shall root for points. Every game the Raiders score a touchdown I will put a tally in the win column. In light of this they are 3-2 and have a strong chance of being a .500 team.
I will view first downs as touchdowns. Given this scoring system the Raiders would have beat the Giants 49-42 last week in a thrilling game that saw the Raiders get their seventh and winning touchdown via penalty.
I will count every Russell completion to a WR as a touchdown. Russell already has 17 touchdowns this year and Louis Murphy is on pace to break Randy Moss’ record as he already has 12 TD’s. Top pick Heyward-Bey is off to a slow start with only two TD’s this year, but has a solid 20 catches (I am going to count every time Heyward-Bey is targeted as a catch).
Every game McFadden misses with an injury I am just going to chalk up as another 100-yard game. With two 100-yard games this season McFadden has already doubled his total from last year.
From now on, when McFadden does play, I am going to view every time he fumbles, but the Raiders recover, as a rushing TD. McFadden had a solid game against the Broncos with two TD’s. Which brings his total to three on the year- combine this with his two 100-yard games and he may be starting to fulfill the potential his talent points towards.
Henceforth, every snap an offensive lineman does not have a penalty I am going to view it as job well done. Cornell Green still sucks, but the others are looking better.
Every snap, that the Raider with the football does not get hit behind the line of scrimmage, I am going to chalk up to offensive line dominance. All of a sudden it seems like Cable has really worked his magic and turned this group around
On defense, it is CFL rules. Anytime the Raiders keep the opposing team from getting a first down before third down I am going to consider it a stop. At 80-54 The Raiders are still giving up more first downs then they getting but this defense is coming around.
The defense looks even better once I stop counting all touchdowns scored against the Raiders on plays of more than 10 yards, instead of being out TD’d 14-4 it is only 6-4.
The defense looks even better still, once I get to take away plays, of my choosing, run by the opposition until time of possession is even (that is 11 minutes worth of plays a game). It’s not fair that teams always get to have the ball so much longer than the Raiders.
All of a sudden the Raider defense is beginning to look like one of the best in the league and the young offense is coming together while starting to turn their potential into a reality.
The night is always darkest before the dawn my friends and with my new evaluation of Raider success I feel that we have broken this long dark night. This season is turning and the seeds of hope are blossoming. Sure, this still may not be a super bowl contending team, but I can finally enjoy a Raider season with a smile knowing that things are going in the right direction.