First off let's get ourselves calmed down as we start off with what can only be considered the ultimate in chill.
A Tribe Called Quest - Jazz (We've Got) (via DaClassicz)
Now then, while the Raiders seem to be finding ways to lose even the most winnable games, it's not as bad as many think. There's simple solutions for every flaw of this team. From horrid passing offense, to poor YPC, to those 2-3 big plays allowed per game on defense.
So relax to the jazz-fused rap and read on.
For the short-term, this problem is a simple as waiting on Bruce to return 100%. Cable and Davis both know that Campbell won't be able to lead this team this year. He's just too mentally weak behind this line. This is resulting in the below Russell level of play (that's right, Campbell's QB rating was worse than any Russell ever put up)
Bruce simply produces behind this line and opens up things all over the offense. He's probably the most mentally tough QB I've ever seen in this era. He'll fight and die for this team and inspires others to do the same. Is he consistent in his play? He is, but just not enough to be a long-term solution. However, I firmly believe he should be this team's backup QB until he retires, and then be made the QB coach.
This line is not opening holes like it should, because the play calling is not how it should be. Campbell probably could have got a rhythm going if we would throw a bloody screen when the D is stacked in the box. Even if it's incomplete, it forces the D to back off a bit.
From there Bush could have really started to bust through a backed off D for some better yards. Then you can get creative with your runs. Mix in power runs around the tackles, some stretches, mix a screen pass or quick slant, it's a rhythm and poetry in motion. However, the line between a great poem, and fourth grade dribble is very fine. In both English classes and football.
Play calling alone would have made this running game able to continue its previous dominance. This run game has prospered thanks to screen passes, and the new zone-power hybrid blocking scheme.
McFadden's return to health will also be a huge boost. He's playing to his first round status and can greatly uplift the numbers. His outside runs would also open the middle for Bush.
I can't honestly blame the wide receivers because of three key reasons:
Development: I have beat this drum for a long time, I know, but it's very true. It will in most cases take about 3-4 years for adequate receiver development with some exceptions. The task of development for Murphy and Heyward-Bey is even harder. With no veteran receiver or quality coach.
Finding a veteran teacher is incredibly easy. They don't need to be good now, they just have to have been good earlier in their career. If they can pass on their veteran knowledge and savvy down to Heyward-Bey and Murphy, you could see these two really begin to shine.
As for coaching, it's not hard to find someone better than Sanjay Lal.
Time to get open: When dealing with this poor of a pass blocking O-line, the task of getting open becomes near impossible unless you're running a short curl or quick. But on these deeper routes that Murphy and DHB are often seen running, you're not allotted much time to get open.
It's not that these two can't get open, with the speed and agility they have, the task is probably a strength of their's. But with about 1.5 seconds to get open, I doubt even Larry Fitzgerald would put up much better numbers.
QB Play: Jason Campbell is bringing down the wide receiver play and severely. Notice that the receivers are lucky to get two catches when Jason is at QB, yet they can get as many as 6 each when Gradkowski is in. Why is this?
Campbell struggles to make good reads, feels rushed when he might actually have some good blocking (which actually happens more than most think), and is just plain inaccurate. That bullseye that is the numbers on the chest of a receiver's jersey, is just hard for him to hit.
Now let's look at Grads, the polar opposite. Makes good quick reads, knows when he has time to relax and scan the whole field, and can hit that bullseye 70% of the time.
Once again, short-term Bruce is a great thing. However, add some variables into that 70% like defender position, the ability of the receiver to catch, the ability of the receiver to hold on after a hit, etc. That is brought down to about 50%, right about Gradkowski's completion percentage.
Another QB needs to be added or developed who can hit that bullseye about 80% of the time, so we can above 50% completion percentage to these talented wide-outs. 50% compared to 60% can mean the difference between 5-11 and 9-7.
These factors are making what could be one of the NFL's best receiving tandems into one of the worst.
Big Plays Given Up on Defense:
The solution is quite simply all of the above. If the offense would finally get things going, the insane talent on this defense could put together a full game. Safety play? Huff admittedly needs to be replaced. he's not living up to the role he's playing. He's giving up way too much way too often. Branch meanwhile is actually a pretty solid guy who does great in the role of playing safety in the box/being a last line of defense.
The linebackers still need time to gel and I've seen flashes of sheer magnificence from the group.
The D-Line i can now safely say is perfect. Great pressure, controls gaps very nicely, and they make very energetic and momentum filled plays in the backfield.
So why do they give up these big touchdowns? Same issue as the past two seasons. They simply get worn out after about, oh, 5 straight 3-and-outs. No defense can win doing that. Not even the Ravens or Steelers could possibly manage. I'm happy when the offense gets a penalty because it gives the defense a little bit more time to rest.
With rest, those big runs and blown coverages maybe, just maybe, might no longer happen. This defense has been very solid for three years now, just the offense can't give them a break. A few moves and changes like those stated above, and maybe we go from close loss, to solid win.
The Raiders may seem to be headed down another dark road, but the way to the light is as simple as a few easy steps.