The Raider offense is like Jed Clampett's truck; it's big and wonky with a bunch of stuff hanging off the back, but it makes it all the way to California, or in this case, the end zone. In a reversal of common trends, the Raiders have found a unique ability to score points in bunches by keeping the ball on the ground, even becoming a big-play running team which is typically reserved for the college ranks. This team has made the end-around, the pitch play, and the fullback screen, really dangerous plays. Bring back Rocket Ismail!
The best part of the offense is how distinct each player is in regards to their ability and skill set. Darren McFadden is an absolute monster who is quietly one of the most exciting players in the game. The man plays like a Tron character, only trapped in Madden instead of weird gray guys racing bookends around the inside of an oven. I feel McFadden can bust one for a score on every play; he is an open-field nightmare. And strong too. I was surprised to see how willingly he lowers his head when taking on defenders. When this person is healthy, he is worth a ridiculous amount of money.
The other player that's hard not to gush about is Marcel Reece. Arguably more impressive than his 73-yard touchdown (what?!?), was when Reece flexed out to wide-out, ran a nine-yard come-back route, made a nice catch and got two feet in along the sideline. How many fullbacks can do that? And if that isn't fullback enough for the old curmudgeonly-side of you, he picked up the first-down with two smashes up the gut on the next two ensuing plays. I see Keith Byars in Marcell Reece, and I see a coordinator who is maximizing the versatile player's potential with his play-calling style.
Then there's Michael Bush. When it's sheer north-south running you need with no frills and lots of beef, then Bush is your man. Here is a man who softens up the defense for those long runs by faster players with his physically-wearing running style and general bigness—he's the tenderizer. Those offensive drives where Bush is the feature-back really brings down the energy level of the opposing defense. He's a head-of-steam runner who has quick feet and a wide frame; a gem in a two-back system.
As for the passing threats, they too have their unique attributes. Zach Miller is a go-to guy who runs well after the catch and is reliable on key downs. Louis Murphy seems like something of a clutch player who makes key catches on third-downs and late in the game. Darrius Heyward-Bey stretches the field and is beginning to look like a real-life NFL wide receiver, and Jacoby Ford is faster than light itself and has manifested his big-play ability with, well, big plays.
Of course, the linemen are obviously enjoying this offense too. I think most linemen prefer to run block and they especially like to get down-field and make key blocks to spring runners for big gains. This line pulls well on pitch plays and end-arounds and Samson Satele is a large yet nimble man who is an ideal snowplow for Raider runners to move in behind once in the open field.
If anything is really missing from this side of the ball, it's hard to pinpoint the deficiency. I wouldn't mind seeing them acquire a large, bruising fullback to go to the complete power end of the offensive spectrum when they really need it, and I still feel a smallish slot receiver who runs good routes and has great hands but isn't the fastest guy on the playground could make this a complete team, but as it is now, Hue Jackson has his men charging full steam ahead.
If the defense can learn to prevent long rushes—especially on third down—and continue to put solid pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Raiders will be a true force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the big-play bug surfaced at the worst of times against Jacksonville and really setback Oakland's playoff aspirations so late in the season, but there are some quality components to this organization that should provide Raider Nation with some genuine hope for its future—both immediate and long-term.
Once the season is over, there will be still be some uncertainty that revolves around a few positions, but overall the foundation of this team looks good. As a new Raider fan, I'm extremely optimistic heading into the murky unknown of the offseason and beyond, but first up are some crucial last games on the schedule.
Even if the Raiders miss the playoffs, a nine-win season would still be most impressive. I know there are those out there who say anything other than a Super Bowl win is a failure, and if you're a coach or player then there is some truth to such an absolute statement, but as fans, we supporters can be proud of a winning record. For all the negative attention that the NFC West winner is sure to face this January, teams that play well and don't get in should receive as much attention only in a positive light. It's been a long time since Oakland was even a blip on the postseason radar, and while this season's chances of such a thing now seem doubtful at best, to be in the discussion at all is thoroughly welcomed. As we move forward into years to come, expectations should be raised and anything other than continual success will not be tolerated, but for now, I am satisfied with the growing roots I see supporting this franchise, and I have very much enjoyed the performances I have witnessed in the second half of this season.
And if these upbeat musings still haven't made you more aware of the silver (and black) lining of this Oakland Raider cloud, than just think of this: at least it isn't the Bengals.
As for this upcoming week, the Colts fly west decimated and on their last leg. There is always Peyton Manning and his superpowers are still great enough to win games on his own, but the Raider pass-rush should hurry his throws that typically still end up completed, but with such a beat-up cast of receivers, may end up in blue frustration for Indianapolis instead. Running back Joseph Addai returns this week and has proven with his absence that he is still their best halfback, but he can be limited by making tackles and staying in running lanes. Some backs can run over people and others can juke their way to first-downs and scores, but Addai is not special in any one category and is probably most dangerous as a check-off receiver. The weakest link to Oakland's defense is their propensity for explosive plays, which is a group defect, but it can be fixed and this limping Colts offense is uncharacteristically a perfect test-subject to gauge the Raiders improvement keeping plays in front of them. If the rash of plays where defensive backs are chasing ball carriers from behind continues, it could easily be Indy playing in Week 18 and Oakland shaking their heads in disgust while watching it on television. A better defensive showing against a mastermind quarterback, however, mixed in with a little help from the Titans, could set up the make-or-break game against the Chiefs in a contest that we are all praying comes true.
When the Raiders have the ball, it isn't necessary to throw all that often. The Raiders haven't been a killer aerial attack at all this year, and their strengths remain on the ground. For the Colts, their defensive forte rests with the ends, who use their speed and spin moves to rattle opposing quarterbacks. The philosophy this week, therefore, is a no-brainer as Oakland should look to continue its creativity in their play-calling and carry on pounding the run. If they can keep from killing themselves with turnovers and penalties, there is no reason they can't score 30 or more points again without big passing totals.
The equation is basic: stick with what you do well, sensibly prioritize what the Colts strengths are, and don't beat yourself with self-imposed set-backs. This mantra, of course, goes for every week, but against a team like Indy, there seems to be less guess-work involved. It's still the same old Sheriff, only this time he's weakened by his fellow deputies' injuries. Typically, facing Indianapolis is a predicted loss, but for various cosmic forces, the time is ripe for a glorious victory. I feel good about this game and you should too. It's time to debunk the cliché playoff picture and, if nothing else, eliminate one of the annual mainstays from this year's party. Other teams keeping the Raiders out of the playoffs is fine, but keeping the Riders themselves out is not. Seize the day, dammit!
Raiders 28, Colts 24
Mojokong—dispatching from a snowy, far-away place where there is no light, only shadow.