After a heart breaking loss against SD on Monday, a lot has been learned of what kind of team the raiders will be this year. And I must say, the future looks bright. In a game that put as at 8th. in the league in rushing, 8th. in total offense, and 19th in total defense and a truly amazing 12th. in rushing yards allowed with only 77, a lot of players played truly outstanding football.
After the jump, I'll grade aspects of the team and players themselves. And I'll even give out a couple awards.
Raiders rushing offense: As previously stated, the Raiders are currently the 8th. best rushing offense in the league, even with the Raiders straying from the run in the second half. Interestingly, there was a nearly dead even split in carries between Bush and Mcfadden. It really gave our rushing attack a personality. 17 carries and 68 yards for McFadden, 12 carries, 55 yards and 1 touchdown for Bush. Even Higgins went for 19 yards on a perfectly executed reverse.
The key thing though, the Chargers were the 11th. ranked rush D last year and still have nearly all the same personnel and even got Burnett and Merriman, even when this team put 8 in the box the Raiders would run and get good yardage. I think it's safe to say that this team, with a physical run blocking O-Line and two dynamic running backs, is a top-5 rushing attack, if would only run the ball more. Mcfadden should have 20 touches, even Bush should have. The pass game was stagnant and even though it was starting to stall in the second half, the run game was still getting positive yardage consistently. Something that rarely happened with Fargas starting.
Raiders passing offense: This pass offense, instead of picking up where it left off last year, has went back to playing like it did around the time of last year's Jets game. It picked up first downs in the first half, got a couple big plays every now and then, but wasn't consistent. Consistency starts with Russell who seems to think that he'll be sacked any second, though the O-Line was blocking very well for a pass rush as highly touted as the Chargers'.
Russell needs to slow down, get his feet set right, and make nice and calm throws. However, 5 targets to Higgins for no receptions is pretty ghastly on his part. San Diego's secondary is healthy this year unlike it was last year and is good, but those receivers need to get better separation. Luckily, they'll be able to work on that with teams like Denver and KC, who weren't exactly stunning keeping receivers from separating.
How insanely awesome is Zach Miller? 6 receptions for 96 yards and no drops that I can recall. Even in a game where the passing game struggled quite a bit, Miller nearly pulls off a 100 yard game. This not only speaks of his receiving skills, but the O-Line's blocking. I barely ever recall Miller staying in to block very often. The line kept Russell's jersey clean except for 1 sack by Nwagbuo.
Murphy's great rookie debut and Miller's ever impressive play keeps the passing game from being a total failure.
Raiders rushing D: What can be said of the run D other than that it was phenomenal. And against the highly touted Tomlinson-Sproles tandem. 12th. best in the league against what was supposedly one of the better ground attacks in the league. Reason why, inspired play by a young D which was just out there having fun.
Seymour and Scott's high levels of enthusiasm, Branch's intensity and ability to burst right up to the line, Howard's speed finally being put to use properly, there was just so much right with this group. Marshall's talk of working on proper gap management and being in the right place is really paying dividends. The Raiders played extremely physical football and were flat out violent in the run game.
Raiders pass D: Other than the last couple drives in the fourth and that one TD pass to Gates for a TD, I was very impressed by the pass D. Jackson and Chambers especially were shut down for the most part, thouh Nnamdi gave up a TD. Don't worry though, Nnamdi is still the best. But when you go and play your heart out for 3 minutes or so and then only get about two minutes worth of rest, you can't really be expected to keep playing at the same level all game long.
Chris Johnson, though he had a couple miscues against Naanee, I think is going to be a good corner this year. He made some good plays and held up very well in coverage. And even Huff was impressive. Good tackling, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Huff basically played the best game of his career. Might we see him make a couple starts at FS if this continues?
Pass rush was phenomenal, and with only a four man rush. Though that four man rush was the equivalent of a six man rush. Seymour, Kelly, Warren, Ellis, Scott, Shauguhnessy, Bryant, they all did tremendous in both run situations and pass downs. If they can keep playing like this, games against Pittsburgh, Washington, and Houston just got a whole lot easier.
Special Teams: Not much to say here other than our return game needs some more umph to it, and we're going to have to pray every time we kick the ball off.
Overall team grade: B+
Offensive standout player: Mario Henderson. Though we expected him to play good ball this year, 0 sacks given up and barely gave up any pressure against people like Phillips, Merriman, and even Castillo on occasion. This was game that would rest on his and Gallery's shoulders. Gallery was impressive as well, but Henderson was absolutely dominating. He's as good as it gets at left tackle.
Defensive standout player: Tyvon Branch. I could've easily picked Huff, Seymour, Ellis, or Chris Johnson, but Branch made me feel a whole lot better about the safety position this year. Great in coverage against arguably one of the best tight ends in the league, very solid tackling both in the secondary and even at the line of scrimmage. Branch is the strong safety we've been craving for a long time. Faster and more dynamic than what Gibril Wilson was in the running game, and better in coverage than Huff ever was. If he can continue this throughout the course of the year, he can expect more of these awards to come his way.
Most disappointing player: Kirk Morrison. I could have said Russell, or Green, or Heyward-Bey. But really they met my low expectations. Morrison however was not showing up at all. Only two tackles for a middle linebacker, the guy who's supposed to be all over the field on defense? i know his elbow is still injured, but that doesn't stop him from moving around to get in guy's ways. He wasn't playing at full speed, and for a defense that was so electric, he seemed fairly lax. I'm going to pin it as an off-night and look for more from him next week.
Role Model: Thomas Howard. He set the tone for the defense on Monday. Howard was all over the field and had a monster game with 7 tackles, 2 assists, and a pass defense. He was jazzed up and you could just feel his positive energy being spread throughout the defense. He was jumping around, smiling, celebrating with teammates; if anybody came away from that game happy it had to be him. I really hope to see much of the same from him next week.
Rookie of the Game award: Matt Shaughnessy. Two times he flushed Rivers from the pocket, two times he forced bad passes, and he wasn't too shabby against the run either. I know you all expected this to go to Louis Murphy, but Shaughnessy to me was just going to be a backup guy who wouldn't even be part of the rotation. Now, I want him to see the field frequently. Great pass rush, especially for the #4 DE, and unlike previous Raider D-Line rotations, was not a pushover against the run. He actually filled his gaps rather well. Maybe instead of Richardson and Scott as the DE's of the future, we might see Shaughnessy and Scott.
MVP: Richard Seymour. Only here two days and he gets two sacks, plays the run very well, was always forcing pressure non-stop, and really played like a leader on the defense. Imagine how he'll play when he really gets to know the team and gets fully immersed in the scheme and playbook. I expect to be putting his name by the MVP award a lot this year.
Well that wraps things up here. Look for another edition of Grading the Raiders next week after the KC game.