Ok, now it’s time for the bad news. Those Raider players that were the most responsible for another miserable season and didn’t do the team any favors in the few wins they did have.
You might find it an interesting observation that despite having 11 losses in the season, there are fewer Busters than there were Ballers. Well, if you followed this team all season, you will see that in nearly every loss, the efforts of the many were thwarted by the mistakes of the few. They were simply big mistakes by some players with important roles.
This team wanted badly to win. And they had the talent to do it. But the sentiment “you are only as strong as your weakest link” has rarely been more true than in the case of the 2009 Raiders. And that fact is a double edged sword. Because while it means less pieces to be replaced, they are the most difficult parts of the puzzle. Especially when you are talking about an organization run by someone who is unwilling to change or move forward.
But at the risk of getting ahead of myself, let’s move on to the Raiders’ 2009 season…
In 2009 JaMarcus Russell epitomized what it means to be a Buster. He started nine games this season and was named a Buster nine times. Football Outsiders has a system of judging quarterbacks which they call DYAR. And the results in regards to Russell were staggering. Russell not only had the worst DYAR this season but his -755 passing DYAR, stands as the fourth-lowest season of all-time. Ahead of only David Carr in 2002, Bobby Hoying in 1998, and Alex Smith in 2005. He was dead last in the NFL among starters in every major statistical category. Completion percentage (48.8), touchdown passes (3), Yards per catch (5.2), yards per game (107.2), first down % (23.6), and the big one: passer rating (50). And on top of those numbers, he fumbled the ball nine times. That’s right; NINE TIMES.
Some people early in the season would point to his rookie receivers and their penchant for dropping passes. The problem with that defense is that we have eyes. We can see clear as day that the bulk of Russell’s passes were wildly off the mark. And even those short easy passes that were on target were thrown so hard, the receiver didn’t have time to react and bring the ball in. These flaws became even more evident when he was benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. Suddenly the offense worked and the Raiders were winning. It was instantaneous.
Even the two wins the Raiders had during his nine games as the starter could not be attributed to his play. In the week 2 win over the Chiefs, he had completed just 3 passes in the first half for a total of 42 yards. Then he didn’t complete another pass until the Raiders final drive. He finished the game going 7-24 for 109 yards. After 35% completion in week 1, he dipped below 30% in this game. The Raiders won that game with great defense and special teams play to eek out the win 13-10. In the week 3 loss to the Broncos he had just 61 yards passing with two interceptions in a blowout. In the week 5 loss to the Giants, Russell had three fumbles while completing just 8 passes the entire game with no on-target drops. In week 7 he was top Buster for his terrible play. That play included: fumbling on the first play of the game to give the Jets the ball at the 4 yard line, throwing an interception right into the hands of the defender who returned it to the 4 yard line, throwing into double coverage in the end zone for an interception. Then after the game he put an exclamation point on it when he took no blame for the loss by saying: “I don’t think this is personal, I really don’t. It’s a bad combination of: one guy doesn’t do something right one time and he doesn’t do [something right]. You know, it all plays [into] the play. But I personally don’t think it’s me.” Classic JaMarcus.
In week 10 he was so inaccurate so that even when you take away all the drops (6), he still couldn’t get over 60% completion. In fact he had just 8 completions the entire day along with a fumble. He was benched late in the game and this time it was final. In week 14 against the Redskins, he was a Buster despite not even starting the game. He came in the game with the Raiders within one score 10-17. It was not long before it was a blowout. It was no fluke that he was sacked 6 times while Gradkowski was sacked 2 times. He has no escapability and often times scrambles right into the pass rusher. His interception should have been a nice completion to Schilens who managed to get open, but Russell saw it too late and the defenders closed in on the pass. The Redskins would get the ball in Raider territory and score a touchdown to seal the victory. Then to add insult to injury, on the very next Raider possession, he fumbled the ball for a 17 yard loss and a punt out of their own end zone.
The Raiders will never be able to win with him at quarterback. As bad as his skills are, his worst attribute is his complacency. He just doesn’t care and he makes no apologies for it. In fact the Raider organization makes plenty of excuses for him. He seems content to just bust out of the NFL and get fat on his millions for the rest of his life. He has gotten a head start on the fat part of his goal.
He was injured for half the season and still managed to be a Buster 7 times. He was also tied with Russell for the most top Buster nods with 3. He played the first four games and was a Buster in 3 of them after 3 false starts, 2 holding penalties, and sack as well as numerous quarterback pressures.
He would return from the injury in week 11 against the Bengals and for that game he actually looked really good. And low and behold, the Raiders managed to win that game. But that success story would turn out to be a flyer when the following week he was back to Busterville. That week he would be manhandled by the Cowboy’s Anthony Spencer. In week 14 he would be beaten by the edge rusher who grabbed Gradkowski’s leg and twist him down to the ground and knock him out of the game. Russell would trot onto the field for the second half much to the chagrin of the crowd. And the news wouldn’t get any better either. After the Raiders drove 35 yards downfield and into at least field goal range, he gave up a tackle for loss on McFadden. Then three plays later, he was called for being illegally downfield that negated a Zach Miller reception to put the Raiders in scoring position. A field goal would have made it a one point game but after the penalty, that was no longer an option. The Raiders had two final last-gasp drives. The first one ended when Green gave up a sack. And the final drive, Green was called for holding that would negate a first down catch by Higgins and the game would end one play later.
The Week 15 win over the Broncos was a great one but Cornell did everything he could to keep that from happening. Early on he gave up two run stuffs at the line. The second one was with the Raiders in third and goal at the 1 yard line. He was pushed into the Raider backfield causing Michael Bush to run into him while Bush tried to get the corner. The result was a loss of two yards to set up fourth and goal at the 3 yard line. A distance the Raiders couldn’t cover and they would be held scoreless on the drive. He later was burnt by his man two other times. One of those times his man hit Russell and forced a fumble. Then near the end of the game with the Raiders in first and goal at the 5 yard line, he had a false start.
The final week of the season, Green would put a nice bow on the season. He was called for being a illegally downfield on the very first play of the game. Later he gave up a QB pressure that ended up in a sack. Later in the game, with the Raiders in third and one, he couldn’t open a gap for Bush to run through and he was tackled for a loss. On the Raiders’ final drive he had two false start penalties and a game (and season) ending QB pressure. That seems like a fitting last impression of Cornell Green’s overall body of work.
I had begged the question several times during the season “What the hell happened to the Raiders’ special teams?” Namely, every one of the 6 weeks that the special teams coach was named a Buster– starting in week 1.
In that game there was almost no yardage on returns for the Raiders while they gave up two huge returns of 66 and 59 yards. In week 4 the Raiders gave up a 95 yard free kick touchdown. In week 7 the ineptitude grew to comical proportions. The Jets ran a fake punt that fooled the Raiders so bad it needed to be accompanied by the Benny Hill theme music. The Jets punter simply took the long snap and started running with it. Nothing fancy, just tuck and run. He would run along side the Raider coverage team for a good 20 yards before anyone even noticed he hadn’t punted it. As if we needed any more proof that the Raiders have been playing out a farce lately. And just for good measure, there was a total of negative one yard on one punt return from Jonnie Lee Higgins in the game.
In week 14, the most significant mistake of the game happened on special teams. The first was when Hiram Eugene was called for interference on a return. Fassel was incensed by the call and he came storming onto the field to get in the face of the official. He would be called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The interference penalty plus the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would give the Redskins the ball at the 40 yard line. They would take the short field and score a touchdown to take the lead going into halftime.
In the final game of the season, the Ravens averaged 34 yards on kick-off returns with their longest going for 53 yards. Meanwhile the Raiders averaged THREE YARDS on two returns. That result was common throughout the season. Nearly every game this season, the kicking team has given up huge chunks of yardage while the return team hasn’t been able to gain any good field position on their returns. Every return goes for little or not yards and is often for negative yards. And you can’t put that all on Higgins. He looked superb last season with three return touchdowns. All the blockers are the same. The only difference here is Fassel.
Last season under coach Schnieder, the Raiders had one of, if not THE, best special teams play in the NFL. This season they looked anything BUT. It was night and day. The special teams this season looked like a shell of it’s former self. Even with the best kicker and the best punter in the entire NFL, they can’t capitalize. Janikowski often kicks into the end zone but opposing returners rarely take a knee for a touchback because they know that they have a really good shot at getting a nice return against the Raider coverage unit. The fault lies in poor blocking and the lack of a good scheme falls on Fassel. I would say that replacing Fassel should be extremely high the list of priorities for this team in the offseason.
The Raiders became an instant laughing stock when they chose DHB with the #7 pick in the draft. But while everyone was so quick to judge, I urged a wait and see approach. Well, I waited, and waited. While DHB continued to fail beyond even the loudest critics expectations of him. He was handed the starting job out of camp because of his draft status and the paycheck that came with it. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring that level of talent to the field as well.
It is hard to point out stats for a guy that had so few to speak of. His nonexistence didn’t keep him hidden from the Buster list though. He would make the list 8 times during his 10 games as a starter. In which time he racked up a total that would be a decent single game by any standards– 9 catches for 124 yards. A total that two other Raiders did indeed eclipse in single games throughout the season. Zach Miller had a game with nine catches and he had a game with 135 yards receiving. Louis Murphy had a game in which he had 128 yards.
Let’s be clear here too. DHB saw 40 on target passes this season and he caught 9 of them. That is a 23% catch rate. No other player since 1994 has put up a catch rate lower than that with at least 25 passes. That means that he caught less than one out of every four passes thrown to him. The thing about his dropped passes that is astounding is, the way he attempts to catch them. I compared it to that of a 4 year old. You know how a small child will put both of their arms out straight and when the ball gets there they squint their eyes and close their arms only to have the ball fall down their chest to the ground? That is exactly what he does. He did it in week 7 when he dropped the one and only chance the Raiders had to score any points in a blowout loss to the Jets. That was probably the third time during the season that he had pulled that move. Each time with the same result.
By the week 10 game against the Chiefs, I was beginning to wonder if this guy ever knew how to catch and how he was even considered “Honorable Mention!” all ACC. He had two golden opportunities in this game to catch the ball and put the Raiders in position to score. And he pulled his signature “4 year old child” maneuver both times. The second of his bumbling idiot attempts at catching the ball, ended up being the last play of the game for the Raiders. He not only dropped the ball, but then he kicked it straight up in the air for an easy interception to end the Raiders chances of scoring and giftwrap a win for the Chiefs. And yet he, like Russell, he never once acknowledged his poor play. He instead insisted on several occasions that he was doing his job. Well, when they change the name of his position to “decoy” or “blocker” I might go along with that. But as long as your title is “receiver” you damn well better “receive” some footballs. And right now, I just can’t foresee that ever happening. I hope I am wrong.
I only put Big Al on the Buster list a couple of times in the season but the truth is that the Buster list was laced with his poison every single week. This team was assembled by Al Davis and this game plan has his meddling fingers all up in it. I pointed out during the season that Mr Davis needed to have a few of his untouchable toys tacken away from him for this team to win. Those toys were Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. And as each of them either went down with injury or were benched, my theory was proven to be absolutely true.
Darren McFadden went down with injury first and Justin Fargas and Michael Bush put up fantastic numbers in his absense. JaMarcus Russell was the biggest (pun intended) problem on this team. He started the first 9 games because Al Davis insisted it. The first game the Raiders played after Russell was benched, they beat the Bengals. Just think how many games this team could have won if the Cable was aloud to put the quarterback on the field that gave the team the best chance to win. Darrius Heyward-Bey started until week 11 and then went out due to injury. Without DHB in the lineup the receiving corps came to life.
It is difficult to think about how good this team could be if Al Davis would just let the team play to it’s strengths and trust his coaches to make the right choices. This team lacks discipline and it has spread like a cancer. These three players were given free passes to screw up as much as they wanted without fear of losing their starting jobs. That kind of favoritism can destroy a team dynamic. Until every player is forced to be equally accountable for their actions, this team will be defeated before it even steps on the field. Al Davis’ arrogance will continue to corrupt and destroy any chance of the Raiders succeeding. It will keep any respectable coach or talented free agent from agreeing to join his dysfunctional family.
Chris Morris was given the start at center early in the season because Samson Satele was not yet acclimated to the zone blocking system. But by week 3 it was clear that Morris was not much of an upgrade. On one drive early on he was called for holding and then three plays later gave up a tackle for loss. Later in the game he had another bad drive. Thanks to Morris, it just moved backward. He had a hold, gave up a run stuff and then a sack.
Due to Robert Gallery going out with injury, Morris was forced to move to left guard and Satele came back in at center. In week 6 he gave up a two run stuffs, a sack, and had a false start. Gallery would be back in week 10 but would go out with injury again in week 13 along with Satele which meant that Morris would be back in as a starter. He would promptly be a Buster because of his inability to open holes for the run and keep opposing rushers out of the backfield. Then he finished out the season with two more terrible games. He came in for an injured Langston Walker and immediately had a false start. Near the end of the first half he had a holding penalty that effectively ended what should have been the final drive before halftime. But because the Raiders had to give the ball up, the Browns were able to take the ball and score a touchdown before halftime. Then early in the third, Morris was called for holding again. Then to close out the season against the Ravens, he would give up three run stuffs and a QB pressure that resulted in a sack. I think it is safe to say that this team cannot afford to lose Gallery to injury again. The alternative is too scary.
It is a tough decision to make to put Captain Kirk as the season Buster. Afterall, he did lead the Raiders in tackles. He actually was third in the league in tackles. But the problem was the huge plays that the opposing offenses were able to make that he should have either stopped or slowed down. All too often he is either blocked easily, out of position, or just misses the tackle. And it is for those reasons that he was Buster 8 times during the season.
In week 3 he was on the hook two touchdowns, a 17 yard run, two 19 yard runs, and 55 yard screen play. In week 6 he gave up a touchdown, a 25 yard run, a 32 yard catch and a 43 yard catch. In week 8 against the Chargers he began the game by giving up a touchdown the LaDanian Tomlinson. A few possessions later he had one truly horrific drive in which he gave up a 5 yard catch on one play, was WAY out of position on a 30 yard catch on the next play, was out of position again on a 9 yard Tomlinson run the next play, then three plays later he was blocked on an 11 yard run to set up first and goal at the 9 yard line. The Chargers would run it in for a score on the next play to go up 21-7. That is 55 of an 80 yard drive that went through Kirk.
He was top Buster in week 11 despite the win over the Bengals. On the Bengals first drive they set up at second and 22. Then Morrison couldn’t get off a block on a screen pass and the Bengals were able to pick up 23 yards and a first down on a drive that ended in a touchdown. The possessions later, the Bengals drove to the 20 yard line. At which point, Morrison missed a tackle on a 9 yard run and was blocked on a 6 yard run to set up first and goal. The Bengals would score two plays later to go up 14-0. A classic example of the Raiders winning despite a poor performance from a key player. In the week 12 dismantling at the hands of the Cowboys, Kirk gave up the three longest plays of the day which were a 46 yard run, 44 yard catch, and 32 yard run. Two of those plays went for touchdowns. He would end the season on the Buster list after giving up a 27 yard run, a crucial 18 yard catch, and a 77 yard run for a touchdown.
For those of you keeping score; that is 385 yards in big plays and 6 touchdowns. And that doesn’t even include the week 7 debacle that saw the Jets run for over 300 yards. No doubt Morrison gets his share of the blame for that crapfest. He either needs some serious help in the form of a strong side linebacker or he needs to switch to outside linebacker himself. Because these lapses that allow these huge plays cannot continue.
The Cable guy was a Buster 5 times this season and two times he topped the list. I just have a few questions for Tom regarding this season that have yet to be answered.
Why was Darrius Heyward-Bey starting?
Ok, like I said, I understand that it was the long clammy arm of Al Davis that controlled the starting of DHB. But Cable at least controls how much playing time he gets. In week 10, not only did Darrius Heyward-Bey start, but of 63 snaps, he played in 54 of them. That was more than any other receiver on the team by far– including Chaz Schilens.
Why was Javon Walker never active?
Walker was the talk of training camp with his recovery from his secret surgery and the show he was putting on for the media in practice. Walker claims he was ready to go week one and yet instead of Cable putting him in the lineup, the Raiders had to suffer through two rookies running the wrong routes and dropping passes.
Why is the offense so predictable?
In the week 4 loss at the hands of the Texans on several instances, the Texan linebackers were seen calling out the Raiders’ plays. They knew exactly what was coming on seemingly every play. I understand that there were only so many plays that could be called with a quarterback who can’t seem to hit the water from a boat but did it have to be so obvious?
Why not stick with what works?
Twice during the season, Cable had a hot hand. And both times, he folded. In week 12 Fargas had 49 yards in the first quarter alone and Cable called his number just 6 times the rest of the game. In week 16 against the Browns, Bush had 50 yards on 9 carries by halftime. This after Bush had 133 yards the previous week in a win over Denver. Cable would give the ball to Bush just ONCE in the second half. Meanwhile Charlie Frye threw the ball 45 times. Four drives in the first half ended on pass plays; one was an interception. Then in the second half, three straight drives after that would end on pass plays (intentional grounding, tip pass at line, and interception), and the Raiders would drive to the Browns’ 2 yard line. With first and goal at the 2, Cable called FOUR STRAIGHT PASS PLAYS. Every single pass fell incomplete. The final Raiders drive of the game was also ALL pass plays and it ended with the final Frye interception.
Where is the discipline?
There was little discipline all season long but it really reared it’s ugly head just before halftime in that loss to the Browns. The Raiders imploded in mind boggling fashion. The Browns would get the ball with just 1:46 on the clock. Then after several first downs aided by two Raider unnecessary roughness penalites, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty ended with a 17 yard touchdown strike with :18 left on the clock. Epic collapse.
The news continues to swirl regarding Cable possibly getting the axe in the coming days. My feeling on it is I would like for him to stay because it would mean less of a chance that Russell would start. But he must give up the offensive coordinator duties. There are plenty of worthy candidates out there that could do a much better job than he is doing. Outside of that, I think he could be a good coach in future.
Click here to view the Raiders’ 2009 Season Ballers (by now you probably could use a little bit of good news)