Raiders Midseason: Ballers & Busters


The early season Ballers and Busters have been tallied up and we have our midseason totals. Sure, technically it won’t be midseason for the Raiders until after the Broncos game, but it is the bye week so it is just the easiest time to do it.

The Raiders were a pretty sound team overall which made it that much more difficult to pick the players who would make each of the two lists. Bad teams have distinct standouts both good and bad. But teams that play well as a unit make it more difficult to pinpoint. One week one player will stand out, and the next week someone else steps up.

For instance, there were 31 different Ballers this season. That means that all the starters, a few backups, and coaches got into the act. The flipside is there were also 22 different Busters. So it goes both ways.

Now let’s check in with the Raider players at the (almost) halfway point of the season.

Ballers

Darren McFadden

He led all Raiders in Baller nods with four. He was also named top Baller three times. Before he went out with an ankle injury, he led the NFL in rushing. He suffered the injury early in the week seven loss to the Chiefs which has put him a bit behind in the race for the NFL rushing lead, but that doesn’t really matter much in the scheme of things. What matters is in every other game this season, he has been dominant, and he is a big reason the Raiders were able to win four games so far this season.

McFadden shot out the gates in week one to run for 150 yards. After just one game of the season, he led the league in rushing and he stayed in the lead for five weeks. In the Raiders’ home opener in week three, he tore through the Jets defense to rack up 171 yards including a 70 yard run. He also scored two touchdowns in the game. He was the first running back in the Rex Ryan era to go over 100 yards in the first half and just the fourth to go over 100 yards for an entire game. The following week, he suffered a groin strain and didn’t play nearly the entire second quarter. But he was able to gain 75 yards on the ground for 5.4 yards per carry and added 4 catches for 48 yards. In his last healthy outing he gained 91 yards on 20 carries to help the Raiders beat the Browns.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

I have to say I didn’t think the day would come when I would be putting Darrius Heyward-Bey on this list. Leading up to the season there was no indication he would break out, and even through three weeks of this season he looked as pedestrian as we have known him to be. But after week three he exploded. He was named a Baller in every game since week four. That is four Baller nods. In those four games he has gone from 5 catches for 49 yards to 25 catches for 434 yards. All the while he continues to be a great blocker as well. He broke out in week four when he had 115 yards receiving. The next week he caught seven passes for 99 yards and touchdown to help the Raiders beat the Texans. His last two games he has had 82 and 89 yards. He has averaged 96 yards a game the last four games which means that he is on pace for a 1300 yard season. It remains to be seen if he can continue his hot streak, but he is off to a great start.

Sebastian Janikowski

One could make the case that Janikowski is the Raiders’ MVP through the early part of this season. He was named a Baller twice but he has really been great throughout. Well, all except last week when he was injured and didn’t play. He tied an NFL record with a 63 yard field goal in week one which helped him earn Special Teams player of the month. Then in the week five win in Houston he tied another NFL record with three field goals of 50 yards or more in a single game. He had four field goals total and with his two extra points he scored most of the Raiders’ points that day. He has scored 52 points which makes him the Raiders’ leading scorer this season by a large margin. McFadden is second with 30 points scored. Janikowski has missed just one field goal all season and it was from 56 yards out.

Jared Veldheer

He has not given up a sack all season thus far. Not much more needs to be said about the Raiders’ second year left tackle. This didn’t come out of nowhere, either. He was outstanding for the latter half of last season as well. It could be premature to say this but it appears as if the Raiders have found their left tackle for the next decade.

Richard Seymour

He continues to be the leader of this Raider defensive front. They go as he goes. His best games were all Raider wins in weeks 1, 3, and 5. His one poor game was against his old Patriots teammates when he let his emotions get the best of him. But normally he plays sound, consistent football, as evidenced by his leading the team in sacks (5) which is also best in the NFL among defensive tackles.

Stefen Wisniewski, Samson Satele

These two have been road graders for the Raiders all season long. When Darren McFadden was running up the gut, he was usually running behind these guys. Wisniewski plays at left guard but when Satele has to leave the game, he slides over to center to cover his spot. It is a luxury few NFL teams have. Satele has been playing the best football of his career this season. He is also as tough as they come. Twice he has been injured this season and both times he didn’t miss a game. With Wiz kid, Satele and Veldheer, the Raiders have three young players to anchor the left side of the Raiders offensive line for a good long while.

Honorable Mention

Demarcus Van Dyke

This rookie is really coming into his own. He was named a Baller in last week’s game versus the Chiefs for the first time but has been improving all season. He took over as the starter in week five and has made the most of it. Opposing quarterbacks have tested him and he has stood tall giving up just 9 catches on 24 passes thrown at his receiver. That is good for a 38% completion percentage which is best on the team among those with at least 10 passes. Last week Matt Cassel tested him all day with little success. If he can put on some weight, and improve his tackling, he could be a real find for the Raiders.

Busters

Rolando McClain

The man dubbed “Death Ro” by Raider fans showed up for the second week of the season like death warmed over. The Bills put a hurting on the Raiders defense in that game and McClain did little to stop them. The Raiders went up in that game by a large margin but the Bills were able to come back to win after scoring on five straight drives to finish out the game. One of those drives featured a big 47 yard touchdown run in which McClain was trailing but then simply gave up and started jogging. That dogging it is unacceptable from the guy who is supposed to be the leader of this defense. Later McClain was blocked on a 29 yard run and had an illegal contact penalty that negated a sack. Next drive he had a missed tackle on a 25 yard run. Next drive, which was the final drive of the game, he missed a tackle on a nine yard run and gave up three catches including the game winning touchdown.

The next week he was the ONLY Buster for the Raiders, due in large part to yet another instance of him jogging after trailing on a run. This time it resulted in a 74 yard run after catch to the one yard line and the Jets would score two plays later. On the Jets last drive, he gave up a huge 32 yard catch to put the Jets at first and goal at the nine yard line.

Hue Jackson

Hue’s game management has been horrendous thus far. The first criticism came down in the week five loss to the Patriots. The coach who touts “living on the edge” opted to punt with the Raiders in 4th and 2 at the Patriots 40 yard line. He had two options that were preferable to punting: using his strong legged kicker to try a 57 yard field goal or try to pick up the two yards for the first down. He opted to let the clock run down and a delay of game penalty to give Lechler more room to punt.

Two weeks later he was at it again with the head scratching calls. The first faulty play call was an end around to Denarius Moore that the entire Browns defense saw coming and Denarius was dropped for a three yard loss. Later Hue called for a reverse to David Ausberry–the tight end. Ausberry may be fast but he is only fast for a tight end. He isn’t reverse kind of fast. Then came Hue’s most questionable call of the day. With the Raiders in fourth and one at the five yard line, he opted to go for it instead of kick the field goal to put the team up by three scores and all but seal the victory. They missed the first down, and the Browns drove 96 yards for a touchdown, had a successful onside kick, drove the ball into scoring position, and nearly tied the game. One would hope he learned from that. He is lucky he learned it the easy way.

Last week, after Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone, he traded for Carson Palmer and ignited an instant quarterback controversy. He could have kept the press and the Chiefs wondering while secretly giving Kyle Boller all the snaps. But instead he gave them all shared snaps. As if it wasn’t bad enough that even after training camp and the season thus far Boller was never properly prepared, now he has to share snaps during a time in which he needs to prepare to lead this team. Hue was so caught up in all the attention he was getting all week he forgot he needed to prepare his team to play. Then came the game.

Boller was atrocious as you would expect for a completely ill-prepared quarterback in a complicated offense. Much of that had to do with how Jackson handled the play calling while he was in the game. For instance, on the first series, with the Raiders in third and one, he just decided to throw in Terrelle Pryor to execute a quarterback sneak. But he was leaning before the snap of the ball and was called for an illegal shift. With the now third and long, Hue called for Boller to go to the air and he threw the interception returned for a touchdown. And that was only the first series.

The rest of the first half Hue called for Boller to throw a long ball that was intercepted as well as two botched fleaflicker attempts. He also called for a wildcat formation on third and goal at the one yard line with Michael Bush in the backfield. The Chiefs were caught off guard and called a timeout. But instead of changing the play call, he went right back to the same exact thing and the Chiefs stuffed Bush at the line to hold the Raiders out of the endzone.

With Boller’s poor play putting the Raiders in a 21-0 deficit, Hue opted to try out his new toy–Carson Palmer. But he couldn’t just tell Palmer before halftime. He gave Boller one more series in the second half. Palmer was in a ball cap on the sideline not warming up and with no idea he would be entering the game. With no notice, he was given a helmet and put in the game. The result was three interceptions including one returned for a touchdown. The final result was a 28-0 shutout loss.

Chris Johnson

He only started two games this season, but in those two games he gave up 14 catches on 17 passes to his receiver. That is an 82% completion rate which is by far the worst on the team. He also was giving up 13 yards per catch which is worst among Raider cornerbacks. In just those two games starting he gave up more yards (182) than any other active Raider defensive back. This despite being fifth in targets. Routt (42), Branch (30), Van Dyke (24), and Huff (22) all have more targets. In just the second game of the season, he gave up 7 catches for 86 yards to Bills receivers. He also had 3 penalties for 35 yards. In between catches given up and penalties, Johnson surrendered 9 first downs, including the 9 yard catch on fourth and 3 that would have given the Raiders the win. Late in that game he went out with an injury after week two that forced the two rookie corners into starting. He has yet to return and is taking up a much needed roster spot. With the play of Demarcus Van Dyke, he may not get his job back even when he does return.

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Midseason Ballers & Busters

Oct 10, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Matthews (24) is tackled by Oakland Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (77) and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (96) at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 35-27. Photo via Newscom

The Raiders are just a shade over halfway through the 2010 season and it is the bye week so it is time for the Raiders midseason Ballers & Busters.

The Raiders started out slow with a 1-3 record in their first four games. But they sprung to life against the Chargers in week 5 and have gone 4-1 in the last five games including winning the last three straight games. And in a world of “What have you done for me lately” the Raiders have done much to change their outlook as well as who may or may not appear as a Baller or a Buster at this point in the season.

There is still a lot of season to be played and some touch matchups ahead for these Raiders. But they are ahead of the curve with their 3-0 record in the AFC West and in sole possession of first place in the division. Now they control their own destiny which is a statement that has not been made about the Raiders for 8 years.

These are the guys that put the Raiders in their favorable position and those that need to step it up to the level of their teammates.

Ballers

Richard Seymour

This team is led by their defense and Seymour is the leader of that defense. He was a Baller 6 times already this season and named Top Baller twice. He leads all Raider defensive lineman in tackles (27) and is third on the team, just below the two starting safeties. The leading tacklers an any team are almost always the linebackers and safeties so that is saying a lot. It also speaks volumes considering that teams have been intentionally staying away from running the ball through his area. And the few times they do, he is usually right there to greet them. At which point he either gets the tackle or forces the runner to switch directions where he is usually tackled for minimal gain. He also has 4.5 sacks but it sure seems like he has had more than that doesn’t it?

Seymour’s best game came in that big win over the Chargers. Just as Seymour had in his first game as a Raider to begin the 09 season, he terrorized the Chargers. In that game he had a sack, fumble recovery, a tipped ball at the line, a couple QB pressures and several key run stuffs. Ryan Mathews was going nowhere and Philip Rivers was running for his life. Right now Seymour is in line for his first Pro Bowl bid since the 2006 season.

Darren McFadden

McFadden is an entirely different player this season than he had been in his first two seasons in the NFL. And it has little to do with being healthy. It has everything to do with his new running style. He breaks tackles with vicious stiff arms and finishes off his runs like he is sending a message. Where he used to try and outrun defenders, he now goes through them. He does not shy away from contact, he seeks it out. But when given the opening, he will still run by his prospective tacklers. This new style has had him over 100 yards rushing 4 times this season after having broken 100 yards just once in the two previous seasons. And his play has had him as a Baller 6 times and Top Baller twice.

He is best in the NFL in yards per game (108), 2nd in yards per carry (5.4), and 7th in rushing yards (757) despite having missed two games with injury. He is on pace to break a 1000 yards by week 11. His best game by far came against the demolition in Denver when he racked up 165 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on just 16 carries. He averaged over 10 yards per carry a touchdown every four carries. And he did it in his first game back from a injury. He shows no signs of slowing down and that would make him a surefire Pro Bowler and a favorite for the comeback player of the year. Well deserved.

Zach Miller

He went down with an injury in the week eight win over the Seahawks. But even with his one catch for 8 yards in that game, he is third in the NFL in receiving yards per game among tight ends. Only Antonio Gates and Jermichael Finley have more. And Finley has 160 fewer receiving yards than Zach does. He is also 4th in the league in yards per catch among tight ends with at least 30 catches. His 4 touchdowns tie him for 5th in the NFL among tight ends as well. He has long been the key to this Raiders offense working and now he is finally getting recognized by the rest of the NFL because with the overall improvement of the team, his stats have gone up as well. He is no longer the one bright spot on a terrible team but rather one of the brightest spots on a really good team.

He was a Baller 6 times this season so far, and Top Baller once. That Top Baller spot was earned in the week 4 loss to the Texans when he had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders lost the game but it was a close game. And the only reason it was close was because of the havoc Zach was wreaking on the Texan defense. The Texan game was amazing but it was not an anamoly either. He is the picture of consistency. He scored a touchdown in four of the seven games he played before his injury. He went over 40 yards receiving in each and every one and went over 60 yards in four of them. The only tight end in the NFL better than Zach this season is Antonio Gates. Which means that, barring the Raiders in the Super Bowl, there is no reason we shouldn’t see him in the Pro Bowl in January.

Matt Shaughnessy

Shaughnessy has been brilliant this season in just his second year after being taken in the 3rd round of the 09 draft. He has been a Baller 4 times and Top Baller twice. Possibly the most amazing thing about his performances is that he hasn’t been the starter all season. Trevor Scott is the starter and yet Shaughnessy is the one who makes the plays while Scott has not been named a Baller once this season. Shaughnessy was drafted for his run stuffing abilities but he has shown so much more. He is a nightmare for blockers to contain. His hands never stop fighting and he dips and moves with such furocious veracity that a blocker can’t get their hands on him. He can’t be pushed out of his gap and he can rarely be stopped from penetrating. The result is a team-leading 5 sacks and consistent tackles for loss.

His best game this season was the week 6 loss to the 49ers. It is no coincidence that he was given the start in the game because the injury to Quentin Groves had Trevor Scott starting back at weakside linebacker. Shaughnessy had 4 solo tackles and a sack in that game. All of his tackles were run stuffs at or near the line and he was in the backfield pressuring Alex Smith several times as well. The Raiders had a chance to win this game several times and Shaughnessy gave them that chance. That’s all he can do.

Kamerion Wimbley

With the high sack numbers being spread around on this team, Wimbley being tied for third with 4.5 sacks is an accomplishment in itself. I said when the Raiders acquired him that he was a tremendous pick up. And after they were done with their offseason acquisitions, it was clear to me that he was the most important addition. He is the strongside linebacker this team has been desperately lacking for many years. His presence on this defense is a big reason why the run defense has gone from consistently one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best. His versatility in playing in coverage, stopping the run, and rushing the passer is invaluable to this team. Those skills have brought performances that have earned him Baller status 4 times this season and one as Top Baller.

It is a toss up as to which was his best game this season. He held a share of the Top Baller spot with the defensive line in the Seahawks win because he had 1.5 sacks in the game. In the 49er game he was tremendous as well and was beat out only by Matt Shaughnessy for defensive Baller. He also contributed greatly in the big win over the Chargers as he had 5 solo tackles and 3 assists.

Nnamdi Asomugha

He is so often the forgotten man on the field for the Raiders. The quarterback just says “forget about throwing to that receiver” and the rest of us hardly see him because of it. He was a Baller three times this season and to be honest, he probably could have been on the list a couple other times. We all just get so spoiled by his lock-down abilities that if he gives up a catch, we think he had a bad game. Honestly though, with him now doing more shadowing of the other team’s best receiver, he will give up a few catches. It is inevitable. The flip side of that is, we will see Nnamdi have an interception or three before this season is over.

When he went down injured two weeks ago, the Raiders found themselves in a bit of a bind to fill his shoes vs the then AFC West leading Chiefs. Those are some big shoes to fill afteral. He will be back healthy after the bye to face the Steelers and that is a huge relief for the Raider coaching staff and his defensive teammates. I also suspect he will be Top Baller before the end of the season. Likely it will be after he picks off a pass and returns it for a touchdown. Then he will be named All-Pro once again as per usual.

John Marshall

The Raiders have one of the best defenses in all of football and Marshall is the man pulling the strings. After a slow start and a defense that appeared a bit timid at times, he was finally given the go-ahead against the Chargers and it has been ball to the wall ever since. His blitz packages keep offensive coordinators and quarterbacks on some long hours. And even after all the planning, they still can’t be stopped. The pressure he dials up from all directions are the main reason there are two players tied with 5 sacks, two tied with 4.5 sacks and both starting safeties have a couple sacks a piece. With the continued success of the stunts he draws up, we can look forward to more of the same throughout the rest of the season.

Honorable Mention

Marcel Reece

He has drawn praise from analysts across the league for being that one guy of whom the defense has matchup problems. He is the entire package. He is a solid blocker, has tremendous hands, and speed to burn. Not exactly something teams are expecting or prepared for when facing a fullback.

Rock Cartwright

He is the unquestioned MVP of the Raider kick coverage and return teams. He is like a heat seeking missile on the ball carrier in coverage and punishing blocker in the return game. He is also a reserve kick and punt returner, backup running back, and backup fullback. So yeah, he is pretty valuable.

Stanford Routt

He can be a bit feast or famine at times but overall he has improved his technique this season tremendously. He earned the starting job over Chris Johnson this season and the coaches feel confident enough in him to take over for Asomugha when he has had to leave the game.

Jared Veldheer

This is a classic case of upswing and potential. He has made several mistakes this season, that is documented as he was a Buster four times for his mistakes. He was even a Buster for the last game vs the Chiefs. But he is a rookie who has been switched back and forth from center to left tackle and despite it all has beaten out Mario Henderson for the starting left tackle job. He looks to be improving overall in each game and probably would have been a Baller more than the one time if he had been developed at left tackle all along.

Busters

Jason Campbell

How odd I find it that the top midseason Buster is the starting quarterback over the stretch of three straight wins. But here we are anyway. The thing is, if you watched those games, you will see that the Raiders won nearly every game Campbell started more despite him than because of him. The game just before the three game winning streak was the terrible loss to the previously winless 49ers. A game in which Campbell was truly horrible. The worst game of his career and the worst numbers by a Raider QB in the last 20 years. So yeah, worse than JaMarcus Russell ever was, even on his worst day.

The big win over the Chiefs saw him play put up 14 yards passing in the first half. It was the heroics of Jacoby Ford and his miraculous catches off of bad Campbell passes that got the Raider back in this game. The only reason Campbell wasn’t a Buster for that game was that he pulled out a few nice throws at the end of the game to allow the Raiders to take it to overtime. Then he threw a nice pass to Ford to seal it in overtime. But even that pass was long and it took every shred of Ford’s sub 4.3 speed to catch up to it and make a fingertip grab.

Cable says he is going with Campbell for the Steelers game to stick with the hot hand but I think that is a mistake. The Raiders are going to Pittsburgh and the last Raider quarterback to win there is Bruce Gradkowski just last season. That is the hot hand as far as I can tell. It will take a lot of defense and a little luck for the Raiders to pull out that win over the Steelers. Hopefully the game won’t rest on the arm of Campbell.

Mario Henderson

He started the season as the starting left tackle just as he had the last two seasons. But he played so poorly that Tom Cable felt the need to cycle in Jared Veldheer. Once he felt like Veldheer had enough snaps to take over, Henderson was sent to the bench. But in the short time that the player formerly known as Super Mario was either starting or cycling in and out, he was named a Buster 4 times. I have no doubt that Henderson can still play. He played right tackle in college so perhaps a move to the right side would be the longterm answer. It is entirely possible that in a couple of years we could be talking about the tackle combo of Veldheer and Henderson on each side of the Raider offensive line. And both are young enough to make that combo last for a long time. For now, however, Henderson will ride the bench.

Tyvon Branch

He was a Buster for the first three games of the season and then again in the week 6 crap fest in San Francisco. He seems to have cleaned up his act in during the three game winning streak. Although that could be attribute more to the pressure the Raiders defensive line has been bringing in those games which make his job a lot easier. He was even a Baller for the first time in week 8. He was used as the X-factor in that game and it had Matt Hasselbeck greatly confused all day. Hopefully we will see more of that the rest of the season so Branch can return to the form he showed last season. But so far, we have not really seen much of it. We will have to check back at the end of the season.

For the complete list of B&B, see the Ballers & Busters Index

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders’ Midseason: Ballers & Busters

NFL: Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers

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The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for this team. Right in the middle of the season where the players and coaches can look back at the first half and try to fix the problems and improve upon the things that worked.

I know what you’re thinking, “there were things that worked?” Actually yes there were quite a few things that worked. The problem was that the efforts by the many were overshadowed by the mistakes of the few. Or the other way around; whichever you choose. But either way, the mistakes were much more prevailant than the glimmer of hope amongst them.

Despite the 2-6 record and the ridiculous amount of points given up compared to points scored, finding those players and coaches that shined is still a worth while endeavor. And finding those that are most at fault is definitely worth it. This team’s horrid play on the field is no accident or fluke. If you watched the games, it is often very plain to see why this team loses. When the other teams are not pounding on them, they are shooting themselves in the foot. And blame can most definitely be handed down. Keep in mind though, that often the fault lies in a number of places. But rest assured, they will all be here.

 

And on that dreary note, let’s get to the bright spots shall we?

Ballers

Shane Lechler

Yes, it is sad that the number one Baller is the punter. But on the bright side, he is arguably the best punter of all time. So it only stands to reason that he is here. He has a Baller 4 times so far this season– 2 times he topped the list. He routinely and effortlessly launches the ball and pins opponents deep in their own territory. In week two he had punts of 66, 70, 53, and 59 yards and it was extremely vital to the Raiders pulling out the win against the Chiefs. In week five he punted 7 times with three downed inside the 20 yard line. He had 3 punts of 59 yards, one for 54 that was muffed to set up a Raider TD, and one for 46 that pinned the Giants inside their own 10 yard line. The next week he had 7 punts again. He had punts of 58, 59, 45, 58, and 53. The other two were both downed with no return. This time it was in a winning effort against the Eagles. In week seven he averaged 52 yards a punt on five punts. Two of those punts went for 61 yards and two were downed inside the Jets 10 yard line. The Jets only attempted one return all day and it went for just 4 yards. The Raiders hope to see less of him over the second half of the season but they are quite confident that when he does trot onto the field, he will put the opposition in a tight spot.

Zach Miller

Zach was a Baller 4 times during the first half of the season. In week one he outshined Antonio Gates when he had 6 six catches for 96 yards. On top of that he was a blocking machine, opening up holes for Raider runners all day. He proved right from the start that when the Raiders want to score, they go through him. Every single Raider scoring drive, Zach either had a pivotal catch or block. After week one, opposing teams were keying on him which may have taken him out of the equation much of the time but it freed up other receivers and backs to get the ball. By week five against the Giants, he was a Baller once again. In an otherwise horrible showing for the Raiders, he was a bright spot with 4 catches for 69 yards. The next week, he had his biggest game of the season in the Raiders’ win over the Eagles. He caught 6 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown on the day. And that touchdown made the rounds of highlight reels. It was just a simple short pass but Miller caught it and rumbled 86 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest pass play for the Raiders since 1983. Add the 5 catches for 52 yards that he had in week eight and he has recorded 28 catches for 421 yards thus far. That’s good for sixth in the AFC. His yards per catch (15.0) is the highest in the entire NFL among players with at least 20 catches. The way the Raiders offense has struggled makes his numbers all the more impressive.

Sebastian Janikowski

A Baller four times as well, Seabass has been Mr Automatic this season. Every kick is an upright splitting blast that looks as effortless from 50 yards as it does from 25. He is a perfect 12 for 12 in field goals and perfect on extra points as well. He is fifth in field goals in the AFC but every other kicker ahead of him has missed at least two while his field goals have all been no-doubters, every one. Of kickers with at least 11 field goals, he is the only one to be 100% and he has the second longest field goal in the entire NFL (54 yards). On kickoffs, he is almost as impressive. He is third in the NFL is touchback percentage (30.8). Unfortunately, he is often the Raiders only points but it is nice to know that when the Raiders get inside the opponents’ 40 yard line, he can be counted on to put some much needed points on the board.

Richard Seymour

He was the missing piece that this defense needed. The preseason saw just about every team the Raiders faced running all over them. And the main problem was the defensive end position. Nearly every big run was coming from around the edges. Greg Ellis was a nice addition but without a solid end on the other side, teams could double Ellis and still run through the Raiders easily. And as if his run stopping abilities weren’t enough, he can damn sure rush the passer. He was picked up from the Patriots in a trade just days before the Monday Night opener against the Chargers. He was inserted into the starting lineup after being in Oakland for ONE DAY and he utterly dominated. In his press conference he said he would play on Monday and that the fans would notice him because he “will be the one on top of the quarterback”. Then he went out and backed up those words more than anyone expected. He had two sacks and several run stuff in the game to utterly confuse the Chargers. In the week six win over the Eagles, he had 4 tackles (2 were for a loss), 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. He would have had three sacks but McNabb threw the ball to the turf as Seymour was pulling him down. The Raiders beat down the Eagles on defense and much of the credit goes to Seymour. He was a Baller twice in the first half of the season but both times, he topped the list. Even in those game he didn’t make the list, he was a strong defensive force. He is tied for the team lead in sacks with 4 so far this season.

Tyvon Branch

Tyvon was a Baller 4 times in the first half of the season. He has made the Raiders and their fans forget about Gibril Wilson altogether. Branch appears to be all the strong safety he was an more. He also wants to be a Raiders and come a heck of a lot cheaper than Gibril Wilson did. He led the team in a tackles three times this season. Many of those tackles came in the run game. In week three he had 6 run stuffs and 2 of those were tackles for loss. In week five, while the defense overall was being torched by the Giants offense, Branch played pretty well. He was second on the team in tackles with 7 solo tackles and 3 assists. Of those tackles, three were run stuffs for little or no gain. In week seven, he again led the Raiders in tackles with 7 solo tackles and 1 assist. He also had a forced fumble. In week eight while he had 4 solo tackles and 2 assists, he was a force on special teams as well with two return tackles, one as the gunner. He has been great in coverage all season while playing tightends extremely well and given up very few catches. He is second in the entire NFL in solo tackles among defensive backs. And just so you know, Gibril Wilson is tenth.

Justin Fargas

It took an injury to Darren McFadden for Fargas to get the ball with any regularity. McFadden went down in week five and as of week six, Fargas was a Baller. And he stayed one for the last three consecutive weeks. He was a key contributor in the Raiders win over the Eagles. In that game he had two runs of 14 yards and one for 20 yards. One of this 14 yard runs ended with him laying the wood to Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, knocking Mikell out of the game. Previous to his 20 yard run, the longest run by a Raider back was 15 yards which McFadden did just once in five games as the starter. In week seven he had his second straight really nice game. He had two especially nice runs on the day. One for 35 yards and the other for 17 yards. In week eight, he was not the starter although he was the Raiders leading rusher. He also had one of the few touchdowns the Raiders have scored this season. He has 263 yards rushing in just three games of extensive action. Compared to just 146 yards for McFadden despite starting the first five games. Fargas is far superior to McFadden in this system and to say he has better balance is to point out the obvious. Not to mention Fargas can hold onto the football.

Nnamdi Asomugha

He began the season with a chipped bone in his wrist that was causing him considerable pain. And despite that, he was still a Baller twice in the first three weeks. In the week two win over the Chiefs, he had arguably the biggest play of the game when he came up to tackle the KC receiver for a short gain IN-BOUNDS to keep the clock moving and send the Chiefs into half time without scoring. He was replaced by John Bowie late in the game and taken into the lockeroom to receive pain medication. But when the Raiders needed him the most, in the Chiefs last gasp final drive, Nnamdi went back in to shut down his half the field. He also didn’t give up a single catch to his assignment as per usual. In week three as usual they weren’t throwing to his side of the field so Asomugha was forced to make his stat line contributions in other areas. On consecutive drives Nnamdi stopped a Broncos’ rusher on third down to force a field goal, had two open field tackle on a sweeps for little or no gain. In the Jets game in week seven he was at it again. He had a tackle on a short catch to the Jets running back in the first quarter and had two other run stuff tackles. He even had a QB pressure in which he pulled defensive end style swim move on the blocker which caused Sanchez to try to scramble where he was tackled for a very short gain. Not only is he the best true shutdown corner in the league, but he has the run stuffing skills of a strong safety or a linebacker.

Cooper Carlisle

Carlisle has really come into his own this season. He has been the most solid run blocking lineman on this Raider team. He was named as a Baller three times this season and probably could have been one a couple more times. On a weak and beat up offensive line, he is a breath of fresh air. He consistently opens huge holes for the running backs and protects the pocket nicely as well.

Mario Henderson

So while the guards are integral to the run game, Henderson holds down the pass protection for JaMarcus Russell’s blind side (sometimes I wonder if both of sides are Russell’s blindside actually). Last week he gave up his first sack in a season and a half. That kind of security is really nice to have. He also seems to have developed quite a swagger out there. He also plays virtually mistake free football.

Michael Huff

Huff started the season making the Baller list in the first three games. Three interceptions will tend to do that for a guy. And while he seems to have come back down to earth a bit since then, he has still played quite well. And hey, three interceptions in the first two games of the season is still a nice accomplishment. In week two I was calling for a search party to find the real Michael Huff. In the third game, while he didn’t have any interceptions, he had quite a few really solid tackles. For those of you who have watched his lackluster tackling in the past, you know how much of an positive that is for him. He seems to be finally showing some of that potential that got him drafted #7 overall in 2006. Better late than never.

Busters

JaMarcus Russell

It probably seems odd to that a 2-6 team has so many Ballers on it. But when you watch JaMarcus Russell play, it removes the mystery behind it. His terrible play is the main thing standing in the way of this team’s success. He was a Buster seven times in the first eight games and three of those times, he topped the list.

In the first game of the season he was 12 of 30 for 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions for a 35% completion rate and an average of 11.5 yards a throw with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. You can’t blame it on the drops either. There was only two on target balls dropped in this game. When he went down with injury, Gradkowski came in and the boost in efficiency was immediately noticeable. But three plays after he went out, he was in Cable’s ear begging to be let back in the game. He cost the Raiders another 9 yards on a sack that he couldn’t escape because of his bad wheel. The very next play, he locked onto Jonnie Lee Higgins on a pass which gave Eric Weddle a chance to get a bead on him and hit him so hard he likely received a mild concussion. Getting his receivers killed can be added to the list. The crowd at the coliseum booed when Russell came back in the game after his injury. And for good reason.

In week three it was more of the same. He had two interceptions on the day, both resulting in Bronco scores. Of his 12 completed passes on the day, only 2 were not either a check-down or a screen for a total of 61 yards.

In week five he had a whopping three fumbles and he completed just 8 passes through the entire game for 100 yards. 6 of those 8 passes were completed after the Gaints were up 28 to nothing and the game was already out of hand. The two passes he completed before that went for a TOTAL of SEVEN yards. He also didn’t have any on-target drops in this game so Cable couldn’t make excuses for him in that regard.

In week seven he fumbled on the first play of the game and the Jets get the ball on the Raiders 4 yard line and score. Later he throws a gift wrapped interception that the Jets return to the Raider 4 yard line and score. Later he throws a ball to a well covered Todd Watkins and it is intercepted in the end zone. After a lofted ball to the middle of the field that was luckily not intercepted he is removed from the game. Afterward he had this to say “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.” And there lies the biggest problem of all.

In week eight he threw an interception on his first pass. He had a shade over 60% passing (63.6%) despite throwing only two passes to wide receivers (neither of which were over 10 yards). With an even serviceable quarterback on this team, they could be pretty good. As it stands the Raiders have a guy who is ranked 30 in yards per catch, 29 in completions, 26 is passing yards, and is dead last in the NFL in completion percentage, TD passes and quarterback rating. Ugh.

Al Davis

Big was only listed as a Buster once, but each Buster is laced with his destructive influence. This team is assembled by Al Davis and this game plan has his meddling fingers all up in it. I pointed out that Al Davis needs to have a few of his untouchable toys tacken away from him for this team to win. That becomes more and more painfully obvious every week. JaMarcus Russell is the biggest (pun intended) problem on this team. He is starting because Al Davis insists he does. Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped more balls in each game than he has caught all season long and yet he continues to get the start. This team lacks discipline and it has spread like a cancer. It only takes one bad apple (JaMarcus) to spoil the bunch and that is exactly what is happening. Until every player is forced to be equally accountable for their actions, this team will be defeated before it even steps on the field.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Ah yes, the infamous DHB. With all of his speed and potential…and dropped balls. He has caught a grand total of 5 passes all season for 74 yards. That is a decent game for most NFL receivers. And DHB has been the starter for eight games. Both he and Tom Cable keep claiming that he is doing his job. That he is occupying defenders and clearing out the middle. Is that what a team drafts a player #7 overall to do? Last I checked, teams draft a receiver that high and pay them all of that money was for him to catch the football. Correct me if I am wrong. And if he is not getting open, is that because the other team double and triple teams him or is it because he is not running crisp routes and not breaking away from defenders? Sure sometimes he might break away and Russell doesn’t see him. But every time? His biggest reception of the year was one in which he was sitting in the middle of the field wide open. In week three he had two passes thrown to him, both were intercepted. After the game Russell said something to the affect that his receivers were not running the correct routes. Pretty sure he was speaking of Heyward-Bey specifically. In week four he had 1 catch and 2 drops. In week six he had no catches, one drop and an end around that went for a loss of one yard. In week seven DHB had two catches but he completely and totally dropped the best chance the Raiders had of scoring on Sunday. It was a perfect soft ball placed right in his hands and then through them to the ground. In week eight he had just one bobbling catch for 10 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey is by far the worst receiver in the first round thus far despite being the first guy chosen. And he will likely start the rest of the season because he is paid like a starter. Nevermind that he plays like he should be unemployed.

Cornell Green, Eric Pears, Khalif Barnes

This is the three-headed monster that has shared the duties at right tackle for the Raiders this season. None of them has been able to effectively keep the opposing pass rushers out of the backfield. They also can’t seem to stop getting penalties called on them. Nine times during the first half of the season, at least one of these three has been a Buster. Twice there were two of them because Eric Pears also made for a terrible left guard before moving over to right tackle with the injury to Cornell Green. Three of the first four weeks, Green was a Buster. In week four they shared the dishonor. Then in weeks five and six, Pears replaced Green at right tackle and replaced him as a Buster. Khalif Barnes took over at right tackle in week seven and closed out both week seven and eight as a Buster. Green had 4 false starts, 2 holding penalties, a sack given up and a QB pressure. Pears had two false starts, a holding penalty, 4 sacks(3 of which Russell fumbled), 2 run stuffs, and a tackle for loss that resulted in a safety. Barnes had three false starts, 2 run stuffs given up, and 3 sacks. One sack he performed the triple threat of sack, tripping penalty and fumble that put the other team in instant scoring position. That total from the right tacke position is 8 false starts, 3 holding/tripping penalties, 8 sacks given up, 4 fumbles given up, 5 run stuffs given up, and a safety. Calgon take me away.

Kirk Morrison

We would be here all day if I were to break down the exact plays that went through him and why he didn’t make the play, so I will try and keep it simple. He was a Buster five times during the first eight games. In week 3 he gave up two touchdowns; one receiving and the other rushing. In week 5 he gave up an 8 yard catch, a 17 yard run, a 19 yard touchdwon run a 55 yard run, a 19 yard run and a 13 yard catch. In week six he gave up a 32 yard screen play, a 43 yard screen play, a 14 yard first down catch, and a 25 yard run. In week seven he was part of the sad defensive effort that gave up over 300 yards rushing to the Jets. In week eight he gave up the first touchdown to LT, an 11 yard first down run, a 5 yard catch, a 30 yard catch, a 9 yard run, and an 11 yard run to set up first and goal. That is a lot of offense and scoring to go through one guy. It appears that he would be best suited moving to outside linebacker. But for now, the Raiders have no other options in the middle.

Tom Cable

He was a Buster three times this season for his poor decisions in games and the lack of motivation on this team. While many will say he is just a puppet, he allows himself to be one and that is little excuse for this team’s collapses. If it wasn’t for blame displacement, he would be higher on the list. As it stands, he only topped the list once this season because I must take into consideration who he answers to. He continues to have Javon Walker inactive for games dispite Chaz Shilens being injured, Jonnie Lee Higgins hurting, Darrius Heyward-Bey being nonexistent in the offense and Louis Murphy dropping far more passes than he catches. The Raider offense is vanilla and predictable. It has no gimmicks to tricks up it’s sleeve. Defenses know just what they are getting from the Raiders and since JaMarcus can’t execute the passing part of the offense, they just stop the simpleton running attack with it’s battered offensive line and that’s the end of it. This team looks incompetent and unmotivated. And aside from Cable’s lack of inspiration, he is having to deal with his beating up of an assistant, an ex-wife and a crazy ex-girlfriend (allegedly). Distracted much?

John Fassel

What the hell happened to the Raiders’ special teams? Last season under coach Schmidt, the Raiders had one of, if not THE, best special teams play in the NFL. They were lights out in coverage and even better on returns with 5 touchdowns. This year the special teams looks like a shell of it’s former self. Not only does the kicking team give up huge chunks of yardage on nearly every return but the return team hasn’t been able to gain any good field position on their returns. In week four the Raiders gave up an inexcusable 95 yard free kick touchdown. Then in week six Fassel had to call a time out at one point when he couldn’t get the correct personnel on the field in time. How difficult is that really? It is pretty much the same guys each time. Then in week seven the punt coverage team gave us a blooper reel worthy fake punt play in which the Jets punter was running right along with the return team? Ever heard of keep someone at home just in case the Jets do that? I have never seen anything like it. The dude was 20 yards down the field before ONE GUY (Ekejiuba) finally noticed that he was running with the ball and stopped him.You can’t put the lack of returns all on Higgins either. He looked superb last season with three return touchdowns. All the blockers are the same. The only difference here is Fassel. I don’t know for sure but I would bet that the Raiders return yards are dead last in the NFL. I need to look that up. Not like it makes much difference anyway. Bad is bad.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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