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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.