Raiders week 11 Ballers & Busters


The Raiders went into Minnesota and came out with a firm hold on their AFC West lead. But it didn’t come easy. What started out looking like a blowout in the making, finished as a sloppy, penalty laden affair. In the end the Raiders were able to hold on with a 27-21 win over the Vikings.

The story of how the Raiders played in this game was based almost solely on penalties. They had three key roughing penalties on the Vikings’ first drive that led to a touchdown and an early seven point deficit. In the second quarter they had almost no penalties and the result was three touchdowns.

In the fourth quarter the penalties were back and the Vikings took advantage with two more touchdowns to come within a score of taking the lead. The penalties were pretty evenly dispersed so it is difficult to point the finger at any one player.

But in a game like this it is actually pretty surprising how many fingers can be pointed at those who played well. In an ugly game such good performances can sometimes get lost in the debris. But nothing escapes B&B as I excavate the diamonds in the rough.

Ballers

Tyvon Branch

This was one of Branch’s best games in a while. It is all the more impressive that his day began by giving up a nine yard catch on third and eight and was called for a facemask penalty. After that catch, he was lights out the rest of the day.

Branch was a huge factor in the Raiders scoring two touchdowns to close out the first half. He started off the Vikings’ final drive of the half with a tackle on a short catch. A couple plays later he pressured Christian Ponder and forced a dump off that was stopped for a short gain. This set up a third and short and on the next play he shot in to tackle the runner for a loss. Then on the field goal attempt, Branch again flew into the backfield so quickly that the kicker stopped without even trying to kick it and Branch tackled him for a 12 yard loss. It gave the Raiders the ball near midfield as well and they drove it for a second touchdown. The Raiders would score again to head into halftime up 24-7.

In the third quarter, Branch had a pass defended and a few plays later he had another run stuffing tackle for no gain and the drive ended on the next play. He was only tested one time in the passing game the remainder of the game and it was the Vikings’ last play. He had tight coverage on the receiver and knocked down the pass to turn the ball over on downs and end the game.

Jared Veldheer

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Veldheer is possibly the best left tackle in the NFL. Coming into this game, he had given up just one sack all season long, while the man he would line up against was the NFL sack leader and had a sack in eleven straight games. Jared Allen was to be the toughest test yet for Veldheer. But little did anyone expect Veldheer would actually be Allen’s toughest test yet. His streak of eleven straight games with a sack ended on Sunday. Veldheer had faced some of the best coming into this game and the third round pick out of little Hillsdale College has now faced THE best and come out victorious. The Raiders may have missed on their can’t-miss number two overall pick left tackle, Robert Gallery, but they took a chance in the third round that Veldheer was something special and this time they were absolutely right.

Marcel Reece

The Raiders’ X-Factor, multipurpose, mismatch was at it again in this game. When he wasn’t blocking to open running lanes, he was taking the ball himself. He was the lead blocker on most of the big runs that Bush picked up on his way to 109 yards and a touchdown. Reece also ran for 45 yards of his own and caught two passes for 16 yards.

His biggest run of the day of 20 yards came in the first quarter and it set up Janikowski for a short field goal. The biggest run from scrimmage for the Raiders was by Bush in the second quarter in which Reece laid a nice block to spring him on a 28 year run. Three plays later, with the Raiders at that 15 yard line, Reece took an inside shovel pass 12 yards to put the Raiders in first and goal. Then he blocked for Bush to plow the final three yards for the touchdown.

Carson Palmer

He didn’t get in any record books in this game like he did last week. He didn’t approach 300 yards passing; in fact, he had a pedestrian 164 yards. Palmer was just steady and poised to lead the Raiders to a victory.  He also threw for a gorgeous touchdown and snuck in for a second. He executes plays to perfection. Something for which I used to appreciate Jason Campbell was the way he would sell fakes and play action. Palmer does that with equal proficiency. Hue Jackson isn’t just like a kid in a candy store out there, he looks like he is in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. While Campbell allowed Jackson and Saunders to draw up countless gadget plays, Palmer can take one of those play action fakes and turn it into a perfect strike 40 yards downfield with ease. Palmer also has a great deal of pocket presence. Several times he was throwing as he leaned back on his heels with a defender in his face and still threw a perfect ball. With him behind center, the Raiders always have a chance to win. And his teammates know it. That kind of confidence goes a long way.

Stefen Wisniewski

Wisniewski will probably not get a lot of love in the Rookie of the Year discussion, but he damn well deserves it. He plays left guard at a Pro Bowl level. Then when Samson Satele goes out injured, he steps in and plays center with proficiency as well. He would do both again in this game. My favorite thing to see is the way he gets downfield ahead of the running back on screens. His first nice play of the day was a screen block on third and eight that went 10 yards. On the following play, he cleared a hole to spring Bush for a nine yard run.

In the second quarter, with the Raiders at the three yard line, they knew just where to send Bush—through left guard. And Wiz kid cleared the way for the touchdown. The Raiders would get the ball back quickly off a turnover, and on two plays, the Raiders were back at the two yard line. The call was a QB sneak and it gained one yard. But Samson Satele went down on the play and came out of the game so Wisniewski slid over to center as he has done so many times before. With Wiz kid in at center they called for a quarterback sneak again for a one yard touchdown, with 10 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts. That is putting a lot of confidence in this rookie. Wisniewski is the final major piece to this newly dominant Raider offensive line. His play cannot be overstated.

Kamerion Wimbley

Wimbley was obviously still riding high after his four sack performance against the Chargers in week ten. While he made Philip Rivers’ life a living hell then, he was out to make Adrian Peterson’s life miserable this week.

Wimbley got started right away by stopping Peterson on the first two plays of the game–first on a tackle for a short two yard gain, then by holding containment to help stop him again for a short gain. The Vikings’ first possession was over on the next play with a three and out.

The next Vikings possession, he came after Peterson again to tackle him for a seven yard loss. The next Vikings’ possession, Peterson shot through the line and got 12 yards up field before he was tackled, suffering what was later diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. When he went down on the tackle, he did it with just one shoe. Wimbley had it. Peterson would no longer need it.

On their next drive, Wimbley had a tackle for a short gain and a few plays later got into the backfield on third down to slow up the runner, allowing for a tackle for loss. He had a couple other nice plays in the game as well.

Stanford Routt

He gave Ponder nowhere to throw in this game. The only two passes caught by his receiver he stuffed for minimal gain. In the fourth quarter, when the Vikings were forced to go to the air to try and score points, Routt was the eager beneficiary. With the Vikings at the Raiders’ six yard line, he nailed the receiver for one yard on a catch to force third and goal. Then Ponder rolled right and threw for the end zone where Routt intercepted it and tapped both feet inbounds for a touchback. He would also have a pass defended on the Vikings’ final drive to preserve the win.

Matt Giordano

He came into this game as the only Raider defender with more than one interception. He got his third this game. It was a big one too. Early in the second quarter the Vikings were in scoring position. Ponder threw for the goal line and Giordano shot over, plucked it out of the air, and returned it to the 47. The Raiders capitalized on the turnover and short field by driving for their first touchdown and a 10-7 lead. Giordano also ended the Vikings’ first possession when he tackled the receiver for a four yard gain on third and five.

Brandon Myers

You won’t often see Brandon Myers on this list as his playing time has not been excessive of late. But what matters is what he did with his playing time. His first play was a 21 yard leaping catch that had everyone watching saying, “I had no idea he could do that.” After all, he is not seen as a receiving tight end so much as he is a blocker. Then on the next play, he showed what he is known for when he blocked to spring Bush for a first down run. A bit later he had his biggest play of the day and the one that earned him a spot on this list. The Raiders had just scored a second touchdown to go up 17-7 with not much time remaining in the first half. On the following kickoff return, Myers nailed the return man to knock the ball out and the Raiders recovered at the Vikings’ 16 yard line. They covered the 16 yards in four plays to score their third touchdown and take a 24-7 lead into halftime.

Tommy Kelly

Kelly had quite a day. One might say it was well-rounded. Not all of that was a good thing but most of it was. He started by being out of his gap on a 10 yard scramble. A few plays later, he bulled through his blocker and took down Christian Ponder with one arm, but he was called for a roughing penalty. The refs cited it as a blow to the head but the replay showed otherwise. Since that is not reviewable, the sack became a gain of yards and an automatic first down. On the next drive he was blocked on a 12 yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson. In the second quarter he was out of position on a 16 yard scramble. In the third quarter he got pressure on the quarterback to flush him from the pocket, where he was sacked. A couple drives later, he was the proud recipient of a tipped pass that he intercepted and returned to the Vikings 24 yard line. It led to a 26 yard field goal. In the fourth quarter he hit the quarterback as he threw for an incompletion, and then on third down on the Vikings’ final possession, he sacked Ponder to put them in 4th and 8. The drive, and essentially the game, ended on the next play.

Lito Sheppard

One of the more surprising statistics in this game is Lito leading the Raiders in tackles (6-0). In his brief time with the team, Lito has shown himself to be one of the best tacklers among the Raider cornerbacks. He tackled Adrian Peterson on the second play of the game for a three yard gain and helped send them away with a three and out to start the game. We didn’t see anything from Lito for a while after that, which is a good thing for a corner. It means he isn’t giving up any catches. Next time we saw Lito, he was shooting in on a corner blitz and sacking Ponder as he tried to escape the pocket. He then ended the Vikings’ next drive when he had tight coverage on his receiver to tackle him short of the first down to force a punt. The very next offensive play by the Vikings, Lito defended the pass and tipped it up where Tommy Kelly came down with the interception. It gave the Raiders the ball in scoring position where they kicked a field goal to go up by six points. That was critical because then the Vikings would not be able to tie it up with a field goal. Only a touchdown would do.

Honorable Mention

Desmond Bryant

He got two sacks on the day which one would normally think would make him a Baller for sure. But when that’s pretty much your only contribution, it is not so automatic. He does well when he is looking to get pressure but his gap control needs a lot of work. He was victimized a few times for runs. He was also called for a blow to the head of the runner after he was down, though it was a very questionable call. But for the sacks, he at least deserves honorable mention.

Kevin Boss

He led the team in receptions with five catches for 37 yards. He also laid a few nice seal blocks on the edge. The best one freed up Marcel Reece to run for 20 yards and set up the Raiders’ first points on a field goal.

Betweener

Michael Bush

Many of you may have been running down this list wondering where Bush was. He had 109 yards and a touchdown so it seems like he should be a Baller for sure. He had one really big run in this game for 28 yards near the end of the first half. He ended that drive with a touchdown from three yards out. He had a total of 30 rushes on the day which gives him a 3.6 yards per carry average. But his low ypc is not what kept him off the Baller list. In fact, he was well on his way until midway through the fourth quarter. With the Raiders up 27-14 and looking to put the game away, he fumbled. The Vikings took over at the Raiders 38 yard line and scored a touchdown in two plays to pull within a score. Then on the Raiders next drive, they had run down the clock to 3:44 and were looking for a fresh set of downs to milk the clock even farther. But on third and four, Bush was brushed aside on his pass blocking assignment to give up the sack on Palmer and end the series. The Raiders would be forced to stop them on defense one more time. That fumble and blown blocking assignment made it impossible for me to name him a Baller. But his work in this game before that was quite admirable.

Busters

Rolando McClain

Maybe McClain should play injured more often. Last week he was limping around the field and had a great game. This week, he looked to be back fully healthy again and was back to the mental lapses for which he has become known. The Vikings’ first scoring drive was brutal for McClain. Their first third down, he gave up the catch for a first down. Then to finish off the drive, the Vikings ran Adrian Peterson up the middle from the 13 yard line and McClain was handled easily on the block to give up the touchdown. Next big Adrian Peterson run came on the following drive and again, McClain was blocked on the play. It would be one thing if it were Peterson himself forcing a missed tackle but McClain hadn’t even gotten near him. Then McClain didn’t have a single tackle for what amounted to more than two quarters of play.

The next time we see him, he is being completely fooled on a fake run to the right that was actually a screen to the left taken for a touchdown. Next Vikings’ possession he was out of position on an eight yard run and three plays later called for illegal contact. The next Vikings series started on the Raiders’ 38 yard line. Then after a 37 yard catch, McClain was victimized for a one yard touchdown catch. He at least finished well with a pass defended, a tackle for a short gain on a catch, and knocking down the Vikings’ lateral attempt to end the game.

Aaron Curry

This whole Buster thing is becoming old hat for Curry. I don’t enjoy putting him on this list. I admire anyone who plays with the level of fire and energy as Curry. But while he is flying around, he has a tendency not to use his head much. Well, let me rephrase that: He doesn’t use his brain. We saw very early in this game that he definitely uses his head when he was called for a helmet to helmet hit on a defenseless receiver. It is arguable whether the receiver was defenseless but it was definitely helmet to helmet. It went from a nice play to a 15 yard penalty. On that same drive, he was out of position on a 10 yard catch and then he shot the wrong gap on the 13 yard Peterson touchdown run to finish it off.

The next Vikings drive was thanks in part to Curry giving up a 24 yard catch. Then the remainder of the game, he had one quarterback pressure and otherwise was not seen. At this rate, the Raiders will yet again be looking for a weak side linebacker.

Chuck Bresnahan

Something has got to be done about these quarterback scrambles. This is now two of the last three games in which the quarterback led the team in rushing. With Tebow, you can sort of understand. But with Christian Ponder, there is no excuse. He ran five times for 71 yards. This is a blueprint that every team from here on out is going to follow. The Bears will be studying it intently with their backup starting next week. You can bet he will be looking to tuck and run any chance he gets. It has become a proven way to move the ball on the Raiders and without a tweak to the scheme, it WILL bite them again. And yet again (or still), the Raider defense lacks discipline. They are aggressive, there is no doubt about it, but without discipline, you end up with a winnable game turning into a debacle. We almost saw one in Minnesota.

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Week 11: Ballers & Busters

Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Wallace (17) runs the ball after a reception from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against coverage by Oakland Raiders Stanford Routt (26) in the second quarter of their NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 21, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Ugh, that was ugly, demoralizing, humbling and many other words a person could use to describe this game. The Raiders came into this week’s game on a high. And perhaps that was the problem.

After winning three straight and four out of five, they had everyone in the NFL talking about them. They had the analysts buzzing about what they could be capable of accomplishing. You can bet there won’t be as much talk now. Not after a 35-3 beatdown at the hands of the Steelers.

What started out with the Raiders moving down the field for a opening drive field goal, thanks to some questionable penalties on the Steelers, soon turned into a rout. The Steelers would score 21 unanswered points in the 2nd quarter and the game was essentially over by halftime.

Much of the talk was about the Raiders getting healthy over the bye and the Steelers being riddled with injuries. But come gametime, the Raiders were still without Nnamdi Asomugha while the Steelers questionable players, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu, both took the field. Zach Miller and Louis Murphy were back for the Raiders but they barely factored into the game– at least not in a positive way. While the Steelers skeleton crew of offensive lineman seemed no worse for wear.

This was not the Raider team we had seen during the three game win streak. This was the team that got full of themselves after the Chargers game and went out and got burnt by the 49ers. And the big plays they made to come from behind against the Chiefs were not there to save them.

There were no heroes in this game. No valiant comeback attempt that fell just short. Just a few players that played well on an ugly day and a lot of players who maybe wish they hadn’t read their own press.

Ballers

LaMarr Houston

I have been very critical of Houston this season. Mostly because he has been the whipping post for big runs in a lot of games. But it is nice to see him have a great game and be able to name him a Baller. He shared the top spot with the rest of the defensive line after their tremendous performance against the Seahawks in week 8. But this time he earned it all by himself. He led the team with 5 tackles. Nearly all of those tackles were quality run stuffs too. He also had one of just two sacks by the Raiders in this game. It was a big sack too because it was immediately following a Pittsburgh interception that set them in already in field goal range in the 3rd quarter. A Pittsburgh holding penalty, a run stuff for one yard by Houston, and then his sack, had the Steelers backed up 14 yards from the original line of scrimmage. They would have been better off having kicked the field goal on first down because they had to punt after that. Houston had another run stuff on the next Steeler possession for another three and out. He also didn’t give up any big runs in the game through his position. Just one 8 yard run went through his gap all game. This game was a big step for him.

Tyvon Branch

Sure, there may not seem like a lot to be proud of in this secondary, not everyone is at fault. By the same token, one guy can’t do it all by himself. Branch was giving it his best shot though. He ended the Steelers 2nd drive with tight coverage on an incompletion for their 2nd three and out to start the game. The next possession he tackled the tightend after a short three yard catch. Then two plays later he had tight coverage again for an incompletion. Unfortunately the Raider corners were giving up huge chunks of yardage on the other plays, so his efforts were for not. The Steelers would score their first touchdown on the drive.

On the next Steeler possession, Branch came up to play the run and held the outside, forcing Rashard Mendenhall to cut his run inside where he was met by Tommy Kelly for a loss of yardage. Then, late in the 4th quarter, down 28-3, Branch forced a fumble ona a run play to give the Raiders a chance to save some pride. That too was to no avail but at least he played hard until the end despite eminant defeat.

The Officials

The men in black and white stripes topped the Buster list for the Chiefs game after attempting to give the game to the guys in ketchup and mustard. And it appears they felt terrible for it because they seemed like they were trying everything in their power to keep the Raiders in this game. The Raiders were simply not taking advantage of the favorable calls. The penalty yards on the Steelers in this game was almost the same amount of total yards by the Raider offense 163 to 168. In the first half alone the Raiders had a total of 46 yards offense while the Steelers were penalized more than twice that (93). Not to say they weren’t all good calls. But many of them were ticky tack and phantom. This is a refreshing and nearly unheard of sight for the Raiders to be certain. It is almost always lopsided the other way. But the fact is that the Steelers had to get out of their own way all day along with some questionable calls that are destroying the integrity of this game. And the Raiders still didn’t capitalize.

Honorable Mention

Jonnie Lee Higgins

Led the team in receiving with 4 catches for 37 yards. While that isn’t much, none of the Raider receivers were seeing the ball much. He was the most reliable receiver for the Raiders and two of those catches went for 26 yards on the first drive for the Raiders that led to their only points of the game.

Busters

Jeremy Ware, Chris Johnson

I can’t decide who was worse between these two. Chris Johnson started the game with Nnamdi Asomugha being out and then CJ left the game with a groin injury and was replaced by an equally bad Jeremy Ware. But even before that, these two tag teamed their terrible play throughout the game.

Oddly enough, the first bad play by either of them was committed by both at the same time. They didn’t block their assignments on a punt return which caused Nick Miller to get smothered for no return at the 11 yard line. Then it was CJ’s turn to get things started off on defense.

The Steelers next possession would be their first scoring drive of the game and Johnson gave up the longest play on the drive. He was in tight cover but he didn’t turn around to find the ball and gave up a 27 yard completion. The next drive, it was Ware’s turn as he gave up an 8 yard catch. Then on the ensuing punt, Ware missed his blocking assignment again to get Nick Miller tackled for no gain at the 11 yard line again. Tag CJ, you’re it now.

On the next drive Johnson gave up the longest catch again. It went for 20 yards and yet again, he didn’t turn around to locate the ball. If he had, he might’ve had an interception or at very least a pass defended. Instead, the Steelers had the ball at the Raiders’ 21 yard line. A few plays later, they would score their 2nd touchdown of the game. Back to you Jeremy Ware.

The next Steelers drive started deep in Raider territory after a Louis Murphy fumble gave them a short field. The drive took four plays and ended with Ware getting burnt for a 22 yard touchdown pass. The Steelers went up 21-3 at that point and that was the play that had Seymour so enraged, he went off the deep end and got ejected.

The Steelers didn’t need to throw any more long passes the rest of the game at that point. The damage had been done. And yet again we see the value Nnamdi Asomugha holds for this team. Without him, the Raiders get this.

Stanford Routt

When I put Routt as Honorable Mention among my Midseason Ballers & Busters, I mentioned that he is “feast or famine.” But usually that is thoughout a single game. For this game, he was famine throughout. Or rather he was feasted upon, however you choose to see it. While his technique has certainly improved this season, his football IQ seems to have not. He blew an assignment in the Chiefs game that left Mike Mitchell scrambling to try and cover his man at the last second. Matt Cassel saw the confusion and it resulted in an easy touchdown pass. And Routt was back at it in this game.

The Steelers first sustained drive of the game was thanks in large part to a heaping helping of Stanford Routt. First he served up a 13 yard catch on 3rd down to keep the drive alive. Then a few plays later he was responsible for a wide open catch and run by Hines Ward to put the Steelers at the 16 yard line. On the play, Ward started on the left side and motioned right. You could see Chris Johnson pointing at Ward to tell Routt to shadow him across the formation, but Routt didn’t follow. Ward was wide open because everyone else had assignments to tend to. A few plays later, the Steelers scored a touchdown.

Next time we saw Routt, he was blowing another coverage assignment. This time it was against speedster Mike Wallace. Then after Wallace caught the pass, Routt missed the tackle and Wallace took it 52 yards for a touchdown. And the rout(t) was on.

Richard Seymour

It is one thing to be fired up and go out and be the passionate leader of this defense. It is another to be completely out of control. Seymour was kicked out of this game because he basically punched Ben Roethlisberger in the face with a kneejerk reaction. And while Big Ben may deserve to get nailed in the jaw every now and then, Seymour let his team down by getting ejected before halftime. He had been in two scrums prior to that in which he had to be seperated by the officials and his teammates. This was not an “old school Raider football” thing either. The old school Raiders were about intimidation, not losing their cool and letting their temper get the best of them. It’s called “Pride and Poise” for a reason. Bottom line is, if Seymour is going to lead this defense, he needs to be on the field to do it.

Jason Campbell

Those Campbell apologists would have liked to tell everyone after this game that is was not Campbell’s fault for the problems on this team. But when Bruce Gradkowski entered the game in the 3rd quarter and went 5 for 5 to start his day, and it set up a 24 yard Bush run right up the middle, that blew that theory out of the water. Sure, there is plenty of blame to go around, but Campbell takes his share.

Campbell completed just 7 passes in 2 1/2 quarters for a total of 70 yards. His completion percentage was 36% with two fumbles and an interception. One of those fumbles wasn’t really his fault and he recovered it. But he also had another interception that was picked and returned for a touchdown. He was miraculously bailed out when Jerome Harrison was called for a roughing the passer penalty.

Both Campbell and Gradkowski struggled in this game. Much of that can be attributed to a good Pittsburgh defense. The difference is Campbell looked like he is just winging it out there while Gradkowski looks like he actually knows the playbook. It is all about pocket presence and simply putting the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. Campbell just hasn’t shown the ability to accomplish either of those things consistently.

Rolando McClain

He was back on the field from injury, but from outward appearances, it was a partial return. He was clearly not playing at 100% in this game. And hopefully it was only because he was still injured. There is no other excuse that would make sense after his poor effort in this game. He was easily made irrelevant by a block on several instances. And other times, he seemed to just give up on plays.

One such play was the reverse the Steelers ran in the 2nd quarter. He, along with most the Raider defense, bit hard on the original end around. But he noticed the reverse as soon as it happened and was the Raider defender with the best chance of doing something about it. You would think he would immediately sprint to try and catch the ball carrier, but he jogged over as if he didn’t think he had a chance to catch up and was simply in the area after the runner had picked up 19 yards. At the end of that same drive, with the Steelers on the Raiders’ 16 yard line, Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket and there was no one home. The Steelers should not be able to completely clear out a zone like that. It is poor discipline on McClain’s part that he was gone and there was a whole lot of open field for Roethlisberger to run free. And he ran right to the endzone for a touchdown.

Then for the icing on the cake, with just over a minute left in the game, the Steelers were set up at the 16 yard line again. They ran a screen play to their backup runningback and McClain was taken out of the play on a block. Yet again, there was nothing but open field to run 16 yards to score and throw a little salt in the wound.

Samson Satele

Overall the entire Raider offensive line struggled against the Steelers. That comes as no surprise whatsoever. The worst offender of the bunch was Satele. He couldn’t even engage in his blocks most the time. So often the Steeler defenders were just running right by him as he tried to catch up. The result was several run stuffs which contributed greatly to Darren McFadden gaining just 14 yards on 10 carries.

Near the end of the 2nd quarter, immediately following the Steelers third touchdown, He gave up a sack right up the middle that caused Jason Campbell to fumble. The Raiders would recover but the loss of yardage ended any chance they had to score before halftime.

After halftime, it was more bad news from Satele. But now it was time for the penalties. First it was a holding call that helped kill a drive. Then the next drive, immediately following a first down catch, he had a false start.

Louis Murphy

The first time we saw Murphy in this game, he was trying to make a catch on a long pass after he had gone out of bounds and was flagged for illegal touching. Next time we saw him, he made a 12 yard catch, took two steps and fumbled the ball. The Steelers were set up with a short field and they scored just before halftime to go up 21-3. The third time he saw the ball, he caught it but couldn’t keep both feet in bounds. He is supposed to be this team’s most reliable receiver. Last time the Raiders were in Pittsburgh, he was truly brilliant. There was little semblance of that last Sunday.

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Week 11: Ballers & Busters

Cincinnati Bengals v Oakland Raiders

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I had to dig into the archives pretty deep on this one but I discovered after hours of painstaking research that what happened on Sunday was what the experts refer to as a “Raider Win”. It is a rare occurrence in modern day but it did indeed occur. There is no mistaking, the Raiders beat one of the best teams in football in the Cincinnatti Bengals.

The game started out like any other for the Raiders. The Bengals dominated time of possession 12 minutes to 3 in the first quarter with the Raiders only getting one first down. The Bengals shot out of the gates as expected; going ahead 14-0. But after that, everything changed. The Bengals would score just a field goal in the final three quarters and the Raiders would miraculously score two touchdowns and two field goals to take the victory in unlikely fashion.

Both teams missed a field goal and both teams saw drives get stalled by mistakes and miscues. The main difference ended up being turnovers. The Raiders forced one more turnover than the Bengals so like the Chiefs game, the team with the fewest mistakes pulled out the win.

But there was a good amount of nice performances that came from this game. Nice enough performances to overcome those whose mistakes threatened to undermine.

Ballers

Tyvon Branch

I am running out of superlatives to describe how fine a safety Branch is. And yet every week, he seems to give me even more to rave about. He led the team in tackles again in this game. He had 11 solo tackles and an assist which was 5 more tackles than the next guy. He also had one of the biggest plays of the game in which he came shooting in on a safety blitz to sack Carson Palmer and knock the ball out for a fumble that the Raiders would recover. That alone was enough to make him a Baller. But his overall body of work is what has him topping the list. While leading the team in tackles is great, the real importance is where and how those tackles were made. And lately Branch has been making his hay stuffing the run. He had 5 run stuffs on the day, 3 of which were tackles for loss. Add his sack and you will notice that most of his tackles were at or behind the line of scrimmage. In the passing game he had a coverage incompletion in which he blanketed the tightend so completely that he couldn’t even finish his route. He also had a pass defended in the end zone on a drive that ended a few plays later with a sack and a missed field goal. I think it is time to start talking about Branch as a Pro Bowl safety. Especially with the injuries to Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu. At this moment, Ed Reed is the only other safety in the AFC that is more deserving. But getting there will take quite a campaign.

Bruce Gradkowski

I have been saying all season long that all the Raiders have really needed is a quarterback that gives them a chance to win. Gradkowski did that an more on Sunday. He gave the Raiders a chance to win through most of the game and at the end, he led them to victory. Yes “led” them. That is not a word that the Raiders have been able to use much this season. And not at all in reference to the quarterback position. JaMarcus Russell has rather been dragging the Raiders to defeat– kicking and screaming. All the team wanted from Gradkowski was for him to manage the game. In the process he had two touchdown passes to just one interception. Even the interception was not his fault as his arm was hit by an oncoming rusher causing it to be a wobbly duck. He did have a bobbled snap but that is bound to happen with a quarterback getting his first start. He was 17-34 on the day and of his 17 incompletions, only three were due to inaccuracy. Two of them probably should have been caught anyway. Many of his incompletions were balls that he smartly threw away, something Russell couldn’t seem to grasp with any regularity. Zach Miller was back to his dominance thanks to having a quarterback who put the ball where it was supposed to be and the running backs had no trouble at all catching his dump-offs and screens, which was quite refreshing to see. Gradkowski’s best throw was one in which he split defenders to hit Chaz Schilens perfectly. Chaz was running a slant and there was a defender behind him and in front of him. The defender in front of him had his back to the quarterback and the ball went right over his shoulder and into Schilens’ hands. It was the best pass by any QB for the Raiders all season. Gradkowski’s biggest throw was his 17th and final throw of the game. It was a strike to Louis Murphy at the goal line in which Murphy bulled into the end zone to tie the game at 17. So for one week, the nickname we hear is Bruce Almighty instead of JaMumbles, JaFatass, JaWalrus, etc. Oh, and one just one more thing… As I said, Gradkowski had 2 touchdown passes in this game; JaMarcus Russell had 2 touchdown passes through 10 games this season. So much for Russell’s theory about him not being the problem.

Brandon Myers

He had one play the entire game. It just happened to be the biggest play of game that gave the Raiders the win. After the touchdown to tie the game, the Raiders kicked off to the Bengals. On the ensuing return, Myers punched the ball out and recovered his own forced fumble. The Raiders would start that drive already in field goal range. And after essentially three kneel downs, Janikowski lined up and nailed the field goal to take the lead and the game.

Louis Murphy

Speaking of guys that had one play on the day; how about Louis Murphy. He had one catch on the day and it was the one that tied the game. He ran a great route that faked out the defender. Then he sealed off the pass and caught in right in front of the defender. He was hit immediately upon catching the ball at the 3 yard line but he wouldn’t be denied. He pushed past his defender and when he turned toward the goal line, he reached the ball out and stuck it in for a touchdown. The fumble on the return may have won the game but without that catch, the Raiders would have had almost no shot to win. Murphy now has caught half the Raider touchdown passes on the season. And that doesn’t include that TD that he was robbed of in week one.

Zach Miller

Well, what do you know, get some accuracy from the quarterback and Zach’s back! He led the team in receptions (5) and receiving yards (65) and he also had the first touchdown of the day on a 10 yard strike from Gradkowski. His longest catch was a short check down in which he broke a tackle and took it for 19 yards just before halftime to give Janikowski a shot at putting the Raiders within 4 points going into the locker room. Seabass missed the 57 yarder but the confidence that last minute drive gave his team was extremely important. The Raiders would come out of halftime and drive right back down the field again and this time Janikowski didn’t miss. Nearly every yard on that drive was through the run thanks to the threat of the pass that was established on the Raiders previous drive.

Chris Johnson

Sure he had some miscues but the biggest catch his man had on the day, he was in tight coverage and all the credit goes to the receiver for pulling it down. In fact CJ made big plays all over the field. His first nice play, he will get no credit for in the stats but he was instrumental in it’s success. It was the play in which Tyvon Branch hit Carson Palmer and knocked the ball out of his hand. The ball was up for grabs and a Bengal player dove to get it but Chris Johnson was right there to hit the player as he dove to keep him from getting it. It allowed Greg Ellis to come in right behind him and recover the football for the Raiders. It was an extremely heady, selfless play by CJ and he deserves a lot of credit for it. His next play also won’t show up in the stats. It was a sweep to the right in which he came shooting in from his corner spot. He dove at the feet of the runner and the back had to leap in the air and was consequently nailed by Trevor Scott and Tyvon Branch for a loss on third down. It was a three and out just before halftime that set the Raiders up with good field position and allowed the field goal try. His next good play was a corner blitz in which he ran all the way from the opposite side of the field to tackle the Bengals runner for a loss. A few plays later he sniffed out a screen and stopped it for a short gain. On the Bengals’ next possession, he had a nice pass defended. The drive would end with a three and out and a Bengal punt out of the back of their own end zone. He gave maximum effort in this game and it paid off big time.

Stanford Routt

He only gave up one catch in the game for 12 yards. And he had a roughing the passer penalty in which Carson Palmer did his best Tom Brady impression and flopped to get the call. But Routt was a Baller for two other much more important plays. Three plays after his roughing penalty, he came in unimpeded on a corner blitz to sack Carson Palmer. Palmer thought he could avoid the rush of Routt at first and then he thought he could at very least escape his grasp and either scramble or throw the ball away. But Routt chased him backward, grabbing Palmer’s throwing arm to ensure he couldn’t release the ball and then pulled him to the ground. The sack was on third down and with the loss of yards, Shane Graham would miss the ensuing field goal to keep the score at 14-10. The next Bengals possession started at the Raider 13 yard line after a Michael Bush fumble. But they would get no closer thanks in large part to Routt’s beautiful pass defended on third down to force another field goal try and keep it a one score game. A score the Raiders would later deliver on.

Greg Ellis

His fellow bookend, Richard Seymour, went out after the first drive with an injury but Ellis held down the other side in his absence. He had a run stuff on the first play of the game. A few plays later on the drive, he pressured the QB into an incompletion. He also recovered the Tyvon Branch fumble for the first turnover of the game. His final big play came in the fourth quarter when he rushed in, grabbed Carson Palmer and literally threw him to the ground to sack him for a 6 yard loss. The Bengals faced fourth down at the 2 yard line and had to punt out of the back of their own end zone to set the Raiders up with great field position.

Busters

Kirk Morrison

He didn’t give up any back breaking plays, but he sure as hell gave up a lot of crucial ones. On the Bengals’ first drive, after two false start penalties and then a tackle for loss, the Bengals set up at second and 22. Then Morrison couldn’t get off of a block on a screen pass and the Bengals were able to pick up 23 yards and a first down. The drive ended up as their longest and most time consuming of the day after 14 plays and almost ten minutes off the clock. But most importantly, a touchdown at the end. On the next Bengals’ possession, Morrison gave up an 8 yard catch. The very next play was the Tyvon Branch forced fumble. Morrison picked up the fumble, which was great. What was not great was that he started to run with the ball out in one hand where it was easily slapped out by a Bengal player who was in chase. The Raiders were lucky that Chris Johnson made a play on the ball and Greg Ellis was able to fall on it. Morrison was lucky he wasn’t the goat but not so lucky to keep from being a Buster. The very next Bengals’ possession, after the Gradkowski fumbled snap gave them a short field, the Bengals drove to the 20 yard line. Then 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. The next drive he was out of position on an 8 yard run and was bailed out on the next play when Carson Palmer fumbled the snap from center. He also missed a tackle on a 9 yard first down to set the Bengals up at the Raider 14 yard line but he was bailed out again when the Bengals fumbled the ball. This is a classic example of the Raiders winning despite a poor performance from a key player.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Hey, what do you know, he caught a pass. Just after halftime he caught his only pass of the game for 7 yards. But he is a Buster for the 3 catches and 2 touchdowns he could have had but didn’t get. The first time he saw the ball come his way, he pulled his usual right-through-his-arms flat out drop. It was on third down and would have resulted in a first down but instead the Raiders had to punt. Then a few plays after his bobbling 7 yard catch, Gradkowski threw to him in the end zone and it was almost picked off. Granted it was slightly under thrown and granted DHB turned defender and kept the corner from intercepting it but there is no reason why DHB shouldn’t have caught that ball. The defender was leaping away from the ball and Darrius was jumping toward the pass. Any receiver worth his salt could have high pointed that ball and pulled it down for a TD. It was a basic jump ball situation for which Heyward-Bey had the physical and position advantage. Or you would think so anyway. Then with the game on the line on the Raiders’ final drive, Gradkowski looked to have thrown an errant pass in which he led DHB too much on a crossing pattern. But upon further review, you notice that, for whatever reason, DHB quit on the route momentarily until he noticed the ball was in the air intended for him, at which point, he started running again. By then it was too late though. Gradkowski assumed, of course, that his receiver was going to keep running his route and put it where Heyward-Bey was supposed to be. The ball could have and should have been intercepted except that the defender did a DHB impression and dropped it. If the defender had held onto the easy interception, the game would have ended right there. Luckily he didn’t and the Raiders dodged a bullet… named Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Michael Huff

He seemed confused as to when the Raiders were playing zone or man coverage. The first instance of this was on the Bengals first drive. They were in third and 20 and Ochocinco ran a simple15 yards and in route. Nnamdi stayed with him until he cut inside, at which point, Nnamdi protected the outside and handed Ochocinco off to Huff to take him on the inside route. Unfortunately Huff didn’t react fast enough almost as if he thought Nnamdi was playing man. Ochocinco caught the pass in front of Huff and took the pass for a 30 yard gain. Two plays later, he was among a few Raider defenders who were all caught saying “I thought you had him?” on an easy 21 yard catch and run. Then three plays later, with the ball at the 11 yard line, he gave up a 10 yard catch to the goal line. The 30 yarder was the biggest gain on the drive but overall he was at least partially responsible for 61 yards on the way to the Bengals scoring a touchdown on their opening possession. He seemed to tighten it up after that but when nearly the entire first drive goes through one guy, that one guy has a lot of making up to do. That means above and beyond. A level he didn’t reach.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Week 11: Ballers & Busters

These days the hardest thing, I find, with studying these games and putting together the list of those who played well and those who didn’t, is the redundancy. It seems more and more that the same guys make the plays and the same guys don’t. With little exception from game to game. Then of course there are those who are amazing one game and terrible the next. And then we look at them with the eye of “which version of this guy are we going to see this week”. The biggest problems with this Raiders team are those players that play with inconsistency from play to play and game to game and the fact that the good players are so easy to pick out. That goes against what “team” is all about. If there are many good players, it can overshadow the faults of some and makes it difficult to find the weak links. In the Raiders case though it is as they say “you are only as strong as your weakest link.” With that in mind let’s examine this weeks weak links and those who played well in spite of them.

 


Ballers:

Thomas Howard

There are a lot of fast guys in this league and then there are those who know how to use it. Howard is one of those guys who know how to use his speed. This week was certainly no exception to his usual energy and passion. He is all over the field every game and is involved in nearly every tackle. He had 7 tackles on the day and 5 of them were run stuffs which resulted in little or no gain by the back. One of those was a tackle on Ricky Williams in which he chased him down for a six yard loss on the play. Keep it up Thomas and hopefully soon there will be a few more players around you with equal passion.

Chris Johnson

He lead the Raiders in tackles with nine. That alone is not very good news because when a DB leads the team in tackles it means that the backs are breaking into the secondary and too many catches are being given up. But only two of those tackles were on catches he gave up that were of any significance. Another was on a two yard catch that he sniffed out and stopped for just a two yard gain on third down which forced a punt. He is quite a solid tackler as it is turning out. His best tackle of all was when he ripped the ball out of the ball carrier’s hands to force a fumble and the only turnover the Raiders had on the day. That is the kind of agressiveness we need to see. Big defenses like the Ravens and Giants make plays like that because they expect to dominate. And when you expect to dominate, what could be five yards given up and a simple tackle turns into a turnover.

Ronald Curry

In his first start since early in the season, he had six catches for 73 yards. The last time I had him on the baller list, he was benched immediately after in favor of Chaz Schilens. I scratched my head at the move because the reason I put him on the list in the first place was because he looked like he had turned the corner and finally figured out Russell’s passes. Prior to that he clearly hadn’t gotten used to the way JaMarcus threw the ball. Now that Javon Walker is out for the season and Curry is back in the starting lineup he goes right out there and proves exactly what I said before. He only had one drop on the day and it was a ball that was not easy to catch. Then on the next play he had a fantastic catch in which he slid to catch a ball that was low and behind him. He is back folks. And hopefully this time he is back for good.

Zach Miller

For just the second time all season Zach didn’t lead the Raiders in receptions. But his importance to the passing game is always obvious. He had four catches for 67 yards. His first catch went for 27 yards to set the Raiders up at the 5 yard line. Then after McFadden was tackled for a loss and a false start by Kwame Harris, Miller gained those yards back plus a few more on a catch that stopped at the two yard line. Unfortunately that was third down and it simply set up a chip shot field goal for Seabass.

Shane Lechler

Well as long as this team is going to be forced to punt so often, at least we have the best punter in the history of the NFL. Miami only started two drives all day outside of the 20 yard line that were off of punts. Their other drives started at the 13, 9, 12, and 6. If our offense could score a touchdown then these punts would not go to waste.

Gibril Wilson

He only gave up one catch for 13 yards. He was tied for third on the team in tackles with six. He also had a pass defended, 2 run stuffs, a fumble recovery and teamed up for a sack. Nice well rounded game for Gibril.

Jonnie Lee Higgins

Every return he had on the day went for little or no gain…except one. And that was the one that counted. He gave the Raiders their first touchdown in three games. And that is all we ask him to do. So as much as I would have liked to put him on the Buster list based on his other lack of returns, he took one to the house, and Raider fans were able to celebrate something for the first time since week 8. Even if it was short lived.

Rob Ryan

This defense has looked great the last two games and there is a lot of overachievers and surprises. If Ryan gets the blame in failure he deserves some praise in success. So here is that praise. Unfortunately he only seems to have success when the offense isn’t.

Busters:

Kwame Harris

Welcome back Kwame, you kept your spot warm for you. What’ll it be? The usual? Comin right up! Am I the only one who notices that he false starts at the absolute WORST times? For instance; after the Raiders had their best looking drive since the Jets game that culminated in the 27 yard catch by Zach Miller to put the Raiders on the 5 yard line, Kwame then immediately had TWO false starts to kill any chance of a touchdown. Oh and of course, he gave up a sack as well.

Sam Williams

He gave up more big plays than he had tackles. He had a whopping TWO tackles. For a starting strong side linebacker that is pathetic. In consecutive drives in the second half he gave up an 11 yard pass to Ricky Williams to set the Dolphins up for their second score of the day. Then on the Dolphins next drive he gave up a 12 yard run to Williams and then on the next play he was plowed down by Williams who picked up the first down because of the effort. I think that Stronside linebacker is pretty high on this team’s wish list these days. Or it should be.

Marques Tuiasosopo

He was given one drive and in that drive he was given ONE shot at passing and he fumbled it for a 13 yard loss. Does anyone still wonder why he isn’t starting somewhere? I am wondering how he is still in the NFL, personally.

Ashlie Lelie/ Chaz Schilens

Where were they? Wasn’t Schilens starting? I don’t expect Schilens to be great every week but he should at least have a catch. But when every wide receiver on the Raiders roster, not named Ronald, does a disappearing act, that is not going to win any games.

Al Davis

Just thought I would throw him in here. Lest we forget.

Tom Cable

I am sitting here banging my head against the wall trying to figure out who is at fault for this offense not doing anything. What it boils down to is that this offense is not fooling anyone. There should be some deception going on and it is like the Dolphins were reading the Raiders playbook half the time. Even the one great drive the Raiders had were thanks in large part to a couple of great catches by Miller and Curry. And continuing to start Kwame Harris over Mario Henderson just baffles me. Cable is an offensive line coach so he should know that Henderson has played much better than Harris. I said it last week in regards to Cable “he is not doing the best he can with what he has”. His game plan seems to be generic rather than tailored for what this team’s strengths are. Hopefully he studied what the Dolphins are doing because they are less talented than the Raiders and many of the other teams they beat. They are simply better coached.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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