Raiders week 13: Ballers & Busters


The Raiders went into Miami in first place in the AFC West. They left Miami with a terrible loss at the hands of the last place Dolphins. The Dolphins showed a resiliency that does not exist with the Raiders. At least not yet. They have bounced back from an 0-7 start while the Raiders continue to be inconsistent.

The easiest excuse for the Raiders stinking it up on Sunday is their injury woes. Many of their best offensive weapons were out. Their leading rusher early in the season, Darren McFadden, is out along with Carson Palmer’s two favorite targets, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Sure those injuries may have contributed, but you can’t say they were the reason for this loss.

The Raiders had their issues in this game from top to bottom—even in areas in which they are fully healthy. So we step away from the injury report to talk of those who did take the field that ugly day in Miami.

Ballers

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Last week it was Aaron Curry who shocked me by being Top Baller. This week it’s DHB. The Raiders needed a boost from him with Ford and Moore out and they got it. Equally as impressive was the manner in which he was catching the ball. DHB has never consistently showed the ability to catch with his hands but on Sunday nearly every catch he made, and even a few that were ruled out of bounds, were great hands catches, the likes of which we have rarely seen from him. His second catch of the game was one such catch. In third and ten with the Raiders down 6-0, he stretched out along the sideline to catch a 14 yard pass and tap his toes to give the Raiders just their second first down of the day. A couple plays later, he had a 22 yard catch that was negated by a holding call. A few plays later, he had a great effort on another sideline grab that was just a bit too far for him to keep his feet in—but he still caught it. A couple drives later, he had another catch negated by a holding call. Then on the final offensive play of the game for the Raiders, he had a fantastic one handed back-shoulder grab for a touchdown. He showed great concentration as well as showcased some of the work he has been putting in to become a more complete receiver.

John Henderson

Big John played quite a bit in this game, especially with the ejection of Richard Seymour. But even before that, Seymour has had some lingering injury issues and Henderson has gotten a lot of playing time as a result. Henderson may not be the player he once was, but in small doses the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle can be just as dominant as we knew him to be in his heyday. Even though he was in and out of the game, he was still second on the team in tackles (6-1). He was also getting good pressure on quarterback Matt Moore. On the Dolphins’ second drive of the game, he started it off with a run stuff, then he broke into the backfield to get pressure on Moore to force an incompletion and even got a good shot on him. He had one more run tackle on the drive as well. After the Dolphins took the opening kickoff of the second half back and scored in three plays, Henderson was back in the game to start their next drive. And again, he started things off with a run stuff and added another one a few plays later. On the next play, he made the tackle on a four yard run but was injured on the play and had to leave the game. Then Richard Seymour was ejected two plays later which meant that Henderson would be needed back on the field whether he was 100% or not. He would return and have one more run stuffing tackle for no gain in the fourth quarter.

Chaz Schilens

Led the team in receiving with six catches for 89 yards. He would get much more credit for this accomplishment but one of those catches was short of the first down on third down and two others came with the game already out of hand at 34-0. He had three other catches in the game. One of those catches was a 30 yard grab that put the Raiders in scoring position although they were unable to convert due to some penalties and poor offensive line play which backed them up and out of field goal range.

Busters

Khalif Barnes

Barnes has played quite well this season. But for some reason the Dolphins rattled him in this game and he was back to the Khalif Barnes we were used to seeing the last couple seasons. He was an absolute disaster out there on Sunday. Cameron Wake was a handful for him, but Wake was just one of the Miami defenders who gave Barnes fits.

The Raiders got a first down for the first time on their third drive. No sooner did that drive pick up steam but Barnes killed it. After the second first down, Barnes gave up a pressure on Carson Palmer which forced him to try and throw the ball away to avoid the sack. He was called for intentional grounding and it was now second and 20. The next play, Palmer threw a strike to Darrius Heyward-Bey for 22 yards and a first down. But wait, Barnes held his man. No play. Now second and 30. Then the call was a run up the middle hoping to catch the Dolphins playing the long pass. But Barnes couldn’t block his man and Bush was stuffed for a one yard gain.

The Raiders were unable to launch a drive again until late in the second quarter. And when they did, Barnes was there to f—k it up again. Two long connections from Palmer to Schilens had the Raiders in scoring position at the 37 yard line. The next play Palmer hooked up with DHB for 14 yards. But not so fast, Barnes was called for holding… again. Two plays later, Palmer was sacked to set up third and 27. Palmer would not be given a chance to find an open man as Barnes was once again blown up and allowed pressure on his QB to force an incomplete pass. Threat over, Raiders still scoreless.

Stephon Heyer would replace Barnes in the third quarter. But Barnes would be back a bit later just in time to commit a false start penalty. You can consider that a dingleberry from the turd he left on the field in Miami.

Chuck Bresnahan

Are the defenses in the UFL allowed to have 12 men on the field when the offense is only allowed 11? I ask because I can’t imagine any other way that the plays Bresnahan calls would actually work. When the opposing offense is most desperate, the Raiders always seem to be one man short of stopping them. The quarterback scramble continues to be the bane of this team’s existence. The same situation plays itself out time and time again like déjà vu. The offense is in third and long and Bresnahan calls for a hat on a hat—man defense across the board with the safeties playing deep and intermediate and the linebackers on the running backs and tight ends. Then the quarterback searches half-heartedly for an open man just long enough for his receivers to pull the defenders away from the line of scrimmage and his offensive line to open up a hole in the middle. At which point, he tucks it and runs for the first down.

Now I am not a coach. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But it doesn’t take a great football mind to see that this plan is not working—at all. The Raiders were victimized twice in this game. They happened on successive plays. The first time, the Raiders caught a break as Moore scrambled 13 yards to the six yard line but it was called back by a holding penalty. On the next play, Moore scrambled to pick up 14 yards to set up an easy 33 yard field goal.

The scrambles are only a fraction of the problem. This was a complete defensive collapse. As usual, there is little in the way of discipline. Players look confused as to their assignments and that probably has a lot to do with the play calling not meshing with what their instincts are telling them. When safeties are not guarding against the run in short yardage at the goal line, that is a problem. When a linebacker is covering speedy wide receiver Devone Bess, that is a problem. The Dolphins exploited these weak areas all day. There were also no adjustments by the Raiders in the second half. The Dolphins certainly had some. The result was 21 points in the third quarter to put this game away before the fourth quarter even began.

Rolando McClain

With Chuck Bresnahan, I talked about discipline. This is a quality which McClain is utterly lacking. He was away from the team all week to attend a funeral for his grandfather. While being without their middle linebacker all week in practice was not the best thing, his getting arrested on Wednesday was just about the worst thing.

There was a lot of talk this week about this incident being a distraction. Well, perhaps it was, but that is not really the primary issue as I see it. It was his behavior that led to his arrest and that same behavior that has this defense lacking direction. As the middle linebacker, he is supposed to be the leader. The best middle linebackers in this league have their teammates’ trust and it builds a confidence in them. They also lead by example. Personally, McClain had a decent game on Sunday. But his performance as the quarterback of this defense cannot be judged solely by personal statistics. He is responsible for the play of his defensive teammates, but he can’t even be responsible enough to go home for a few days and not do something stupid. He is evasive, complacent, immature, and irresponsible–four qualities that are detrimental in a middle linebacker. The play of his teammates is a reflection of that.

Richard Seymour

Speaking of discipline, or rather lack of self control, Seymour got ejected Sunday for the second time as a Raider. Last time, he laid a forearm into Ben Roethlisberger in a loss to the Steelers. This time he let Dolphins guard Richie Incognito get under his skin and Seymour got in a little extracurricular jab at his face. It was nothing like the Big Ben punch that had the quarterback on his back, but it was still not smart. The jab got Seymour kicked out of the game just after his backup, John Henderson, had gone out with an injury. The Dolphins had been stopped and would have been in third and 3, but the penalty gave them an automatic first down at the nine yard line. They would score a touchdown two plays later. Seymour gave up the previous touchdown directly when he was blocked easily on the run that allowed Reggie Bush to walk into the endzone untouched. It was his position Bush ran through and Seymour didn’t even get a hand on him.

While I talk about the middle linebacker on any team as the leader, Seymour is the player on this team who is supposed to be the actual leader. Silly crap like punching players and getting ejected just won’t do. And when you combine Seymour losing his cool with McClain’s behavior and Bresnahan’s poor play calling, you have a defense that is lost.

Aaron Curry

After enjoying the many fruits that fell from the Caleb Hanie tree last week, Curry was back to fruitless labor this week. On the Dolphins’ first touchdown drive, he gave up a 26 yard catch, followed by an 11 yard catch, and finished off the drive by giving up a 13 yard catch for the touchdown. At the end of the second quarter, with the Raiders hoping to get the ball back one more time before the half, he gave up the catch that gave the Dolphins the first down and allowed them to kneel out the remaining seconds. The second half began with a big kick return followed by a pass interference penalty to put the Dolphins at the one yard line. Curry was out of position on the play in which Bush walked into the endzone for an easy TD. On the following drive, he tried to time a blitz and was called for encroachment. The drive ended with another Dolphin touchdown. This put the Dolphins up 27-0 and it was pretty much over at that point.

Mike Mitchell

A defensive feel to the Busters list this week. Mitchell got things started for the poor defensive effort when he gave up the first down on the second play for the Dolphins. He had position and was shaken out of his shoes on a 15 yard run. On their second drive, he gave up a 12 yard catch. The Dolphins scored on both of those first two possessions to set the tone for the game. Later in the first half, he was blocked on a 21 yard run. In the third quarter, he was late getting over and Matt Moore scrambled for a six yard touchdown.

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Week 13: Ballers & Busters

Dec 5, 2010; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece (45) hurdles San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle (32) in the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Photo via Newscom

Where did these guys come from? Just a week ago, the Raiders were playing one of their worst games this year and then they come out and have their best game of the year. The Raiders appeared to be on a skid that had many people wondering if they would recover this season. While the Chargers had a top ranked offense and defense, had won four straight and hadn’t lost in the month of December for several years. This one crept up on everybody.

When the Raiders beat the Chargers in week 5, it was because the Chargers made several mistakes and the Raiders were opportunistic in taking advantage of those mistakes. In this game it was just pure domination by the Raiders. It was 21-3 before the Chargers could blink. They took it to them in the first half on offense and the Chargers didn’t have their first touchdown drive until the 4th quarter.

So don’t be too surprised to see some uncommon Ballers. Because there were some uncommon performances in this game.

Ballers

Robert Gallery, Cooper Carlisle

The offensive line was the key to the running game working. And the running game was the key to everything else. Both Raider running backs had nearly 100 yards in this game and a touchdown. Nearly every one of those runs came between the tackles. All of the guys along the line laid key blocks at one point or another. But Gallery and Carlisle were doing some serious work.

Gallery laid key blocks on runs that totaled 61 yards including the big 30 yard run by Darren McFadden. Carlisle laid a key block on the 7 yard touchdown by Michael Bush in he 2nd quarter that put the Raiders up 21-3. Then he laid a nice block to start the third quarter that helped spring McFadden for 19 yards on a screen play.

They were mauling their blocking assignments and executing stunts with perfection. The Chargers defensive line was rendered completely ineffective. All the while the Raiders racked up 251 yards rushing, 200 of which went right up the gut.

Hue Jackson, Tom Cable, John Marshall
The players on the field executed but it was the gameplan that kept the Chargers on their heels all day. The offense was relentless and mixed it up just enough to keep the Chargers guessing. They were so confused on defense that they had twelve men on the field twice…in a ROW! And the first time they had twelve men on the field, Campbell was still able to complete a 37 yard pass to Louis Murphy on a play fake. You see, the Chargers had too many men on the field, but they were all stacked in the box trying to stop the run. They were so fooled by the call, that a couple of Charger players were celebrating stuffing the Bush on the run, all the while not knowing he didn’t even have the ball.

Last week I panned the lack of a scheme on defense. Simply blitzing every third down is not a scheme. It’s predictible which is always a recipe for disaster. This week Marshall was back to disguising the blitz and sending various pressures and dropping others back into coverage. And it worked to perfection. The Chargers were never able to get into the same kind of rhythm they need to run away with a game. Without that rhythm, they are dead in the water.

After the loss to Miami last week, there was a lot of talk about how hot Tom Cable’s seat was. But focusing this team and getting them mentally ready to play this game has put out that fire. He has brought the Raiders back to 6-6, squarely in the playoff hunt. Al Davis likes nothing better than to beat division rivals and he likes sweeping them even more. The Raiders have more wins than they have had since 2002. And barring a huge letdown to finish out the season, Cable has likely saved his job with this win.

Michael Bush

Between the two Raider runningbacks, Bush received the greater share of the carries (23). The Raiders were intent on pounding the ball up the middle and wearing out the Charger defense. And every time the Raiders got in scoring range, Bush was brought into the game. He came in other times as well but most of the red zone carries went to Bush.

The second time the Raiders made a trip to the Redzone was after an interception that gave them the ball in Charger territory. As soon as they got into the Redzone, it was Bush time. Five of the next six plays were Michael Bush run plays. They were at the 18 yard line and 14 of those yards were off Bush carries and it set up a 4 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Ford to go up 14-0.

The Raiders would be back in the Redzone on their next possession and yet again, it was Bush time. He had 18 yards rushing out of the 26 needed (five from a false start penalty) including the final 7 yards. In that 7 yards he spun out of a tackle and then dragged Chargers safety Eric Weddle the final three yards into the endzone for the touchdown. He finished the day with 95 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Darren McFadden had nearly identical rushing numbers (97 yards and a TD) but McFadden also fumbled the ball away in the waning minutes of the first half and the defense had to bail him out. If the Chargers had scored just before halftime, that could have been disasterous for the Raiders. Gotta protect the ball.

Rolando McClain

The Chargers had just 21 total yards rushing in this game and McClain was a big reason why. He led the team in tackles with seven. The Chargers only ran the ball 7 times in this game because they are more of a passing team and they were playing from behind the whole game. But when they ran, McClain was there to stop it. The best run the Chargers had all day was a 6 yarder on the second play of the game. And McClain made the tackle short of the first down. The next time they attempted to run the ball was the final play of the first quarter. It went for just two yards and guess who was there to make the tackle? Do I need to answer that?

The Chargers would run just two more times in the half, both for a loss. McClain next two tackles were both big ones and they came in the passing game. The first one was a tackle on a six yard catch with the Chargers in 3rd and 15. The next tackle came right after the McFadden fumble just before the half. The Chargers threw a short pass to running back Darren Sproles who caught it cleanly and turned upfield where he met McClain. McClain had a bead on him and lowered his shoulder into him, both traveling at full speed. Sproles was down on the field for a while and left the game with a concussion. Textbook hard hit, leading with the shoulder with no penalty or fine. What started as a chance for the Chargers to score before halftime, turned into the loss of a big weapon for the Chargers. Plus, the injury meant a ten second run-off which gave the Chargers just :37 to score. They would not gain another yard and miss a 50 yard field goal going into the lockeroom down 21-3.

Nnamdi Asomugha

It was obvious pretty early on that Nnamdi is back to 100%. Just as obvious was how much this team needs him in the lineup. He was on the Charger receivers tighter than their powder blue uniforms. Every time Philip Rivers attempted to throw to Nnamdi’s receiver, he could not throw it on target because it would have been intercepted. So instead he tried to throw it where only his receiver could get it. That didn’t work either. Nnamdi had just four passes thrown to his receiver in this game. The first one he had better position than the receiver which forced Rivers to throw high in the hopes that his receiver could leap up and high point it. The ball was a little too high and the result was an interception by Michael Huff that would set up the Raiders second touchdown in the first quarter. The only other time Nnamdi saw a play near him in the first half was when he came up to stop Antonio Gates just short of the first down on 3rd down. The Chargers opted to go for it on 4th and one and were stopped for a turnover on downs.

The first Charger possession of the 3rd quarter ended with Nnamdi in tight coverage for an incompletion. That is when Rivers wised up and tried testing the Raiders other corners and safeties for a while. But after going down 28-13 midway through the 4th quarter, he was desperate  and on third down he tried Nnamdi again. This time he threw it low and Nnamdi reached in an batted the ball out of the receivers hands for a pass defended. They went for it on 4th down again and failed. That was the last time the Chargers offense saw the ball.

Jason Campbell

In the postgame press conference with Tom Cable, he used to term “managed the game well” in regards to Campbell. I would agree with that assessment. What that means is that Campbell didn’t do anything spectacular, he just made plays when they needed to be made with minimal mistakes. Most importantly, he led this offense. He was in complete control in this game. He played with confidence and poise and made all the throws that the team expected from him when they traded for him on draft day. He had just 117 yards passing and a touchdown but that was more a product of the Raiders calling rushing plays 44 times.

He made several great plays in this game. Several smoothly executed screens were important. His best throw was probably the fade route to Jacoby Ford in the back corner of the endzone. His other two great plays were all about slight of hand. The first was on the Raiders first touchdown in which he faked the handoff to Michael Bush up the middle and rolled out left to jog into the endzone completely untouched and pretty much unnoticed. Fooled the camera guys too. Next thing anyone knew, he was standing in the endzone holding up the ball. The other fine play was yet another play fake. This time he hid the ball in his gut after the fake. The Chargers had stacked the box with TEN defenders. This left Louis Murphy open down field for a 37 yard completion. It happened midway through the 4th quarter and led to the Raiders fourth TD of the game to put it out of reach.

Marcel Reece

While the offensive lineman were taking out the defensive lineman, Reece was running through the hole they created to take out the linebackers and safeties. But he started out this game as the one making the plays with the ball. His first play was an 11 yard catch and run in which he got the first down after laying a nice stiff arm on the would-be tackler. The drive ended in a touchdown. His next play was a screen catch that would have gone for about ten yard except he hurdled a tackler and took it for a 22 yard gain. That drive would also end in a touchdown. The touchdown score was a 7 yard run by Bush that was made possible by a key block from Reece. He would lay key blocks on several more runs in the game including the 30 yard run by McFadden and the final first down run of the game by Bush that allowed the Raiders to then kneel that clock out. He also led the team in receiving with 3 catches for 42 yards.

Lamarr Houston

He wasn’t given a lot of chances to make plays in this game. But the ones he was able to make were big ones. Late in the 2nd quarter with the Chargers down 21-3 and desperate for a score, they went for it on 4th and one. The Chargers handed the ball off and tried to take it through the gap they figured they could create by moving Houston aside. Not only was Houston unmoved, he threw aside the blockers and stuffed the runner for a loss of yardage and a turnover on downs.

His next big play was equally important. It was the third quarter and the Chargers were suddenly showing what they are capable of when they get on a roll. They were moving the ball down the field play after play in large chunks. Four straight completions plus a horsecollar penalty tacked onto the end had them at the Raiders’ 9 yard line. Without a disruption, the Chargers were sure to score. Houston provided that disruption when he bulled into the backfield and sacked Rivers for a six yard loss. They settled for a field goal.

Jared Veldheer

He kept Jason Campbell clean all day from his blind side and had a few key blocks in the run game as well. He is really shaping up to be a terrific draft pick by the Raiders.

Honorable Mention

Michael Huff

Call him mr opportunity in this game. He got things started when he was sent on a safety blitz on first down (yes, FIRST down) of the Chargers first possession. He was met by a blocker and when Rivers stepped up in the pocket, Huff fought off the block and sacked him. Then on the very next play, he had a pass defended. The Chargers would punt after a failed 3rd and 13 attempt. The next Charger possession, Rivers threw high to his receiver and waiting back behind the play was Huff who intercepted it. The Raiders would score their second touchdown on the short field following the turnover. He finished 2nd on the team in tackles with five.

Betweener

Stanford Routt

This category only exists when there is a player I just cannot decide what to do with but still needs an explanation. Routt made as many plays on defense as he gave up in this game. It was identical actually. But the thing that puzzles me is the sheer number of plays that went through him in this game 14 by my count– seven good and seven bad. All told he gave up 107 yards to the Chargers but he also had several key coverage incompletions and passes defended. I will try and break it down for you.

He started by giving up a 19 yard catch on the Chargers second possession. Next Charger drive, he gave up a 7 yard catch, then a 24 yard catch to put them in field goal range. But he also ended the drive with a pass defended to give up just a field goal. To end the first half, he helped the Raiders keep the Chargers from scoring after the McFadden fumble gave them a short field. He had coverage on two straight incompletions and the Chargers missed the 50 yard field goal attempt. On the Chargers drive to end the 3rd quarter, he was a disaster. He gave up a 25 yard catch and was called for holding which was declined. Next play he gave up a 19 yard catch and was called for a horsecollar tackle that put the ball at the 13 yard line. The Chargers would kick another field goal a few plays later. He was lights out the rest of the game though including bookending the Chargers final drive with two passes defended and a coverage incompletion in between. As I have said many times before about Routt; feast or famine.

Busters

Mike Mitchell

When Mitchell was in the game he was given the task of shadowing Chargers All-Pro tightend Antonio Gates. And despite Gates’ plantar fascia pain in one foot and his turf toe in the other, Mitchell couldn’t seem to keep up with him. But Gates has a way of making his defenders look stupid. His first catch on Mitchell was pulled in at the line and then Gates pulled a little okeydoke that left Mitchell grasping at air. It came with the Chargers in Raider territory and looking to score. If Asomugha hadn’t came up from his corner position to laid a solid open-field tackle on Gates, it would have been a first down at very least, and probably a lot more.

Then to start the 4th quarter, Mitchell gave up a 14 yard catch to Gates to start the drive. And the drive ended with Gates all alone in the endzone for the Chargers only touchdown of the day. Mitchell was supposed to drop back with Gates but he bit on the underneath route that Tyvon Branch had covered. That left two defenders on one receiver and no one covering the best receiver on the team for an easy score. All told, Gates would lead the Chargers in receiving with 6 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. About half those catches and yards plus the TD was courtesy of Mitchell.

Mitchell wasn’t horrendous in this game. He simply gave up a few crucial plays and didn’t do much to offset those miscues. Hew wasn’t certainly not the only one and wasn’t the only Raider defender to give up catches to Antonio Gates. His being the only Buster should tell you something about just how well the Raiders played as a team in this game.

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Week 13: Ballers & Busters

Oakland Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers

Ho..lee…expletive. What a game. I mean, how the…what the…where the? Whatever happened at Heinz Field on Sunday, it was unexpected. I don’t know anyone who was expecting the Steelers to drop their fourth straight or that the Raiders would be the team to do it. But what started out as a stand-off, ended with a shoot-out. With Pittsburgh clinging to a 10-6 lead going into fourth quarter, neither team felt very comfortable. And that’s when things suddenly got much more interesting.

The Steelers would miss a field goal to start off the fourth quarter and then both teams would exchange scores on every single drive for the rest of the game. Five lead changes to be exact; and all were touchdowns. It came down to who had the ball last. And in this case it was the Raiders who would score the final TD with just 9 seconds left on the clock.

 

So let’s tally up those who kept the Raiders in the game through three quarters, and made the plays to pull out the win along with those who nearly thwarted those efforts.

Ballers

Louis Murphy

He didn’t show up in the stat line until the fourth quarter, but when he showed up, he made his presence felt. His first catch was one in which he burned his man to get wide open on a slant pattern and took the pass 75 yards for a touchdown. The end of the catch and run he faked out the corner and tip toed the sideline to stay in bounds and get the pylon. The catch gave the Raiders a 20-17 lead. Then after the Steelers regained the lead, Murphy had a brilliant drive. He caught three passes on that drive. The first went for 19 yards to put the Raiders in Steeler territory. The second was a wobbling duck thrown by Gradkowski that Murphy came back to and high pointed the ball to keep it from the defender and pick up 23 yards. His third catch, he got open in the end zone and caught it for the final touchdown to seal Raider victory. Those four catches were good enough for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead all Raider receivers. I watched the Florida Gators lose to Alabama on Saturday and it was clear to me that what separates this Gators team from it’s national championship team last year is having a savvy receiver like Louis Murphy.

Bruce Gradkowski

While he may have started out slow in this game, there is something to be said for the fact that he still didn’t do anything to put the Raiders in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of. No stupid mistakes and no turnovers. He led the Raiders to two scores in the first half. On the second scoring drive he completed a 16 yard pass, escaped a sack despite a fasemask, scrambled for 20 yards that was negated by a holding penalty, and threw a 22 yard pass to put the Raiders in field goal range. He kept the Raiders within one score heading into the fourth quarter. And that is where he really turned it on and did his damage– in the clutch. The first drive in the fourth quarter, he picked up two first downs with his feet. Then he finished it off with a 17 yard touchdown strike. The most important part of the touchdown pass was how he sold a pitch fake right to Fargas that fooled the defense and then he threw to Schillens crossing left. Then after the Steelers scored a touchdown on just two plays, Gradkowski said “Oh yeah? I can do that too” and on the third play of the drive he threw a 75 yard touchdown strike to Louis Murphy to take the lead right back. Then the Steelers marched down the field to score a touchdown and re-re-take the lead with just two minutes left on the clock, Gradkowski said “HA! That’s nothing‘, two minutes is all I need.” With the Raiders starting on their own 12 yard line, he drove them 88 yards to score the game winner. Along the way he had a 17 yard completion, a 12 yard pass, a 19 yarder, a near interception, the miracle 23 yard duck completion, and the final 11 yard touchdown pass. He went 22-33 for 308 yards and three touchdowns on the day. He was the first Oakland QB to pass for over 300 yards since Dante Cullpepper did it way back in 2007. And after two previous failed attempts by the Pittsburgh native while with the Browns and Bucs, Gradkowski finally had a happy homecoming game. Good timing if you ask me.

Justin Fargas

As usual, he ground out the tough yards. His longest gain was just 13 yards but he consistently kept the Raiders out of third an long situations with hard fought runs between the tackles. On the Raiders first drive he got the ball on three consecutive plays– a 4 yard run, a 9 yard run on third down and then a 10 yard screen pass on fourth down. The drive ended with the Raiders’ game tying field goal. On the Raiders first drive of the fourth quarter he had a 7 yard cut back run to set the Raiders up in third and short and on the next play he picked up the blitz nicely to allow Gradkowski to scramble for a first down. The drive ended with the Raiders first touchdown. He started the next drive with a 7 yard run on first down. This play set the Raiders up in third and short and with the Steelers forced to guard against the run, they bit hard on the play fake and left Murphy wide open for the 75 yard touchdown catch. Fargas finished with 63 yards on 15 carries.

Hiram Eugene

His first play was in the first few seconds of the game. Santonio Holmes returned the opening kickoff 83 yards to the Raiders 19 yard line. But if Eugene hadn’t chased him down from behind, Holmes would have taken it all the way back for a touchdown. After the big return, the Steelers would only manage 4 more yards and settled for a field goal. Hiram’s second and final play is the reason he is a Baller. Because while his first play turned a Steeler touchdown into a field goal, his second play kept the Steelers from scoring altogether. Just before halftime, with the Steelers on the 16 and looking to score, Ben Roethlisberger thought he had Hines Ward open in the end zone but Eugene came sprinting from across the field to leap in the air and pluck the ball down for an interception and a touchback. It would serve as one of the biggest plays of the game. Combined with his first play, he took 11 points off the board from the Steelers. And folks, that is how games are won.

Sebastian Janikowski

The Raiders called upon him to make two field goals and he made both of them. The first one was from 48 yards out– nailed it. The second one was from 43 yards out and was even more impressive. Mainly because a wind had picked up that he compensated for. When the ball left his foot it looked like a sure miss wide right but it suddenly made a left turn and split the uprights perfectly. It looked like a bird (or angel?) had swooped in and corrected it’s trajectory. If you needed any further proof of that wind, Jeff Reed lined up for a 53 yarder that began straight only to sail left and miss. How is it that Janikowski kicks better in Pittsburgh than the Steelers’ own kicker?

Thomas Howard

It looks like the decision to move Thomas Howard to strong side linebacker was a good one (although he also plays well on the weak side too). He played very smart and aggressive and for nearly the entire game– only stepping out for the occasional breather. That may not seem like a big deal but on the strong side, for the Raiders it is. Howard teamed up on a tackle for a short gain on the Steelers second possession that ended in a three and out. Then in the Steelers final drive of the third quarter, he shot into the backfield on one play to tackle the running back for a loss. A few plays later, he stayed in his gap when the running back changed direction and tackled him for a short gain. The drive ended one play later with the Steelers’ missed field goal attempt.

Busters

Tyvon Branch

As has happened many times before, the top Buster was the Raiders’ leading tackler. Usually when that happens, Kirk Morrison is the recipient. And Branch has led the Raiders in tackles many times this season while never being a Buster. There is a first time for everything though. Just like Hiram Eugene made it as a Baller because of two key plays, Branch is a Buster for a few major mistakes. For instance, the Steelers first touchdown went through him alone. He gave up the first pass of 27 yards and then was burnt on the Santonio Holmes slant for a 34 yard touchdown. The Steelers had another two play drive in the fourth quarter and Branch was partly at fault on that play too. The first play of the drive, Stanford Routt gave up a catch to Holmes and Branch could have stopped it at 25 yards but he whiffed on the tackle and Holmes ran for a 57 yard gain to the Raiders’ 3 yard line. The Steelers scored a touchdown on the next play to re-take the lead. That is 14 points for which Branch was either solely or partially responsible for.

Michael Huff

We go from the Raiders’ leading tackler to their second leading tackler. Although, I’m sure it’s purely coincidental. The first time Huff was noticed was on the second play of the Steelers’ third possession. A play in which Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall took the ball through the right guard/tackle gap. When Mendenhall came through the hole, the first man there was Huff and he looked like he would be able to make the tackle or at least slow him down. But he completely whiffed on the tackle and Mendenhall hardly had to break stride until he was 61 yards down the field. Then for two quarters Huff played quite well. But in the fourth quarter after the Raiders had taken a 20-17 lead, he gave up a 27 yard catch on the first play of the Steelers next drive. Three plays later he gave up a 20 yard catch. Those were the two biggest plays from scrimmage on the drive and it ended with a Steelers touchdown to put them ahead with just two minutes remaining.

Chris Morris

Funny thing how as soon as Chris Morris gets back in the lineup, he immediately re-stakes his claim as a Buster. He came in the game early to replace Samson Satele who went out with an injury. On at least two separate occasions, his man pushed him out of the way to tackle the Raiders’ running back for no gain. One other time he missed his assignment and caused a hurried throw on a possession that ended in a three and out.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

Raiders Week 13: Ballers & Busters

So much for turning the corner. Just a week removed from a decisive victory over the Broncos on their home field, the Raiders revert back to being the cure for what ails the opposition. The Chiefs had just ONE win all season coming into the game including nine straight losses but it turns out that all they needed was a trip to Oakland to fix that. Despite a great opening drive that was just what Raider fans had hoped for and should have expected after last week, that promising drive yet AGAIN ended in a field goal. It also was the best drive the Raiders had all day. So, as has been the case most of the season, there is much more blame to be handed out than credit for good play.

Ballers:

Chris Johnson- He headlines a short list of players who played their asses off and did their part to keep the Raiders within striking distance of the hapless Chiefs. He didn’t give up a single sizeable gain on his man until the second to last play of the game. He also had the biggest play of the day for the Raiders when, on the Chiefs’ first play of the 2nd half, he intercepted a pass and returned it to the Chiefs one yard line. From there, Justin Fargas leaped into the end zone for the touchdown. It was really nice to see a great play on defense taken advantage of by the offense rather than squandered by bad play calling and penalties.

Zach Miller- Mr Dependable was yet again the Raiders’ leading receiver. Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, that is never good news for the Raiders. He had 5 catches for 79 yards on the day. Among those catches was a 28 yard catch on the Raiders’ first drive, a 21 yard catch on third and long on the Raiders’ next posession, and two nice catches of 8 and 18 yards on the Raiders’ final drive of the day that resulted in a Janikowski field goal.

Busters:

Tom Cable- The game began looking like he had finally figured out how to be unpredictable as well as utilize Darren McFadden. Then the Raiders failed as usual on their first drive and had to settle for a field goal. But that failure is not why he is here. He earned this dishonor when he called a fake field goal on 4th and 10 that was fumbled and returned for a touchdown. That was one of the worst calls I have ever witnessed. Not only did the Raiders not get three points but they gave up seven. That is a ten point swing in a game that was lost by seven points. You do the math. That stupid call alone lost this game for the Raiders. He said after the game that if the play had worked then he would look like a genius. No, sorry Cable. If that play would have worked it would have been a miracle and you would have looked like a lucky fool. And we would still be left with the same truth: Cable is a terrible game coach. The only reason there were some imaginative plays on the first drive is that the first drive is scripted ahead of time. He didn’t call any of those plays in a pressure game time situation. I originally worried about losing Cable and Knapp after the season but now I say, “Bring it on. It can’t get much worse.”

JaMarcus Russell- He’s baaa-aaack. After posting his best game of the season last week, he fell back to earth this week. He was back to his old self again. Which means he was terribly off target on most of his passes. He completed 35% of his passes on the day and had a total of 132 yards passing. The only thing missing was a fumble.

Gibril Wilson- He led the team in tackling. The main reason for this was that he gave up so many catches. He was abused all day by Tony Gonzalez. He gave up a 16 yard 1st down catch to Gonzo on the first play of the game, then gave up an 11 yard catch to Gonzo to set up the Chiefs’ first field goal of the day. Then on the Chiefs’ lone touchdown drive he gave up a 16 yard catch to Gonzo on 3rd down to keep the drive alive. While Gonzo victimized many on Sunday (8 rec, 110 yds), Wilson was victimized the most.

Gerard Warren- When the two leading tacklers are from the secondary, that is a very bad sign and it means that the linemen are not doing their job. While there were few on the line who played well, Warren barely showed up on the stat sheet with just one tackle on the day. He had no QB pressures or hurries or anything. All the while, Larry Johnson was able to rack up nearly a hundred yards rushing. Warren’s biggest knock throughout his career has been inconsistency. He is known to simply disappear in games and this is an example of one of those games.

Derrick Burgess- Yet again, he barely shows up in the stats. He too had just ONE tackle on the day. He was seen in the backfield once in which he made Thigpen step up into the pocket. We expect Burgess to rush the passer above all things but if he can’t do that, at least some tackles would be nice.

Kirk Morrison- Yet another Hero to Zero from last week to this week. Of course Gonzo victimized him a few times as well. One of those catches was on the 3rd down on the Chiefs’ touchdown drive. He also had a missed tackle on a Dwayne Bowe catch that resulted in a first down and an eventual field goal. He took a bad angle and was handled on the block that led to a huge 25 yard Tyler Thigpen run to set up the other KC field goal. He was also fooled badly on the Larry Johnson 2 yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He is the middle linebacker and he is supposed to be the brains of this defense. He was not smart in this game.

**You may note that Justin Fargas is not on this list. That is because while he did have a great game rushing the ball and scored his first touchdown of the season, he had a costly fumble on a play in which he was barely touched. The fumble led to a Chiefs field goal and put the Raiders down by two scores. So in this game he giveth and he taketh away. You may also notice that Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski are not here despite the botched pitch on the fake field goal that led to a Chiefs TD. I don’t fault them because that play should never have been called and there was nothing good that could have come of it. Blaming Lechler and Janikowski for that play would be like blaming Janikowski for missing a 76 yard field goal. Although it sure would have been nice if they wouldn’t have fumbled it and gift wrapped a TD for the Chiefs. Especially considering they have been practicing that play since last season. I’m just sayin’. 

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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