Raiders 2011 season: Ballers & Busters

It was an up and down season for the Raiders. Early it seemed like the ups would outnumber the downs but eventually the downs caught up to them, and the Raiders were kept out of the playoffs yet again. It can be difficult to round up every player and/or coach and simplify exactly what happened. But I’m gonna do it anyway.

Ballers

Darrius Heyward-Bey

He still isn’t the type of receiver that can dominate a game or tell the quarterback to put the ball up and he will go get it. But he was the most dependable player on a team of inconsistencies. He started out the season looking like he had not taken the next step in his development. He had just five catches for 49 yards over the first three games. But then he broke out. By midseason, he had 25 catches for 434 yards and had been named a Baller four straight games. Then a wrench was thrown into his bid for a great season. Jason Campbell broke his collarbone and new quarterback Carson Palmer was not on the same page as DHB. He would have to start over and just like the beginning of the season, it would take him a while to get in synch with his new signal caller. In fact, it took the exact same amount of time—three games.

By week four, DHB was a Baller once again. In fact, he was Top Baller. He wasn’t just catching the ball, he was catching it with his hands and showing abilities we had not even seen in his early season resurgence. He would be a Baller four times over the final five games, topping the list twice. He came into the last game of the season 155 yards from an improbable 1000 yard season. He would finish the game with 130 yards to just miss the millennium mark by 25 yards. For a receiver who spent his first two seasons as anything but dependable, this season came out of nowhere. There is still room for improvement and I would expect the chemistry between him and Carson Palmer to continue next season.

Michael Bush

Bush saved the Raiders’ bacon this season. With Darren McFadden going down with a season-ending injury in week seven, Bush picked up the torch and kept the Raiders’ running game respectable. Shortly after he took the reins as the Raiders’ feature back, Taiwan Jones also went down with a season-ending injury which put the workload squarely on Bush’s shoulders. He would take the job and earn a Baller nod five times over the final ten games including being named Top Baller three times. He carried the rock time after time, churning out the tough yards.

The Raiders were 7-4 after week 12 and the first big win came week ten in San Diego in which Bush carried 30 times for 157 yards rushing and three catches for 85 yards. He, like Heyward-Bey, was nearing 1000 yards by the end of the season. He was 89 yards from the milestone and just missed the mark by 23 yards. Not many teams in the NFL have a back like Bush who can take over the starting job and have the success that Bush had. His ability to carry the ball as much as he did without going down with an injury was critical for the Raiders this season.

Sebastian Janikowski

The Raiders’ longtime kicker finally broke into the Pro Bowl. While in previous seasons he may have earned the right to play in the game, there was no denying he was deserving this season. He got started right away when he opened the season by tying the NFL record with a 63 yard field goal. Then in week five in Houston, he tied another NFL record by hitting three field goals of 50 or more yards.

Later in the season he would break a franchise record when he had six field goals in one game with four of them from outside 40 yards. He finished the season off with a four field goal game and should have been given a shot at a fifth. He was 10 of 11 on field goals outside of 40 yards. His only miss was blocked. He was also tied for the league lead in field goals made outside of 50 yards (7). He did all of this despite being hobbled by a hamstring injury midway through the season that forced him to miss a game.

Carson Palmer

He came to the Raiders midseason after Jason Campbell went out with a broken collarbone. Palmer took a couple games to settle in but once he did, he had one of the best games of his career. In week ten in San Diego, he had a perfect quarterback rating through three quarters, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He would finish 14 of 20 for 299 yards, 2 TD’s and 1 INT with a 125.0 QB rating. The one interception was a tipped ball.  He had five passes of over 25 yards which is the most the Raiders have had in nearly 20 years (Hostetler had six in 1993). He would lead the Raiders to three straight wins and was named a Baller in all three games.

He finished out the season being named a Baller two straight times. He didn’t throw perfect games but he gave the Raiders what they needed to beat the Chiefs in week 16 and threw for 417 yards and two touchdowns. It was the third most passing yards in a game in Raider history. There were a few times this season in which he took too many chances but a CHANCE is exactly what he gives the Raiders. He has the arm and the accuracy to pick apart a defense. He can use the Raiders’ speed and turn it into long touchdowns. The Raiders gave up too much to get him but had they not acquired him, week 17 would have had no significance as they would have been out of playoff contention long before that.

Kamerion Wimbley

He didn’t finish the season on a great streak but I must recognize him for his games during the meat of the season. He had his best games during that time. It was also the time in which the Raiders pulled to the top of the AFC West with a 7-4 record. In week nine, he led the team in solo tackles (6). Week ten, he led the team in tackles again (7) and sacked Philip Rivers four times. In week eleven, he made plays in the run game to help the Raiders beat the Vikings. The next week, he had an interception that he took back 74 yards, and forced another interception. He was a Baller six times with four of those in the second half of the season. His sack total went down this season but a lot of that had to do with his being misused or double teamed due to poor defensive schemes.

Denarius Moore

We rarely see a rookie burst on the scene with the kind of talent Denarius Moore showed this season. He had 146 yards receiving in the second game of the season and was a Baller twice by midseason. After Carson Palmer came onboard, Denarius instantly became his favorite receiver. In Palmer’s coming out party against the Chargers in week 10, Moore had five catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, he would injure himself in the next game and miss nearly four weeks. But when he returned to full strength, he returned to form with four catches for 94 yards in week 16. He would be named a Baller for the final two games of the seasons, the final game going for 101 yards on just three catches. One of those catches went for 78 yards in the most exciting play of the game. But excitement is something we have gotten used to from Denarius. We can expect a lot more of it next season.

Tyvon Branch

One of the few bright spots on this Raider defense and certainly the brightest part of the secondary. He led the Raiders in tackles again this season (107) which comes as no surprise. He has led the Raiders in tackles the last two seasons and was second in tackles the year before—his rookie season. He is credited with the Raiders finishing out the game in Houston with just ten men on the field. He left his man to chase after Matt Schaub and force him to throw an interception to Michael Huff in the end zone.

Branch was a Top Baller in the week 11 win over the Vikings. He had a key tackle for loss on third down in the first half and came flying in so quickly on a field goal attempt that the kicker didn’t even attempt to kick it. Those plays were key in helping the Raiders jump out to a 24-7 halftime lead and eventually win the game. He had a great game the next week as well in a win over the Bears and had another solid game in the week 16 win over the Chiefs.

Jared Veldheer

What a find he has turned out to be. He began this season by not giving up a single sack over the first half of the season. He couldn’t keep his perfect sackless streak going all season but in the win over the Vikings in week 11, he held the NFL sack leader, Jared Allen, without a sack. It was the first time all season that Allen didn’t get a sack—breaking an 11 game streak dating back to last season. He had a difficult time with Julius Peppers the next week and struggled a little for a few weeks but he finished strong, not giving up a sack and not being called for a single penalty in the final game of the season.

Busters

Chuck Bresnahan

Who didn’t see this coming? This Raiders defense was the primary reason for nearly every loss of the season. The Raiders blew the lead late so many times I lost count. There were several other times in which the lead wasn’t lost but the opposing offense still was able to cut through the Raiders’ defense at the end of game. The Bills came back to beat the Raiders on a last minute drive in week two.

In week five the Raiders gave up a last minute drive to the Texans but Branch came off his man to chase down Matt Schaub or that would have been a loss as well. But as lost as the Raiders’ defense was all season, it grew to epic failure proportions late in the season. With the Raiders in the lead in the AFC West at 7-4, the collapse began.

In week 13, the Dolphins completely destroyed the Raiders, hanging 34 points on them. The next week, the Packers put up 46 points on them. The next week, the Lions came back down by six points with a last minute drive to win the game by one point. The Raiders had lost three in a row and were now 7-7 and out of the division lead.

The next week they would beat the Chiefs but not until after the Chiefs had the obligatory last minute drive to tie it and another last second drive that would have won it for the Chiefs if Richard Seymour hadn’t blocked the game-winning field goal. The Raiders won the toss and it is a good thing too, because the Chiefs wouldn’t be given a chance to blow through the Raiders defense in OT.

In the last game of the season the Raiders were within five points and the Chargers had to go 99 yards to score. They did it on four plays to kill the Raiders’ playoff hopes. The defense was confused and undisciplined all season, especially at the end of the season. Far too many times we saw linebackers on wide receivers, linemen on tight ends, and nickel packages in short yardage.

Rolando McClain

He has Raider fans wishing for the days of Kirk Morrison. You know, the days when the middle linebacker led the team in tackles and was a well-spoken leader on and off the field. He underperforms on the field and sets a bad example off the field. Early in the season he was already looking like he had made no strides since 2010. In addition, on several occasions he was seen dogging it. The first time this happened was in the loss to the Bills. One of the Bills’ five straight touchdown drives featured a big 47 yard touchdown run in which McClain was trailing and then simply gave up and started jogging. That play, along with many lapses by McClain had him named a Buster. The following week he was the ONLY Buster, due in large part to yet another instance of him jogging after trailing on a run. This time it resulted in a 74 yard run after catch. It is one thing to lose when all the players are giving it their all. There is no excuse for lack of effort.

After the bye week, things got worse for McClain. He was a Buster again in week 11 and then following week 12, was given the week off of practice to attend a funeral for his grandfather. While there, he was arrested on several charges surrounding putting a gun to the head of a childhood friend and firing off a round right by his ear. He has not been convicted of anything but he is guilty of being irresponsible at very least. The picture of him grinning like a fool while he was cuffed and put in a squad car was as damning as anything. His being away from the team all week and the distraction surrounding the incident played a hand in the Raiders’ getting beaten badly by the Dolphins which started the Raiders on a three game losing streak that would lead to their lost season. For this defense to fix its issues, McClain will have some accelerated growing up to do.

Hue Jackson

The biggest issue with Hue’s rookie season was his game management. He made several detrimental decisions in games this season. He also has not grasped clock management. The first glaring example of this was in the loss to the Patriots. With the Raiders in fourth and two at the Patriots 40 yard line, he decided to punt, when going for it or attempting a field goal would both have been preferable.

The next week, with the Raiders in fourth and one at the five yard line, he opted to go for it instead of kick the field goal. The three points would have put the team up by three scores and all but seal the victory. Instead they missed the first down and the Browns drove 96 yards for a touchdown, had a successful onsides kick, drove the ball into scoring position, and nearly tied the game.

Then after Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone, Jackson traded for Carson Palmer and got so caught up in playing cat and mouse with the Chiefs that he didn’t properly prepare Kyle Boller to play. The result was the Chiefs being the cat that ate the mousy Raiders with a 28-0 drubbing, thanks to six interceptions by Boller and Palmer combined. To make matters worse, Jackson got cute and put Terrelle Pryor in for one snap. He was called for a false start.

In the Raiders’ stretch run, they completely crumbled. They looked baffled by everything the Dolphins and Packers threw at them. For both games, there was no indication that the Raiders had prepared for what they would face. They would face the Lions the following week and the in-game decision making problems would crop up again. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Raiders had scored to go up by 12 points. Hue didn’t hesitate in calling for an extra point when a two point conversion would have put the Raiders up by two touchdowns. The Lions would score two touchdowns and instead of tying it, they won it by one point. The loss was the most painful of the season — at least until the final game of the season, a game in which Hue’s clock mismanagement and poor decision making cost the Raiders a chance to score before halftime. Hopefully it is just rookie mistakes, but we’ll see.

Mike Mitchell

At some point this season, opposing teams watched tape and realized the weakest link in the Raiders’ defense is number 34. When he came on the field, somehow you knew the opposing quarterback was going to be targeting the receiver he was guarding, or running at the area in which he was assigned. If I had to pinpoint when the other teams figured this out I would have to say it was some time before week 13 in Miami. The Dolphins exposed Mitchell in that game en route to putting up 35 points. The Packers continued the onslaught the following week, and though Mitchell had a nice interception in the game, it in no way made up for the rest of his performance.

The final game of the season was also quite brutal. Antonio Gates made Mitchell look silly in the receiving game when he caught a 38 yard touchdown on him. Then Mitchell missed a tackle on the Chargers’ 105 yard kickoff return. You can bet the Raiders will be doing a thorough examination of this roster in the offseason. I don’t foresee Mitchell surviving that examination unless they can find an area or scheme in which he excels.

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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