Christopher Reina. 15th September, 2009 - 11:25 am
Watching the inevitability of the final San Diego drive just seconds after JaMarcus Russell connected with Louis Murphy for a 57-yard touchdown pass on 4th and long was excruciating.
The Raiders had a +2.3 Trench Counter for the game, which would have been an even better +4.8 without the Hail Mary interception by Russell.
Without question, Oakland played the better game, but similar to last season's home loss to the Chargers, the 4th quarter became horribly unfortunate.
1. The Body Bag Defense
If the Raiders can sustain that level of intensity on defense over the entire season, they will win a lot of games and put a lot of bodies on IR. The Chargers came into Week 1 with a tad overrated collection of receivers, but Monday night's game said more about the improved quality of the Raiders, who have been awful defensively, than it did about Vincent Jackson and company.
The pass rush was outstanding, led by freshly acquired Richard Seymour, who had two sacks, plenty of rushes and also defended the running game with great effectiveness.
Tyvon Branch and Chris Johnson both made several big plays and the Raiders even got something significant out of Michael Huff, who had the big interception at the end of the first half and also recovered a LaDainian Tomlinson's fumble.
This was the old Oakland Raiders' secondary.
What setup San Diego's 166 yards and 14 points in the 4th quarter was the inability of the Raiders' offense to record 1st downs and prolong a drive to give that maniacal defense a substantial rest.
Philip Rivers also finally figured out that dump off passes to Darren Sproles right up the gut for seven yards here and eight yards there would be more than enough yardage to march down the field.
2. Russell's First Year 3 Audition
Once again Russell didn't complete at least 50% of his passes and every analyst will tell you that no quarterback has begun his career as inaccurate as Russell and gone on to be a successful quarterback. But like the vaunted '370 curse' that is bound to be broken eventually, Russell is capable of improving his accuracy significantly both this season and next.
He still tends to overthrow his intended receivers and there were about half a dozen interceptions on the table that the Chargers left on the table.
Russell would have had a 63.6 passer rating without the end of game interception on the Hail Mary, but whether it is 12-for-30 or 12-for-29, the completion rating needs to improve.
But similarly to Jay Cutler and his four interceptions, it is difficult to determine what is Russell and what is his inexperienced receivers and what is his own failings. Trade out Rivers' receivers for Russell's and I think it is more than fair to expect a near-60% passer with a passer rating in the 80s.
I still don't understand why the Raiders don't use Russell's legs a little bit more, especially in 3rd and less than 6. Bootleg him right with Zach Miller ten yards out on a crossing pattern and if the linebackers stick to the receivers, bowl through himself with the keeper for 1st down.
He is a beast to bring down in the open field and the wide eyes of the secondary when he was blocking for Johnnie Lee Higgins is evidence for how much they would like to see him downfield on a frequent basis.
Russell is clearly perfectly suited for everything Al Davis loves about the vertical game, but they really didn't go to it enough. Russell was attempting to many 15-yard passes, which demand a lot of touch and finesse, something he doesn't really have yet. He is put in situations to succeed when he can fire the ball between the numbers and when he can just air it out, as he did with the touchdown to Murphy.
3. Tommy Cable
In the first game of the official Tom Cable-era, it was fitting that Norv Turner stood on the opposite sidelines because as brilliant as he sometimes is as an offensive mind, Turner remains a bad 'lead' coach and doesn't inspire his players to be better than themselves.
On both sides of the ball, the Raiders were more disciplined than they have been and fundamentally improved. The effort and desire to win was also far more tangible than it was for San Diego by a margin of at least 2-to-1.
Coming out of the loss, there is good news and bad news. The Raiders have three winnable games upcoming and don't play a team as good as the Chargers until Weeks 5 and 6 when they play the Giants and Eagles.
The bad news is that it is difficult to imagine them playing much better on defense and they still lost the game.