The Raiders’ leading receiver through the first seven weeks of the season was mysteriously not in the starting lineup on Sunday. Darrius Heyward-Bey had been the starter every week leading up to the bye week and was finally playing like he deserved to be the number one receiver as evidenced by his team-leading 27 catches for 434 yards. But something happened in the last two weeks to keep him on the bench much of the loss to the Broncos.
The Raiders came out for the first play of the game in a three wide receiver set that didn’t include Heyward-Bey. It featured Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore on each side with Chaz Schilens in the slot. This was the alignment throughout most of this game with DHB and Louis Murphy playing sparingly.
But of the five receivers, DHB was the only one who failed to make a single catch in the game. He saw only a handful of plays and was thrown to just once. That one throw was a long bomb down the right sideline near the end of the third quarter. He was well covered on the pass and the jump ball in the endzone forced DHB to become the defender and knock the ball out of the hands of Bronco defensive back Andre Goodman in the end zone.
There has been little explanation as to what may have had Hue Jackson benching the team’s leading receiver. The logical explanation seemed to be that he was simply not picking up the tendencies of his new quarterback as quickly as his fellow receivers.
I asked Palmer about this theory, to which he responded simply, “I think your starters are your starters.”
An odd response considering DHB has not only been a starter every week prior to this week but the number one receiver. He went on to clarify and essentially confirmed it by saying, “I have thrown more balls to those guys and they’re more comfortable with me and I’m more comfortable with them probably.”
During the game, he and Louis Murphy appeared to be disgruntled about their lack of playing time. Their behavior on the sidelines resembled that of sulking. Murphy in particular was so angry that once he finally did see a pass late in the game, he made the catch and threw the ball at the turf which earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. If either of them are in Hue Jackson’s doghouse for some reason, that kind of behavior will not do them any favors.
Afterward, Hue Jackson insisted Darrius Heyward-Bey was simply not in the game plan.
“That was just certain sets,” said Jackson of DHB’s limited playing time. “We have some very talented players and he’s one of them and we had certain sets where we have a bunch of guys targeting for those particular sets because comfortability, it had nothing to do with… Darrius is a good player, and he’s doing well, so that had nothing to do with that.”
Key word: “comfortability.” Either Carson is not yet comfortable with Darrius or the other way around. It would seem that after the two hooked up a few times in the loss to the Chiefs before the bye week there was some comfort there. The important thing to remember, however, was that Carson was uncomfortable with the entire offense. He was unable to go through his reads and look off receivers because he likely only knew what one receiver would be doing on any given play. With DHB the leading receiver, he was often the one guy to whom Palmer was looking to get the ball. Now that they have had three weeks of practice, those receivers who have developed “comfortability” with Palmer and vice versa are the receivers who got the start as well as the playing time.
My thoughts are that DHB will receive more playing time as he and Palmer gain more chemistry, but it remains to be seen if he will get his starting job back. The Raiders will not go with three wide receiver sets every week and Jacoby Ford and Chaz Schilens have the confidence of Palmer and therefore Hue Jackson right now. Throw in newly acquired TJ Houshmandzadeh and it could be very difficult for DHB to come close to the 96 yards per game he had over the previous four weeks of the season.