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Next 4 weeks will make or break: Guest Writer

To use the word “disappointed” to describe the current state of the once proud “Team of the Decades” would be to master the understatement. The Raiders’ record over the last 100 games stands at a miserable 25-75. More recently, they have yet to score a touchdown in their last eight quarters of play.

After a deceiving opening game performance against the Chargers that had the fans and media’s attention for the first time in years, the Raiders are stuck with their feet in a backpedal. The Raiders are averaging 3.1 yards per carry to go with an abysmal average of 88 yards rushing per game, placing them 28th in the league pounding the rock.

Last season the Raiders finished 10th overall running the football, while averaging 4.3 yards per attempt to go with a 124.2 yards per game. Tom Cable would be happy to find some of that rhythm after a quarter way through the 2009 season.

Using the run to their strength while bringing along JaMarcus Russell seemed the right way to go for Cable and this offense last season. With three capable backs in Justin Fargas, Michael Bush, and Darren Mcfadden at the ready and two young receivers starting in Chaz Schilens and Jonnie Lee Higgins.

This year’s two rookie receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy are starting due to Chaz Schilens’ and Johnnie Lee Higgins’ injuries, and things have not panned out well for the Raiders offense. It comes as no surprise they are dead last in passing, but with no running game to lean on, the offense is at a stalemate.

Now that the running game has fallen off, just to add to the passing game’s struggles, JaMarcus Russell is under a huge level of scrutiny. He is struggling to complete 40 percent of his passes, and has only thrown one touchdown to four interceptions for a scandalous 42.4 passer rating. Good for the worst passer rating amongst the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Former Raider Jeff Garcia was not shy in giving his opinion of Russell a few days ago:

“When you put him on the field in a one-on-one workout session he’ll make every throw for you,” Garcia said while appearing on Fox Sports Radio. “But when it comes down to making things happen in the heat of the battle and rallying the troops around you and making a case for the team, that’s where maybe things aren’t where they need to be.”

Even with a daunting schedule ahead, there are signs of it coming together for Russell. If you take away the nine drops (by Tom Cable’s count) combined last Sunday at Houston, JaMarcus Russell was 21 of 33. Not phenomenal, but for a quarterback that was constantly pressured against a Houston defense that beat up the Raiders offensive line all day, it’s fair to say it was not the quarterback’s fault for a change.

The defense gave up nine huge plays totaling 259 yards, despite four sacks and Tommy Kelly‘s 13 tackles (9 solo). Matt Schaub had five completions that went for 182 yards, with three of those passes going for 40+. On the ground the Raiders defense only allowed 2.9 yards a carry, but to no avail. They gave up huge running plays early in the first half which they could not recover from. Particularly 4 runs that went for 77 yards, the big one being the 32-yard touchdown run by Steve Slaton.

The offensive line was no better and far worse, giving up two sacks and giving Russell virtually no time or room to throw as the lineman were constantly being pushed back.

“I don’t think we blocked anybody, we’ve got to say it like it is,” Cable said after the game. “We didn’t play well up front offensively.”

Robert Gallery ditched crutches last week, and his chances for starting Sunday at left guard are unknown. Tomorrow Cable will have a better idea about Gallery, as well as Chaz Schilens’ availability for Sunday.

With right tackle Cornell Green out for at least a couple of weeks, Khalif Barnes could finally get trained to play right tackle. In the mean time, it looks as if Erik Pears may start this Sunday with no other immediate option to replace Green.

No question the Raiders will need all the help they can get offensively, as they face a Giants defense that has given up the least amount of yards per game (232.2) over the first quarter of the season.

There is still a chance for the Raiders, as long as they can play hard for their head coach like they did against Houston and Tampa Bay in back to back wins closing out the 2008 regular season. Many thought the Raiders had no chance in those games against two playoff-contending teams, but they proved doubters wrong while tearing apart each team’s playoff hopes.

Can they do it now when it matters the most?

At 1-3, their schedule only gets tougher. They head to the Meadowlands this Sunday to face the New York Football Giants, and then come home to play the Eagles and Jets before flying out to San Diego before their bye week. If the Raiders can somehow win two out of their next four games going into the bye, then their chances of salvaging the season are definitely more likely.

There is speculation among the coaching staff in regards to who the head coach might be in a couple weeks, and reports of a quarterback that has been fined heavily for his lack of commitment, but a win this Sunday could virtually make all of that go away.

This will be the biggest challenge in recent years for this once proud organization. If the Raiders go into the bye with less than three wins, Al Davis won’t need a District Attorney to tell Tom Cable he can’t coach the Oakland Raiders. Davis will tell Cable himself.

Another press conference, another “The Greatness of the Raiders is in it’s future,” speech. Just what the fans are hoping for. If that is not enough motivation for the players and coaches to get this thing turned around, what is?

–AJ DeMello, TFDS Guest Contributor