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Raiders get soft
A Steiff Teddy Bear with water bottle sits on an auctioneers rostrum at Christie's during the press preview of a private collection of teddy bears and soft toys valued at 1 million pounds (US$1.5 million) in central London, October 8, 2010. The 1300 item collection, the largest in private hands, will go under the hammer at Christie's on October 13. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS)

The Oakland Raiders have officially reached the softest part of their 2010 schedule. The Raiders have a manageable upcoming mid-season with the short road trip to the 0-5 San Francisco 49ers, followed by a trip to Denver, where they have won two straight games with JaMarcus Russell as their QB. After that they face the Seattle Seahawks, who have been hot and cold this year, if the Raiders are lucky it will be one of their cold games. The fourth week could end up being a game in which the lead in the divisional race could be on the line as they get their hands on the Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum. After the Chiefs, they will have a bye and then a much tougher schedule from there on out.

Although this is the “soft” part of the schedule, it’s no time to get soft. Unfortunately, Jason Campbell is most likely to see most of the field time at his position during this stretch and he is one of the softest quarterbacks in the NFL. Soft spoken, soft with his fumbling, soft when it comes to stretching the field, really I could go on and on. But one thing he is not soft in is mental toughness, he can take a hit and get back on his feet, which is the downside of the Raiders’ other quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski doesn’t lack that mental toughness, it’s just his body won’t cooperate with his brain.

Campbell played a nice second half of the game against San Diego on Sunday though. He looked like a completely different quarterback than himself…if that makes sense. He stretched the field with throws, he was much less cautious with the football, and showed awesome pocket awareness. Campbell must continue to play at that level if the Raiders are going to win with him in the game.

The bottom line is the offensive line is not going to give the quarterback time and protection like the Patriots and Colts do. They just haven’t been together long enough to have that kind of chemistry with each other. This team must be able to rely on a QB who is going to be quick and decisive with the football in his hands, and they have to be able to rely on the rushing attack—two things they are able to do with Gradkowski in the game. Perhaps Gradkowski’s best asset is his ability to release the ball at the top of his drop. Jason Campbell tends to be a ball patter.

But this isn’t all about Jason Campbell. The Raiders’ defense has gone soft also. After giving up two-hundred-forty-something yards on the ground to Houston, they come out against San Diego and give up well over 400-yards through the air. Question is, when are they going to get it together and shut down both the run and the pass? Or maybe, will they ever get it together period?

General thinking was that once the offense was able to contribute more with time of possession and some points, the defense would be okay. They wouldn’t wear down so easily, they could have time to catch their breath, and they wouldn’t be discouraged from making a stop and going right back onto the field after the offense goes three-and-out or turns the ball over.

So far—No good.

So what happened to that defense, the one that was supposed to be able to hold their own with a little help, the one everyone thought could do some damage if they got a little help from their counterpart? Did this defense go out the door with Kirk Morrison? Did we see a hint of it last week on the Chargers’ final offensive play of the game?

I want to know what exactly John Marshall is missing that is keeping this from being similar to those dominant defenses he crafted in San Francisco, Carolina, and Seattle. It looks to me like he has all the right parts and then some…is somebody meddling?

It’s fairly obvious that the run defense is better when Matt Shaughnessy is on the field. I can’t include Trevor Scott in this conversation because I have yet to see what Quentin Groves can do with Shaughnessy on the line in front of him. But the way the front seven played against the run last week was second to none in this league. If they could play the run like that every week then they could go ahead and cut Groves and nobody would care. I don’t want that to happen, but I’m just saying.

Then you look at what is holding the pass defense back. I think a little bit of the problem last week was clearly too many guys keying on Antonio Gates instead of staying at home. But one of the biggest weaknesses in this secondary is obviously Chris Johnson. Johnson has gone from being one of my favorite underdog players on this team to being one of my biggest “get him off the field coach!” players in just a matter of six weeks. Johnson is a huge liability in coverage, and it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with an injury from what I’ve seen.

Michael Huff earned the title of AFC defensive player of the week. I’m conflicted here because I love to see a Raiders’ guy get the award, but at the same time I’m not sure that out of all the guys on this defense he is the most deserving guy. I think if I’m the Raiders and I know Mike Huff’s contract is up at the end of this season, I’m just going to cut my losses. Guys like Mike Mitchell, Stevie Brown, and even Hiram Eugene are going to make that decision a lot easier for me because they can play at the same, or even at a higher, level as Huff can and they will be asking for a lot less money than the former number seven overall letdown, er—I mean draft choice.

So the moral of the story is don not be soft Raiders. Just because the schedule is more favorable does not mean it’s time to stop putting in that work. Two in a row—No, you need to win five in a row going into the bye week. Last week was the first must win of this season. Next week is the second must win, the week after that is the third, so on and so forth. The AFC West is going to be there for the taking, it will just be waiting for somebody to go get it. SO GO GET IT!

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