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What we’ve learned about the 2011 Raiders

The Oakland Raiders are getting a lot of attention for all of the right reasons this season for a change. Granted, the season is only three weeks old, but the Raiders are looking really good overall thus far and find themselves sitting at 2-1. They have given some outstanding performances as a whole this season as well as a few quality individual accomplishments. Here are some things I’ve learned about the team and its individual players this year.

Let’s start where it all starts, in the trenches on the offensive line. Props to them for proving the naysayers wrong this season. The play of the offensive line this season has been absolutely outstanding whether it is run blocking for Darren McFadden and Michael Bush or keeping Jason Campbell clean and giving him the opportunity to see the whole field.

“[Darren McFadden] has six supporters in front of him that are blocking like you have never seen. I think our offensive line is starting to become something,” said Coach Hue Jackson on Monday.

This unit has truly become one of the unbelievable surprises of the year to date. If they continue to gel and grow as a unit as they have done, they could help produce one of the most dangerous units in all of football this season. They have already become one of the highest scoring teams in the league. Don’t be surprised if a few more pancake blocks land Samson Satele a plane ticket to Honolulu.

The next item on the agenda when uncovering the intricacies of this team is the quarterback who is playing one of the smartest seasons the Raiders have seen in quite some time. At no time during this season has Jason Campbell bit off more than he could chew. He is not chucking the rock out into space like we saw from Mark Sanchez at times during the game Sunday. But at the same time he is taking advantage when there is an opportunity presented to him.

Campbell has said that it is not about stats and having throws on the top ten during Sportscenter, but he is playing the best football of his career in an effort to get the win for his team. In addition, it is indeed his team. He is simply the pivot that gives the ball to the playmakers from the center. He is not trying to do too much and when it’s not there, he will overthrow somebody on purpose or throw the ball away. For just going out there and doing his job like it should be done, Campbell has earned the respect of his teammates and proven that he is indeed a starting caliber quarterback in this league.

Another guy who could be a starter for any team and perhaps has the early advantage to become the starting halfback for the AFC Pro Bowl squad is Darren McFadden. There is not much you can say that hasn’t already been said about Run DMC. He is an elite player in this league and he looks like he will be giving defensive coordinators nightmares for years to come. McFadden is the leading rushing halfback in the NFL which makes fantasy football owners who “took a chance” on him very happy.

Not only is McFadden the leading rusher in the league, but he is on a record setting pace. If that impressive line keeps playing like animals mauling babies out on the football field and Campbell continues to be an outstanding decision maker, Eric Dickerson could find himself a front row seat at the final Raiders game of the season looking to congratulate McFadden on his new rushing record at the end of the contest.

Another thing of interest early in the season is the play of rookie cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. Perhaps it’s too early for Chekwa to actually earn a real game ball after the Jets game and perhaps I’m jumping the gun a bit, but what Chekwa did against Plaxico Burress on Sunday was more than adequate and it shows that somebody had their head on straight drafting him in the fourth round earlier this year.

Chekwa went out and exceeded any expectations that anybody could have had for him. He looked light years ahead of DeMarcus Van Dyke in terms of physicality and route recognition. The guy has the size and speed to cover anyone in the NFL and out-physical them. His length – at times – caused me to have flashbacks to the former number 21.  I’d even go so far as to say he was an upgrade at best and even at worst to regular starter Chris Johnson. It’s still early in the young man’s career, but the Raiders appear to be onto something with Chekwa at cornerback.

Moving on to a more negative plain, I see some disappointment from the team this year as well. One of the specific players who has been a disappointment this year is tight end Brandon Myers. When Kevin Boss sprained his knee in week two of the preseason against the San Francisco 49ers, Myers was called in to be the next man up. The only problem was that Myers never did man up. He is definitely not a starting caliber tight end and probably never will be.

Even with Kevin Boss back playing with his teammates on Sunday, Myers still got a look on a third-down-and-four pass from quarterback Jason Campbell. As if to justify my thoughts on him this year, he dropped the ball that would have been a completion to fourth string tight end David Ausberry for a first down. That drop led to Sebastian Janikowski missing his first field goal of the season from 57 yards. In his third season out of Iowa, Myers is a huge letdown and should be inactive by the end of the season.

One more thing needs to be discussed at this early point of the season: the phasing out of Nick Miller. Just one week before, in Buffalo, Miller was responsible for punt and kick return duties. A week later, he was put on the inactive list, even though the Raiders were still without fellow wide receivers Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy. Perhaps it had something to do with Darrius Heyward-Bey returning to the lineup. But it seems more likely the team would have inactivated Derrick Hagan.

Thus, there is more to this story than anybody is telling. Suddenly Miller is the bottom of the barrel at wide receiver for this team – this after never really being given an opportunity to show what he can do during the regular season. At first glance during the preseason, it appeared the Raiders had some big plans for Miller as he was highly active in the passing game in the first two quarters with the starting unit. Clearly now he has fallen out of favor. With the inevitable return of Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy in the very near future, Miller could find himself looking for employment at the time of the first injury that requires another signing to occur.

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