A few things to keep an eye on when the Raiders face the Bucs Sunday:
— A decent start.
Can the Raiders keep the game within a touchdown or less early on? Jon Gruden loves to get a lead and then sit on it with the run.
It used to make me laugh when he was classified as this “West Coast offense” coach when Gruden liked to employ double tight ends and pound the ball between the tackles.
“The best thing about a 4-yard run on first down,” he would say, “is you can run it again on second down.”
— Pressure on JaMarcus Russell.
Defensive end Gaines Adams has been called out this week. They want him to pressure the passer. Russell’s game against the Houston Texans last week was light years ahead of anything he’s done before.
The quickest way to undermine a quarterback’s confidence is by getting someone in his face. Going back-to-back with measured, solid performances would be huge.
Mario Henderson plays a big role here. If he were to have his third straight solid game, it could influence the Raiders’ strategy with regard to the draft and when to take a tackle.
— The Raiders’ level of enthusiasm and of being prepared.
Yeah, I know, Tom Cable already sleeps with the fishes in the minds of most.
But what if the Raiders come out and play an inspired game and either win or push the Bucs to the wire?
As noted Friday, the Raiders have no peer with regard to playing poorly in December on the road when forced out of California. If they manage to summon up something impressive out of the blue _ something they didn’t do even in the good years _ it’s worth taking notice.
Rob Ryan’s contract is up. Do you blow out the entire offensive and defensive staff?
— Russell’s performance overall.
Directly related to the pressure placed upon him by the Bucs, yes.
But he is the Raiders future. Let’s go ahead and assume Greg Knapp is out the door after he made it clear he didn’t want to be the head coach, and then had his play-calling duties stripped.
Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is also in his final year and was a Lane Kiffin guy.
If Russell is suddenly looking on the verge of doing something special, Cable is the last link to continuity. You blow him out, and the entire system changes.
— Stopping the run.
It may be too late on this count. Tommy Kelly stays by virtue of his contract, but Terdell Sands and Gerard Warren have got to be on notice given Oakland’s sieve-like middle.
Any chance they have of being part of the 2009 Raiders _ if that’s what they want _ could be enhanced by closing off the run.
— Nnamdi Asomugha’s role.
His locker as well as Shane Lechler’s, was cleaned out Friday. They are represented by the same agent, Tom Condon. Didn’t see any other free agents cleaning out their lockers, with the team meeting Monday morning in Alameda.
Asomugha went out of his way to show up to training camp when he didn’t have to as an exclusive franchise free agent. Does his change in agents represent a shift in strategy? Or perhaps that stiff neck is worse than the Raiders are letting on.
Either way, with Antonio Bryant to defend, the Raiders could use him.
— Does Lane Kiffin show up?
Once he hears Al Davis won’t be there, young Lance might not make himself so conspicuous. If Davis were there, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him plant himself in a strategic area and have a few things to say.
According to MrSEC.com, Monte Kiffin has told Lane not to come to the game because his presence would serve as a distraction.
Have no ideal of the validity of the report, but no one loves distractions quite like young Lance.
I’ll check in after the game . . . it makes sense for one of the beat writers to stay behind after a cross country trip to be available when players check out Monday, as well as the postseason press conference.
(The added bonus being I can watch my son’s game Sunday afternoon in a CYO tournament championship game).