By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, November 23rd, 2009 at 5:50 pm in Oakland Raiders.
More news, notes and quotes (at a better rate of connection speed) Monday and the weekly press conference with coach Tom Cable:
– Cable had two strategic decisions which worked in his favor during the 20-17 win over the Bengals.
First, facing a fourth-and-1 trailing 17-10 at the Oakland 47, Cable was booed for sending in Shane Lechler to punt. The Raiders had failed on a third-and-1 and nearly eight minutes remained in the game.
Lechler punted the Bengals back to the 10-yard line and the Raiders forced a three-and-out.
Oakland got a 12-yard punt return by Johnnie Lee Higgins _ good by the Raiders’ 2009 standards _ only to have Bruce Gradkowski’s deep pass to Louis Murphy intercepted by Johnathan Joseph when the quarterback was hit while throwing. Both Cable and Gradkowski contend a touchdown was there for the taking with better protection.
Later, when the Raiders tied the score when Gradkowski and Murphy ultimately hooked up, Cable’s decision was whether to go for two or send out Sebastian Janikowski to convert the extra point and put the game into overtime.
“We talked about it. My thought was we had battled to get there,” Cable said. “Let’s get to overtime and win it there. If we can get one more drive, I felt like we were getting into a rhythm offensively. I thought we’d be fine, but I did think about.”
Bottom line is he made the right call both times because the scoreboard says so. Strategically, it seems sound from here to put Lechler on the field to pin the Bengals back in their own territory on the first decision, and to trust the way the team had been playing defensively with regard to the second decision.
– Gradkowski had passes batted down at the line of scrimmage by Donata Peko and Frostee Rucker, and his relative lack of height (he’s 6.5 inches shorter than Russell) means he’ll have to look for windows at times instead of throwing over the top.
“I think moving in the pocket can help create lanes for himself,” Cable said. “As offensive linemen, you have to be aware of those things and his physical stature. We have a thing about jumpers and being more aware of it than the week before. Before it was kind of easy because JaMarcus was so much taller than everybody else over the top.”
– Defensive end Jay Richardson got his most extensive playing time because of the injury to defensive end Richard Seymour and responded with his best game with six tackles and a tackle for loss.
“I thought it was a real lift for our team,” Cable said. “Jay has not played a lot because of who he’s playing behind and he was needed yesterday. He stepped up and made some plays.”
Said Richardson: “You want to make sure you step up and do your job. Don’t worry about the added pressure, just do what you do best because we all have different styles up front.”
– The Raiders brought more blitz pressure than at any time since the win over Philadelphia, and Richardson was glad to see it.
“It helps you out because the offensive line has got some other things they’ve got to account for and in doing that they might lose track in what we’re doing up front,” Richardson said. “Blitzing forces them to have to think more, make some checks, and usually they’re going to have a bust.”
Not that he was all that thrilled with having to listen to Branch and Stanford Routt crow about their pass rushing skills.
“I’d rather us get the sacks up front, the defensive linemen,” Richardson said. “I’m always happy for the guys, but you’ve got to hear about it when they get a sack.”
– You don’t see a lot of instances when players get both the strip and the fumble recovery on the same play, but the Raiders had it happen twice with rookies against the Bengals. The last one, by Myers, was set up the winning points. Myers said the game was televised at his home in Iowa so friends and family got to see it, and he’s been fielding texts and phone calls ever since.
“It just happens so fast,” Myers said. “I was on the backside and I saw (Caldwell) cutting back, and I was just trying to make a play and luckily fell into it.”
Myers said it was the first strip and recovery of his career, including college, where he played special teams, and high school, where he played defense.
On the first series of the fourth quarter, with the Bengals up 17-10 and poised to go up by two touchdowns, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant stripped fullback Jeremi Johnson and recovered the fumble at the 14-yard line.
“It just worked out that way,” Bryant said. “I reached out to tackle him, I didn’t know if I was going to get him or not, but the ball came out, it was laying on the ground, I was looking at it and I thought to myself, `I ought to grab that.’ So I picked it up. It was pretty awesome to have that much of an impact.”
– It’s only one win, but to Murphy, beating the Bengals has created a Tsunami effect.
“I hope we can just keep riding this tidal wave,” Murphy said.
– Cable’s biggest concern are the big plays which the Raiders surrendered _ a 61-yard run by Bernard Scott, a galling 23-yard screen pass on third-and-22 to Scott, a 30-yard pass to Chad Ochocinco, a 15-yard reverse to Caldwell and a 40-yard pass play to Laveranues Coles.
“The big play is really an Achilles’ heel for us right now, something that has to be addressed,” Cable said. “Big plays are caused by a breakdown, a lapse by an individual, a missed tackle, getting out of the gap, blowing a coverage, something like that.
“When you take the big plays out of it, we’ve improved dramatically defensively. But it’s also cost us. We have to really put attention to that.”
– Cable wasn’t about to get into assessing Gradkowski as a potential longterm NFL starter along the lines of other off-the-beaten-path quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia.
“I think Bruce did a good job yesterday, and we need him to do a good job again this week,” Cable said. “This will all sort itself out. To make statements like that right now would be ludicrous. Right now, as I said when I made the change, he is our best chance to succeed, so we’re going to keep riding it, keep pushing it, try to get better as a team. How it all turns out, time will tell.”