By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 at 7:19 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Unless you’re one of those people who considers a 31-24 loss no better than getting blasted 38-0, it could have been worse.
The Raiders gave the smallest non-strike home crowd (32,218) since 1967 a reason to stay interested until the game’s final moments.
When the Houston Texans run up yardage figures like they did Sunday at the Coliseum, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see the Raiders go into one of their patented tortoise shells and simply absorb the beating.
The biggest problem the Raiders had with the way they lost to the Texans isn’t that they’d seen it all before in past years, it was that they’d seen it all before during the week of practice.
They watched the Texans run their zone blocking, stretch-and-cut running game time after time, with quarterback Matt Schaub then operating with bootlegs to either side and play-action passing.
Then the Raiders went out and played as if they’d never seen it before.
“I thought they came in and did exactly what they’ve tried to do all year and that’s establish their run game and they did a good job of it,’’ Raiders coach Tom Cable said. “We never seemed to get a handle on it, or slow it down. I thought offensively (the problem was) our inability to have some consistent pass protection.
“We got whipped on both sides of the line of scrimmage. That’s the bottom line.’’
That whole offseason of making personnel moves and creating a sense of urgency to stop the run?
The Texans benched the NFL’s leading rusher, Arian Foster, for the first quarter for disciplinary reasons and he still rushed for 131 yards on 16 carries, including a 74-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Houston had 249 yards on 36 carries. If Gary Kubiak had wanted to really punish Foster for his tardiness to meetings and practice, he should have let backup Derrick Ward (80 yards, 12 carries) stay in the game and go for 175.
The play of the Raiders offensive line had Bruce Gradkowski playing under duress for most of the game. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 278 yards but fumbled twice, losing one, and also had a pair of interceptions.
The last one came when a protection breakdown on a blitz forced an intentional grounding call, which eventually brought up fourth-and-16. Gradkowski got off what should have been a first-down pass to Louis Murphy, only to have it bounce off his body and into the hands of Troy Nolan for a diving interception with less than two minutes to play.
News, notes and quotes as the 1-3 Raiders pick themselves off the deck and look down the barrel of a 13-game losing streak to the San Diego Chargers next Sunday at the Coliseum:
– At least the Raiders kept the crowd entertained. They deserved it for bothering to come out at all. The 32,218 count was the smallest in a non-strike year since Dec. 24, 1967, when the Raiders beat the Buffalo Bills 28-21 in the regular-season finale.
No paid attendance figure was ever lower in Los Angeles.
Keep in mind it’s a tickets sold figure. No way there was 30,000 people at the stadium. It looked like a preseason game.
– There were some blunt assessments of the whipping they got from the Texans.
“We didn’t stop the run,’’ defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. “I’m not a big stat guy, but the stats tell the story. It’s demoralizing when a team can run the ball at will. We didn’t stop the run and there is no excuse for that.’’
Said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly: “It’s a (bleeping) shock to me. I thought we would handle it better. As a defense, we’ve got to play better, I’ve got to play better. Can’t nobody go out there and say nothing after they run for 200 yards in your house without their best player, basically.’’
Kelly says he’s as comfortable as a nose tackle as he is in the three-technique spot, but when John Henderson is out, he’s almost always on the nose.
The plan all week was for the Raiders defensive line to disrupt the Texans offensive line, break up their zone schemes, or break the momentum of the rope, as Cable put it. Instead of breaking up the rope, the Raiders were hung by it.
“We knew what we were getting ready to go against,’’ cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “ It was stressed the whole week, about the zone blocking scheme, a great running scheme. And they have the boot off of that. And they came in and did exactly what it was. It was just a matter of us being able to stop in more consistently.
“We didn’t do that. We played well in spurts today. The rest of the time, they had their way with us.’’
– Middle linebacker Rolando McClain is fond of downplaying anything he’s seen in the NFL as having already seen it at Alabama in the SEC. He wasn’t saying anything Sunday, brushing off the only reporter who approached him with a brusque no comment and heading for the door.
No reason to explain why he was walled off by tight end Joel Dreesen on Ward’s game-opening 33-yard scoring run, or how Foster beat him for an 11-yard touchdown pass to make the score 31-21.
That stuff did happen all the time in the SEC. Except it happened to Vanderbilt.
– We’ll have a better idea Wednesday when Darren McFadden does or does not practice, but it appears his run of good health ended on a 23-yard run when he pulled up and reached for his right hamstring, left the game, and did not return.
McFadden said his training camp injury was to his left hamstring, not the one he hurt Sunday.
“I was just trying to go for another gear and I just pulled up,’’ McFadden said. “I’m going to go to the trainers and see what they have me doing. I’ll take it day to day.’’
McFadden had 12 rushes for 47 yards and caught six passes for 82 more, a nice bit of strategy considering the hard-charging Houston front seven.
– McFadden will likely hand the baton this week to Michael Bush, who looks up to the task with seven rushes for 40 yards, a 2-yard touchdown run and two receptions for 16 yards.
– It looked for a moment as if Jason Campbell would get back in the lineup when Gradkowski took a second wallop from Bernard Pollard in the right shoulder area on a third-down play. The Raiders punted, and Gradkowski went to the locker room for a minute.
Gradkowski insisted he was fine, threw a few balls on the sideline and returned.
– The Raiders had 20 or more first downs (24) in four straight games since 2002, when they had a seven-game streak and a five-game streak.
– Langston Walker and Asomugha, both of whom have seen Raiders seasons go south in a hurry after a poor start, insist opening 1-3 will not factor in to practice and preparation.
“This is the 2010 version of the Raiders,’’ Walker said. “We’re not worried about what we would have done last year, two years ago or whatever. We’re playing for right now and those types of things, for me personally, don’t enter into my head.
“I can vouch for the 53 other guys on this team that we’re not thinking about that. We’re thinking about going out there and winning and whipping somebody’s ass.”
Walker found himself with the unenviable task of blocking end Mario Williams, who the Texans flopped to the left side with good results.
“I’m confident because we’re in games more than we were in the past,’’ Asomugha said. “Plus, there are so many new players that they don’t know what `Here we go again’ means. I think we’ll be fine.’’
– Louis Murphy (clavicle) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (groin) weren’t deemed ready to play until pregame warm-ups, with the team poised to activate Shaun Bodiford from the practice squad if necessary.
By game’s end, Murphy had one catch (he was targeted seven times) and Heyward Bey one (he was targeted five times). That’s 2-for-12 for seven yards to the two starting wide outs.
Murphy conceded he didn’t know if he’d be able to play with his clavicle injury and was limited all week. It’s clear he wasn’t himself, although he declined to blame his game-ending bobble and interception from Gradkowski on the injury.
Moments before Heyward-Bey was late to look and adjust to another Gradkowski pass and the ball hit off one hand and fell incomplete. He had another very difficult chance near the end zone on a leap bounce free.
Neither were easy plays or even plays he should be expected to make. Both were at least a possibility for an upper tier receiver.
– Some nice offensive adjustments by the Raiders in getting Miller involved in the outside game (often in conjunction with a Heyward-Bey deeper route on the same side). He caught a career-high 11 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown in 13 targets.
That gives Gradkowski a 131.4 passer rating going to Miller and 16.6 to his starting wide receivers.
– The Raiders were 3-for-3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone after being 3-for-13 coming in. Hue Jackson made the best call of his tenure as offensive coordinator on a 13-yard touchown pass from Gradkowski to Marcel Reece on third and goal from the 2. Virtually the entire Houston defense bit on the McFadden run, with Reece drifting uncovered into the end zone.
– Remember coach Cable’s 24-point plan? The Raiders would be in good shape if they scored 24 points per game. Since then, they scored 23 against Arizona and lost by a point. Then they scored 24 and still lost.
As for penalties, the Raiders didn’t have their first one until deep into the second half (an illegal block on a return by Brandon Myers) and later added an intentional grounding call on Gradkowski which preceded the final interception.
– Other players who didn’t finish the game were linebacker Thomas Howard (knee strain) and running back Michael Bennett (hamstring, of course).