And to think a few short months ago, Darren McFadden was a potential draft bust and Richard Seymour was an example of Bill Belichick picking the pocket of Al Davis.
Raiders coach Tom Cable has gone to great lengths to preach the team aspect, the “brotherhood” forged in training camp and a willingness of the 53-man roster to scratch, claw and fight.
Based on the Raiders 5-4 record at the bye, who is to doubt him?
But none of those qualities would mean a lot if McFadden hadn’t energized the offense and Seymour wasn’t the physical and emotional lynch pin of the defense.
Cable is fond of saying the Raiders always knew what they had in McFadden and that health was the lone issue with his performance. He immediately shot down any and all off-season and draft time trade rumors.
You never heard McFadden called a bust in this space, but I’ve openly wondered about whether his running style was a fit for the NFL and if maybe he was strictly a perimeter guy and a runner-receiver.
All the talk about McFadden’s skinny legs and inability to break tackles seems ridiculous every time he lowers his shoulder and drives into a defender to pick up an extra yard or three and finish off a run.
In one season, McFadden has gone from the guy who goes down too easy to their best and most explosive running back since Bo Jackson.
With the 49ers having a week to prepare and fairly secure in the knowledge that McFadden wouldn’t be in the lineup, Hue Jackson didn’t have nearly the versatility at his disposal as the Raiders gained 179 yards of total offense in a 17-9 defeat at Candlestick Park.
With McFadden back against Denver . . . you know the story.
The most important thing about the Raiders offense over the last seven games isn’t whether Jason Campbell or Bruce Gradkowski is at quarterback or who made the decision, it’s keeping McFadden upright and explosive.
As for Seymour, his impact on the psyche of the team is illustrated in this CNN-SI story by Jim Trotter. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha recounted a conversation he had with Seymour at Rangers-Giants World Series game that spoke volumes.
Seymour is a big reason Matt Shaughnessy is coming into his own and learning how to be a terrific defensive end. Seymour has caused Tommy Kelly to step his game up inside, a player who is finally playing up to contract he signed following the 2007 season. Lamarr Houston has played through some rough patches and is holding the edge of late, with plenty of help from his own skill and line coach Mike Waufle, but also because of Seymour’s presence.
But make no mistake, Seymour is doing more than being a leader. He’s been absolutely dominant inside and at his present pace could wind up with at least a third more tackles than he’s ever had and something approaching 10 sacks.
The Raiders haven’t had this kind of play from an individual on the defensive line since Howie Long, and if the Raiders continue to play as they have, Seymour is a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The better the Raiders play, the lower the first-round pick New England gets in return in 2011. New England is still a good team, they’re 6-2 and probably playoff bound, but that draft pick didn’t co much to help them stop Peyton Hills (29 carries, 184 yards) in a 34-14 loss to Cleveland last week.
Asked earlier this week if Davis was pleased with the way things were going, Seymour laughed and said, “Oh yean, I think he (whipped) the Patriots on that trade.”