Michael Wagaman: Although they've had their moments, both against the Eagles and in the season-opener against the Chargers, the Raiders have been largely the same team they've been for the past six years, an underachieving, mistake-prone squad that will rise up occasionally with a good game.
It's really been feast or famine. They either look like a Super Bowl team or they look like a team headed for a seventh straight season of 11 losses or more. There's really been no gray area.
QB JaMarcus Russell
MW: I think they definitely could have done a better job getting a veteran backup for Russell to work with. Everyone points to Garcia, but he asked to be let go so it wasn't like Oakland really had much of a choice. And to be honest, Garcia wasn't all that impressive in training camp and the preseason. He's currently unemployed, which ought to say something.
Look, this team is tied to Russell, good or bad. Many people want to label him a bust but the truth is he's only in his second season as the full-time starter. He's got a lot of improving to do but the Raiders haven't exactly surrounded him with the best of environments to develop in.
ML: Zach Miller is enjoying a huge season, something that should continue this week against the Chargers. What are the Raiders doing to create opportunities for him, given that all defenses must be keying on him at this point?
MW: The Raiders haven't been doing anything special with Miller, per se. It's just that he's that good. If the offense overall were operating at a higher level, I think this guy would be putting up Pro Bowl-worthy numbers.
The problem for the Raiders is that Miller is also a very good blocker, and with the pass protection issues they've had, Miller has been forced to stay in to help the pass blocking instead of going downfield on a pass route.
ML: On Opening Night, the Raiders defensive line looked dominant. Then last week, Oakland gave up more than 300 yards rushing. What's changed between then and now, other than the opponent?
QB JaMarcus Russell
The fact that the team did nothing in the offseason to improve that unit was particularly troubling. They grabbed Richard Seymour in a trade, but the guys in the middle haven't done a good enough job controlling the line of scrimmage and they haven't received sufficient support from the linebackers, either. Far too many times tackles are being made 6-8 yards downfield.
ML: The Chargers have now won 12 straight games in this series. What do the Raiders have to do to bring that streak to an end on Sunday? Will it happen?
MW: Simply put, they have to play like they did against Philly, at least defensively. They can't allow San Diego to get the running game working, and when Philip Rivers drops back to pass, they definitely can't let him sit back relaxed. They have to knock him around and get him out of his rhythm, which means blitzing often.
Ironically, that was the formula that worked against the Eagles and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha later said that defensive coordinator John Marshall was probably going to get in trouble since owner Al Davis doesn't like to blitz. Not coincidentally, the following week against the Jets, Oakland's defense rarely blitzed and New York won easily, 38-0.
ML: Coach Tom Cable got good news when the assault charges against him were recently dismissed. Outside of that issue, what have you thought of his performance this season? What are the odds of him lasting more than two seasons in Oakland?
MW: From a leadership standpoint, I think he's done an outstanding job. He never flinched during the entire legal process regarding the Randy Hanson incident and he hasn't flinched while the Raiders have had their problems. That's something the players have picked up on and why, for the most part, effort hasn't been an issue. But he is hamstrung by what he is allowed to do and that has an effect on any coach.
The majority of problems have also been more on the field and have more to do with the players than the coaching Cable and his staff are doing. I still question some of his play-calling, like coming out throwing against the Jets when New York's run defense was without its best player. Will he last beyond this season? Who knows what Al Davis is thinking. I gave up trying to do that a long, long time ago.