Two games into the season and we already have a quarterback controversy.
After an uninspiring first half of play (8 of 15 for 87 yards and one interception), Jason Campbell was yanked and the staff turned to old reliable, Bruce Gradkowski.
Head Coach Tom Cable said in his post game talk that he made the move because he felt like the team needed a lift, and Gradkowski certainly did just that.
As he's often done when under center, Gradkowski was instant offense, throwing for 162 yards and a touchdown on 11 of 22 passing in one half of play. He also had one errant interception.
Gradkowski knows how to play with a weak line and young receivers. He was quick to get the ball out of his hands, buy time with his feet and deliver catchable balls to his receivers. Gradkowski's second half appearance also coincided with the sparked play of Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bay.
Expect a piece on the QB issue shortly…
Running Backs: A
The only thing missing from Darren McFadden's day is a touchdown. But his career high 145 yards and 30 carries will more than make up for it.
Unlike last week when he was a weapon all around the field, McFadden showcased a more physical running game this time around. In previous write-ups, I've written that McFadden is not a bruising, physical back but purely an athlete with the football in his hands.
Well, it looks like he proved me wrong.
Against the Rams, McFadden used his great speed to burst through holes, but he finished runs with a physicality that he has rarely showed in his first two years. There were a number of times when McFadden put his shoulder down to plow through defenders, and on one occasion against Craig Dahl, McFadden put him on the sideline.
When Michael Bush is ready to come back, it will be interesting to see how the staff handles the situation. McFadden has the hot hand, and as the old adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." That being said, McFadden has a history of breaking down, so the staff will want to save his body for the long run.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
This group's first half score is probably a C, but with Gradkowski at quarterback, they played at an A- level. Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey led the way with six catches apiece and 171 yards and a touchdown between them. Murphy did an excellent job in moving the chains, but he's shown a knack for finding the open seams for big gains and scores. Heyward-Bey had a career day, and on Sunday, we finally saw some of the hard work he put into improving his hands and route running. The team also took some shots down field with Heyward-Bey, and although they were unsuccessful, it just goes to show you how important it is to have a deep threat guy at receiver to keep defenses honest.
For once, Zach Miller didn't have to be the main man for the quarterbacks. He finished with only three catches and 49 yards and had a drop that would have gone for a touchdown.
Offensive Line: C
It's hard to give this unit anything lower than an average grade, considering they paved the way for McFadden's big day on the ground.
That being said, penalties were again a fact, as was the pass rush. Jason Campbell was sacked twice for fumbles. You have to feel for him a bit, as he hasn't looked comfortable at all behind his line.
Cable wasn't afraid to switch things up, and if anything, that shows a level of desperation to find something that works—and quickly. Samson Satele got the start at center, but was eventually replaced by Jared Veldheer. Left tackle Mario Henderson, who drew the ire of many this past week, was replaced after the first series, also by Veldheer.
Like the other offensive units, the line played a much better game in the second half. McFadden had nice holes to run through, and the line did a good job at finishing their blocks and moving on to the second level. However, they will need to maintain that level of run blocking to instill any confidence, and the pass blocking still has a long ways to go.
Defensive Line: B
Early on, it looked as if Steven Jackson was going to have a career day, and there was a collective mental anguish in Raider Nation that said, "Here we go again."
But just as quickly as Jackson got going, the defensive line stepped up and shut him down in emphatic fashion. It's the exact opposite of what happened against Chris Johnson and the Titans in Week 1, when the Raiders started hot and finished blizzard cold.
The line also got three sacks on rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. In the second half, you saw the line making the point that they wanted to hit Bradford hard and often—a good game plan against any quarterback but especially a rookie making his road debut.
The line did a number of things well, but perhaps where they were most improved was in their ability to disengage from one-on-one matchups and fill up the gaps.
Relative to past performances, a B is an excellent grade. Improvement is still needed, but Sunday's showing against the Rams was a nice step in the right direction.
The prevalent theme here is the improved play in the second half.
Against Steven Jackson, the linebackers struggled to fill the holes and in making tackles. On one play, Rolando McClain failed to bring Jackson down on a diving attempt at his ankles, forcing Tyvon Branch to make a touchdown saving tackle.
In the second half, the unit played with more intensity and fire. The defensive line helped by holding the line, allowing Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley to roam free. Wimbley led the way with four tackles and a sack. McClain got three tallies, including a body slam of Danny Amendola that drew a personal foul penalty, but sparked some life into the defense and the crowd.
The slow start hurt the unit's overall grade. And let's not get ahead of ourselves because they still have a ways to go.
The two touchdowns hurt, and really, the Rams don't have many weapons at receiver.
The game shouldn't have been as close as the final score shows, but the secondary, and the defense as a whole, took their foots off the gas in the game's waning minutes.
For the most part, the secondary did a good job in the man-to-man, but other than that, it wasn't an awe-inspiring performance.
Special Teams: A-
The lone blemish is Mardy Gilyard's 118 yards off five kick returns, but the Raiders took the rookie's confidence down a few notches, courtesy of Quentin Groves.
Groves' hit, albeit aided by the push of a Rams player, was perhaps the second biggest hit of the day, only to McClain's body slam.
Sebastian Janikowski missed only three field goals last season, but already in 2010 he has two. He was 3 for 4 on the day with a long of 41 yards.
Lechler didn't have the usual high average, but he only punted three times with two landing inside the 20-yard line.
Johnnie Lee Higgins' first punt return was a huge one, as it went for 53 yards, and Jacoby Ford had a nice debut as a kick returning, ending the day with 61 yards on three returns.
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