Russell's slow start a concern

The Raiders managed to get a split of their first two games primarily thanks to a surprisingly sturdy defense and a late touchdown from Darren McFadden that sent a blanket of silence over Arrowhead Stadium. What they didn't get, and what they'll need if the march to respectability is ever going to get going full tilt, is a better performance from JaMarcus Russell.

Oakland's third-year quarterback is entering his second season as a full-time starter and there is a growing unease and restlessness in the Raider Nation over the inconsistencies shown by Russell through the first two weeks.

Specifically, it's been Russell accuracy, or lack thereof, that have caused the most concern.

Against San Diego, a game in which the Raiders had the defending AFC West champs on the ropes for the most part, Russell was a pedestrian 12 of 30 for 208 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He had one touchdown, a brilliant 57-yard strike to rookie Louis Murphy late in the fourth quarter which temporarily gave Oakland the lead, and had another for Murphy that was taken away.

Playing against the Chiefs in Week 2, Russell threw five straight incompletions to start the game and finished 7 of 24 for 109 yards (29.2 percent).

In doing so, Russell grabbed the dubious distinction of being just the second quarterback in the NFL since 1997 to complete less than 30 percent of his throws and still win. The other? Jake Delhomme of Carolina who completed only 7 of 27 passes (25.9 percent) in the Panthers win last year against the Raiders.

Does this mean that Russell is done, that it's time to break out the bust label? There's a definite groundswell of support among Raider fans on the internet to do just that, and it's clear from the boos that rained down on Russell when he came back into the game against San Diego after getting hurt that the discontent is growing.

But from this end of the barstool, it's too early to try to run Russell out of town. The investment alone that Al Davis put into this kid makes it foolish to even consider, given that Russell has less than 1 ½ years of starting experience under his belt.

As of this writing, the young QB had all of 19 NFL starts under his belt and is the third-youngest quarterback in the league behind rookies Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.

Yet it's clear … emphatically clear … that the Raiders will only go as far as Russell's rocket-powered arm will take them.

The strange thing is that Russell seems pretty accurate with his over-the-middle throws, but it's the passes to the outside and the finesse throws he has to make that have given him the biggest trouble.

He also has a tendency to lock onto receivers, like he did in the second half when attempting to throw a screen pass. Glenn Dorsey, Russell's former college teammate at LSU, read the quarterback's eyes, drifted to his right and then jumped up to bat the third-down pass away.

Yet as bad as he looked, Russell regrouped himself long enough to engineer a nine-play, 69-yard drive in just 1:31 that culminated in McFadden's game-winning touchdown. Russell completed 4 of 7 passes for 67 yards when the Raiders needed him the most.

It was reminiscent of his fourth-quarter drive against the Chargers. Backed up deep in Oakland's half of the field, Russell calmly completed his final three throws for 74 yards, capped by the 57-yard touchdown heave to Murphy.

Moments like those are what make Russell such a tantalizing tease. Brilliant one second, agonizingly erratic the next.

There are other issues Tom Cable and his staff have to deal with before Oakland can be taken seriously. The run defense, sharp against the Chargers, looked painfully familiar against the Chiefs. Kansas City piled up 173 yards on the ground, doing it with a mediocre offensive line and a slowing-but-inspired Larry Johnson.

Oakland also has to be concerned about its own running game. McFadden and Bush had just 70 yards between them while the Raiders averaged just 2.7 yards a carry against the Chiefs.

But while Russell continues to struggle, those other shortcomings often get overlooked. Only when he gets it together will the Raiders and opponents be able to focus on something else.


SB Report Top Stories