It’s that time of year again, the time when Raider Nation’s hopes are up and the Raiders are tied for the best record in the NFL–at 0-0.
After a rather quiet offseason, the Raiders began to make moves to shore up their run defense after they’d completed all of their OTA’s. First, they signed Greg Ellis prior to camp. Ellis, the former Dallas Cowboys linebacker was promptly put into Derrick Burgess’ left defensive end position.
Soon after the start of training camp, Derrick Burgess was traded to the New England Patriots for a third-round and a conditional fourth-round draft choice in 2010.
At the close of training camp, and seeing that their run defense was still wanting, the Raiders took another call from the Patriots–this time they would receive the player and give up the draft pick. Richard Seymour became a Raider officially just two days before their first game of the 2009 season. The Raiders gave up their first-round selection in the 2011 draft, but they are hoping that the acquisition of Seymour will make that a ‘late’ first round selection.
The Raiders are going to need him.
Monday night they will face a San Diego team that is the healthiest they’ve been in two years and may have more weapons than they’ve had since Dan Fouts was launching bombs. With Phillip Rivers throwing to Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Chris Chambers, the passing game is covered, but it’s their run game that scares teams. LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles can put the team on their shoulders whenever that’s necessary also.
The Chargers will have star linebacker Shawne Merriman back and fully recovered from his knee injury. Merriman has terrorized Raiders quarterbacks since entering the league back in 2005.
If the Raiders are to have a hope of winning their season opener, they’ll have to accomplish these keys to the game:
- Key #1: Russell needs to be accurate – Russell’s biggest problem as a pro has been his inability to hit open receivers. Granted, his second biggest problem has been having receivers who could actually get open. With rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy starting at receiver, Russell is going to have to be the one to pick up his teammates by making precision throws when it counts.
- Key #2: The defense will need to be stingy – This defense, during the preseason, allowed teams to do whatever they wanted to. If the team wanted to run the ball, they ran the ball without any issues. If the opposing offense was working on their passing game, the Raiders defense would gladly oblige by allowing the quarterback time to find open receivers. Monday night they face a team with plenty of options on the ground and through the air. While it’s doubtful the Raiders will hold them to less than 17 points, they’ll need to keep the Chargers to the low 20’s if there is any hope they’ll win the game.
- Key #3: Outplay the Chargers on special teams – The one area that the Raiders may actually be better is in special teams. They have strong-legged place kicker Sebastian Janikowski who usually begins the year cold, but he’ll need to make all of his field goal tries on Monday night. Shane Lechler is the best punter that anyone has had since Ray Guy was booming kicks for the Raiders of the 80’s. The Raiders coverage units have been one of the better units in the league, but they’ll have to ensure that the Chargers aren’t able to make any long returns–because the defense needs all the room they can get.
- Key #4: The offensive line must finally play like they belong in the NFL – While the Raiders’ O-line wasn’t as bad last year, they will need to show improvement this season for the Raiders to have a chance. They not only must pave the way for Darren McFadden to make his big runs, but they’ll also have to prevent Merriman and company from putting up 5+ sacks as they have often over the last few years.
The outlook for this game is bleak. Had Seymour been brought in a couple of weeks earlier, there might be some hope for the Raiders to actually win this game. While the Raiders are not without hope, they’ll have to play over their heads in order to have a chance–or play much, much better than they’ve showed this preseason.