AFC West: Jason Peters
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|The Oakland Raiders were clearly motivated against Philadelphia.|
OAKLAND -- Antonio Pierce’s harsh comments about the Oakland Raiders ended up doing both the Raiders and his New York Giants a favor.
Pierce’s words woke the Raiders up, who reacted by punishing the Giants’ NFC East rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, in a 13-9 upset win Sunday. Somebody should ship a game ball to Pierce.
After a four-week funk, the Raiders finally played with the passion they showed in a narrow Week 1 home loss to San Diego. In the three games prior to its stunning win over bumbling and unprepared Philadelphia, Oakland was 0-3 and was outscored 96-16. The embarrassment reached a climax last week when the Giants beat Oakland 44-7. Pierce said playing Oakland was like playing a “scrimmage” and he expressed shock at how listless the Raiders were.
“I’m not going to lie, it was noticed by us,” Oakland linebacker Kirk Morrison said. “We talked about it. We don’t want people saying that stuff about us. We all agreed that we were not playing with confidence and it was time to wake up. Those comments really got us going. ... What happened to New York today. They gave up 48 points [in a 48-27 loss at New Orleans]. This is a week-to-week business … But Antonio did us a favor by saying those things.”
Oakland defensive tackle Gerard Warren had this to say: “I hope we can get to the Super Bowl and face the Giants again … [Pierce] has no effect on this locker room.”
Actually, he did, and it was positive.
Oakland rookie Louis Murphy said the players took Pierce’s comments to heart.
“We had enough,” Murphy said. “We wanted to end this nonsense.”
Murphy played a major role in ending the nonsense. The play of the game was an 86-yard touchdown pass from JaMarcus Russell to tight end Zach Miller on a 10-yard pass. Murphy, a fourth-round pick from Florida, threw two nasty blocks for Miller, who rambled into the end zone to give the Raiders a 7-3 lead. It was Oakland’s biggest play of the day and the only touchdown of the game.
When asked if that play could be the turning point of Oakland’s season, Murphy said, "I think it is."
It takes only one win to change the morale of a locker room. And for now, all is well in Oakland, whether Pierce thinks so or not.
Warren said Oakland, thanks to its win Sunday, can now focus on the good and bury the past month.
“Spaceships don’t have rearview mirrors,” Warren said. “You can only look up.”
Here are some other key developments from Oakland’s win:
Here comes the blitz: The Raiders finally unleashed the blitz Sunday. Oakland had blitzed only 20 times going into Sunday’s game.
Oakland pressured Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb relentlessly. The Raiders had six sacks, their highest total since 2005. Philadelphia had major trouble with the blitz after left tackle Jason Peters left in the first quarter with a knee injury.
“We came after them hard,” Warren said. “We wanted it.”
Eagles coach Andy Reid admitted that his team didn’t expect Oakland to blitz much and that the Eagles were unable to adjust.
Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said the Raiders worked on blitzing in practice often during the week. He said he hopes the team continues to use it more in the future. The Raiders play host to the New York Jets on Sunday. Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has been shaky in recent games, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Oakland tried to harass him.
Stopping the pass: Perhaps it was Oakland’s blitzing, but the Eagles were out of sorts all game. The team could do little right on offense and Reid tried to solve the problems in the air. Forty-six of Philadelphia’s 60 offensive plays were passes. McNabb completed 22 passes for 269 yards.
The Eagles ran the ball twice in the fourth quarter.
“We thought they would run some more, but they just kept throwing,” Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “We just adjusted and played it pretty well.”
Oakland’s effort in the pass-defense game was admirable considering Asomugha missed most of the game with an eye injury. He said he the injury is not expected to be long-lasting.
Just enough offense: Oakland won this game on defense and because the Eagles floundered all game. But the offense did show some improvement.
Oakland had 325 yards of offense. It was the first time since Week 1 that the Raiders broke the 200-yard mark in total offense. Russell wasn’t great and he missed several open receivers. But he didn’t kill the Raiders.
He completed 17 of 28 passes. The Raiders continued to play it safe with Russell, but he looked comfortable. A key for Russell is finding Miller, his favorite target. Russell threw to Miller 11 times. Miller ended up with six catches for 139 yards.
Miller is Russell’s way out of the abyss. If Russell can rely on Miller, cut down his mistakes and throw accurately, he has a chance to salvage his season.
OAKLAND – You’d think the Eagles were the Raiders.
Philadelphia is playing horribly. They are playing as sloppy as team I’ve seen in a long time. They are fortunate to be down 10-6 at the half.
JaMarcus Russell looks somewhat improved. Again, the Raiders are being cautious with him. But he is moving the ball fairly well.
The key for Russell is to connect with tight end Zach Miller. The two have a nice chemistry. The Raiders are winning because of an 86-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Miller. Miller and receiver Louis Murphy made the play work beautifully. Murphy registered two big blocks on the play.
Oakland top pick Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped yet another easy pass. He's not improving.
Russell showed some nice leadership skills when he came over to Murphy on the field and patted him on the helmet after Philadelphia intercepted a ball that went through Murphy’s hands. Russell has been critical of his receivers’ hands and he has been accused of being a poor leader. So, this was a nice sign.
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters is out with a knee injury and the Raiders are taking advantage of it. The Raiders are blitzing and really beating up the Eagles’ offensive line.
Richard Seymour is having his best game since Week 1. He has two sacks so far.
There are two new head coaches in the AFC West (Josh McDaniels in Denver and Todd Haley in Kansas City) and Tom Cable takes over full-time duties for the Raiders. Coaching changes and transition are never trouble-free, and it doesn't make things any easier on these new head men that they got the unfortunate draw of having to play the rugged NFC East in their interconference matchups. Let's take an early look at some of the intriguing themes that should develop from these matchups and how they might impact the AFC West race.
1. Cross-country trips: Though it could have been worse, both the Chargers and Raiders will have cross-country flights before facing the New York Giants. At least neither team faces Philadelphia or Washington on the road. And though their trips aren't as far, the Chiefs do travel to Philadelphia in Week 3 and Washington in Week 6. Denver also travels to Washington (Week 10) and Philadelphia (Week 16). As it stands now, none of those games looks to be a favorable excursion for the teams in the AFC West.
2. The Raiders' pass protection vs. the Giants' and Cowboys' pass rush: New York's defensive line is loaded with great talent and depth. The Giants' ability to bring pressure from the linebacker position has also improved from a year ago. Meanwhile, Dallas led the league in sacks last season and there is no reason to believe there will be a drop-off in 2009. These are major problems for any passing attack, but especially for one as weak as the Raiders'. Oakland has a suspect offensive line and a starting quarterback who doesn't sense pressure well. Match that with a desire from the organization to use wide receiver speed to create a deep passing game and it sounds like a formula for many sacks.
3. Philip Rivers and the Chargers' passing game vs. the Cowboys' secondary: Led by DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys are able to get after the quarterback, but they are very light at cornerback and safety. With pass-catchers such as Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers and Antonio Gates, San Diego can throw on anyone. The Cowboys are going to be tested heavily on the back end in Week 14 when the Chargers come to town. The Cowboys may also have their hands full in the secondary from a depth perspective when they play Denver and Kansas City, teams that should opt for a high number of snaps out of the shotgun and with multiple-receiver sets.
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|The Chargers need linebacker Shawne Merriman to return to form in 2009.|
4. Nnamdi Asomugha vs. the NFC East: While there are good cornerbacks in the NFC East, none of them is on par with Asomugha, who is far and away the best player at his position in the NFL. With Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens no longer in the NFC East, the division doesn't have the star power at wide receiver it once did, so dictating who will draw coverage from Asomugha is not as easy to predict. The Raiders should be able to be quite aggressive with their coverage schemes with Asomugha, eliminating one option with very little assistance. The same may be true for Champ Bailey as well, and the Chargers also have a potentially suffocating pair of cover men in Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie.
5. Shawne Merriman vs. Jason Peters: These are two of the elite players at their respective positions and they enter the 2009 season with plenty to prove. The Chargers' Merriman was sidelined for most of last year because of injury. He should rebound in a huge way as he looks for a massive new contract and to once again be considered a top player at his position. Peters also had a down year in 2008 and now, with a new team and a new contract, will try to show the Eagles that he was worth their investment. Keeping Donovan McNabb's blind side clean against the likes of Merriman will not be an easy chore. It should make for a classic one-on-one confrontation.
6. The Chargers' back-to-back games against the Giants and Eagles: The Chargers look to be the class of the AFC West, but they have a crucial seven-game stretch coming out of their Week 5 bye. San Diego has three division contests in a row before doing battle with the Giants and Eagles in Weeks 9 and 10. After those games, the Chargers have their final two division contests. The road game against the Giants and the home game against the Eagle
s may get more national publicity as potential Super Bowl matchups, but the Chargers would be very wise to focus on the five division games.
7. The Chiefs vs. the murderers' row of NFC East teams: The Chiefs open the season at Baltimore and play host to the Raiders before playing four straight games against the NFC East. They cap it off with a home game against the Chargers before finally getting their bye week. That is a brutal stretch for a franchise that will be undergoing a fair amount of philosophical change with a new regime in place. Getting off to a fast start would go a long way to instilling confidence in these changes, but that will not be easy. A 1-6 record heading into their bye looks like a distinct possibility.
Who benefits most? The AFC West and its new coaches are going to have their hands full with the NFC East, the NFL's toughest division. San Diego can play with any team in the league, but the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos are all at a distinct disadvantage in any venue against Washington, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Eagles will reportedly give up the No. 28 pick in the draft for Peters, leaving them with just one other first-round pick, the 21st. Thus, any idea of Oakland trading the No. 7 pick for the Eagles' two first-round picks is out the window. It was an intriguing idea since a trade would have fit in the draft value chart teams use.
The trade would also give Buffalo the No. 11 and No. 28 picks in the first round. Denver has the No. 12 and No. 18 picks. If both Denver and Buffalo want to move into the top 10, Denver now has tougher competition to move because the Bills have more ammunition. Denver likely won't trade both of its top picks to move up but perhaps Buffalo would.
Also, if Oakland wants to take a left tackle in the second round, it could risk losing a prospect it covets. It wouldn't be a shock if the Bills enter the market for a tackle with the No. 28 pick to replace Peters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Weekend mail call:
Jake from Sacramento: Bill, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why Oakland is not trying to sign a veteran receiver like Torry Holt or even Amani Toomer when they have an absolutely glaring need. Russell will never have the opportunity to succeed when he is throwing to bums like Higgins, Schillens, and Walker. The same can be said for McFadden if teams are unconcerned with the Oakland passing game as they very well should be. I'm not sure a WR draft pick is the right move either, after all, its not like Calvin Johnson is in the draft and ready to jump right into the fold. But even if they draft a WR, that would compliment Holt nicely and turn around their wideout situation immediately, right?
BW: I thought Oakland would go after a veteran as well. There is still time. Amani Toomer would be a nice fit even if the Raiders draft a receiver in the early rounds, which I believe, will be the case.
Zac from Oswego, KS: Hey Bill, Read the blog all the time. I'm a huge KC Fan and was wondering, could the chiefs trade down in the draft to get a 5-10 pick and maybe a late round Cassel?? Wow what an offense!!!! Thanks for the time, and I LOVE YOUR BLOG, Keep writing.
BW: Thanks, Zac. I could see Kansas City moving down. The Chiefs need a lot of help and they can get some nice picks by trading the No. 3 pick. But if they want Crabtree, they better not wait too long. He will be a top 7 pick, I think. And, yes, he would look good in that offense.
devin from Aztec, NM: What do you think the chances are that Denver goes for Mark Sanchez in the draft? It would give them a shot to start with a new QB and he seems to know his stuff.
BW: Really, I think Sanchez is a great fit and if he is there at No. 12, Denver should take him. But I think Josh McDaniels would rather take his chances this year with Kyle Orton and Chris Simms and draft a quarterback in the late rounds to develop. That has been the New England way and it is clear McDaniels lives by the New England way.
Maynard from Florida: hey i love how you feature the raiders.im a huge fan what is the possibility of the raiders getting Ramses Barden with our second round pick?
BW: Yes, I think the Raiders love this kid. But if Oakland takes a receiver in the first round (which I believe they will do) I don't think Oakland will take a receiver in the second round as well.
Chris from Chicago, IL: Bill, I've seen reports that Denver is working out Pat White. What are the chances of grabbing him in the second/third rounds? Could he fit there as a third or fourth receiver and run a little QB in situations?
BW: Yes, Denver looking at White. I think he is a third rounder. He is an interesting prospect who can help out in a lot of different areas.
John from Shingle Springs, CA: What do you think it would cost the Chargers to get Peters from the Bills? If they were able to do so, I see Peters being the LT and McNeill moving to RT. What do you think about this?
BW: Jason Peters will cost a lot. Buffalo wants a ton in return for him. It would cost San Diego, at least, its No. 16 pick in the draft. I don't think it'd be worth it. The Chargers should use their resources on defense or on a top offensive player who falls in the draft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Pre-game news and notes from Denver:
Denver star left cornerback Champ Bailey is active and is expected to start against Buffalo. Bailey has missed the past seven games with a torn groin. Bailey said last week that he needed to get on the field at least once if Denver were to make the playoffs so he felt good in January.
The game-time temperatures are expected to be in the high teens in Denver. It is very cold but clear.
Denver rookie left tackle Ryan Clady will play despite an ankle injury that kept him out of two days of practice this week.
Denver right guard Chris Kuper will play despite a hand injury that kept him out of two days of practice this week.
Denver No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley will play despite being hobbled for the past two weeks with a foot injury.
As promised by Denver coach Mike Shanahan, there are no updates from the Chargers game in Tampa Bay on the stadium scoreboards or in the Denver locker room. The televisions in the locker room, which are usually tuned into the early action, are turned off Sunday. Denver will clinch the division in the Buccaneers beat San Diego. The Chargers are leading 27-24 midway in the fourth quarter.