RAIDERS – 10 THINGS I LIKE

By: David White

Wow.

Lots to digest from Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Steelers.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski may have a future yet. Same goes for coach
Tom Cable. JaMarcus Russell looks so expendable. Same goes for Darrius
Heyward-Bey.

When they win, we cover 10 things liked most, obvious highlights aside.
Here goes …

1. Gradkowski jawing off with Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who gave
him a big shove out of bounds on an 18-yard scramble.

The Steelers hit hard and often. They want to intimidate. Gradkowski let
Taylor and the Steel Curtain know it wasn’t happening, not in his hometown.

“I like getting dirty out there,” Gradkowski said. “I like to be
considered a football player and not just a quarterback. I get into the
game and I just told him ‘Hey, I’m planning all night, 60 minutes.'”

Now, that’s a quarterback. That’s a team leader. If Taylor thought that
was mean, he should have heard what Gradkowski told his own left tackle
Mario Henderson on the game-winning drive.

“They were showing a play on the score monitor and I was just looking up
to see, did I do the right thing or not, and Bruce was like, ‘Stop
(expletive) looking at the thing and get your mind right.'” Henderson
said. “I looked at him at first like, ‘You talking to me?’ Then I was
like, you know what, I like that, man. He demands attention. That’s what
you need as a quarterback in the league.”

2. Cable going for broke from the get-go.

Game opening drive. It’s 4th and 1 at midfield. All season, this is
where Cable played the field position game. He’d call on all-world
punter Shane Lechler to pin the opposing offense inside its 10, trying
to make sure the struggling offense always got the ball back in decent
position.

This time, Cable played to win, knowing a failed conversion would hand
the Steelers a great spot.

It gets better. Cable could have pounded the run. That’s what offensive
line coaches like best. Instead, he called for a play-action pass out of
a run set. Justin Fargas gained 10 yards, setting up a game-tying field
goal.

“Why not,” Cable said. “We need to win.”

That’s why Cable went for it again on 4th and 1 early in the fourth
quarter. Down 10-6, he had Gradkowski run a 2-yard keeper to extend
their first touchdown drive of the game.

The offense loved it. Not many coaches put that much confidence in a
31st-ranked offense.

“Any time the coach goes for it on fourth down he’s really putting it on
the offensive line,” right tackle Cornell Green said. “That just makes
us feel good and up to the challenge. We’ve just got to back him up on
that and we did and thag that was a big thing. We fight, man, we got to
put it all out there. We took advantage of the situation and as an
offensive line we back up our coach.”

3. Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison seeing Steelers receiver Hines Ward
out of the corner of his eye downfield.

Ward was about to give a blinside blast Morrison in full pursuit
downfield. Morrison turned just in time to hit him at the same time,
then followed him back to the huddle with a running mouth and wagging
finger.

The defense played good enough to win for three quarters, allowing one
touchdown on four red-zone trips. At Dallas and New York, those weren’t
stops. They were touchdowns in a first-half blowout.

Yes, the defense fell apart in the fourth quarter. But their three
quarters of play kept Oakland in the game until the offense could catch
fire in a fourth-quarter shootout.

4. Defensive coordinator John Marshall getting exotic with the Steelers
in the red zone.

On the last play of the third quarter, Pittsburgh faced a 3rd and 6 at
the Raiders’ 25. Marshall had converted linebacker Trevor Scott stand up
at the nose tackle position and blitz up the middle.

Marshall then had middle linebacker Kirk Morrison line up on the right
edge to blitz from the corner. The running back picked up Morrison, so
there was no one there to stop Scott.

He sacked Roethlisberger for a 9-yard loss. The Steelers then missed a
53-yard field goal attempt.

Scott bounced from outside linebacker to two-point stance lineman to
three-point stance defensive end. Nice mix.

5. Cable sticking to the run in the fourth quarter, when they typically
have abandoned the run to play catchup.

Down 10-6, Cable opened the drive with Fargas runs of 2 and 1 yards. The
11-play touchdown drive had five more rushes as the Raiders put 108
yards on the NFL’s leading run defense.

They only broke one double-digit rush but the ball-control play calling
kept the clock ticking and kept Pittsburgh’s scoring chances down.

6. Cable calling a bootleg pass to end that drive, with Gradkowski
throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens with a leaping
linebacker on his face — so much for being too short to get the ball up.

Gradkowski had an 8-yard scramble on the drive and kept moving in the
pocket to buy receivers time to finish their routes. He’s a poor man’s
Jeff Garcia with active feet and great improv in duress.

7. Gradkowski selling a play-action handoff on 3rd and 1 on the next
drive, three plays after Pittsburgh took a 20-17 lead.

Again, a great call by Cable. He showed run with a “heavy” run set —
two tight ends, one receiver. The Steelers bit hard, leaving Murphy over
the middle in single coverage for a 45-yard catch turned 75-yard score.

“I knew if you got in two tight ends and gave it a real push that it was
a run play, that you’d get a chance,” Cable said. “The guy, wow, what a
route, and he made a perfect throw. The DB couldn’t close on it.”

8. Todd Watkins coming off the bench on a 28-degree day with a minute
left the game for an instant 12-yard catch. Talk about coming in cold as
can be.

Watkins was active only because Darrius Heyward-Bey was a late scratch
with a foot injury. He played one snap all game before then. The only
reason Watkins was on the field was because Schilens was shaken up on
the previous play and had to come out.

For Gradkowski to throw to a cold receiver on the first play, on a 3rd
and 10 … that’s what breeds confidence in these receivers.

9. Furthering the last point, look how he went to Murphy on a 23-yard
jump ball a few plays later, one play after Murphy ran behind a corner
instead of cutting under him — with the corner dropping what would have
been a game-ending interception.

By going straight to Murphy after such a (potentially) huge mistake, he
gave Murphy a chance to redeem himself and keep his head straight.
That’s what leaders do.

10. Gradkowski’s winning 11-yard touchdown pass to Murphy.

Not just the throw, which is obvious as day on the highlight show.
Murphy wasn’t the No. 1 option. Tight end Zach Miller was. When he
wasn’t open, Gradkowski looked him off and went to his second read —
Murphy, who shortened his route because of a corner blitz.

Gradkowski saw the change, stepped up in the pocket to buy time and
nailed it.

If JaMarcus Russell was looking off receivers, anticipating adjustments
from second reads and knowing where to step in the pocket on a blitz,
he’d still be starting.

Instead, it’s Gradkowski, and what a difference it makes.

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~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on December 8, 2009.

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