Raider Nation can breathe a short sigh of relief as the Oakland Raiders were able to overcome a sluggish first half to defeat the St. Louis Rams 16-14, behind the heavy starch and carb diet of running back Darren McFadden who rushed for 145 yards on a career-high 30 carries. However, the key move of the game began in the second half when Raiders head coach Tom Cable made the swap at quarterback replacing starter Jason Campbell with back-up Bruce Gradkowski. The result was Gradkowski going 11 of 22 for 162 passing yards with one touchdown, giving the franchise their first season home-opener win since 2004.
The game began right where they left off in Tennessee, defense terrible against the run, while the offense was looking questionable yet again behind shaky offensive line play. Rams’ running back Stephen Jackson bruised and gashed up the Raiders defense early in the ball game, but the D came alive and held him in check as the game wore on. Campbell went 8 of 15 in the first half for 87 yards, but couldn’t get anything going down the field due to lack of protection. His only miscue was an interception to end the first half, which turned out to be his last throw of the game. The Rams game plan was effective for half the game, but in came Bruce and the momentum swung.
On his first drive Gradkowski completed his first three passes. He would eventually set up kicker Sebastian Janikowski for a 41 yard field goal, which made the game 7-6. On his next series, Gradkowski drove the Raiders down the field on an 83 yard drive which resulted into a 4 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Louis Murphy. For the game Murphy had 6 catches for 91 yards, while teammate and fellow receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had 6 catches for 80 yards finally looking like a solid NFL receiver. Finally, for one half of play the offense looked credible. McFadden’s play provided a consistency the Raiders needed until the passing game picked up in the second half. When the Raiders play inferior teams like the Rams, it is imperative to take advantage of McFadden’s Pro Bowl like ability, because it accomplishes the main goal of controlling the time of possession.
The Raiders defense held Rams’ rookie quarterback Sam Bradford to a modest 167 yards passing, and two touchdown scores. After containing Jackson for the second half, Oakland keyed in on Bradford forcing him to win the ball game for the Rams. In the second half the pass rush picked up intensity and exposed Bradford for the inexperienced quarterback that he is. Now if both the offense and defense can put two halves together maybe the Raiders can look like a legitimate contender in the AFC West.
As for now, who will be the starter at quarterback going into next week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals? Campbell’s quick yank was a desperation move by Coach Cable, and does not build trust and consistency within the offense. I would have liked to see Campbell in the second half with the adjustments that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson made in the second half, because he clearly made a conscious effort to get the ball out of Gradkowski’s hand quickly, and it was highly effective. Gradkowski spark-plug ability to play with this porous offensive line makes him appear like the only quarterback in the last several years to have some type of success with this questionably built Raiders’ offensive line. I believe Campbell, should start next week against the Cardinals, but Cable being on the hot-seat has no choice but to “Win Baby, Just Win” by any means necessary.
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Written by Arthur Kai