Wins are hard to come by in the National Football League. This lesson was best illustrated on the regular season debut of Monday Night Football as both the Raiders and Bills lost close games on tactical errors. Leodis McKelvin’s decision to bring the ball out of the end zone on a kick return was a costly as John Marshall’s decision to play a deep zone on the final drive of the game.
For the 2009 Oakland Raiders, there is little room for error and even less for injury.
Taking care of the football, maintaining gap responsibilities and communication in coverage are as important to success as air is to breathing. Of course, this all means nothing if the most talented players are unable to play due to injury.
With a date in Kansas City looming this Sunday, the pressure is already intense as the Raiders face the second of three consecutive AFC West rivals to begin the season. The month of September could easily determine Oakland’s fate.
Chaz Schilens was the first warning sign. There were no guarantees that he was going to be a breakout talent this year, but all the signs were there that he was destined for a big year. Schilens is due to return in the coming weeks but one can’t help but wonder if it will be too little too late. JaMarcus Russell had found his go-to-guy out wide and the offense had a new wrinkle.
Without Chaz, the onus was placed on the backs of rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy. Murphy stepped up to the challenge and became the field stretching, sure handed, crisp route runner that DHB is still learning to become. However, there were moments in the game that simply required a better throw by Russell to keep momentum alive or asked more of Heyward-Bey than to simply be a decoy.
This is how fine the line is that the Raiders walk.
One miss fired pass, a single blown coverage or one key injury could be the difference between a run at the AFC West crown or another top 10 draft pick.
Take the recent rash of injuries in the punt return game. Nick Miller’s shin splint was actually a fracture. Johnnie Higgins is questionable for the tilt with the Chiefs due to a shoulder injury. Thus, Hiram Eugene and Javon Walker have been given the responsibility to field punts. By Jerry McDonald’s estimate, Eugene hasn’t returned a punt since he was playing football in junior college. Walker and his bionic knee are seeing their first action of the regular season and could be seeing a punt for the first time in some years as well.
This is not to say that if Higgins doesn’t play that a costly fumble will occur on a punt return, but the odds of disaster have been increased to be sure.
This is the fine line that Tom Cable walks.
There is no reason why the Raiders shouldn’t get a third consecutive win at Arrowhead if they show the same type of effort displayed against the Chargers. If it is another close contest though, the difference could be something as simple as not calling for a fair catch or missing an open receiver on a key possession.
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