It seems like ages ago that Art Shell was patrolling the sidelines in the East Bay during his second tour of duty with the Oakland Raiders. Shell’s lone year on the comeback trail netted just two wins and a total of 168 points for an entire 16 game season.
Those two wins came in succession with a stunning 20-13 victory over the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
It took two defensive touchdowns to defeat the Steelers in Oakland that Sunday afternoon. The offense never found the end zone which was a common theme during the Tom Walsh error era.
Here we are, three years later, and the theme is still pretty much the same.
Tom Cable’s offense in on track to lower the bar set by the ’06 offense. His play calling has yielded just 115 points in 11 games, which not so surprisingly is dead last in the NFL.
Despite the health concerns surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers still have a wealth of weapons to choose from. John Marshall has his work cut out for him yet again and his best player isn’t buying into the scheme any longer.
Nnamdi Asomugha voiced his displeasure with the Al Davis inspired defense in which the NFL’s best shutdown corner has thrived. After watching the Cowboys break big play after big play on Thanksgiving, there was good reason for Asomugha to speak up. Marshall has shown the ability to put together wonderful gameplans as evident by the efforts his defense put forth against Philadelphia and Cincinnati. His defense has also folded faster than a pair of deuces against pocket aces with such poor performances as the efforts shown against the Giants and Jets.
Forget about the Bruce Gradkowski homecoming.
History has shown us that the only chance the Raiders have to deliver a knockout blow to the playoff hopes in Pittsburgh will be via the defense.
Which version of the Silver and Black defense will show up on Sunday?
That is the real question and the only one that matters.
Troy Polamalu is not going to be the last line of defense for the Steelers but that hardly matters. Unless Coach Cable has taken the extra days of prep to reinvent the entire playbook, then more of the same should be expected from the worst offense in pro football.
Against Dallas, Cable finally remembered that he can use Darren McFadden in ways other than simply asking Run DMC to run up the zero hole for minimal gains. Will the trend of using D-Mac as a wide receiver continue?
Again, that hardly matters.
If the Raiders have any ray of hope then the new elephant in Marshall’s plan will factor more into the outcome than The Big Gradkowski will.
This one is all about the defense.
How bad are things around Raider Nation these days?
Look no further than the matchups both this week and last. Thirty years ago, the Raiders playing the Cowboys and Steelers in successive weeks would have been bigger news around the NFL than new policies on concussions.
Instead, both games are viewed as nothing more than tune ups for teams with playoff aspirations.
How much worse can things get?
Being that the best chance for the ’09 Raiders to beat the Steelers is to repeat a performance of the ’06 Silver and Black, I’d say things can still get much worse.
We’re getting too accustomed to this time of year as Raider fans. This is the time of year when there is nothing but pride left to play for. The short term goal is to make those terrible towels more useful for tears than cheers. The long term goal is to miraculously end the run of six years with 11 or more losses. Both seem like long shots but at this point that is all we’ve got left to cheer for.
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