Can Russell Avoid Bust Status?

There has been a lot of negativity in Raider Nation lately. Who can blame them? They feeling slighted after the first four games. After an offseason of hope and improvement and a first game that everyone considered a moral victory, the Raiders have had three straight terrible performances. Lucky to come away with a single win, the offense has been the target of most of the negativity.

Now that Raider Nation has had their expectations changed for them, what can the Raiders do to improve?

The biggest target of negative criticism is usually the quarterback and JaMarcus Russell is a big target in more than one way.

His terrible play has effected the entire offense. His regression and lack of improvement is cause for great concern and his status as a bust is already cemented in many minds.

I am not willing to give up so soon on Russell. In my mind, every quarterback drafted that high must be given 30 starts to prove or disprove themselves. By the end of the season, the Raiders and Raider Nation will know exactly what Russell is as a quarterback.

So how can Russell and the offense improve?

Russell has been good on fourth down and on game winning drives. How is this possible when he has been so bad the rest of the time? The biggest reason may be because he is forced to ad-lib and play with his hair on fire on fourth down and at the end of games. He thrives in do or die, he is an old-fashioned gunslinger. He was in high school and at LSU.

Perhaps the Raiders have tried to mold Russell into something he is not. Paul Hackett is a fundamentals teacher, preaching mechanics and footwork. Hackett is the only difference between Russell’s end of last season and poor start in 2009. Interesting, no? Russell isn’t Rich Gannon, Bruce Gradkowski, or Jeff Garcia.

Russell is much more like a young Brett Favre, Jay Cutler or Dan Marino. Disregard the fact that these guys are great quarterbacks for a second. Do you see the type of guys? They just let it rip. If they don’t lose it for you in the first three quarters, they win it for you at the end. That is Russell! Why are we trying to make him into Chad Pennington (Another Hackett disciple).

Think of it as something along the lines of trying to make a free-swinging hitter into a patient hitter in baseball, it just doesn’t work.

You have to break a horse, you can’t immediately throw the saddle on and try to get it to run around a track. The best way to do it is to introduce the horse to frightening situations.

What better way to introduce fear to Russell than throw him into the game without much semblance of a plan? Allow him to ad-lib and gunsling like college. See what happens.

It might seem insane. It may be. The way I look at: If he gets his tail-whipped doing it your way, he doesn’t trust you. If he gets his tail-whipped doing it his way, maybe he learns something.

Then there is that chance that doing it his way will actually be better. Like allowing the free-swinger to hack away with the chance that he could hit a homerun. As is the case with a number one overall pick, a single isn’t good enough. So why not swing for the fences?

That is Russell, what about everyone else?

Obviously, Heyward-Bey is a speed weapon, why bog him down running normal routes? Throw quick screens and take some deep shots occasionally. Run more reverses and quick slants. Those same plays were what made Higgins so dangerous at the end of last season. They are also easy to execute for Russell, even when he is in ad-lib mode.

Murphy can be used in the same way, so can McFadden. Use Michael Bush as you between the tackle runner.

When you do pass the ball, don’t script everything, don’t bog Russell down with too many reads. Let him use his natural instincts. At very least stop trying to put Russell in a box. It always looks like he is thinking too much out there. It makes his passes late and his throws off-target. What is so wrong with the shotgun?

What do we have to lose at this point? Nothing.

The offensive line is a major problem. Circa 2007, Tom Cable spent some time with the line today in practice. The zone blocking scheme is such that is doesn’t thrive on the physical overmatching of the defensive lineman, but a tactical advantage using cut blocks and movement. Execution is more important than anything.

That must be corrected for anything to work well. The best players are those that can execute, but they all must work together.

Changing three players on that line in two weeks is a major issue and the line looked significantly worse when Cornell Green was injured. What? Cornell Green was a pivotal cog? He was, because his backup had replaced Gallery (Pears). Now the line is basically starting three backups, instead of just one (Morris at LG, Satelle at C, Pears at RT).

Major challenge this week against one of, if not the best defensive line in football.

These ideas could be crazy. My definition of crazy: one touchdown in the last three games.

These ideas could be insane. My definition of insane: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

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