The looming question headed into the off season is if Tom Cable will be retained as head coach. Cable’s contract expires January 18 unless owner Al Davis picks up a one-year, $2.5 million-dollar option.
That means Al Davis will have a couple weeks to evaluate his team and its performance this season. Davis convinces himself every year that his team is primed for a Super Bowl run. This is why there is a vast difference between 7-9 and 8-8 in the eyes of Davis.
At 7-9, the team had a losing record and wasn’t a real threat to challenge for the playoffs. At 8-8, you are close and just need to catch a break and win a couple close games to be in the playoffs. Going 8-8 also means 6-0 in the division and owning the division is a good springboard into the next season and something Cable can sell to Davis as reason to keep him around.
Players almost always say they want a coach to return when asked. It isn’t what players say, it is how they play. When players play hard and fight for a head coach, they really want him back. It shows what kind of character the players have and what kind of respect they have for the man that leads them.
With Hue Jackson likely to draw interest as a head coaching candidate around the league, Cable’s status is very much in limbo. Jackson is especially attractive since he would be a Rooney Rule candidate. Davis does not want to lose Jackson and that fear could drive a change as well.
Davis’ long-standing relationship with Jim Harbaugh isn’t likely to play a factor in a coaching change. It would be a departure for Davis to pay a coach what Harbaugh will command, and the only way Davis might be tempted would be if Harbaugh’s only serious offer is Denver.
Harbaugh will also want the ability to hire his coaches and control of the 53-man roster, something Davis has never and likely will never relinquish.
All the scenarios mean that Cable’s last stand as head coach could be today against Kansas City. Cable can emerge the victor and hold his head high knowing he coached his team to 8-8 and had a career coaching record of 10-11 in games without the handicap of JaMarcus Russell.
Cable started his last stand by smartly flying the team to Kansas City on Friday. He will benefit from a more controlled environment. It was New Year’s Eve and these are young men with money. Cable likely wanted to prevent any hard partying 34 hours prior to kickoff. Cable also continued the practice of moving up practices to replicate playing three hours earlier.
Sunday in Kansas City will be a test for the Raiders. The Chiefs are a playoff team and the Raiders narrowly defeated them at home. The Chiefs are 7-0 at home and Arrowhead is notoriously one of the toughest places to play on the road.
It isn’t often a game with such little significance has so much historic significance. Jamaal Charles is likely to become the first running back since Jim Brown to average over 6.0 yards per carry. The Raiders can become the first team to go 6-0 in their division and miss the playoffs.
When the Raiders and Chiefs get together their is no shortage of match-ups to watch. Watch them all, but most importantly, watch the ones below.
Jamaal Charles vs. John Henderson
Charles is key to the Chiefs offense. Stop Charles and the offense can never get into a rhythm. With Seymour a game-time decision again, it will be up to Tommy Kelly and Big John Henderson to keep Charles from gashing the Raiders.
Henderson is one of the best defensive tackles at stopping the run in the league and Charles is chasing history. If Henderson continues to be a force he will string Charles outside, where hopefully the Raiders ends and linebackers can make plays.
Dwayne Bowe vs. Nnamdi Asomugha
It isn’t that the Chiefs don’t have other threats through the air, it is that so few of them strike fear into a defense. Bowe has been particularly dangerous in the redzone and 15 of his 67 catches have been touchdowns.
The Raiders will counter with Nnamdi Asomugha. One of the best corners in the league by reputation. Cassell would be ill-advised to throw towards Asomugha, who is finally getting healthy. Unless Charlie Weis wants to stick a hot knife into Todd Haley’s side during a meaningless game, don’t expect Asomugha to be challenged more than once or twice.
Jacoby Ford vs. Brandon Flowers
Ford got the best of Flowers in Oakland, snatching away a would-be interception late in the game to help the Raiders to victory. He had a season-high six receptions for 148 yards primarily against Flowers. Ford also returned a kick for a touchdown against Kansas City, one of his three on the season.
In many ways, Ford is exactly what the Chiefs hoped they drafted in Dexter McCluster. A versatile playmaker and deadly weapon in the return game.
McCluster still has time to turn things around and he is still can be a dangerous weapon, but Ford has proven that he can perform even when a team has game-planned for him.
Flowers wants payback and the Raiders might continue to test Flowers with Ford’s speed. One way or the other, there could be fireworks.
Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. The Bust Label
Tom Cable and Hue Jackson believe he is very close to a breakout. They consistently praise his blocking while talking up how much he is doing and how a big game is coming.
At the end of his second season, the time could be now for Heyward-Bey. While it is usually imperative to give a raw receiver three full seasons to mature, he hasn’t given the fans much to hope for. A big game this Sunday could go a long way into getting the monkey off his back. A little taste of success can also validate his work and propel his continued work this off season.
Chaz Schilens vs. His Body
If Schilens could ever stay healthy, he could be a good NFL receiver. Too bad his body has failed him time and time again. Since college Schilens has struggled to stay healthy.
If Schilens can get through this last game healthy he will enter the offseason healthy. Unless he injures himself on the bench press, like his body-double Bruce Gradkowski did during offseason workouts, he should enter camp healthy.
There are far too many “ifs” when it comes to Schilens, but he is cheap and because of that fact the Raiders are more than happy to hang onto him.
The question is if the Raiders will continue to wait on him or if they could bring in a veteran in the offseason.
Darren McFadden vs. The Toe
While McFadden’s turf toe injury is likely less severe than the previous version, the very fact that the injury has reoccured is cause for concern. McFadden hasn’t been very durable the past few seasons and an injury that comes and goes can really hurt his production.
Michael Bush is a free agent this off season and injuries like this to McFadden could be reason enough for Al Davis to pay Michael Bush to stay around.
McFadden is a game-time decision, but has a good chance to play.
Michael Mitchell vs. Tony Moeaki
Mitchell was a second-round pick at safety. Typically such a draft pick would be expected to be starting by the end of his second season.
While Mitchell has shown flashes of brilliance against Antonio Gates and others, he’s also proven to be a bit inconsistent in coverage. Mitchell is often called upon in nickel situations to cover the tight end. This could again be the case against Chiefs tight-end Tony Moeaki.
Moeaki has 46 receptions this season and had six against the Raiders in Oakland, a season high.
Mitchell is a useful weapon against teams like the Chiefs, because he can also come up in run support.
If Moeaki helps the Chiefs move the chains, it could be a long day for the Raiders defense. It will be up to Mitchell to keep that from happening.
Jared Veldheer vs. Tamba Hali
Dwight Freeney made Veldheer looks pretty poor last week. Freeney and Robert Mathis blew past the Raiders tackles and never really gave Campbell much of a chance against the Colts. The rookie was simply over-matched physically and mentally against the prolific pass rusher.
Hali was able to blow easily past Veldheer once in their first meeting, but Veldheer held his own against Hali for the most part and was a big reason Jason Campbell had time to pass late in the game.
Veldheer is likely to be given the reigns to the left tackle position going into next season. Veldheer has plenty of things to work on, but he is competitive and he is getting an opportunity to face some of the best pass rushers in the league to close out his rookie season. Playing against these types of players will help him in the long run.
Veldheer has always been a gym rat and his strength isn’t in question. He will need to fine tune his technique and try to improve his foot quickness if he is to stay at left tackle.