For the Raiders to get to the postseason, they have to play smart and coach smart.
Yes, I know: “Smart” and “Raiders” are not words that are normally used in the same sentence. But they played smart against the San Diego Chargers, cutting down on their penalties, and coached smart, except for one big “Oops!” by Hue Jackson.
Jackson is too enamored with his reputation for gambling. Against the San Diego Chargers in the Thursday night game last week, he went again to the pass from punt formation. Radio announcers Greg Papa and Tom Flores both said to look for punter Shane Lechler to throw a pass. On TV, the announcers noted that there had been four passes in the NFL from punt formation this year — and two of them were by the Raiders.
When the unpredictable becomes the predictable, it doesn’t work. The Chargers were expecting the fake punt, and they successfully defended the play.
But Jackson did one thing right: He concentrated on the running game. Even with Darren McFadden out — as he may be again for Sunday’s game in Minneapolis against the Vikings — the Raiders have a strong running game with Michael Bush. Though not the breakaway threat McFadden is in the open field, Bush is a punishing runner who wears down the opposing defense.
That has to be the offensive formula for the Raiders for the rest of the season, because it takes the pressure off quarterback Carson Palmer, just as it did for Jason Campbell before he was injured.
Palmer is an excellent quarterback, one who can make all the throws. Jackson’s trade for him was something he absolutely had to do because the Raiders were dead in the water if they’d had to use Kyle Boller. Though he has a very strong arm, Boller has never been accurate enough to be a good NFL quarterback.
But it was expecting too much for Palmer to just step in and play at a high level, after sitting for a year and a half because he refused to play for Cincinnati. His rustiness showed in his first two games, the disgraceful losses to Kansas City and Denver.
But he’s worked hard to get to know his receivers, and that showed in the San Diego win as he was on target with his throws.
Palmer has also developed a good relationship with his mostly young receivers, talking to them constantly as well as working with them during the bye week, when players are supposed to have time off. In the process, he’s become a true leader, probably the first quarterback leader the Raiders have had since Rich Gannon.
The Raiders have a significant advantage in their path to the postseason because they play in the weakest division in the AFC. The Chargers were expected to be a top team, but they’re obviously not. Eight wins might be enough to take his division. But the Raiders have lost to the two weakest teams in the division.
So, who will show up for the rest of the season: The smart Raiders who beat the Chargers or the dumb version we’re accustomed to seeing?
It’s a mystery.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.