Friday, October 21, 2011

Carson's Debut: Raid or Shine

Alright, now that Carson Palmer been delivered by a silver chariot to Oakland and got everybody jazzed up with Super Bowl talk, it's time to look at the day-to-day part of the job, and specifically his first game on Sunday.

It's true that he's donned a Raider helmet and red practice jersey, and reports indicate that his arm still works and he has even made a few football throws. There should be two types of throws he should start with in practice this week: the screen pass and the deep ball.

As good as Carson is at reading defenses and changing stuff at the line, Hue Jackson should reinforce the basics before moving too far ahead with thick playbook pages. I know that there are a lot of similarities and familiarities with the systems the two men have worked together in before, but it's still new to Carson and will take time to learn the finer details nonetheless. The Raider offense is perhaps the most unique in football with its collective skill set, and is able to gadget-play a defense into confusion and fatigued resignation by the end of the game. Even when Jason Campbell was at his healthiest, he wasn't necessarily airing it out on his opponents this year; Hue and his staff have used creativity to move the ball down field. With all the speed around him, Carson should learn to rely on his skill players to make the play, rather than try to force the impossible to happen.

The Raiders screen well. Jacoby Ford and Darren McFadden are open-field phenoms, ready to explode when fully charged. DMC is a one-of-a-kind type of runner that charges through running lanes no one else even knew were there. Ford is just a flat out burner that takes big hits but gets up from most. Tight end Kevin Boss has been a pleasant addition to the offense and can couple with the agile fullback, Marcel Reece, as a heavier screen combination (if only Reece could get healthy that is). I've even seen the big rumbler Michael Bush pick up nice yards on screens. The Raiders have the components to be a successful short passing game, predicated on delays, draws, and screens.

Of course, you can't go short forever. Eventually even the dumbest defenders will get the gist at some point and creep up. That's when Mr. Palmer should just throw it down the sideline for another specialized tandem, receivers Darirus Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. DHB has blossomed this season and looks like a developing Ochocinco-type with his sideline work and clutch catches (and number). Moore has seized his opportunity made possible by injury to other players, and is making a name for himself with his deep-threat ability. Carson can throw long, but his long-pass accuracy has been an issue for him since his elbow problems in 2008. With the duel threat of a short screen game, and a capable vertical game, Palmer's assignments could be reduced to a bare-bones passing attack: screen or bomb.

Be afraid.
As for the Chiefs, Tamba Hali is the man Carson should meditate on before facing him Sunday. KC has only five sacks as a team, but Hali has four of them, and he's a physical specimen that gives offensive tackles headaches. A rather legitimate knock on Palmer is his pocket presence—he doesn't sense pressure well—and when he's knocked down and sacked, he panics and the offense suffers as a result. After giving up big draft picks to land Palmer, protecting him should become the short-term obsession of this franchise and it starts this week against Hali.

One weird quirk about Palmer is that he seems to play best when he's trying a frantic comeback attempt. If you're down 13 points in the fourth quarter and your defense helps him out, Carson will usually make the game at least interesting by the end. But if you're ahead with under four minutes left, just run the ball because he's prone to throw a costly pick in that scenario. Of course, you don't want to play from behind in games, but Hue and the skill players must take pressure off of Carson once attaining a lead. The Raiders have been good at this so far in their first six games, but you don't want Palmer flinging it around when trying to preserve the win. Don't get cute, is what I'm saying.

So now, we all get to watch the grand experiment unfold. Was Carson really a star quarterback shackled by an inept organization in Cincinnati, or is he just a guy destined for a mediocre career? Can Hue Jackson repair him into the Six-Million Dollar Man? Does he have the technology? Will Bengal fans rage inside but stay cool on the outside if the Raiders take the league by storm? Will Oakland fans toss garbage in his yard if Carson fails them? Stay tuned.

I think this is a tough game for the Raiders. I think there is simply too much change and hype swirling around the team right now. KC is coming off of a bye, they've beaten two bad teams in a row to resuscitate their season, and they're relatively healthy. I think the Raiders and Carson will grow into one another over the course of the season, but the love fest will tone down a few notches after this week.

Chiefs 20, Raiders 13

Mojokong—be gentle with him, Oakland.

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