Every Monday, SI.com's Ross Tucker will hand out letter grades to deserving NFL parties...
Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. I know Al has taken a lot of hits the past two weeks in light of his very public divorce from Lane Kiffin, but I wanted to reserve my judgment, at least officially, until his team took the field again. Well, Sunday's lopsided loss to the Saints confirmed it: The Oakland Raiders are one of the worst franchises in professional sports.
Keep in mind, the Raiders are not a perennial loser like some other sad-sack franchises. Or at least they didn't use to be. They are a once-proud franchise that is now considered purgatory among NFL players, unless you are one of the lucky ones that receive a well-above market value contract in order to join the farce. Players speak much more powerfully with their actions on the field than they do with their words off it and the Raiders barely let out a whimper with their performance on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Calling the Raiders performance listless would be an insult to lethargic people everywhere. Drew Brees was 26-30 for 320 yards and three touchdowns. How does that happen against a secondary that is supposed to be one of the strengths of this team? DeAngelo Hall got huge money after the trade from Atlanta. Nnamdi Asomugha is playing under the exclusive franchise tender. Michael Huff was a top-10 pick. Heck, they even broke the bank to sign Gibril Wilson away from the New York Giants. And those guys are part of a unit that allowed Brees to put up numbers that would be hard to do against no defenders in a passing drill during training camp.
The Raiders hang their hat offensively on a powerful running attack directed by new head coach Tom Cable. So much for that. They were fortunate to notch 85 yards on 22 carries, thanks in no small part to JaMarcus Russell's long run of 11 yards on the day. I know they were behind in the game and felt like they had to throw, but it was only 10-3 at halftime. Did they really have to have Russell chuck it that much?
The point is the press conference trumpeting Kiffin's dismissal did much more harm than good. Players aren't stupid. They know when they are part of something that is clearly dysfunctional and it is hard to focus on your job when the entire structure around you is in disarray. You have to wonder whether or not guys like Hall and Javon Walker are worried they will get fired "with cause" and not get the rest of their guaranteed dough, lest Davis find a reason to have a personal vendetta against them.
The players liked Kiffin and played hard for him and were competitive in every game after the opener. Now, the Raiders don't even have that going for them.
Washington Redskins. There is simply no excuse for losing at home to a hapless bunch like the St. Louis Rams. None. This would have been a failing grade but the Redskins thoroughly dominated the action for the most part and held a sizable advantage in total yardage for the game, outgaining the Rams 368-200.
The Skins ran the ball effectively and Jason Campbell had a solid outing statistically but the turnovers and untimely miscues by the entire team did them in. What has to be especially disappointing for the Redskins is they were seemingly well prepared to prevent something like this from happening. The Skins have one of the oldest rosters in the league and have a solid core of veteran leadership. They should know better than to allow a letdown after four straight victories.
The Skins had a golden opportunity to maintain the momentum in the NFC East but they let it slip away. You have to wonder if this will be one of those games where they will look back and be kicking themselves come late December.
Indianapolis Colts offense. That collective "uh-oh" you heard Sunday was the reaction of every team in the AFC after they saw the score and highlights of the Colts' dominating 31-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The concern around the conference stems from their collective realization that the Colts offense is officially back.
I was at the game providing the color commentary for Sports USA Radio and it was remarkable to see how much this offense has improved in the four weeks since I witnessed them squeak out a victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. Keep in mind they put up all those points and yards against a Baltimore Ravens unit that came into the game ranked No. 1 in the NFL against both the run and the pass. And they did it without the services of two of their three available running backs as Joseph Addai and Mike Hart both went down with injuries.
Peyton Manning figured out some of Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's blitz packages, redirecting the protections to give himself just enough time to do some serious damage. Even when he was under duress, Manning exhibited the pinpoint accuracy that everyone has come to expect from him, dropping a number of balls into the breadbasket of Reggie Wayne and others as a beleaguered Ravens secondary appeared helpless at times.
Maybe even more importantly, the Colts offensive line has improved significantly, even though they are still starting two rookies at the guards and Charlie Johnson is playing out of position at left tackle. The line helped Dominic Rhodes battle for 73 hard fought yards on 25 carries against a Ravens front seven that is nearly impenetrable. Though it wasn't highly productive from a yards per carry standpoint, that commitment to the run allowed the Colts to stay balanced enough that the Ravens could not just pin their ears back and rush the passer at will.
Arizona Cardinals receiving corps. The Cardinals thrilling victory over the Cowboys was thanks in no small part to the contributions of an Anquan Boldin-less unit that still found a way to get open and make plays, including the game clincher when it mattered the most.
You have to start, of course, with Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald didn't have amazing numbers with five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Almost all of his catches were of the spectacular variety against double coverage and it is about time people realize Fitzgerald's body control and ball skills are second to none. Only Randy Moss, among active players, can compare to Fitzgerald's Lynn Swann-esque ability to make plays on the ball in the air, in traffic.
Second-year receiver Steve Breaston has blossomed out of nowhere to become one of the breakout performers of this season, catching eight balls for 102 yards and a touchdown. Breaston has benefited from the attention being paid to Fitzgerald and Boldin, and a lot of the credit has to go to his receivers coach, Mike Miller. Based upon his lack of consistent production in the passing game at Michigan, Breaston was considered to be primarily a return specialist when he was drafted by the Cardinals. The combination of Breaston's hard work and Miller's teaching has made the Cardinals receiving corps a true triple threat.
Last, but certainly not least, is Cardinals receiver Sean Morey. Morey was the fifth receiver on Sunday and didn't have a catch. All he did was prove once again why he is on the roster by blocking the Matt McBriar punt in overtime that Monty Beisel returned for a touchdown, giving the Cardinals the improbable victory they so desperately desired as they grabbed a stranglehold on the NFC West.