Cable, Haslett have big challenges, high hopes

  • By Thomas George
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Greg Trott / Getty Images
Why should the Saints be fearful of the Raiders this week? Might have something to do with that Cable guy.

Tom Cable is 43. Jim Haslett is 52. Cable presents a little more than two seasons of NFL coaching experience and none as an NFL head coach. Haslett offers 24 years of NFL work and six as an NFL head coach.

Haslett has the thicker resume.

Cable has the thicker roster.

Haslett takes his 0-4 team to Washington (4-1), winners of four straight. Cable leads his 1-3 crew into New Orleans (2-3), a team gasping for air after its Monday night dud against Minnesota.

Cable and Haslett on Sunday debut as interim coaches in their first step to erase the "interim" label. Cable was elevated from Raiders offensive line coach to replace fired Lane Kiffin. Haslett was elevated from Rams defensive coordinator to replace fired Scott Linehan.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images
Being a head coach in a less-than-ideal situation is nothing new to Katrina-survivor Jim Haslett.

Both the Raiders and Rams are dangerous opponents this weekend.

Both coaches used bye weeks that provided extra preparation. Both have let a cleansing of sorts unfold in their locker rooms. Both have commanded the attention of their players. Both have tried to renew confidence and instill a rest-of-the-season-is-all-that-matters, 12-game mantra.

Both lead teams that for the first time this season are not dealing with a head coach/front office disconnect or a constant clock-ticking watch on when -- not if -- their head coaches would be fired.

It is hard enough to win the games on the field each week in the NFL. Mix in the combustion of internal franchise games and little wonder both teams are a combined 1-7.

For the first time this season, the Raiders and Rams can focus on one thing only -- winning a football game.

That is refreshing. That gives us a chance to see the best of exactly what are the Raiders and Rams.

Haslett gives a rare view of both situations.

Haslett began his pro coaching career as a Raiders linebackers coach in 1993.

"I love Al Davis," Haslett said. "He understands the game. He may be a little demanding in some areas. And it’s a hard job working for Mr. Davis. He’s very demanding of the defense. He knows how he wants it run. He wants a defense that is quick and that can run. He wants an offense that throws the ball long."

Davis wants Cable to do those things. And win.

Davis thinks this group of current Raiders is good enough to win. Without the alleged "strings" of Kiffin attached, we are about to see if that is so.

Cable has to find ways to keep his running game atop the league’s best (it ranks No. 3, averaging 155.0 yards per game), yet give quarterback JaMarcus Russell more opportunities. The Raiders run/pass comparison is 130/99. There are 29 starting quarterbacks who have thrown more passes than Russell. In his division (AFC West) alone, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown 95 more passes than Russell’s 99.

The Raiders are 26th in the NFL in points scored (19.5). They are 29th in passing yards. Their leading receiver is a tight end, not a wide receiver. In the Raiders' Week 3 loss at Buffalo, Russell threw only THREE second-half passes.

Cable is expected to put an end to this. We should see more of Russell -- off his running game -- taking more big-armed shots downfield. And against the spotty New Orleans secondary, this is the perfect matchup. Russell has four touchdown passes and one interception this season. The Raiders own a plus-1 turnover differential.

Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images
Marc Bulger and the Rams have yet to get on track this season, ranking at or near the bottom in a number of major categories.
Comparing the Raiders and Rams through five weeks
  Rams Raiders
Record 0-4 1-3
Points 10.8 (32nd) 19.5 (26th)
Yards 246.8 (30th) 308.0 (19th)
Pass yards 162.8 (26th) 153.0 (29th)
Rush yards 84.0 (27th) 155.0 (3rd)
Points 36.8 (31st) 25.2 (21st)
Yards 411.8 (31st) 326.0 (17th)
Pass yards 248.8 (28th) 212.8 (18th)
Rush yards 166.0 (28th) 113.2 (17th)
» Team statistic league leaders

Those are not common numbers for a 1-3 team.

Cable said he wants his team playing at 100 miles per hour, not afraid to make mistakes. He is looking for receivers Javon Walker, Ronald Curry and Johnnie Lee Higgins to step boldly forward. He has stressed tempo in practices. He is openly talking about a playoff run in his team’s final 12 games.

Haslett is talking attitude.

"We haven’t handled certain situations very well," Haslett said via telephone on Thursday morning. "The team, if something bad happens, has not handled it very well in our games thus far. It is the mindset of a team that has lost 17 of its last 20 games. A mindset where something bad happens, the team deflates. This team needs a shot of confidence. It needs to begin to play with a little swagger. Buffalo showed that against us. Washington is playing that way. It’s more mental than anything."

If a mental makeover is required most, Haslett is perfectly suited to help provide that.

In 2000 he took over a 3-13 team in New Orleans and led the Saints to a 10-6 record, first place in the NFC West and the franchise’s only playoff victory (and that was against the Rams). He was named coach of the year.

Haslett was 42-38 as Saints coach when Hurricane Katrina hit a few weeks before the start of 2005 regular season.

"Once Katrina hit, all hell broke loose," Haslett said. "We were on the road for home games. We were forced to work in facilities for our team and our players that made things twice as difficult. We were without our best player, Deuce McAllister. The whole thing, that season, that 3-13 record, I put an asterisk by it. Some don’t, but I do. It’s one of those things you’d wish no coach or anyone else to go through."

Cable wanted a shot at this. Haslett wanted another shot. Neither wanted it to happen in-season at the expense of his own head coach.

"The cards are dealt in the NFL," Haslett said. "You play the ones you have."

Haslett is returning to Marc Bulger as the starting quarterback. The Rams offense ranks last in the league in points scored per game (10.8). The Rams defense ranks next-to-last in points allowed per game (36.8) and in total yards allowed per game (411.8).

The Rams are minus-3 in turnover differential.

Across the field, Haslett has patching to do.

"We’ve got a good group of young talent here," Haslett said. "We still need a couple of more pieces. But we’ve got some guys to build on starting with Steven Jackson in the run game and Torry Holt as a prime receiver. The common thread in this season is we’ve played two NFC East teams -- and that division is pretty good -- and we haven’t played well in those games. We’ve got another shot here with Washington. Washington is on fire. But in this league, you face adversity. You find a way to win."

Much of the internal adversity, the internal strife has been relieved by the Raiders and the Rams.

We will see on Sunday what is left for both for the long haul.

And begin to learn if Cable and Haslett are in it beyond "interim."


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