Brees puts on clinic as Russell struggles

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

NEW ORLEANS -- Tom Cable witnessed the passing game he envisions for his Oakland Raiders. Only problem? It was the New Orleans Saints' passing game getting the new Raiders coach so excited.

After world-class Raiders-killer Drew Brees systemically chewed up his defense, Cable said that's what he wants to see from his young quarterback and his offense.

"We have to use them as a model," Cable said.

I don't know if a coach with "interim" at the start of his title has that kind of time.

The difference between Brees and Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was startling Sunday in the Saints' 34-3 breeze. Brees was in total command and played effortlessly. Cable said his defense never "bothered" Brees.

Brees completed his first 16 passes and finished 26-of-30 for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Brees is now 7-2 lifetime against Oakland after years of beating them with the San Diego Chargers.

"That's unreal," Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall said of Brees' numbers. "We didn't make one play on defense."

While Brees was putting on a clinic, Russell continued to struggle to find his way in his first full season as the Raiders' starting quarterback. In his homecoming, Russell -- who is from Mobile, Ala. -- completed 13 of 35 passes for 159 yards with one interception. However, New Orleans dropped six other potential interceptions.

Russell, whom Oakland took with the No. 1 overall draft pick out of LSU in 2007, showed he has a long way to go before proving he can be a winning NFL quarterback. But there's no doubt the Raiders, who are now 1-4, will give him a chance to show he is ready to be a game-changing player.

A theme for the rest of Oakland's season will be to make Russell a solid NFL passer. Former Raiders coach Lane Kiffin had Russell on a short leash. The combination of Russell's youth, suspect pass protection and an even more suspect receiving corps made Kiffin take baby steps with Russell.

Time and again, Kiffin said the Raiders were a better running team than a passing team. Yet under the guidance of Cable, Oakland's offensive line coach, and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, the plan is for Russell to throw more and longer. He has a cannon arm, but it has been muted by the game plan.

It was clear Sunday that the plan is under way.

Russell cocked back to pass 13 more times than he handed off against the Saints. Sure, the Raiders were playing from behind much of the game, but Russell was throwing often before the game got out of hand. As he gets more seasoning, Russell will have to learn to throw more accurately.

Had the Saints' defense not squandered so many chances for interceptions, Russell's day would have looked a lot worse. It is clear Russell has ability and he has shown improvement. He seems to be getting out of trouble more and eluding sacks better.

"We just have to better ourselves," Russell said. But it's all a work in progress and it's clear Russell is a ways away from putting up a Brees-like performance. Some other key elements from the game:

Cable's debut is a rocky one: One starter put it this way: "We got our butts kicked, but it wasn't his fault."

The Raiders ended the Kiffin era playing hard. After getting blown out by Denver in the opener, Oakland defeated Kansas City, then blew games in the fourth quarter at Buffalo and against San Diego. Oakland gave up 42 points in the fourth quarter losses of the two losses.

This game wasn't close. And Cable noted it.

"We have to play a little harder," Cable said.

For the most part, players liked Kiffin, but there was a sense of relief when the switch was made because it was looming for nearly three weeks. Players said the team had a good week of practice and they appreciate Cable's approach. But the next step is to win, which always seems to be the case for the Raiders, who are now 20-65 since advancing to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season.

"We have to progress, we can't go backward," Raiders defensive tackle Gerard Warren said. "We're still trying to find our way."

The Saints are dangerous: If the Saints stop making silly mistakes, they can make a long playoff run. This offense is ridiculous. New Orleans could have easily scored 50 points Sunday.

They dominated he first half but only had 10 points. New Orleans outgained Oakland by 215 yards, 441 to 226. New Orleans, which is now 3-3, has been plagued by dumb mistakes all season. If it cleans them up, watch out.

Brees was masterful and Reggie Bush is clearly doing something right. Sure, Bush isn't a prototype running back, but he's a playmaker and Brees loves throwing to him. Bush had two touchdowns Sunday.

Here's a scary thought: What is the New Orleans offense going to be like when Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey return?

Raiders' running game needs a spark: The Raiders have a fine complement of runners in Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. But they couldn't get anything going.

Fargas had 35 yards on 10 carries, McFadden had 30 yards on eight carries and Bush had nine yards on three carries. Fargas just returned from missing the past game with a groin injury and McFadden has been hampered by a turf toe injury since Week 2, his only impressive game of the season.

CBS reported Sunday that Oakland is shopping both Fargas and Bush in anticipation of Tuesday's trading deadline. Perhaps the Raiders think McFadden is ready to carry the load, but it is doubtful Oakland would trade both players if it makes a deal at all.

The Raiders must get a spark from their running game and three sets of legs are better than one as they search for the right combination.