Gridiron Gab Week Eight Preview: Seattle at Oakland

Sunday’s matchup in Oakland against the Raiders is a double-edged sword for head coach Pete Carroll and his Seahawks.

On one side, the team has the chance to have its first three-game winning streak since 2007.

The other side?

Seattle has to take on a Raiders team that set franchise records in points (59), rushing touchdowns (5) and total touchdowns (8) last week in a 59-14 victory in Denver to put Oakland within a game and a half of the AFC West lead.

“This is a very serious opportunity for us,” said Seattle’s Carroll at his Wednesday press conference from the Seahawks’ Renton, Wash. training facilities.

“We go into their place with them high flying and pumped up, so we gotta really get our game right.”

Oakland’s owner, Al Davis, loves the big play and, over the years, has stocked his team with the speed necessary for big gains and putting up points in a hurry.

“They’ve got more speed than anybody we’ll see across the board – the entire football team,” said Carroll. “You can’t get faster than their receivers or faster than their running backs.”

In Denver last Sunday, it took Darren McFadden just 16 carries and two receptions to pick up 196 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. His 163 yards on the ground, a career high, were bolstered by runs of 40 and 57 yards. The latter is the 6-foot-2, 210-pound running back’s longest run as a professional.

The aerial attack is headlined by a three-headed monster in receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy and tight end Zach Miller. While each has at least one reception of over 30 yards, it’s the fourth-year tight end out of Arizona State that’s been on Pete Carroll’s radar the longest.

“Zach is a tremendous football player,” said Seattle’s head coach of Miller, whose four touchdown receptions this season are the most any Raiders receiver has. “As a freshman in college, he was good. You know? He was a big-time player immediately and so he’s never been anything but an excellent player.”

While Oakland (3-4) can move the ball downfield in a hurry, the Raiders also have a penchant for backpedaling on offense and allowing opposing offenses second chances and shorter fields. The team’s 65 penalties this season lead the National Football League. The 552 yards Oakland’s been penalized are five less than the total rushing yards their starting running back, Darren McFadden, has this season.

Some second chances and extended drives fueled by additional Oakland penalty yards could be the difference for Seattle (4-2), a team that ranks 13th in the NFL in third-down conversion efficiency.

Longer drives would mean more opportunities for Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to find Mike Williams. After hauling in 11 receptions through the team’s first four games, the wideout has 21 over the past two. Williams’ Sunday at Oakland Coliseum could be interesting, though, as it could be an up-and-down game for the first-year Seahawk thanks to 6-foot-3, 215-pound cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

“He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a press corner,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll of Asomugha.

“He is just as long as you can get and that wingspan that guys have – broad shoulders and long arms – allows them to really almost envelop guys as they come off the ball. Receivers releasing in bump-and-run just can’t get away from him and then he has the great speed to race with guys…he’s perfect.”

Despite the praise, Carroll made it clear that his offense won’t shy away from the two-time Pro Bowler.

“He doesn’t get tested very much,” said Carroll. “We gotta make sure we still make him work.”

Mike Williams won’t be the only one marked by Asomugha. While the Oakland cornerback has covered opposing offenses’ number-one option in the passing game more times this year than any other in his eight-year career, the Raiders haven’t use him the same way when its unit is in zone coverage. In those instances, the results haven’t always been positive.

In Week Six against San Francisco, Asomugha’s responsibility in man-to-man coverage was hounding Michael Crabtree. In those situations, the cornerback limited the second-year wide receiver to just one catch for 10 yards; however, when Asomugha was moved away from Crabtree due to the Raiders’ use of zone coverage, the 49er hauled in three balls for 47 yards. One of those catches while facing zone coverage proved to be the difference in the game, as Crabtree scored on a 32-yard reception that gave San Francisco a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Should Seattle win Sunday in Oakland, it will be the first time since the 2005 season that the team started 5-2. That year, Seattle went on to finish the regular season 13-3 and made it to the Super Bowl.

Should Oakland win, it will be the first time the Raiders will have a .500 win-loss record in November since 2002.

Kickoff from Oakland Coliseum is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Eastern.

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