WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski has made a name for himself with his strong left leg, but calling on his services after red-zone failures has to eat at the coaching staff. The hefty kicker banged a pair of field goals after the Raiders were unable to cash in against New England, and Campbell did his team no favors with an interception by Patrick Chung in the end zone. Jackson apologized to the fans afterwards and said the team had its chances. It’s not often Darrius Heyward-Bey (9 receptions) leads the Raiders in catches, but he did so against the Patriots, ending with a career-high 115 yards on four receptions, It was only Heyward-Bey’s second 100-yard game of his career, and the former first- round pick is second to Denarius Moore (12 receptions, 2 TD) in season receiving yards. Moore had a touchdown catch versus New England and is second on the team in receptions. McFadden (468 rushing yards, 3 TD) leads the Raiders with 15 catches totaling 132 yards and a score, but his ground game has improved tremendously behind this offensive line. The group has allowed only two sacks as well for an offense rated No. 1 in rushing with an average of 178.8 yards per contest. Michael Bush (101 rushing yards, 3 TD) and McFadden had 87 yards combined against Houston last season, and Bush owns three touchdown runs in 2011.
The Steelers losing running back Rashard Mendenhall helped the Texans’ defense out significantly last week, and the latter took care of any rushing threat Pittsburgh tried to muster afterward. Steelers two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was average at best, throwing for 206 yards and an interception, and wide receiver Mike Wallace was held to 77 yards on four catches. Texans cornerback Jason Allen (15 tackles) recorded the lone interception and fellow defensive back Jonathan Joseph (13 tackles) had a pair of touchdowns nullified because of penalties. Joseph also played a big role in keeping the Steelers’ pass attack in check. Five sacks, including two from stud linebacker Mario Williams, kept Big Ben off of his game as well. Roethlisberger was sacked three times during the decisive fourth quarter and Houston defensive end Antonio Smith (9 tackles) registered a sack for the fourth straight week. Williams (10 tackles) also has four sacks on the season and posted one in last year’s meeting with Oakland. Smith had two sacks against the Raiders that day. The Texans are 18th against the run this season, allowing 108.8 yards per game, and will have a big job in containing McFadden Sunday.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans have handled adversity rather well, as evidenced by their success without Foster for two of the first three games. Foster (188 rushing yards, 1 TD) led the league in rushing a season ago and left no stone unturned against a hard-hitting Pittsburgh defense. His 42-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter sealed the deal and proved his hamstring issue is old news. Foster, who recorded 44 yards on 10 carries in the opening stanza, handled most of the load when backup running back Ben Tate (321 rushing yards, 1 TD) left the game with a groin injury and had the most rushing yards by an individual against the Steelers since the 2003 campaign. Tate leads the Texans in rushing yards and carries (68), and his absence could hurt the Texans in the long run. Houston did not allow a sack on quarterback Matt Schaub, and the protection paid off tremendously. Schaub (961 passing yards, 7 TD, 3 INT) completed 14 of his 21 attempts for 138 yards and a touchdown without an interception, and still managed a 100.9 passer rating. In the previous week at New Orleans, Schaub passed for 373 yards and three scores to go along with an interception. He hasn’t thrown an interception in two of his last three games, but won’t have Johnson (25 receptions, 352 yards, 2 TD) to throw to any time soon either. Schaub had two touchdown passes and 192 yards against Oakland in 2010.
The Raiders have alternated wins and losses this season, and that’s mainly because of their inconsistent play on defense. They have allowed at least 20 points a game this season, and received a big dose of reality after the Patriots invaded the Bay Area. Jackson said afterwards the defense has to tackle better and pay attention to detail a little better as well, but also emphasized that this unit will get better. It would seem easy for a defense to maintain a lead when the offense registers more than 500 yards of offense, which the Raiders did against New England, but hat wasn’t the case last Sunday. Safety Tyvon Branch (32 tackles, INT) led the team with eight tackles versus the Pats, while linebacker Rolando McClain (30 tackles) recorded seven stops for a defense that struggled against the run. Oakland is 29th in both run defense and total yards allowed this season, and 22nd against the pass. Brady was sacked only once on Sunday, which was recorded by safety Mike Mitchell, while defensive linemen Tommy Kelly (12 tackles) and Jarvis Moss (5 tackles) lead the Raiders with two sacks apiece on the year. Last season the Texans pounded out 441 yards of offense on the Raiders without Johnson, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
KEYS TO THE GAME
How will the Texans perform after the offense suffered a bittersweet moment last Sunday? That’s a question that now must be answered, since the team was able to squash any doubt that success would be futile without Foster in the backfield. Players such as Tate stepped it up then, and now the rest of the receiving corps has to do the same with five-time Pro Bowl pick Johnson nursing a bum hamstring.
Jackson said improvements have to be made across the board for this week and wasn’t too pleased with how the defense broke down against the Patriots. He knows this week that containing Foster and Schaub will be a challenge and playing consistently for 60 minutes is vital to Oakland’s chances.
The Texans allowed 23 fourth-quarter points to the Saints before grinding out a much-needed win versus Pittsburgh. Foster’s 42-yard touchdown run in the final frame signified Houston learned its lesson that games must be played until the final whistle. However, penalties must be kept at a minimum after the Texans were flagged nine times for 61 yards, including twice on scoring plays.
Prediction – This should be a fun game to watch, with Foster and McFadden going run for run in this shootout. It could come down to which team can stop the run better, and I think that is going to be the Texans. Their D showed against the Steelers they can rush the QB, and also stop the run. Kudos to Wade Phillips for turning the Texans around, and this is a week they need to prove they are a threat in the AFC. Houston 17 Oakland 13