Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens: 5 Keys to the Game for the Raiders
To make matters worse, the Raiders head into the weekend with little hope of being at full strength. Both Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have missed practice this week on the offensive side of the ball while Richard Seymour has also been held out.
On the other side of the field, the 6-2 Ravens are coming off of a 10-point victory over the Browns, although their past three games haven't been their best this season. In games against Dallas, Houston and Cleveland, the Ravens have been outscored by 18 points.
For the Raiders, however, the questions largely center around which Oakland squad will show up each week. Will it be the team that beat Pittsburgh, nearly beat Atlanta and almost came back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter last week? Or will it be the team that dug itself an 18-point deficit in the first place?
Limit Ray Rice
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One has to imagine that number has been emblazoned into the minds of every defender on the Oakland front seven, especially with one of the league's top backs, Ray Rice, lining up against them this week.
Rice, who is similar in build to Doug Martin, will present an even bigger challenge this week, and if for nothing else than pride, the Oakland defense needs to step up its game.
Obviously when facing Rice, the old adage of "we can't stop him, we can only hope to contain him" has never been more true.
If the Raiders can hold Rice to around 120 total yards, they will be in good shape, but if that number creeps above 150, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Raiders can stay in the game.
Establish the Run
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32, 22, 113, 34, 70, 53, 114, 17.
No, those aren't this week's lottery numbers. Those are the total number of yards gained by Oakland's leading rusher in each of the first eight games this season—only twice have the numbers exceeded 70 yards, but four times, it has been below 35 yards.
Think about that—in half of the games this season, the best Oakland running back—which has been Darren McFadden each week—couldn't muster more than 35 yards rushing all game.
This week, Oakland's run game could be in serious trouble without McFadden or backup Mike Goodson, leaving fullback Marcel Reece and second-year speedster Taiwan Jones to handle the load.
Oh, and they're playing Baltimore.
For Oakland to win, most of the pressure is going to rest on the shoulders of quarterback Carson Palmer, but for him to be effective, Oakland needs to create some sort of threat of a running game.
For whatever reason, I have a good feeling about the Oakland run game this weekend, and I think it's going to surprise a lot of people. Also, look for both Jones and Reece to be big players in the passing attack as well.
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With the amount of pressure that is on the shoulders of Carson Palmer—mostly because there hasn't been a run game this season—it's tough to blame him for the amount of turnovers that he has had this season.
However, if Oakland is going to win some games this season, it's going to be because of Palmer and not in spite of him.
One week after two fourth-quarter turnovers marred what was almost a miraculous comeback orchestrated by Palmer, Carson needs to play smart this Sunday to give Oakland a chance.
If Palmer can limit himself to a maximum of one turnover this Sunday while still putting up a large number of passing yards, Oakland will be competitive. If he throws more picks than touchdowns, however, things won't be as pretty.
The good news is that the Baltimore pass defense isn't as good as it once was, so if Palmer can get on the same page with guys like Denarius Moore, the payoff could be large.
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Anytime a team is playing in the underdog role, nearly everything needs to go its way in order to have a chance of winning.
In Oakland's case, that means limiting penalties and the free first downs that it has been known to give away in the past.
At the beginning of the season, new head coach Dennis Allen was doing a good job of limiting the penalties, but as the season has worn on, it seems that idea has dwindled.
In their five losses this season, the Raiders are averaging 7.4 penalties per game.
Create Some Luck
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Anytime a team is favored by more than a touchdown—in this case nine points—the underdog is also going to need some luck.
Sometimes that will come in the form of big plays, sometimes in forcing turnovers and sometimes just in the way that the game plays out. But whatever it is, the Raiders are going to need a lot of it this Sunday.
In eight games this season, the Raiders have forced just 12 turnovers while giving away the ball 13 times themselves. In Sunday's matchup with the Ravens, that differential will most definitely need to be positive for this game to remain close.
If Oakland can create some pressure on Joe Flacco—a big if—the Raiders might be able to force him into rushing some throws, which would allow the defensive backs to play aggressively and force some turnovers.
Then again, you can't predict how some of the other facets of the game will play out, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens on Sunday.
Prediction: Baltimore 31, Oakland 27