Oakland Raiders vs. St. Louis Rams: Complete Week 13 Preview for Oakland

Brian Flores@@brianj_floresContributor IIINovember 28, 2014

Oakland Raiders vs. St. Louis Rams: Complete Week 13 Preview for Oakland

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    When the Oakland Raiders step on the field this Sunday, they're going to have a chance to do something they haven't done all season: go on a winning a streak. The team is coming off a thrilling win in which it performed well in all three phases of the game. The question now is whether Oakland can repeat that type of performance this week against the St. Louis Rams.

    It's not a coincidence that Oakland's first win coincided with the team's first effective game on the ground. It's also not a coincidence that this breakout performance didn't involve Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew.

    Latavius Murray and Marcel Reece provided 149 of the Raiders' 179 rushing yards. The performance should prove enough for the coaches to finally move away from McFadden and Jones-Drew permanently.

    The defense has been the team's top unit since the bye week, and special teams have been effective. It had been the offense that was costing the team wins, but that finally changed thanks to the play of Murray and Reece. They'll have to set the tone once again. And they'll have a great opportunity to do that against St. Louis' 19th-ranked rush defense.

    Can Oakland repeat last week's performance? Absolutely. Here's a breakdown of what the Raiders need to do to come away with their second win of the season.

Week 12 Recap

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    There were a lot of reasons why the Raiders were sitting at 0-10, but the biggest one was the complete lack of a running game. The rushing attack had been non-existent for Oakland. But it finally showed up against the Kansas City Chiefs and proved to be the deciding factor in the Raiders' 24-20 victory.

    The Raiders jumped out to an early 14-0 lead thanks to an incredible performance from Latavius Murray. On only four carries, he produced 112 yards and two scores, including a spectacular touchdown run that he took for 90 yards.

    For the first time all season, Oakland showed efficiency in all areas. But that was put in jeopardy on two plays in the second quarter: Murray getting knocked out of the game and Denarius Moore's fumble.

    Murray left the game with a concussion on what looked like an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit that wasn't called, and this endangered the success Oakland was having on the ground.

    After he left the game, the workload fell back onto Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. Not surprisingly, the results were the same as in previous weeks. They combined for 28 yards on 15 carries, and the offense once again reverted back to a series of three-and-outs.

    Down 20-17 with about 9:03 left in the fourth quarter, the coaches decided to go with Marcel Reece at running back, and the difference was obvious. Suddenly, the offense was able to stay on the field. It was picking up first downs, moving the ball and eating up the clock.

    More than seven minutes later, the drive culminated in a game-winning nine-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to James Jones. But it was the running game that set the tone. And for that, the Raiders have Reece to thank.

    A team in Oakland's position can't afford is self-inflicted wounds. The Raiders had to overcome a major one thanks to Moore, who fumbled away the ball and all of Oakland's hard-earned momentum on a punt return that went right through his arms.

    It was raining, and the ball certainly was slick and hard to handle. But this was just another item on the list of reasons why the much-maligned wide receiver is unlikely to remain a Raider beyond this season.

    He's been replaced at wide receiver, where he's currently sitting at the bottom of the depth chart. His best chance to contribute was as a kick returner, but the coaches stripped him of that responsibility following the fumble. The Raiders have to figure out who can effectively do the job.

    Oakland learned several important things about the team in this game. It learned that the defense is good enough to pick up some wins. It learned that it needs to find someone to return punts, because Moore isn't the answer. Most importantly, it learned that McFadden and Jones-Drew have been the problem in the running game.

    Murray is still recovering from a concussion, and it's yet to be determined if he'll be able to play this week. If he can't, then Reece should get plenty of carries going forward.

    Oakland's season has long been over, but that doesn't mean the team can't pick up some good wins to finish off the season. The Raiders figured out a winning formula last week. Now, they have to be willing to stick with it on a weekly basis.

News and Notes

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    Stat of the Week: 7:21

    The Raiders' biggest problem all season had been the offense's inability to stay on the field and produce points. That problem was set to be highlighted late against the Chiefs. With 9:03 left in the game, Oakland found itself on its own 20-yard line and down three points.

    That's plenty of time for a good offense. But for this offense, it seemed nearly impossible.

    But instead of folding and producing yet another three-and-out, the Raiders went on a sustained drive that lasted 17 plays and took seven minutes, 21 seconds off the clock. That was the team's longest, most impressive drive of the season, and it couldn't have come at a better time. It ended with the game-winning touchdown pass from Carr to Jones.

    After 10 games of ineptitude in the running game that resulted in the NFL's worst offense, Oakland found a solution to its biggest problem. An effective running game makes all the difference for this team. More wins are possible if the coaches are willing to commit to Reece and Murray for the rest of the season.

     

    Sio Moore vs. Sio Moore

    While the Oakland offense went on a long drive to score and took the lead late, the defense still had to step on the field with 1:42 left and keep the Chiefs out of the end zone. Sio Moore both helped and hurt the cause all on the same play.

    With less than a minute to go, Moore got to quarterback Alex Smith for the sack, putting the Chiefs in a tough 4th-and-13 situation. It was likely the final blow to Kansas City's chances. Moore had reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, Moore got a little too excited.

    With the clock still running and the Chiefs hurrying to get off the snap, Moore was still more than 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The defense was saved from a sure penalty thanks to Justin Tuck being aware enough in the moment to call a timeout. That did the Chiefs a huge favor as they were out of timeouts. Fortunately, the defense still got the stop on fourth down to end the game.

    ESPN.com's Michael Wagaman notes that this play has overshadowed Moore's otherwise stellar season: "Until Moore matures and stops making the boneheaded plays...he'll continue to get overlooked by the national media. That's a shame, too, because the kid [Moore] is actually having a very good season."

    Moore frequently has an elaborate response to his own big plays. That's fine, but he needs to remember that the game overall is more important than a single down.

     

    Like a Fine Wine

    Thirty-eight-year-old Charles Woodson was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 12 of the regular season. The award was well-deserved, as the future Hall of Famer had another great game. He finished last week's game with nine tackles (six solo). He also picked up a sack, becoming the only player in NFL history with at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks in his career.

    Of course, Woodson should have 21 sacks. But who's counting.

    It's a testament to the veteran's incredible work ethic and professionalism that he's still playing at this level in his 17th season. He's leading the team in tackles and sets the tone for the defense every game. He earned this recognition.

    When was the last time a Raider won the award? That would be last season following Oakland's Week 5 win over the San Diego Chargers. The winner? Woodson.

     

    If You Stay Ready...

    Wondering why Reece isn't a bigger part of the offense has become a weekly tradition for Raiders fans. It was true all last season, and it had been true through the first 43 quarters of this season. Even when the coaches decided to finally go away from McFadden and Jones-Drew, it was Murray who got the call. It worked out, but it still left one of Oakland's most dangerous weapons gathering dust.

    But in the fourth quarter, Reece was finally given a chance to step up.

    It took Murray going down with an injury. It took McFadden and Jones-Drew once again proving to be completely ineffective. It took the Raiders losing the lead and needing a ball-carrier to save them. A lot had to happen for the underused fullback to finally get a chance.

    Reece had to wait a long time for this opportunity. But he prepared as if the opportunity was right around the corner. And when he finally got it, he capitalized. He was ready to go and led the way on Oakland's game-winning drive. After seasons of being underutilized, this might finally be the performance that gets him a regular, featured role in the offense.

    A wise man once said, "If you stay ready, you ain't got to get ready." Credit goes to Reece for staying ready.

Injury Report

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    PlayerPositionInjury Status
    David AusberryTEOut for Season
    Carlos RogersCBOut
    Jonathan DowlingSDoubtful
    Neiko ThorpeCBDoubtful
    TJ CarrieCBQuestionable
    Gabe JacksonLGQuestionable
    Larry AsanteSQuestionable
    Latavius MurrayRBQuestionable 
    Derek CarrQBProbable 
    Brian LeonhardtTEProbable

    It's official: Ausberry is once again out for the season. This time, it's a foot injury. The writing had been on the wall for a while, and Oakland finally decided to make it official.

    For Raiders fans who follow the team closely, the tight end will remain a part of any "what might have been" conversation for a very long time. His measurables are great (6'4", 250 pounds). As a converted wide receiver, he has superior speed and quickness for a tight end. And fans will always remember this play as a sign of what Ausberry could have provided on a weekly basis.

    But he's never been able to stay healthy, and he's never contributed to the team. This could be the final straw. After managing only 11 receptions since Oakland drafted him four years ago, Ausberry has a good chance to be gone by next season.

    Rogers once again missed practice this week. He's started to do some individual work, but he's yet to return to full speed. He'll be out again this week. At this point, the defense has found a way to play well without him, so the team is in no rush to get him back. For now, Oakland is set at starting cornerback with Tarell Brown and D.J. Hayden.

    Thorpe remains a depth player at cornerback, but he's become a contributor in kick coverage. Although he's been held out of practice with a hand injury, he hasn't officially been ruled out. For now, he's looking like a game-time decision.

    Carrie, Jackson, Asante and Murray have all been trying to work their way back to availability, and all have made strides in that direction.

    Carrie missed last week's game with an ankle injury. The hope was that the extra days off in between games would give him more time to recover and be ready for this Sunday. Although he's still dealing with the injury, he's participated more and more in practice. His status is still up in the air, but he's at least moving toward playing against St. Louis.

    Jackson has gone through a similar process. After missing the last three games, the coaches have slowly worked him back into first-team reps, and his knee has been holding up well. The plan is to get him back into the starting lineup as soon as he's healthy enough. If there aren't any setbacks, that could happen this weekend.

    If he can't go, the team will once again go with Khalif Barnes at left guard.

    Asante has been a surprise contributor for the Raiders. He was brought in at the end of October to try and fill in the ever-thinning Oakland secondary, but he's turned out to be more than just a warm body. He's been getting major playing time, and he's rewarded the coaches for their confidence. He's been limited in practice with a shoulder injury, but he should be ready to go.

    The big question mark is the status of Murray. He's provided the spark the Oakland offense has been missing, but he was knocked out of last week's game with a concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit. He has returned to practice but hasn't yet officially been cleared to play.

    Having him back this week would be huge. However, if he can't play, McFadden and Reece will get the bulk of the carries.

    Carr and Leonhardt are both listed on the injury report, but this seems to be primarily precautionary. Barring a setback, both will play this week.

     

    All injury statuses and updates taken from CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair.

X-Factor and Matchups to Watch

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    Oakland O-Line vs. St. Louis D-Line

    Of all the factors that led to the Raiders' first win, the one that has been talked about the least is the job that the offensive line did both in pass protection and run blocking. Derek Carr was sacked only once, and the running backs were given running lanes consistently as the offensive line was able to get a good push. 

    The Rams own the NFL's 19th-ranked rush defense. The St. Louis defensive front can be pushed around, and it will give up yards on the ground if the Raiders are ready to take them. Last week proved that the offensive line wasn't the problem in the Raiders rushing attack. Assuming that Murray and Reece will see substantial playing time, the offensive line can have another big day.

    The offensive line can have as much success in pass protection. The St. Louis defense has managed 22 sacks this season, ranking 22nd in the league. The Rams struggle in both areas, giving the Oakland offensive line an opportunity to have a dominant performance.

     

    Tarell Brown and DJ Hayden vs. Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin

    The St. Louis wide receivers have had a quiet year, with no one really stepping up. Britt and Austin sit at the top of the depth chart, and both have had good performances here and there. But neither has emerged as a consistent threat.

    ReceiverGamesCatchesYardsTDs
    Kenny Britt11274773
    Tavon Austin10221750

    Those are very unimpressive stats from two receivers getting the bulk of the reps in an offense. However, this doesn't mean that the job will be easy. Both receivers have the potential to have a big game, and they will if given the opportunity. 

    But they're just as likely to disappear, which means that Brown and Hayden have a very real chance at a shutdown performance this Sunday.

    This is an especially big opportunity for Hayden, who has played much better than he's been given credit for. He's been good in coverage, and he's exhibited great closing speed and tackling. Given the subpar play of the Rams wide receivers and the unreliable quarterback play, Hayden will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays.

    If both cornerbacks are locked in, Britt and Austin can be completely negated, which will shut down the Rams passing attack.

     

    Oakland Pass Rush vs. Shaun Hill

    The Rams have struggled at quarterback all season. Austin Davis and Shaun Hill have had their opportunities, but neither has done much to inspire confidence. It'll be Hill under center for St. Louis on Sunday, and the Raiders need to exploit one of St. Louis' weakest links.

    Hill has an NFL arm, but he's also prone to mistakes. He's completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). The Raiders' improving pass rush has a great opportunity to stop the passing game at the source against a Rams team that has given up 34 sacks through 11 games. Not only that, but the pressure will force errant throws that can lead to turnovers.

    The St. Louis passing game has shown some flashes of success, but it's unreliable. An effective pass rush will lead to stops and more possessions for the Oakland offense.

     

    Sio Moore and Khalil Mack vs. Tre Mason

    The unheralded Mason has been steadily improving as he's been given more carries, and he seems primed for a breakout performance. On Sunday, it'll be up to Mack and Moore to stop this from happening.

    While Miles Burris will also have to contribute to the effort, the primary run-stoppers will be Moore and Mack, who spend more time up at the line. The Rams are well-aware of their own problems in the passing game, so they'll be looking to get going on the ground to open things up. Moore and Mack need to have success against the run early to set the tone and force Hill to take on more responsibility.

    St. Louis has struggled on the ground, but Mason has shown that he might be the answer. His success will lead to the success of the St. Louis offense overall. Moore and Mack will be responsible for ensuring this doesn't happen.

     

    X-Factor of the Week: Marcel Reece

    The easy answer here is Latavius Murray, but the fact is that his availability is still in question. Reece, on the other hand, is definitely playing, and he made up half of Oakland's effective running combo. He earned more carries for this week, and he could prove to be the difference once again.

    Lost in Murray's highlight-reel performance was Reece's efficiency. He finished with 37 yards on eight carries for an average of 4.6 yards per attempt. He's consistently able to pick up four or five yards at a time. This isn't as exciting as a 90-yard touchdown run, but an effective offense is built on it.

    Reece showed last week how effective he can be. Regardless of who else is getting carries, he needs to get the ball often. If he does, the offense will once again find itself producing effective drives that end in points.

Prediction

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    While the Raiders have had the NFL's toughest schedule, St. Louis is right behind them. The Rams are sitting at 4-7 with impressive wins against the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. They've also lost several close games.

    Somehow, they've managed to do this despite not being particularly impressive in any one area. The fact is that the Rams have glaring problems, and they're very beatable.

    Most of what led to Oakland's 0-10 start was on the field, but a part of it was also psychological. Each loss takes the focus away from winning and shifts more to not losing. But now that the team has that first win, it no longer has that weight to carry.

    Oakland has played much better than the record indicates, and St. Louis is not three wins better. The Raiders have the ability to excel in the areas that will cause the Rams the most damage.

    Now that Oakland has won a game, it knows what it needs to do to succeed: rush the ball effectively and get to the quarterback. This seems obvious enough, but the Raiders have now figured out how to make those things happen, and they'll be up against a team that struggles at stopping both of them.

    The Oakland front seven will have its most successful game of the season, and the defense will pick up at least a few sacks. This pressure will force bad throws, leading to opportunities for turnovers, and the Raiders will capitalize.

    Whether it's Murray or Reece running the ball, the Raiders will be effective enough on the ground. They'll sustain drives and break the 20-point mark for only the fourth time this season, doing just enough to hold the lead at the end.

    Prediction: Raiders 20, Rams 17

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.com.

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