Attempting to achieve back-to-back wins for only the third time in as many seasons, I can't help but feel that tomorrow's game is an absolute must win if the Raiders are seriously aiming to finally claw their way out of the pit of the NFL that they have found themselves in since 2003.
Beating the underachieving Redskins at home would be nothing for Raider fans (like myself) to brag about, but losing will most definitely bring about the sense among the Nation that the Raiders are back to square one.
As a result, the Raiders simply must win tomorrow and this what they need to do on offense and defense:
- Establish an effective running game: (remember that opening game of the season vs the Chargers ??). Gradkowski has undoubtedly strengthened the passing game but let's not lose sight of the true strength of this offense... pounding the rock. The Redskins rank 24th in rush yards allowed on average per game this year (121.8 yards per game) and will be without the man mountain that is Albert Haynesworth to stuff the run up the middle of the trenches.
- Get the ball to our playmakers in the passing game: Louis Murphy and Zach Miller. Murphy, after starting strongly (catching 11 balls for 172 yards and a TD), dropped off somewhat during the middle of the season due partly to the Heyward-Bey project and to some rookie mistakes on Louis' part that, in my opinion, took the former Florida Gator out of the race for a shot at the NFL offensive rookie of the year. However, with Russell now out of the QB picture and Heyward-Bey nursing a sprained foot, Louis made four catches for 128 yards and two TDs last week vs the Steelers . Meanwhile, Zach Miller has been a consistent performer since being drafted out of Arizona State in 2007, catching 40 balls for 611 yards and two TDs this season. The Redskins rank an impressive 5th in the league in pass defense giving up only 190.2 yards per game through the air, but with DeAngelo Hall who has amassed a team leading four INTs on the year out with a knee injury, and Brian Orakpo's questionable ability to cover the TE in pass protection, the Raiders have the opportunity in tomorrow's game to continue the rehabilitation of their, until now, anaemic passing game.
- Protect the QB!!: With arguably our best o-lineman out for the rest of the season in Robert Gallery, Chris Morris has to fill this gap with presumably Samson Satele carrying out the role at center. Mario Henderson, although solid in pass protection, will have his hands full with Andre Carter (9.0 sacks, 3FF), and the line will have to deal with the dangerous pass rush of Brian Orakpo from his linebacker spot (7.0 sacks).
- Stop the rush: The Raiders have been poor at stopping the run all season giving up an average of 158.7 yards per game (30th in the NFL) and, although Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are both out with injuries and Rock Cartwright has been placed behind Quinton Ganther at the RB spot, this is no reason for Raider fans to feel relaxed about the rush defense this week. Correll Buckhalter ran for 108 yards off 14 attempts in Week Three, Shonn Greene ran for 144 yards and two TDs on 19 attempts in Week 7, and Bernard Scott ran for 119 yards on 21 attempts in Week 11... none of whom are the No. 1 choice at RB in their respective teams.
- Attack the QB. Despite the Redskins' dire 3-9 record this season Jason Campbell has thrown more TDs this season (15) and has a higher passer rating (87.7) than in his previous two seasons as starting QB. HOWEVER, he has also thrown double the number of INTs (12) this season over the 12 games played than he threw over the 16 games he played last season, where he threw only six INTs. If the Raiders can harass Campbell with an effective pass rush by Richard Seymour (4.0 sacks, 1 FF), the emerging Trevor Scott (5.0 sacks), and, if healthy, Greg Ellis (5.0 sacks, 1 FF) then they may be able to force some wayward throws that the secondary can pounce upon. If the Raiders give Campbell the time he needs to pass the ball efficiently then expect him to spray it round to Santana Moss, Devin Thomas, Fred Davis (taking over for the injured Chris Cooley) and Quinton Ganther from checkdowns out the backfield.
I see the Raiders squeaking a win out of this game. However, they will only win if they play like they've shown they can in glimpses this season with a defensive performance like that against the Eagles and a well lead offense as shown in last week's win over the Steelers.
Final score: Raiders 16 - Redskins 10