Oakland Raiders' Path To the Playoffs-Part One
New Faces-New Season-New Oakland Raiders!
Raider Nation is rampant with excitement stemming from positive reports out of Oakland Raiders mini-camp. News of Jason Campbell picking up Hue Jackson's offense much faster than expected, much maligned wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey catching everything that comes close to him, and Mario Henderson commenting on how it's nice to see his quarterback working as hard as everyone else are feeding the fans' fire.
A lot of experts are predicting a vast improvement in the play of the Silver and Black in 2010, but can the Raiders deliver? How much better can they be? Are we talking about a garden-variety improvement to respectable, or a full-on 180 degree jump to the playoffs? I think anything is possible, but a lot needs to happen for the Raiders to reach beyond average and into competitive.
A good start is going to be crucial, so let's look at the first four games and try to figure out what Oakland needs to do to set themselves up for a playoff run in 2010.
Week One: At the Tennessee Titans.
I'm pretty sure everyone reading this knows the first thing that needs to happen in order to beat the Titans: control running back Chris Johnson.
We will know right away if the new-look defensive front seven is for real or not. Assuming Lamarr Houston and Rolando McClain are as good as we think they are, stopping Johnson is very possible. They just have to be mindful of their gap responsibility and make solid tackles. If the cut-back lanes are open, it will be a long day for the defense.
Keeping Vince Young in the pocket will also be important. Young has great mobility and can make plays with his feet. Seymour and Houston can't allow the offensive tackles to push them beyond Young's drop. The Raiders can't allow him to escape or step up. Young runs well and throws well on the run. The more pinned in he is, the less he can hurt them.
New quarterback Jason Campbell must play smart, move the chains, and take what he can get. He can't press. Jeff Fisher likes to run a high-pressure defense and bring a lot of blitzes. Campbell can't go for the big play on every down. A five-yard dump off to McFadden, Miller, or Schilens can be very deflating to a defense and the Raiders must not be afraid to nickel-and-dime the Titans to death!
That said, the Titans secondary is suspect at best and the Raiders can take advantage of them. The chemistry between Campbell and the Raiders young wide receiving corps will be critical. Heyward-Bey and Murphy can get deep on this Tennessee team, so Campbell needs to make good throws on deep balls when the opportunities present themselves.
All of this can be done, and it's my belief that it will be done.
Projection: Raiders-17 Titans-10
Week Two: The St. Louis Rams .
The Raiders couldn't have asked for a better home opener. The lowly, rookie-led St. Louis Rams will be the first of the "lambs" sent to the slaughter in the Black Hole in 2010.
The Rams have but one legitimate, established offensive weapon and that's Steven Jackson. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo must rely on Jackson to support Bradford as he grows. Therefore, stopping Jackson stops the Rams. Period! With the weak offensive line the Rams have, this shouldn't be too difficult. Houston, Kelly, Seymour, and whoever the other defensive lineman happens to be for the Raiders should have a field day.
There are no receivers on the Rams that pose a real threat to the great Raiders secondary. Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson, and rookies Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware won't leave many opportunities for Bradford once Jackson and the running game is squashed. Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff will be free to punish ball carriers and hunt the ball.
On offense, the Raiders should be able to run roughshod over the Rams sub-par defensive line. Fred Robbins is getting old and the rest of their defensive tackles are young and truthfully, not very good. The aging James Hall and under-achieving Chris Long will not help much either.
I'm looking for Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, and the revamped Raiders offensive line to dominate and rack up nearly 200 rushing yards. Combine that with Jason Campbell and the talented Raiders receiving corps contributing only when they have to, and Raider Nation should be treated to a great home opener!
I smell a blowout!
Projection: Raiders-34 Rams-6
Week Three: At The Arizona Cardinals
This game could go either way. No Kurt Warner, no Carlos Dansby, and no Anquan Boldin—but that doesn't necessarily mean that the Cardinals are bad. It all depends on the play of Matt Leinart. If he plays well, the Cards play well.
Once again the Raiders run defense will be tested. I believe that with Warner and Boldin gone, Ken Wisenhunt will return to his roots from Pittsburgh of run first, pass when you have to. Stopping Chris "Beanie" Wells and Tim Hightower will be vital. The Raiders have to make Leinart throw the ball.
Stopping the run and pressuring Leinart will result in opportunities for the Raiders secondary. Leinart has proven that he will make bad decisions if you can get in his face, so Houston, Seymour, and the rest of the defensive line have to get after it! If they can do that, it will give Jason Campbell and the offense a lot of short field opportunities.
When given the short field, Campbell must be careful with the ball. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie is a ball hawk as are safeties Kerry Rhodes and Pro-Bowler Adrian Wilson. With Dansby gone, the best pass rushing linebacker the Cards have is Joey Porter. As long as the tackles, tight ends, and fullbacks can control Porter, the pass rush will be manageable.
The best thing to control the pass rush is a solid run game and screens at the right time. Pounding Bush right behind a double teamed Darnell Docket with the fullback leading will wear down the front seven. After that, dropping well-timed, well-executed screens to McFadden and Jacoby Ford could explode for huge yards and neutralize the Cardinals pass rush.
The Raiders' coaching staff knows all of this and is sure to create an even better plan.
Projection: Raiders-23 Cardinals-20
Week Four: The Houston Texans
This is a rematch of a game the Raiders were going to win until the former quarterback and right tackle (who shall remain nameless) gave the game away! This year is bound to be different, but make no mistake, the Texans are not a doormat anymore. They have a great offense and a solid defense.
The addition of Auburn running back Ben Tate will make the Texans rushing attack better. The Raiders aren't tackling diminutive Steve Slaton on every down, so it will be tougher. I don't have a lot of worry that the defense can't stop the running game. They did it last year and were not nearly as good as they are this year.
The biggest threat the Texans pose is obviously in the passing game. A Pro-Bowl quarterback in Matt Schaub, arguably the best wide receiver in the game Andre Johnson, and a talented tight end in Owen Daniels, are formidable.
Ironically, the one of those that I would worry about the most is Daniels because if the Raiders have a defensive weakness, it's in cover linebackers. Oakland can't be so worried about Johnson that Daniels runs free. Either of them can beat you, so you have to be aware of both.
The Texans are weak at defensive tackle. If I were calling plays with my high school playbook you'd hear a lot of "21 lead!" Power leads and traps right in the one and two holes...all day long! This will do three things. Wear out the defensive line, avoid the great outside linebacker DeMeco Ryans and all-world defensive end Mario Williams, and set up the play-action pass.
The play-action pass is Jason Campbell's best talent. Jaques Reeves is the only experienced cornerback who's name I recognized. Rookie Kareem Jackson is a good player, but he's young and Louis Murphy should give him fits all day. Look for a pedestrian day for the Raiders running backs, but a huge day for Campbell and the receivers.
With Campbell feeling comfortable in the system and with the receivers, the passing offense of the Raiders should be able to make some hay and please the home town fans!
Projection: Raiders-34 Texans-23
That's that! Do I have it right? Where am I wrong? Let's hear it Raider Nation!
Don't forget to join me every Saturday at 6 pm EDT, 3 pm PDT for the "It's Game Tyme" podcast at www.blogtalkradio.com/itsgametyme
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