With Jacoby Ford Hurt, Oakland Raiders' Pass Depends on Darrius Heyward-Bey

Armando MartinezCorrespondent IISeptember 14, 2011

The Raiders need to be able to count upon Heyward-Bey to move the chains against Buffalo this Sunday.
The Raiders need to be able to count upon Heyward-Bey to move the chains against Buffalo this Sunday.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

After an injury-riddled game this past Monday night, where both teams had multiple players exit the game early, the Oakland Raiders, already without wide receiver Louis Murphy, could lose another one.

This time it is the electric playmaker Jacoby Ford, who tweaked his hamstring during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos and could not finish the game.

Ford's status for this Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills is unknown, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Ford missed this Wednesday's morning practice.

If Ford cannot suit up this Sunday with Murphy already presumed a no-go, the Raiders would have five wide receivers on their roster to utilize.

One of them, Derek Hagan, was inactive in Monday's season opener, potentially due to a calf injury that slowed him in the final week of camp.

Of the other four, the Raiders may turn to the most experienced of the bunch to shoulder the load: the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft, Darrius Heyward-Bey. Raider Nation gulps at this notion.

However, there is reason to believe this year could be different for Heyward-Bey, who has disappointed in his two years in the league thus far.

Heyward-Bey finished Monday's contest with four catches for 44 yards, two of which earned first downs at crucial moments in the game. The four catches is nearly half of what he amassed in his rookie season.

Head coach Hue Jackson has done nothing but rave about the third-year wideout over the offseason. His work ethic has never been questioned.

His on the field performance, however, has left a lot of be desired. Jackson has been looking to play to his players' strengths and this includes Heyward-Bey.

Where in years past he was mostly seen running fly routes and deep posts down the field almost exclusively, there have been many more quick slants and hitch routes incorporated into Heyward-Bey's repertoire.

He looks much more comfortable and polished running these routes, especially compared to his deep patterns where his timing and ball skills continually appear off.

Perhaps he is not the deep threat that Al Davis envisioned when he drafted him ahead of Michael Crabtree, but he still has a chance to prove himself as a valuable receiver.

His speed is unquestioned and perhaps he is better served running shorter routes and depending on his speed to get a jump off the line, getting yards after the catch.

Monday night was a good indication of what he can potentially do when thrown into that role.

It was probably his best game as a pro, discounting the game last year against the Seattle Seahawks where he exploded for a 69-yard touchdown.

With Kevin Boss likely to return to the lineup to face the Bills, the Raiders will have another option and may soften the underneath coverage of the linebackers, allowing Heyward-Bey to establish himself in the passing game.

Buffalo will most likely try to eliminate Oakland's staple, the running game, and force them to be one-dimensional.

It is of utmost importance that the Raiders establish an aerial attack, which they could not do consistently against the Broncos.

For better or worse, Heyward-Bey may be forced to play a central role this Sunday and be one of Jason Campbell's first reads.

All eyes will be on Heyward-Bey to prove to the fans, his coach, his team and himself that he can be a reliable receiver.

While he may never live up to the lofty expectations placed on him when he was drafted seventh overall, building upon last week's performance will win a lot of people over.