Fred Bennett picked off a pass in Oakland in 2007.
As the Texans gear up for training camp, excitement for the 2008 season continues to build. Here is an in-depth look at each of the team's regular season opponents with some insights from SportsRadio 610's Marc Vandermeer.
Teams: Texans @ Oakland Raider (Sunday, Dec. 21)
Game Preview: The Texans never have lost to the Raiders, a trend that looks like it will continue in 2008. Oakland is coming off a 4-12 campaign and having lost an NFL-high 61 games the past five seasons. Owner Al Davis spent more than $250 million to bolster the roster, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding his team.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell will be asked to helm the offense as a sophomore after starting just a few games at the end of 2007. Russell proved to be an accurate passer with a strong arm at LSU, but he will have to adapt quickly to the speed and complexity of being a signal-caller in the NFL. Plus, his receiving targets are limited. The Raiders signed Javon Walker to a six-year contract even though the receiver suffered knee problems last season. Plus, Walker's status at the start of training camp will be uncertain because he is recovering after reportedly being robbed and beaten in Las Vegas in June. Ronald Curry, who recorded 717 receiving yards last year, will return to the lineup most likely as the No. 2 wideout.
Oakland's strength should continue to be their ground game. Last season, running back Justin Fargas amassed 1,009 rushing yards and averaged 96.6 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. The team drafted tailback Darren McFadden fourth overall to be a game-changing playmaker. McFadden and Fargas probably will share time, giving the Texans two very different types of rushers to defend. The key will be keeping McFadden from breaking loose for big plays.
Houston's defense had success last season in Oakland playing big up front, putting pressure on the quarterback and picking off passes. Cornerback Fred Bennett and linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Danny Clark each recorded an interception in the 24-17 win against the Raiders. Plus, Oakland was sacked 41 times in 2007, 11th most in the NFL, so defensive end Mario Williams could tee off on Russell.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans put together one of their best rushing performances in Oakland last year, gaining 178 yards on the ground. Running backs Ahman Green and Chris Brown will look to attack early and often against a weakened Raiders' front seven. The team lost defensive tackle Warren Sapp to retirement, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who is being asked to step in for Sapp, is coming off a torn ACL. The Raiders improved their secondary by signing safety Gibril Wilson and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who will join an underrated Nnamdi Asomugha. This is a game where tight end Owen Daniels could see a lot of catches, helping to keep the defense honest while Houston relies on the run.
"This could be a critical game when you talk about your postseason opportunities," Vandermeer said. "They (Texans) are not going to look past them, even though they have won the past two years out there. I think they are going to take it guns blazing and try to get on top of them early.
"This is the third-straight year the Texans are going to face the Raiders in Oakland, and the Texans have never lost to the Raiders in franchise history. I expect that to continue this season."
Key Matchups: Cornerback Fred Bennett picking off quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Running back Chris Brown getting past linebacker Kirk Morrison and going vertical.
Vandermeer's pick: "If you are going to go double-digit win, this would be a good time to make that prediction. I would say I'm confident, sitting here right now, that the Texans can win this game."