Oakland Raiders beat writer Steve Corkran of the the *Oakland Tribune *joined Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com for an exclusive interview to preview Sunday's game between the Texans (1-2) and Raiders (1-2).
Corkran has covered the Raiders for the San Jose Mercury News, *Contra Costa Times *and *Oakland Tribune *for the past 13 seasons.
Nick Scurfield:Any talk of this game has to start with Andre Johnson and Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha has had a lot of success against Johnson in the past couple of years. What do you think about the matchup this time?
Steve Corkran:I think it's one that as a fan, it doesn't matter what the records are of these teams, you can just watch that matchup and you're going to get your money's worth. These two matched up last year down in Oakland. I don't recall the numbers off the top of my head, but Andre Johnson was averaging about nine or 10 catches a game and about 111 yards or so. He came to Oakland and he did not have a single catch against Asomugha, and Asomugha got hurt early in the fourth quarter and had to leave, and I think Johnson wound up with two catches for maybe 20 yards or so.
It's kind of one of those cases where this might be the best receiver in the game against undoubtedly the best cornerback in the game. So it's one of those things where if the game gets out of hand, just keep your eyes on both these guys. And one thing that you might see that doesn't happen a lot out here with Asomugha is that they tend to keep him on the right side of the field only, so teams are able to get away from him by just sending a receiver in motion to get to the other side, or just lining him up on the other side. But Johnson's so good that the Raiders are probably going to let Asomugha shadow him. It'll be fun to watch.
Nick Scurfield: How has Asomugha been doing this year? Has he been targeted much?
Steve Corkran:Only two times. Last year, he played all except one game and he had 17 passes his way. He gave up eight completions for 133 yards and no touchdowns the whole season. This year, he's had two passes go his way, and he gave up a touchdown and it turned out to be the one that beat them in the Monday night game against the Chargers. He got turned around on a pass to Vincent Jackson. It was a horrible pass, but he just got turned around and it cost them. And then he gave up one last week that went for about three or four yards on a crossing route to Eddie Royal. So he's had two passes go his way for about 20 yards and one touchdown in three games.
Nick Scurfield: How about quarterback JaMarcus Russell– he's sitting at last in the league in passer rating and completion percentage by a long shot. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for him?
Steve Corkran:At this point, the signs aren't real encouraging, but he's had his moments. He was really sharp at the end of last year, including against Houston and showed that he was making strides, but he's kind of taken a step back this year, so they're pretty concerned about it.
He hasn't been real accurate. As Rich Gannon pointed out last week – accurately, I might add – he does a lot of things wrong. He's got too much weight on the back foot, he tends to throw off balance, he holds on to the ball too long, locks onto the receivers a bit too long. So he's learning.
The Raiders know that he's got a ways to go, but they're committed to letting him be the guy the whole year at least. He's got to fight through it, but it's been hard on him. Last week, the fans turned on him here in Oakland. They were booing him and they were chanting some things that weren't real flattering, and so he's got his hands full. But he's a work in progress, you might say.
Nick Scurfield: Rookie receiver Louis Murphyhas had a pretty good year, but the rest of the Raiders' wideouts haven't done much of anything. What do you think about that group?
Steve Corkran:You hit upon it. Louis Murphy has been the shining light of the group. He was drafted in the fourth round, and if you were to tell someone, 'Hey, look at the receivers the Raiders have,' and they've got one guy who was the number seven pick and one guy who was drafted in the fourth round, you would think Murphy is the guy who was taken number seven.
That's hurt the Raiders from the standpoint that that's a guy that they didn't expect a lot of out this year, but he's the only guy that is giving them something. They're starting two rookies, and that's hard. That's a position where the game's a lot faster, the corners are better. That's a hard position to learn on the fly, and I think that's evidenced by a lack of production of those guys across the board.