Raiders insider previews game

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Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, seen here against the Oakland Raiders in 2006, will face perhaps his stiffest test of the season in Raiders cornerback and fellow 2009 Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha.

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 (7-7) and Raiders (3-11).

Corkran has covered the Raiders for the San Jose Mercury News, *Contra Costa Times *and *Oakland Tribune *for the past 12 seasons.

Nick Scurfield:Why have the Raiders struggled so badly to defend the run this year despite some big offseason moves to shore up their rushing defense?

Steve Corkran: I just wrote about that for yesterday's paper (link). Coach Tom Cable said it is a multitude of factors conspiring against the Raiders when it comes to succeeding against the run: talent, coaching and scheme. The Raiders invested a large sum of money in defensive tackles Tommy Kelly, Terdell Sands and Gerard Warren in hopes of bolstering their run defense. Sands, in particular, was seen as the key. However, too often one or more defenders is out of place, and the running back, more times than not, takes advantage of the breakdown.

Some players say the Raiders think too much and don't rely enough upon instinct. There are times when the Raiders fare well against the run, such as in their first four games. Things have gotten worse each of the past four seasons, to the point the Raiders are 31st at an average of 167.1 per game, the worst figure in managing general partner Al Davis' 46-year tenure.

Nick Scurfield: How would you describe Oakland's identity under Cable after the firing of Lane Kiffinearlier this season?

Steve Corkran: The Raiders are attempting to return to a run-heavy offense that capitalizes upon running backs Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. At first, coach Tom Cable favored a pass-heavy offense but only as a means of gauging quarterback JaMarcus Russell's progress in his second year. Once that didn't work as well as hoped, Cable has turned back to the run as a staple.

Defensively, Cable wants his players to be more aggressive than they have been in the past. That means winning the one-on-one battles, hitting hard from start to finish and finding ways to prevail in the fourth quarter. Sure, those are cliches and what every coach espouses. However, the Raiders haven't been able to pull it off on a consistent basis for most of six seasons now.

Nick Scurfield: What is the fallout from assistant offensive line coach James Cregg leaving the staff this week to go join Kiffin at the University of Tennessee?

Steve Corkran: Not much, given coach Cable was the primary offensive line coach and the Raiders already are eliminated from the playoffs. Few people even knew of James Cregg before Cable made him a household name by ripping him and fired coach Lane Kiffin for the way they handled Cregg's departure from the Raiders. None of the players are talking about it, Cable has assumed all of Cregg's duties and it's business as usual.

{QUOTE}Nick Scurfield: Is Russell, the 2007 No. 1 pick, as far along in his development as the Raiders would have hoped?

Steve Corkran: From their standpoint, no, Russell isn't as far along as they would have hoped by the end of his second season. Sure, some of that owes to Russell holding out during training camp his rookie season and playing catch up the entire season. Yet, some of it owes to problems the Raiders have had protecting Russell on a consistent basis, the inconsistent play of, and injuries to, numerous wide receivers, and Russell's inconsistent passing and decision-making.

However, he has made progress as the season unfolded. He has shown that he can fit the ball into tight spaces, unlike some quarterbacks. He can withstand the pounding that comes with his position. He can run for significant yardage, if necessary. And he can handle the criticism that comes with not playing well, at times. So, the Raiders are encouraged by what progress he has made and look forward to Russell building upon what he has learned and putting it all together in 2009.

Nick Scurfield: In this rocky season for the Raiders, what are some bright spots for the team's future?

Steve Corkran: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has been, by far, the brightest spot for the Raiders. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday, which was long overdue. Many coaches and players now regard him as the premier player at his position. The evidence backs up such a boast. Asomugha has faced only 17 passes and allowed eight completions for 133 yards and no touchdowns this season. It isn't uncommon for opposing quarterbacks to attempt 30 or more passes in a game without throwing Asomugha's way even once. He has a rare combination of size, speed, long arms and instincts that enables him to play one-on-one without much help throughout games.

Punter Shane Lechler also has been a revelation. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time Tuesday and is among the league leaders in gross and net average, as well as several other categories. Defensive end Trevor Scott leads all rookie ends in sacks, with five. He was a sixth-round selection and he has more sacks than No. 2 pick Chris Long of the Rams. Beyond that, cornerback Chris Johnson, nickel back Rashad Baker and tight end Zach Miller are in the midst of breakout seasons for the Raiders.

Nick Scurfield: Asomugha vs. Andre Johnson: Who has the edge? And do you think the Texans might be able to scheme Johnson away from Asomugha, given the Patriots' and Chargers' passing success in the last two weeks?

Steve Corkran:Asomugha has the edge because he has the strength to knock a receiver off his route, yet recover in time if there's any separation. Even so, the Texans can free up Johnson simply by moving him to the Texans' right side because Asomugha tends to stick to the other side of the field, for whatever reason. He will shadow a particular receiver, on occasion, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan prefers to leave Asomugha on the Raiders' right side almost exclusively. Randy Moss caught only three passes for 40 yards against Asomugha, matching Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez for the most productive game against Asomugha this season. So, look for Johnson to get his share of receptions and yards against the Raiders, just not against Asomugha.

Nick Scurfield: What's your prediction for the score?

Steve Corkran: For whatever reason, the Texans have the Raiders' number. They are 3-0 against the Raiders and they enter Sunday's game riding a four-game winning streak. So, I expect the Texans to ride that momentum, take advantage of Oakland's difficulty stopping the run and emerge with a 24-13 victory.

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To read Corkran's extensive Raiders coverage on the Oakland Tribune website, click here.

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