Week 13 of the 2006 season brings another road challenge for the Texans (3-8) as they travel to
to square off against the Raiders (2-9). Prior to the season, many experts expected the Raiders to reside near the basement of the AFC West, but not as much as they have been so far. With an offense struggling to move the ball, starters struggling to stay healthy and wide receivers struggling to play for the team instead of themselves, the Raiders have flat-out struggled to garner their pair of victories this season.
Owner Al Davis brought back former head coach Art Shell to instill a "Commitment to Excellence" in the new generation of Raiders players and once again lead his team, but thus far, that commitment has not taken with the new breed of silver and black. Wide receiver Randy Moss feuded with Shell, the former All-Pro lineman, and the receiver opposite Moss, Jerry Porter, has only played in four games this season due to conduct detrimental to the team.
Although 2006 has been filled mostly with have-nots instead of haves, their effort last week against the AFC West leading San Diego Chargers despite the losing result, should be viewed as a positive step toward the future as the defense held LaDanian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers in check for the majority of the game. But with tight ends coach and former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop being hired Tuesday to man the offense, the Raiders will be forced to make another adjustment in a season chock full of confusion.
The Raiders offense, at the behest of
Despite the success the team had under head coaches Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan in the short-passing West Coast system, recently released offensive coordinator Tom Walsh was brought in to re-install the deep ball in the attack. After 11 games, it's safe to say that plan didn't work out.
The Raiders are last in the league in points scored and the aerial assault that was supposed to change the team's fortunes has accounted for the second worst passing game in the league. Shoop will be asked to turn things around, an interesting proposition considering most of the offense he has run in his past coaching experiences have been based out of the West-Coast style.
Whatever offensive system is being run won't matter if the Raiders continue to get below average play from the quarterback position. Aaron Brooks, a veteran with playoff experience and great arm strength and mobility, was signed away from
, however it has yet to be seen whether Brooks will develop a rhythm or he will continue the inconsistency that has plagued him for most of his career.
With an unstable quarterback situation, a lack of a compliment and an injury to the offense's feature back, it has been increasingly difficult for the Raiders to get the ball to their main offensive weapon, wide receiver Randy Moss. When Moss is on his game, there is not another receiver in the league that can match his sheer combination of athleticism and explosiveness as evidenced by his 101 touchdowns during his nine-year career, good enough for fifth all-time in receiving annals. At 6'4'', 197, Moss is able to out-jump smaller defenders, but at the same time, is blessed with sprinter speeder that allows him to run by them as well. Jerry Porter, who was supposed to be an equal threat opposite Moss, has run into some issues with Shell this year, forcing Ronald Curry and Alvis Whitted into action. While Curry possesses some game-breaking potential and Whitted has good experience in the league, neither poses the threat to defenses that Porter does. At tight end, the Raiders have struggled to find a mainstay that can solidify position, rotating Randal Williams, Courtney Anderson and John Madsen at the spot this season.
Despite the loss of lead back LaMont
, the Raiders have leaned heavily on the run recently powering against defenses with fourth-year tailback Justin Fargas. Fargas, who teamed with Carson Palmer at USC to lead the Trojans back to prominence, has finally seen extensive action in 2006 after flashing moments of brilliance during his first three years. The inability to throw the football downfield has given Fargas heavier workload and although he has yet to reach the endzone, the Raiders will get a chance to find out whether Fargas has the ability to be a feature back. Veteran Zack Crockett has been around a long time, but is still able to provide some thunder along the goal line. Rashard Lee may see some carries to spell Fargas as well.
Injuries have plagued the Raiders all season. The top performers along the line, LT Robert Gallery and LG Barry Sims, will most likely be out against the Texans and will be replaced by LT Chad Slaughter and LG Corey Hulsey. Neither player is close to having the experience or ability of the player they are replacing, which could open up pass-rushing opportunities for the Texans. Third-year center Jake Grove is improving every day and is turning out to be one of the top at his position in the league. Grove (6'4'', 300) is a gamer who is extremely athletic for his size and doesn't quit on a play until the whistle. At right guard, rookies Kevin Boothe and Paul McQuistan have been rotating for a majority of the season with neither one stepping forward as the clear-cut starter. Langston Walker (6'8'', 345) is a load to handle at right tackle, but despite having great size and surprising quickness off the ball, he is maddeningly inconsistent.
The Raiders are decimated with injuries. The Texans should be able to attack the replacements as there is a significant drop-off in production on the left side of the line, in the backfield and at the second wide receiver position. A strong way to attack this offense would be double-teaming Moss while attacking the left side of the Raiders offensive line with blitzes to confuse the young players. Putting pressure on Brooks and forcing him into mistakes that he is prone to making should give the Texans a decisive advantage.
While the Raiders' offense continues to drag their feet through the 2006 season, the defense has been asserting itself as one of the best, young units in the league. Led by veteran defensive lineman Warren Sapp and Derrick Burgess, who have both had stellar campaigns, the Raiders defense currently ranks 12 th in the NFL in points allowed and 7 th in yards allowed. Many pieces of the defense are still in the beginning stages of their careers, which should give the team some ability to focus on improving the offense following the season and in the draft.
The aforementioned efforts of Sapp and Burgess have proved to be the key of this unit's success. Sapp, who as recently as last season, was thought to be in the twilight of his potentially Hall of Fame career, has rebounded with six sacks and 32 tackles from the nose tackle position. Coming to the Raiders in 2004 initially forced Sapp to become something he was not, a 3-4 defensive end. But with Shell's hiring and the 4-3 system being used by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Sapp has been reinvigorated. Burgess is following up his 16 sack campaign in 2005, with another outstanding effort in 2006. The 28-year old defensive end uses a variety of pass moves to go along with his speed and hustle to dominate opposing lineman. While not the biggest end in the league (6'2'', 260), Burgess is surprisingly effective against the run as well. Joining the two potential Pro-Bowlers on the line are defensive end Tyler Brayton, another player that has benefited from the move to the 4-3, and defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Terrell Sands.
A surprise for the Raiders has been the play of second-year middle linebacker Kirk Morrison. With his physical play and sure tackling, Morrison has shown the Raiders that he could be a permanent fixture and future captain of the defense. Morrison (6'2'', 240) benefited greatly from being shoved into the lineup as a rookie and absorbing the experience as he went along. His 88 tackles lead the team and has shown his ability to play in coverage my making two interceptions. Morrison's fellow linebackers are rookie Thomas Howard (69 tackles) with veterans Sam Williams and Robert Thomas splitting time at the other. Howard, like Morrison, seems to be cementing himself a starting position for years to come.
The Raiders may only rank 24 th in rushing yards allowed, but thanks to an outstanding pass rush from the front seven and tremendous play from the secondary, they are currently the top ranked pass defense in the league, allowing 139 yards per game. Most NFL secondaries that are successful are laden with veterans that have studied the game for through their years in the league, but the Raiders are the exception. Their starters, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Fabian Washington, SS Michael Huff and FS Stuart Schweigert, are all 25 or younger and each has improved their game this season. Asomugha (6'2'', 210) leads the team with five interceptions and has the perfect size/speed combination to shut down opposing receivers.
The Raiders will have some familiarity with Gary Kubiak's offense because they face
did last week) that the passing game won't work unless the running game proves successful. A load will be placed on Wali Lundy and Samkon Gado this week to make a dent against one of the league's better and more surprising defenses.
The Raiders are lucky to boast one of the strongest kicking games in the league thanks to two All-Pro performers. Former first round draft pick kicker Sebastian Janikowski has rebounded from an awful 2005 season, where he made only 66 percent of his field goals, to hit 13 out of 16 this year, including a 55 yarder. Some questioned his focus after last season due to his previous off-field troubles, but his strong leg is back knocking balls through the uprights this year. With the way the offense is struggling to get points, look for Janikowski to be called upon any opportunity the Raiders can get him on the field. Two-time Pro Bowler Shane Lechler has performed as such this season booming kicks at a 47.5 yard clip, residing behind only
' Mat McBriar in the league's individual leaders.
The main return man in both kickoff and punts is second-year player Chris Carr. Carr came out of nowhere last season to handle all duties as a rookie. At 5'10'', 180, Carr has great speed and shiftiness as a returner. He is averaging 25.9 yards per kickoff return this season and although he has yet to take one back during his two years in the league, his explosiveness was evidenced this season when he took an interception 100 yards for a touchdown. Carr's main problem has been on punts. He is averaging less than six yards per return this year, just like he did last year, however, there are not any other players on the roster that have had as much experience has Carr has had handling kicks leaving them no other option.