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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (3-1) at Oakland (1-4)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In last week's decisive victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had a chance to dip his toe back in the water against a struggling, winless opponent.
On Sunday, when McNabb leads the Birds into battle against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum, he'll be wading in about ankle-deep.
While unlike the Bucs, the Raiders can actually boast a victory on the season, the possibility of them scoring a second during the 2009 campaign would be a matter of considerable debate.
Tom Cable's team has appeared listless in consecutive losses to the Broncos (23-3), Texans (29-6), and Giants (44-7), and following the last of those defeats, Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce revealed publicly that the Raiders seemed to be displaying a lack of effort.
As usual, the criticism by the Bay has revolved around quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, who is currently piloting an offense that ranks last in the league in total offense (191.6 yards per game), passing offense (108.6 yards per game), completion percentage (43.1), touchdown passes (1), and is tied for last in touchdowns scored (4).
To complicate matters, the team will again be without running back Darren McFadden (knee) and guard Robert Gallery (broken fibula) again on Sunday, further hamstringing one of the league's least-regarded attacks.
The Eagles are in a better place as they enter Week 6, though given the nature of Philadelphia's competition thus far, there's still not a great deal known about Andy Reid's club.
Philly's three wins have come against the Panthers (38-10), Chiefs (34-14), and Buccaneers (33-14), three teams that are a combined 1-13 on the season. The team's lone loss came to the still-unbeaten Saints (48-22), though the fact that that Week 2 setback came in the first of McNabb's two games missed due to fractured ribs strips the result of at least part of its meaning.
In that way, a win over the Raiders wouldn't seem to prove much either, though a loss certainly would. The Eagles enter Week 6 one game behind the division- leading Giants (5-0) in the NFC East loss column, and are a half-game up on idle Dallas (3-2).
Sunday will also be notable for the Eagles as it will mark the first appearance for Michael Vick in a regular season road game since the team signed him in August.
Vick, who sat out the season's first two weeks while completing his NFL suspension stemming from dogfighting charges and subsequent incarceration, has five carries for 17 yards and is 1-of-5 passing for one yard in two games with the team.
The Eagles own a 5-4 edge in their all-time regular season series with the Raiders, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 23-20 home victory in 2005. The Raiders won the previous meeting, a 20-10 triumph at Veterans Stadium in 2001. Philadelphia is 1-2 all-time in series road games, including 0-2 in Oakland. The team's only such win came in Los Angeles in 1986 (33-27 in overtime), and the Birds were 48-17 losers when they last visited Oakland in 1995.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with the Raiders scoring a 27-10 victory in Super Bowl XV at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Reid is 1-1 all-time against the Raiders, while Oakland's Cable will be meeting both Reid and the Eagles for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
McNabb (343 passing yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) seemed to show no lingering effects of his painful rib injury last week, completing 16-of-21 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns, while also leading the Eagles in rushing with 30 yards. McNabb was also sacked three times, but suffered no reaggravation of the injury. The win also marked the coming-out party for rookie wideout Jeremy Maclin (12 receptions, 2 TD), who caught six passes for 142 yards in the triumph, including touchdown catches of 51 and 40 yards. With Kevin Curtis (5 receptions) still questionable due to a lingering knee injury, Maclin figures to see a great deal of time this week as well, with mainstays DeSean Jackson (13 receptions, 2 TD) and Jason Avant (11 receptions, 1 TD) looking to complement his work along with tight end Brent Celek (26 receptions, 2 TD). Jackson was limited to one catch for one yard in his weakest outing of the season last week, but Celek added value with four catches for 58 yards. Somewhat troubling was the work of a running game that got only 18 yards on six carries out of Brian Westbrook (134 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 2 TD), who was making his return from an ankle injury, but Westbrook did score a touchdown, as did fullback Leonard Weaver (4 receptions, 1 TD). The Philadelphia offensive line has allowed just six sacks on the year, but the Birds are averaging just 3.7 yards per rush.
Though the struggling nature of the offense has not done the Raiders defense any favors this season, there is no question that a unit allowing the second- most yards in the league (382 per game) has not been much of a credit to the cause. The Raiders allowed 483 yards to the Giants in last week's romp, including 220 on the ground, and allowed New York quarterbacks to complete 17- of-24 passes without a sack or interception. The quality of the unit rests with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and safety Michael Huff (11 tackles) on the back end, and with ends Greg Ellis (15 tackles) and Richard Seymour (19 tackles, 2 sacks) up front. Asomugha (10 tackles) has rarely been tested by opposing quarterbacks this season, with his presence helping allow Huff to record a team-best three interceptions on the year. Ellis has posted four of the Raiders' nine sacks in his first year with the team, and Seymour has given the team something of a boost at the point of attack. Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison (47 tackles) leads Oakland in stops as Week 6 commences, but has made few big plays this year.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Despite his consistently terrible performances, Cable appears no closer to benching Russell (606 passing yards, 1 TD, 4 INT), whose completion percentage (42.1) and passer rating (47.1) are both laughably poor. An offensive line that has allowed 15 sacks on the year has not done Russell many favors, nor has a receiving group that has been plagued by dropped passes. Wide receivers have accounted for just 17 receptions on the season for Oakland thus far, led by rookie Louis Murphy's 12. Murphy also has the team's only touchdown catch of the year, that coming in Week 1 against the Chargers. Tight end Zach Miller leads the team in receptions (15) and receiving yards (215), and logged team- highs with four grabs and 69 yards against the Giants last week. The poor work of the passing game has caused opponents to stack the box against the run, a situation that led to Oakland running backs Justin Fargas (50 rushing yards) and Michael Bush (157 rushing yards, 2 TD, 8 receptions) combining for just 55 yards on 23 carries last week. Bush did score the Raiders' lone touchdown of the game, however, and has half of the club's TDs this season.
Looking to tee off on Russell and the Raiders passing attack will be a Philadelphia defense that ranks fourth in the NFL against the pass (171.5 yards per game) and is second in interceptions (9). The Eagles had three sacks and posted three interceptions against Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson last Sunday, with ends Trent Cole (22 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Victor Abiamiri (10 tackles, 1 sack) logging two of the sacks and cornerbacks Asante Samuel (14 tackles, 3 INT) and Sheldon Brown (12 tackles, 3 INT) accounting for all three interceptions. Samuel had two picks in the game. Bush and Fargas will be working against an Eagles team that is in the NFL top 10 in yards allowed per rush (3.7) and has added some heft to the front seven via the signing of veteran middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Trotter had three tackles against the Buccaneers in his 2009 debut, while fellow LB Omar Gaither (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks) had five stops in the victory. Defensive tackles Mike Patterson (9 tackles) and Brodrick Bunkley (10 tackles) have done a generally strong job at the point of attack this season. Safety Quentin Mikell (24 tackles) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (24 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) are tied for the team lead in stops as Week 6 begins.
Any lingering hesitancy about using McNabb should have been wiped away last week, when the quarterback assumed full control of the offense and looked effective in doing so. Which of the Eagles' targets to use is up for major debate, since Jackson, Maclin, and to a lesser extent Avant, are all capable of producing depending on the look of the Oakland defense. Use any of the above at your own risk, but don't hesitate in starting Celek, who has blossomed into one of the league's most consistent pass-catching tight ends. Westbrook had a shaky week against the Buccaneers, but the Raiders are not a great run-stopping team and he should get well against them. Also, by all means use the Eagles defense against Russell.
On the Oakland side, there's no one worth considering with the possible exception of tight end Miller, who always seems to come up with some catches, and possibly kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who is a perfect 7-of-7 on field goals but probably won't get a lot of opportunities given the weakness of the Raiders offense.
The Raiders were not an overwhelmingly talented team to start the season, but there was a thought that if the Silver and Black could get off to a hot start, that they might have the weapons to be a surprise competitor. So much for all that. Oakland had some misfortune early in the year and its problems have only snowballed, highlighted by Russell's complete inability to run an NFL offense and the fact that the Raiders seem to have quit on Cable already. Not a good combination against an Eagles team that is almost always focused, and still has an eye on competing for a Super Bowl title. Don't count on this one being close.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 38, Raiders 12
10/15 15:55:23 ET