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NFL Preview - Houston (2-1) at Oakland (1-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans will each be attempting to erase the bitter taste of Week 3 disappointment on Sunday, when the two face off in the October opener for each from the Oakland Coliseum.
The Raiders dominated the Arizona Cardinals in nearly every statistical category last week, and still came up a 24-23 loser in a frustrating loss that failed to give the team just its second two-game winning streak of the Tom Cable era.
Veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed three of his six field goal attempts - the last a 32-yarder that would have won the game as time expired - to help deflate the Raiders. Despite suggestions that the Raiders would seek to bring in other kickers, Oakland looks set to stick with Janikowski, who signed a four-year, $16 million contract extension in the offseason and has an 11- year body of work in the NFL that suggests he will get his mojo back.
Despite the result, the Raiders had to be somewhat encouraged about a performance that saw them out-gain the Cardinals, 364-227, with just one turnover in the first start of the year for Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski, replacing Jason Campbell after just two games, completed 17-of-34 passes for 255 yards with a touchdown and one interception, with wideout Louis Murphy (5 receptions, 119 yards) and running back Darren McFadden (25 carries, 105 yards) also starring for the Silver and Black.
Defensively, the Raiders shut down Larry Fitzgerald (2 receptions, 26 yards, 1 TD) and a Cardinal passing game that managed just 122 yards.
Those numbers should bring confidence to an Oakland team charged with shutting down one of the top passing games in the league on Sunday.
That aspect of the Houston attack was not in full effect in last week's troubling 27-13 home loss to the Lone Star rival Dallas Cowboys, as the re- aggravation of an ankle injury by All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson helped limit the Texans' aerial assault.
Johnson, who is a question mark for Sunday, was held to just four catches for 64 for a Houston offense that was also hamstrung by three turnovers on the afternoon.
But the bigger concern for Gary Kubiak's club could be a defense that surrendered 284 passing yards and two touchdowns to Tony Romo, and handed polarizing receiver Roy Williams (5 receptions, 117 yards, 2 TD) his best day in a Dallas uniform.
Following the performance, the Texans now rank last in NFL passing defense (368.7 yards per game), opponents' completion percentage (72.8), are tied for last in takeaways (1), and are one of three teams that have yet to record an interception on the year (Bills, Ravens).
Still, Houston enters Sunday tied for first atop the AFC South along with similarly 2-1 Indianapolis and Tennessee.
With a win on Sunday, Oakland would start 2-0 at home for the first time since 2004.
Houston is 4-1 all-time against Oakland, including a 29-6 home victory when the teams met in Week 4 of last season. The Raiders won the previous meeting, a 27-16 affair at the Oakland Coliseum in 2008. Prior to that matchup, the Texans had notched road wins over Oakland in 2006 (23-14) and 2007 (24-17) and a home victory in 2004 (30-17).
Kubiak is 3-1 all-time against the Raiders, while the Raiders' Cable is 1-1 against both Kubiak and Houston as a head coach.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The possible limitation of the Texans passing game this week could spark more of an emphasis on the rushing attack, and luckily for Houston, the team has a player who is up to the task. Running back Arian Foster (406 rushing yards, 3 TD) leads the NFL in rushing yards as Week 4 begins, and was on Thursday named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September. Foster, who leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 502, last week carried 17 times for 106 yards in a losing effort. Quarterback Matt Schaub (845 passing yards, 5 TD, 4 INT) had a sub-standard day, completing 23-of-32 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown but also throwing a pair of interceptions and absorbing four sacks. If Johnson (19 receptions, 1 TD) is limited or out on Sunday, the likes of Jacoby Jones (13 receptions, 1 TD), Kevin Walter (16 receptions, 3 TD) and tight end Owen Daniels (6 receptions) will need to help pick up the slack. Jones had a team- best five catches totaling 51 yards against Dallas, while Walter scored the team's lone touchdown of the day. Even if he plays, Johnson does not have a great recent history against the Raiders, having combined for five receptions, 94 yards, and no touchdowns against them in his last five appearances.
Oakland did a nice job against the Arizona passing game last week, but will face a step-up in class when it takes on Schaub and the Texans attack on Sunday. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (3 tackles) would likely be asked to defend Johnson, with Stanford Routt (11 tackles, 1 INT) and safeties Michael Huff (13 tackles) and Tyvon Branch (22 tackles, 1 sack) among the others with responsibilities in coverage. End Matt Shaughnessy (6 tackles, 2 sacks) and tackle Richard Seymour (11 tackles, 1 sack) both had sacks of the Cardinals' Derek Anderson last week, and the Raiders have accrued a total of seven sacks on the young season. The run defense ranks just 24th in the league and is still in development, with linebackers Rolando McClain (18 tackles) and Kamerion Wimbley (10 tackles, 2 sacks) part of a group that allowed 119 yards on the ground to the Arizona running game a week ago. The run-stop unit will be better off this week if safety Hiram Eugene (hamstring) and tackle John Henderson (foot) can recover from injuries that had them on the shelf last Sunday.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Though Gradkowski (417 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) has done a nice job in the passing game for Oakland, look for the Raiders to come out trying to run the ball on Sunday. Darren McFadden (345 rushing yards, 10 receptions, 2 TD) is in the midst of the best stretch of his three-year career, with back-to-back 100-yard games and 250 yards total in his last two outings. Michael Bush returned to the lineup last week after missing time with a broken thumb, and could be in for a larger role this week after accruing three carries for 13 yards against the Cardinals. When he throws it, Gradkowski will look to Murphy (15 receptions, 1 TD), Darrius Heyward-Bey (10 receptions) and tight end Zach Miller (11 receptions, 1 TD) most often. Wideout Chaz Schilens (knee) is expected to miss his fourth straight game on Sunday. Up front, a group that has allowed nine sacks on the year to date could be missing guard Robert Gallery (hamstring) again.
On paper, the Texans will face an easier matchup in the Raiders' passing game than they did with the Cowboys passing attack. Still, Houston must have stronger play from a group of cornerbacks including rookie Kareem Jackson (16 tackles) and the still-developing Glover Quin (16 tackles) and Brice McCain (12 tackles). Safety Bernard Pollard (30 tackles) was the secondary star last week, recording a game-high 15 tackles. The Texans signed ex-Vikings cornerback Karl Paymah earlier this week, and he could contribute as well. In addition to the secondary, the Houston pass rush also needs to bounce back after failing to lay a glove on Tony Romo last week. Mario Williams (8 tackles) has four of the team's five sacks thus far in 2010. McFadden and Bush will be attempting to run on a Houston defense that ranks second in the league against the run as Week 4 commences. Linebackers DeMeco Ryans (25 tackles) and Zac Diles (27 tackles) have been a big part of that effort, with tackle Amobi Okoye (9 tackles) helping to set the tone at the point of attack. Sunday will mark the Texans' final contest before star LB Brian Cushing, who was suspended four games for violating the league steroid policy, is eligible to return to the fold.
You'll want to keep an eye on the injury report as it relates to Andre Johnson, but the Texans have a number of strong fantasy options otherwise. Schaub and Foster are must-plays, and Walter and kicker Neil Rackers (7-of-8) are just a notch below at this phase as well. Daniels has yet to put up his usual numbers at the tight end position, but might reward your patience if you continue to go with him. The Houston defense hasn't made enough big plays to warrant a start.
On the Oakland side, McFadden warrants a play after producing last week even with Bush back in the fold. Bush may get a few more touches this week, but it looks like the ball is primarily going to be McFadden's until further notice. Murphy has put up 210 yards and a touchdown in the last two weeks, and probably won't drop off much against a shaky Houston secondary. Janikowski hit a bunch of waiver wires around the league with his performance last week, and he'll stay there unless and until he can rebound.
It's hard to know what to make of the Texans, who are undeniably talented but have looked progressively worse since their Week 1 win over the Colts. Remember that they got off to a slow start at Washington, in their lone road tilt to date, and need to show the maturity to avoid another such occurrence in the Black Hole. After last week's embarrassment, look for sharper focus out of a group of Texans still set on living up to their promise. As for the Raiders, when you have the culture of losing that this franchise has experienced over the last eight seasons, you find a way to lose football games. Oakland will not be an easy out, this week or for the rest of the year, but will fail to do enough of the little things to pick up what would be a quality win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 28, Raiders 19
10/01 15:08:14 ET