Last week, the Oakland Raiders surprised many of the naysayers–including this one. From the start of their battle with San Diego until the end, the Raiders played so well that many left game concluding that they ‘should have’ won. Some have even considered the loss a victory of some sort.
One person not looking at it that way is Raiders’ head coach Tom Cable. “We have nothing to be confident about other than our effort Monday night,” said Cable on Friday to reporters. The key word from that statement is “effort.” There’s nothing in that statement about a win of any sort.
The Raiders come into this game with a few problems. Punt return specialist, Johnnie Lee Higgins, is listed as questionable, while the original man for the job, Nick Miller, is out for four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his shin. Their biggest concern might be defensive end Greg Ellis who is limited, but probable for the game. Without Ellis, the stout run defense from week one may become the defense from the last few seasons.
Last season, the Raiders went into Arrowhead Stadium in week two and thoroughly dominated the Chiefs amidst Katrina-like weather conditions. The Raiders’ defense held the Chiefs’ offense to 55 yards rushing and 135 yards in the air. JaMarcus Russell only had to throw for 55 yards himself, due to the fact that the Raiders’ ground game put up 300 yards all on their own in the 23-8 victory.
The Raiders will have to accomplish the following keys if they expect to leave Missouri with a .500 record.
- Key #1: Special teams play must be much improved – The Chargers’ Darren Sproles had kick returns of 66 and 59 yards against the Raiders in week one. The latter of the two set the Chargers up for a field goal at the end of the half. Sproles averaged 34.0 yards per return–a stat that the Raiders can’t allow the Chiefs to come close to. Besides in kick coverage, the Raiders kick return team wasn’t as good as it needs to be. Louis Rankin averaged 16.8 yards-per-return with a long of only 23. He’ll need to average 20+ in this game.
- Key #2: Learn how to keep a lead – The Raiders had leads at the end of both halves only to allow the Chargers to tie at halftime and win the game with seconds remaining. Judging by the defensive formations used on San Diego’s final scoring drive, it appeared that John Marshall was on the phone with both former defensive coordinators Chuck Bresnahan and Rob Ryan for the play calling. “They started running a shallow guy or checking the ball off to the back, and when you check the ball down to Sproles, you better have some speed on him and don’t give him too much air,” said Marshall before conceding, “We didn’t adapt to it quick enough, and that’s on me.” You don’t have to be a Raiders fan to know that those sort of mistakes can’t happen again.
- Key #3: Stay strong on defense – The Chiefs looked like anything, but an offensive juggernaut last Sunday, but their performance should be put into perspective–they played against the Baltimore Ravens. Kansas City rushed for only 29 yards and passed for 159 yards on 16 completions for 24 attempts and no interceptions. Despite that, Kansas City still has weapons like receiver Dwayne Bowe and tailback Larry Johnson. If the Raiders are to succeed in Key #2, they’ll have to keep those guys in check. If Matt Cassel is the quarterback, they’ll have another weapon in which to stop.
- Key #4: JaMarcus Russell will need to be more accurate – Whatever your take was about Russell last Monday night, there’s no denying that completing only 12 passes in 30 attempts isn’t nearly good enough in the NFL. Often against San Diego, Russell didn’t trust his protection. This lack of trust caused him to throw off-balanced and off his back foot which made his throws way off target. In the second half, the Chargers focused on stopping the run because they didn’t fear the passing game. If the Chiefs are to fear Russell and his receivers, the third-year quarterback is going to have to hit his targets with better accuracy.
The Raiders could, and should, win this game, but no road game is ever easy–especially in Kansas City. If Cable’s team comes back home to Oakland Sunday night with an 0-2 record, odds are they have lost at least half of the keys to this game.