This is my column on the Raiders’ upcoming game against the Texans. WARNING: This is a Raiders column. 49ers fans, feel free to skip this.
You know what Sunday’s Raiders’ game is?
It’s the Raiders’ best chance to win a game until late October. They are playing the downtrodden Houston Texans.
If the Raiders lose this one, they’ll be 0-2 and their next three opponents will be the Patriots, the Dolphins and the Chargers. We’re talking 0-5 if the Raiders don’t beat the Texans. We’re talking veterans checking out, protecting themselves on the field for the next season or the next team. We’re talking see you next year. Except for Dennis Allen. He might have to go this season.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Raiders just might beat the Texans. The Las Vegas odds makers think the game will be close — they made the Texans three-point favorites. Do the odds makers know what they’re talking about?
Let’s break down this matchup and see if the oddsmakers got it right.
Raiders’ running game vs. Texans’ run defense. The Texans are vulnerable here. They allowed 5.7 yards per carry to the Redskins last week, but the Redskins have a strong offensive line and two good running backs. The Raiders have a weak offensive line and an injured running back — Maurice Jones-Drew — who hurt his hand last week and had surgery on it a few days ago. If he plays, can he hold onto the ball with a busted hand? You can bet the Texans will target the hand and find out.
If Jones-Drew doesn’t play, the Raiders still have Darren McFadden, whom they can count on to stay healthy maybe for his first five or six carries of the game. And when he gets hurt, the Raiders have Latavius Murray, a second-year player who has zero carries in his pro career.
The Raiders have the worst running game in football right now.
Raiders’ passing game vs. Texans’ pass defense. The Raiders catch a break — Jadeveon Clowney won’t play. He tore his right meniscus last week. The Raiders wouldn’t have been able to block both Clowney and J.J. Watt.
Watt will be the player the Raiders must control. He’s the best defensive player in the league — he stops the run, pressures quarterbacks and bats down passes at the line of scrimmage. That third skill could be the most important one against the Raiders.
Last week, Raiders’ offensive coordinator Greg Olson almost exclusively called quick three-step drops and dink-and-dunk passes for rookie Derek Carr, playing his first game in the league. With a passing game that timid, what was the point of starting Carr? The Raiders just as easily could have used Matt Schaub. If Olson calls Sunday’s game the same simplistic way, Watt will knock down a lot of those short passes. He’s that good.
You can’t win a game throwing only dinks and dunks, especially against Watt. Any NFL defense will take away the short passes if they’re not afraid of getting beaten deep.
Ideally, Olson should give Carr some play-action, max-protection deep shots — fake the run, keep eight players to block and have two receivers run downfield. Ideally, the defense would be so surprised that one or both receivers would be wide open.
But you have to have to a good running game to pull off that play. If the defense doesn’t respect the running game, it won’t respect the play fake, it will run back to cover the two receivers and Carr will have to throw into double coverage or scramble.
Raiders’ run defense vs. Texans’ running game. Last week the Raiders gave up 10.2 yards per carry to Chris Ivory and 5.2 yards per carry to Chris Johnson. This week the Raiders face Arian Foster who is better than Ivory and Johnson. Much better. Foster is elite. He should gain about 150 rushing yards and set up the play-action passing game for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Raiders’ pass defense vs. Texans’ passing game. Fitzpatrick occasionally pulls a Tony Romo — throws into double coverage and hands the game to the opponent. Fitzpatrick has thrown three or more interceptions in a game nine times in his NFL career. Nine times.
That said, I doubt Fitzpatrick will pull a Romo against the Raiders. No need for Fitzpatrick to force passes. The Texans should run the ball about 35 times, so Fitzpatrick won’t have to attempt more than 20 passes. And his receivers are better than the Raiders’ cornerbacks.
Verdict: Am I missing something? This game won’t be close like the odds makers say. This game will be domination, 27-10 Texans.
And instead of starting the season winless behind Schaub, the Raiders will start the season winless behind Carr.
For that, Allen should keep his job?
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.