Scouting Report: Oakland Raiders

Get the complete lowdown on the Oakland Raiders in this exclusive scouting report, including injury updates and key matchups for Sunday's game at Dolphin Stadium.

INSIDE SLANT

And so it is that Daunte Culpepper was finally named the starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders.

Sort of.

The Raiders didn't say Culpepper would start against his old team so much as they implied it, with Coach Lane Kiffin still holding out hope that Josh McCown, walking on two bad feet, could still be available for consideration.

Of course, it seemed rather cut and dried once Kiffin got toward the end of his press conference and was asked about McCown's X-rays.

"It showed a fracture," Kiffin said. "He's in a boot right now. Just like he was before, but it's the other foot."

So what is the realistic expectation McCown could come back by Sunday?

"Well, last time we were told he wouldn't be back for two or three weeks and he was back in two days, so I don't know," Kiffin said.

Last time, McCown had a right foot sprain, and not a fracture. McCown wasn't with the team when practice started, and was walking off the field slowly with his teammates when it ended while Culpepper played catch with JaMarcus Russell.

Culpepper played a few snaps in the first half and the entire second half because of McCown's injuries in a 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 118 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

With McCown out, Culpepper will get the most work he has to start a game since he played for the Dolphins last season.

"One day like this is really valuable to a quarterback," Kiffin said. "To not have him split reps or just run with the service team will make him more comfortable with the offense."

Another clue regarding Culpepper's promotion came when he spoke to the media, his first in-week comments of the season. In the days leading up to the first three games, Culpepper politely declined, letting McCown do all the talking.

"I've always been the type of guy where I don't have a whole lot to say," Culpepper said. "And I still don't have a whole lot to say right now. It's all about getting ready to play now. I feel like, since I touched the field, yeah, it's obvious I need to address you guys a little bit."

McCown couldn't bring himself to say he wouldn't play, but said the medical staff was approaching it as if he would be out "a couple of weeks ... or week to week, I don't know how they assess it because in my mind, it's day to day. I'll see how it feels in the morning, how tolerable it is."

Following the Cleveland win, Kiffin said Culpepper had the Dolphins game marked on the calendar, as well as a later game in Minnesota against the Vikings. Culpepper downplayed it, saying it was another game on the schedule.

Culpepper was a little more forthcoming Wednesday in talking about the team that essentially dumped him in favor of Trent Green less than a year after acquiring him for a second-round draft pick.

Coming back after knee surgery, Culpepper was benched after four ineffective games. He appeared to have lost mobility and was sacked 21 times. He had an additional procedure done and was eventually placed on injured reserve.

In the offseason, coach Nick Saban left for the University of Alabama, and new coach Cam Cameron decided he wanted Trent Green as his quarterback.

Green and Cameron were together with the Washington Redskins when Cameron was an assistant under Norv Turner. Once Green arrived, the Dolphins denied Culpepper the opportunity to take snaps with the regular offense and limited him to individual drills.

A breach-of-contract grievance was filed by the NFLPA on his behalf, with the Dolphins releasing Culpepper a day before it would be heard.

Culpepper didn't want to rehash the bad feelings, referring reporters to his original quote e-mailed to reporters: "As I was going through this process, I heard a quote by Gandhi that best expresses my thoughts about this victory: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. Now that I have my freedom and I get to choose my next team, I am just like many other people who have to go out and find employment so I can take care of family."

Culpepper did say he was looking forward to having friends and family see him at something closer to full strength.

"The thing is, I'm a Florida guy," Culpepper said. "Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to play healthy in front of the people in Miami. I get a chance to show them who I am healthy."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said line coach Tom Cable has done "the MVP job through three weeks of the season."

The Raiders, ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing last season and 32nd in 2005, are ranked third with 159.3 yards per game after gaining 386 yards on the ground in their last two games.

After giving up 72 sacks last season, the Raiders are on pace to surrender 27 this season.

Said Cable: "You're never as good as people think, you're never as bad as people think. Your record at the end of the day reflects who you really are. If you can run it, you run it. If you can't, you can't. We talk about that. We've just got to keep doing our thing and keep getting better."

-- The Raiders have not averaged 150 or more yards per game over an entire season since 200, the year they led the NFL in rushing at 154.4 yards per game and finished 12-4.

Since then, 14 teams have finished the regular season averaging 150 yards per game or better. Eleven of the 14 had winning records, one was 8-8 and eight made the playoffs.

-- Linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba was the lowest-rated player in the Madden '07 game, prompting a back-page column by Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly. Yet when Ekejiuba cracked a bone in his ankle in the preseason finale, the Raiders opted to keep him on the roster even though he wouldn't be able to play for three or four weeks.

Ekejiuba, considered one of the Raiders' best special teams player, watched in horror as Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs broke a kickoff return 99 yards for a touchdown and wants to get back in the action.

"Sitting out there watching, especially after getting gashed like that, it hurts watching from the sidelines," Ekejiuba said. "I need to be out there with my team."

-- Kiffin's dad, Monte, defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, may have been as excited as his son with Oakland's win over Cleveland.

Lane said his dad got to see the second half of the game on television following the Bucs' 24-3 win over the St. Louis Rams.

"Somebody was sitting with him, called my wife and said, `Hey, I think you guys won the Super Bowl,' " Lane Kiffin said. "He was so excited, and that's the dad thing. He'd be the first one to tell you he'd go 0-16 for us to win because that's how dads are."

When Lane began lamenting about missed opportunities in the red zone, Monte offered him some fatherly advice.

"He said, `Wait a minute. This isn't SC anymore. This is the NFL. You need to be happy with a win. This is the NFL. You need to be happy with a win. It's hard to win in the NFL. Don't be so picky,' " Lane Kiffin said.

-- Wide receiver Mike Williams, acquired from the Detroit Lions as a throw-in in the offseason along with quarterback Josh McCown for a fourth-round draft pick, lost a fumble while struggling for extra yardage, dropped what would have been a 20-plus-yard pass from Daunte Culpepper and also lost a potential touchdown in the end zone on a perfectly timed hit from Browns defensive back Sean Jones.

"I won't let one bad game define me," Williams said. "Last week everyone wanted to cut Seabass (kicker Sebastian Janikowski). Now they probably want to cut me."

Kiffin, who recruited Williams to USC out of high school in Florida, has been unsparing in his criticism of a player he considers to have great potential. The aftermath of the Browns game was no different.

When asked if he was pleased in any way with Williams progress, Kiffin said, "The word 'pleased' isn't anywhere near Mike Williams right now. And I'm sure Mike would be the first to tell you. Mike did not play well at all. And he's in position to make plays, but that doesn't do you any good to be in position if you don't make 'em. So he's gonna need to step it up."

Kiffin said he considered the play in the end zone, where Williams was drilled by Jones just as the ball was hitting him in the hands, as a catchable ball.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan may not revive the defense he dialed up on Cleveland's offensive play when he dropped all 11 men into coverage.

The Browns had just 10 seconds to play at the Oakland 35 when the Raiders decided to force Browns QB Derek Anderson to throw short of the goal line and in bounds. In theory, time would expire.

However, Anderson located Joe Jurevicius near the sideline and completed the pass for a 13-yard gain, with Jurevicius stepping out of bounds with three seconds remaining.

Phil Dawson made a 40-yard field-goal attempt, which was negated when Kiffin was granted timeout before the ball was snapped. The second attempt was blocked by Tommy Kelly.

Ryan was spared the pain of the defeat, but probably not the sharp criticism of owner Al Davis.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

-- Raiders LT Barry Sims vs. Dolphins DE Jason Taylor and LB Joey Porter: Sims has played well since regaining his left tackle position but he has always struggled with pure speed rushers. Taylor had three sacks of Rich Gannon in 2002 for Miami. Sims is likely to need help from fullback Justin Griffith to slow either man. If that's not enough, Porter can play on that side and line up as an end, or even be on the same side as Taylor -- which would means Sims and the offensive line would have to correctly communicate blocking assignments for two dangerous pass rushers.

-- Dolphins RG Rex Hadnot vs. Raiders DT Gerard Warren: Hadnot has started 42 of 50 games in three years and has played all three interior positions. His job will be to slow a rejuvenated Warren, who was dealt away by Denver for a seventh-round draft pick because he didn't fit into the Broncos scheme. Warren has not only fit in with the Raiders, but he broke in to the starting lineup last week over Terdell Sands, who was given a four-year, $17 million contract last offseason to prevent him from entering free agency. Warren has had sacks in each of the Raiders' last two games and has been enthusiastic and active.

INJURY IMPACT

If Gallery is unable to start at left guard, giving way to Morris, it makes the Raiders even more undersized in the middle of the offensive line along with center Jake Grove and guard Cooper Carlisle, all of whom are in the 290- to 300-pound range. It gives defensive coordinator Dom Capers a potential area to attack in terms of zone blitzes, which could force Culpepper, less comfortable on the outside than McCown, to the perimeter.


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