Raiders-Seahawks Preview

The new-look Seattle Seahawks come in to town to take on the Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks have a new coach, new running backs and new receivers. They've played themselves to a 4-2 record, but it's still a very winnable game for the Raiders. A win on Sunday evens up Oakland's record and gives them their first win streak since 2008.

GAME INFO

-- In Week 8 of the 2010 NFL regular season, the Oakland Raiders play host to the Seattle Seahawks.

-- Kickoff is set for 1:15pm PT. The game will be broadcast on FOX. In the booth, Ron Pitts and John Lynch will provide the play-by-play and commentary with Nischelle Turner on the sidelines.

-- Oakland is 3-4 and coming off a 59-14 drubbing of the Denver Broncos. The 59 points is the most in franchise history. Oakland scored eight touchdowns on 508 yards, including four scores from Darren McFadden. This came after a Week 6 performance against the San Francisco 49ers, in which Oakland only managed 179 total yards of offense.


Nnamdi Asomugha (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
-- Following the big win, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said, "We don't change. Whether it was how we practiced, how we studied, how we played the game, how we called the game, we don't change … But the confidence level has risen. It's one thing to win, it's another thing to win the way we did. It's something that will definitely linger on throughout the week."

-- Chris Johnson had this to say about the Raiders' big win: "To be honest, the whole world was shocked. We expected to win, but for us to win like we did, nobody knows where that came from." -- The Raiders have not won back-to-back games since the final two games of the 2008 season. If they can beat the Seahawks, they'll face Kansas City in Week 9. A win against the Chiefs would give the team their first three-game win streak since 2002.

-- Said head coach Tom Cable, "We need to worry about Seattle, and to do that, we need to worry more about us than anything … We all want to win two in a row, and we all know what that manes, but the process of doing that is far more important than talking about a two-game win streak."

-- Asomugha added, "Anytime you're coming off a loss and you can put together a game like that, absolutely it has the potential to string into a number of victories going down the road and than you can point back to this game and say, ‘Oh, that was the game we got over the hump' … So that's our goal." -- Seattle has been a big surprise this season. After coming off of a 5-11 year in 2009, the Seahawks, under new head coach Pete Carroll, have fought their way to a 4-2 record.

-- Last week, the Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals, 22-10 in Seattle. Olindo Mare kicked five field goals, Matt Hasselbeck threw for 192 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 38 passing. Former Raider wide receiver Mike Williams has revitalized his career under his former USC head coach. Williams made 11 grabs for 87 yards and a touchdown.

-- Of course, the Raiders suffered arguably their most heartbreaking loss of the season against the Cardinals in Week 3. In the game's final seconds, Sebastian Janikowski missed an easy 32-yard field goal attempt, sealing a 24-23 win for Arizona.

-- Seattle currently sits atop the NFC West. The Cardinals sit one game behind them at 3-3.

-- Oakland is currently in second place in the AFC West. The Chiefs, who have played one less game than ever other team in the division, are in first place at 4-2. Denver and San Diego are tied for last place at 2-5.

-- The Raiders lead the all-time series against the Seahawks, 27-24, but Seattle has won three of the last five meetings.

-- The last time these two teams faced off was at Qwest Field in Seattle, during Week 9 of the 2006 season. The Raiders were shut out 16-0. For Seattle, Maurice Morris ran for 138 yards on 30 carries and Seneca Wallace threw for 176 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 30 passing. The Raiders struggled on offense with only 185 total yards. Andrew Walter threw for 166 yards and was sacked nine times. LaMont Jordan ran for 63 yards on nine carries.

-- The last time the Seahawks were in Oakland was in Week 1 of 2002. The Raiders won that game 31-17. Rich Gannon threw for touchdowns and 214 yards on 19 of 28 passing. Charlie Garner ran for a score and 127 yards and also contributed a touchdown and 64 yards in the passing game.


Pete Carroll (AP)
-- Pete Carroll is in his first year as head coach for Seattle. This comes after Jim Mora was fired after one season. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, Carroll had arguably one of the most successful college coaching tenures at USC. From 2001-2009, Carroll led the Trojans to two national championships and seven Pac-10 conference titles.

Prior to his time at USC, Carroll had two previous stints as an NFL head coach. In 1994, he was fired after one season of 6-10 football. From 1997-1999, Carroll led the New England Patriots to a 27-21 record, including a first place finish in the AFC East in his first year.

INJURY REPORT

For the Raiders:

Out: DT John Henderson (foot), WR Louis Murphy (chest), WR Chaz Schilens (knee).

Questionable: RB Michael Bennett (hamstring), G Robert Gallery (calf), LB Travis Goethel (back), QB Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder), OLB Thomas Howard (knee), CB Chris Johnson (concussion), WR Nick Miller (ankle), TE Zach Miller (foot), LB Kamerion Wimbley (groin).

For the Seahawks

Questionable: CB Kelly Jennings (hamstring), LB Matt McCoy (hamstring), DT Brandon Mebane (calf), T Russell Okung (ankle), RB Michael Robinson (hamstring), WR Brandon Stokley (oblique), DB Walter Thurmond (head).

RAIDERS DEFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS OFFENSE

Seattle's 28th ranked offense has been shaky all season long. Inconsistencies, especially in the redzone, and injuries have plagued this team.

Matt Hasselbeck is no longer than quarterback he once was. From 2002-2007, Hasselbeck threw for 133 touchdowns and 20,165 yards and was selected to three Pro Bowls. Since then, he has struggled to stay healthy and has had more interceptions (33) than touchdowns (28).


Matt Hasselbeck (AP)
He's got some new weapons to throw to, as Carroll revamped the entire team this offseason. Former Raider Mike Williams is Hasselbeck's main target. Williams was nearly on his way out of the league before Carroll gave his former USC protégé a chance in Seattle. So far, the move has proven successful as Williams leads the team in receiving with 348 yards and 32 receptions.

While Williams plays the role of the big, possession receiver, Hasselbeck three capable outside receivers in Deon Butler, rookie Golden Tate and veteran Deion Branch. If Seattle took some more shots downfield, then perhaps these guys would have bigger stats to their credit. But nonetheless, the Raiders linebackers and defensive backs will have to keep their eyes open and their heads on a swivel because those three are all capable playmakers in the open field.

Tight end John Carlson has only caught 17 passes for 184 yards, but he's a solid option in the passing game and a capable blocker as well. The presence of Williams, who is essentially a tight end, has taken some receptions away from Carlson, but Hasselbeck is a conservative passer who looks for his short and intermediate guys like Carlson. If the Raiders focus too much on the receivers, Carlson is a definite threat in third down situations.

Seattle has a stable of running backs, none of whom have really broken out. The one guy who might be poised to do so is the newly acquired Marshawn Lynch. Lynch came from Buffalo in a Week 5 trade. Last week against Arizona, Lynch ran for 89 yards on 24 carries. This week, the former Oakland native and Cal star will be coming back to his hometown in his first professional debut, so you know he's going to be brining his A-game.

Justin Forsett, another former Cal Golden Bear, leads Seattle in rushing: 323 yards and a touchdown on 70 carries. While Lynch is the starter, the 5-foot-8 Forsett is the third-down, change-of-pace back for Seattle. The versatile Michael Robinson is likely out with a hamstring injury, but the Seahawks also feature Leon Washington and former 1,000-yard rusher Julius Jones in their backfield stable.

For the Raiders defense, this week is no different from any other week. Even though the Seahawks pass more often than they run, they are going to want to pound the ball with Marshawn Lynch, early and often.


Russell Okung (AP)
Seattle's makeshift offensive line has been inconsistent all season long, particularly in pass protection. Hasselbeck has been sacked 14 times this season, and it doesn't get any better. Rookie offensive tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall selection in the draft, has been slowed all season by a high-ankle sprain. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

There are plenty of "if's" to go around when considering Sunday's defensive matchup. If Oakland can get to Hasselbeck and disrupt his game. If the defensive front can manage Lynch, Forsett and company. If the Raiders can keep the action in front of them.

If the Raiders can do these things, a win on Sunday can be a reality. If the Raiders can do two out of three of these things, then a win is more than likely. However, for all the talk of the Raiders turning the corner, the cynical fan must be saying, "I'll believe it when I see it." Seattle is not a very good offensive team. Terrible, they're not, but despite their 4-2 record, the Seahawks have not convinced any rational mind that they are back to their winning ways.

When a proficient offense and defense, or in this case, unspectacular, face off, I'll put my bet on the defense (a difficult lesson learned after the Raiders' 2002 Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay). These are two evenly matched and mediocre units that are squaring off. But give that defenses often win out and the fact that the Raiders have their home crowd (however big or small it may be), Oakland barely gets the edge here.

Advantage: RAIDERS (barely)

RAIDERS OFFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE

Without Darren McFadden, the Oakland offense is subpar, mediocre at best. With McFadden, the Raiders are a real threat.

McFadden will get the ball early and often. Whether it's on the ground or through the air, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will look to get his number one playmaker involved in as many plays as possible. Pretty simple, right?

Pete Carroll is a defensive minded coach, and it has definitely shown in his team's run defense. The Seahawks are allowing an average of 77.5 rushing yards per game—good for second best in the NFL. Seattle is also in the top five in points allowed per game.

However, the Seahawks have struggled against the pass this year, and it's the perfect opportunity for the Raiders' young wide receivers to step up. Louis Murphy is listed as questionable, but he's been ruled out of the game. Starting in his place will be rookie Jacoby Ford. Ford, who has come on strong of late, is small in size, but when he has the ball in the open field, he's easily one of the most dangerous playmakers the Raiders have on their roster. Ford has made his name on special teams, and he still has plenty of room to grow as a receiver. But Tom Cable has been very high on his rookie wideout, and Sunday is a chance for Ford to backup his coach's praise.

Darrius Heyward-Bey has struggled and hasn't lived up to his preseason expectations. He has 14 receptions on the year for 161 yards, but in the last four weeks, he's only managed four receptions for 21 yards. Granted, he was taken out of last week's game due to illness, but those are disgusting and unacceptable numbers for a former first round pick. Again, Sunday will be an opportunity for the wide receivers to step up, but this is especially true for Heyward-Bey. The Raiders like to send him deep down the field, but given his struggles, Hue Jackson might want to built up his young receiver's confidence by giving him some short and intermediate routes. Really, anything to get him going.


Zach Miller (AP)
Zach Miller has played at a Pro Bowl level this season for the Raiders, and he's finally getting some recognition around the league. People are paying notice to Miller's importance to the Raiders offense, but that extra attention hasn't stopped him from being second in nearly every major statistical category for tight ends. Against the 49ers, the Raiders didn't get the ball to Miller until the fourth quarter, and they paid for it dearly with their worst offensive putout of the season. Against the Broncos, Miller caught three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, including the game's opening score. The game plan will remain the same, and Miller should once again lead the team in receiving.

Of course, the onus will be on the triggerman, Jason Campbell. The Raiders will be a run-first team so long as Campbell struggles and McFadden and Bush continue to play well. But after the Raiders establish their ground game, they want to open things up in the passing game. Campbell has had an up-and-down season, and with Bruce Gradkowski's comeback on the horizon, Sunday might be Campbell last opportunity to assert himself as the definite starter.

After suffering a concussion against Denver, center Samson Satele is set to play on Sunday. That means Jared Veldheer will likely get his second consecutive start at left tackle. Veldheer and Mario Henderson have split time at left tackle, and that's likely to be the case once more. Veldheer, despite being a rookie, has played admirably at both spots. He's an impact blocker who does an excellent job of getting down field. He's struggled to keep his composure—as indicated by his numerous false start penalties—but he's made great strides as the season has progressed.


Jared Veldheer (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
To Henderson's credit, he has played better since splitting time with Veldheer. He has gone on record plenty of time already to say that the blame falls squarely on his shoulders. But it's somewhat disconcerting for such a big and talented man, especially an offensive lineman, to lack self-confidence. Henderson needs to get a string of good games going to help his team, but most importantly, help himself.

Former Raider, Chris Clemons is among the league leaders in sacks with six on the year. Tom Cable has been critical of his right tackle Langston Walker, so the microscope will be on him as he faces off against the athletic Clemons.

Seattle has two very good linebackers in Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry. Tatupu is smart in the middle and will be a handful for Campbell, McFadden and Bush. Curry has excellent speed off the edge, so that only makes things tougher for the Raiders' right side of Walker and Cooper Carlisle.

The secondary is a mix of young and old. Cornerback Marcus Trufant and safety Lawyer Milloy control the right side of the field. Again, it will be a big opportunity for Campbell and Heyward-Bey as the left side of the Seattle defensive backfield is young and inexperienced. Rookie Earl Thomas is the deep man while 24-year old Nate Ness figures to get some playing time with Kelly Jennings and Walter Thurmond questionable for Sunday.

Advantage: RAIDERS

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Olindo Mare has been money all season long for Seattle. He is a perfect nine-for-nine on the season with a long of 51 yards.


Olindo Mare (AP)
Sebastian Janikowski has rebounded nicely after a terrible start. He currently leads the league in field goals with 15.

In the punting game, as always, it's no contest. Shane Lechler's 49.0 average yards per punt is second only to San Diego's Mike Scifres' 49.4. Seattle's Jon Ryan is in the bottom ten with an average of 42.8. To his credit, Ryan has put down 14 punts inside the 20-yard line while Lechler has done so 13 times.

So far this season, Seattle's modus operandi has been to win games on turnovers and special teams. Pete Carroll has done a masterful job in the return game, as Leon Washington is tied for the league lead in touchdowns off kickoff returns with two. On 15 return attempts, Washington has compiled 526 yards, including a 101-yarder, for an average of 35.1 yards per return.

Rookie Golden Tate is the primary punt return man, and he's had a solid season in that department. The shifty Tate has returned 12 punts this season, for 142 yards and an average of 11.8. His longest return of the season went for 63 yards.

As I wrote last week in the Broncos game grades recap, the Raiders return game is finally starting to come together with Jacoby Ford and Nick Miller. Miller came on strong last weekend as the team's primary return man. Johnnie Lee Higgins is stil listed as the starter, but given his struggles and Miller's improved play, a change is definitely on the horizon.

Advantage: EVEN

PREDICTION

The best way to describe the Raiders' chances on Sunday? Cautiously optimistic.

This is a game that could go either way with neither team exactly dominating. Despite Seattle's record, they have gotten to this point thanks to doing the little things—like turnovers and special teams—right.

Sunday is the best opportunity for the Raiders to get to the two-win streak mark since the end of 2008. You can't discount how important this game is. A win means the Raiders have conquered at least one obstacle in their comeback: consistency. Sure, it would only be a two-game win streak, but a two-game win streak is the start to a three-game win streak, as Yogi Berra might say if he were a Raider fan. A loss would be another huge step backwards following a step forward.

Not to disparage the Seahawks, but this is a very winnable game for the Raiders. In fact, the only thing that can stop the Raiders from winning this one is themselves.

Barring any meltdown on special teams or a superfluous amount of turnovers and penalties, I'm sticking with my preseason prediction on this one.

RAIDERS 27

SEAHAWKS 20

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