Raiders-Texans preview

The Oakland Raiders are giving the impression of being a far better team that the one that finished 4-12 in 2003. Oakland is off to a 2-1 start. The Houston Texans, meanwhile, might not be ready to make the quantum leap among contenders but in their third season they hardly have expansion level talent anymore.

The Oakland Raiders, who were 30-20 winners over Tampa Bay, have lost their last 10 road games. The Houston Texans defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 24-21 for their first win of the season. For the first time in franchise history, the Texans have legitimate talent at every position. Making a playoff run, however, might prove tough since the AFC South features 2003 postseason participants in Indianapolis and Tennessee along with the fast-improving Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here's a closer look at Sunday's matchup in Houston:

Raiders on offense: This will be Kerry Collins' offense for at least the next eight weeks and perhaps longer in Oakland decides to place Rich Gannon, who sustained a cracked vertebra in the Raiders win over Tampa Bay. Collins will be facing a Houston pass defense that has given up eight touchdowns through the air in eight games. The Oakland ground game awoke against Tampa Bay in rushing for 173 yards. Oakland's passing game also continues to get production out of its young receivers such as Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel. No. 1 man Jerry Porter also had a much needed-breakout performance Sunday against the Bucs.

The Raiders appear to have settled on a stable starting five on the offensive line, which can only help. Oakland will be facing a team that runs a 3-4 front seven. The Texans feature a solid defensive line with Seth Payne, Gary Walker and Robaire Smith. Houston's defensive strength is an active group of linebackers led by Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman. Houston, which already has a struggling secondary, will be without safety Eric Brown, who has a knee injury, Sunday.

Texans on offense: The Raiders defense is looking like a far better unit than last season but many wonder how good they really are after facing bad offenses like Buffalo and Tampa Bay. Then again, bad offenses had big days against Oakland last season. Houston's offense is not quite at the level of say Indianapolis but it will offer more of a challenge than Buffalo or Tampa Bay. Nonetheless, the retooled Raider defense looks like it is beginning to gel.

The Texans have a solid threesome they have been building with quarterback David Carr, running back Domanick Davis and wide receiver Andre Johnson. Running the ball against a Raider defense that has been solid against the run might get tougher if Davis, who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, cannot go. Carr also has a reliable tight end in Billy Miller. The offensive line was a disaster in the first season of the franchise but has since become a strength.

Special teams: Joe Avezzano was hired to fix the Raiders special teams coverage problems but has been a mixed bag so far -- decent against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay but horrible against Buffalo. Very few teams can match or surpass the Raiders kicker-punter combination of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Oakland also has an exciting return game in Phillip Buchanon on punts and potentially rookie Carlos Francis on kickoffs.

The Texans hope that kicker Kris Brown avoids the slumps that plagued him in 2001-2002 but getting out of Heinz Field seems to have do him a lot of good. The good news for the Texans kicking game is that punter Chad Stanley is a solid directional kicker.

Bottom line: The Texans have not won consecutive games since entering the NFL in 2002. This game will not provide any clearer of a picture as of how good the Raiders are since most people believe their truest measuring stick will be when visiting Indianapolis (October 10) and hosting Denver (October 17). Nonetheless, Oakland cannot sleep on the Texans because they have enough talent to beat someone on a given day.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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