Raiders-Colts preview

The Oakland Raiders face a critical two-game stretch if they aspire to be a playoff participant starting with Sunday's road game at the Indianapolis Colts followed by a home game against the Denver Broncos.

Last Sunday's 30-17 loss at Houston did not do much to convince people that the Oakland Raiders (2-2) have cured their road woes. It marked the Raiders 11th consecutive loss. Things won't get any easier Sunday at the RCA Dome. Here's a closer look:

Raiders on offense: Oakland needs to do two things Sunday. No. 1 remember the snap count – or in the noisy RCA Dome perhaps a silent count. No. 2, do not give the ball away. The Raiders had eight false starts and five turnovers against Houston. Oakland already has Kerry Collins replacing the injured Rich Gannon at quarterback. The Raiders will also be without running back Tyrone Wheatley for 2-4 weeks. Amos Zereoue, who rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns against Houston, gets the call. The Raiders running game has produced 328 yards the last two weeks after a slow start and will need similar success here if for no other reason than to keep the Colts offense on the sideline.

The only downside is that Oakland is likely to be without both starting guards, Ron Stone and Frank Middleton. Brad Badger and maybe Chad Slaughter would take their place. The Colts, despite their efforts to shore up the defense, ranks dead-last on that side of the ball despite the presence of defensive end Dwight Freeney, arguably one of the top five in the NFL at his position.

Colts on offense: Well, where do we begin? For starters, quarterback Peyton Manning is in a system that allows him to thrive and he is surrounded by weapons galore. There's wide receiver Marvin Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler showing no signs of slowing down and sidekick Reggie Wayne has developed into a consistent No. 2 man. Running back Edgerrin James might no longer be in the elite group at his position but is still one of the better ones. Tight end Marcus Pollard might not be in the same breath as say Tony Gonzalez but is a solid one that can work the middle of the field. The Colts also have a solid line anchored by center Jeff Saturday.

If anyone knows how to slow the Colts offense down, it's Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was the Patriots linebacker coach last season. Ryan-led defenses have beaten the Colts five straight times.

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, Houston 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.

If the Indianapolis offense has to settle for a field-goal on a given drive, it is in good hands with kicker Mike Vanderjagt, arguably the best in the game.

Bottom line: What gives, the Raiders have lost 11 straight games on the road but have won their last two visits to Indianapolis (in 2000-2001). However, we were much more sure of the Raiders in those years. This season, however, it is much more difficult to tell.

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


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