Miller key to getting passing game going

Zach Miller has seen his production dip dramatically over the past two weeks as defenses adjust to take the Raiders' best pass-catcher out of the mix. Getting the second-year tight end back on track is critical if Oakland is going to snap out of its slump.

No player has meant more to the Raiders offense over the past two seasons than Zach Miller. Not quarterback JaMarcus Russell, not running back Darren McFadden, and certainly no one on the offensive line.

But Miller, who holds the franchise record for catches by a rookie tight end, has been virtually absent in Oakland's last two games. He was shut out in the win over Kansas City in Week 2 then had just two catches in the 23-3 loss to Denver last week.

Getting him going again is critical not just to Russell but Oakland's offense in general. "Since Week 1 teams definitely have been ratcheting it up and making sure they shut me down," Miller said Thursday. "I just have to keep doing what I can to get open whenever I have a chance and make those plays. I saw a little bit of that at the end of the year last year. I'm kind of used to it."

The only way defenses will relax some of the attention being focused on Miller is if the Raiders young wide receiver ever start to contribute on a regular basis. Beyond rookie Louis Murphy, no other receiver on Oakland's roster has more than one catch heading into this week's game against Houston.

Part of the problem, Miller said, is that the Raiders haven't been able to run the ball with much consistent success the past two weeks after opening with a solid effort against San Diego. Without the running game to worry about, teams don't have to stack the box and not even bother with a play-action pass.

"That's something we've got to put a big emphasis on," Miller said. "We're not running the ball over the last two weeks like we should. So we have to get that right. "When you're not having success, a lot of guys, they push and they try to do things extraordinary to make a play or to make something special happen, and a lot of times that can hurt because you start doing things you shouldn't be doing, it messes up the offense. So if we just do like we do it in practice and the way we're coached and the way we've been doing it in the past and not try and do more than we're capable of, then we'll be OK."

Other news and notes from Thursday:

-- The team re-signed Justin Miller to help return kickoffs but don't be surprised if Todd Watkins isn't in that role at some point. Miller was cut by Oakland in training camp but joined back with the team after kick returner Nick Miller and his replacement, Hiram Eugene, both got hurt but Watkins name is listed atop the special teams return chart.

Miller isn't likely to get much, if any, work on defense however. Converted wide receiver Jonathan Holland is ahead of Miller on the depth chart.

-- Punt returner/wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins practiced on a limited basis but his status is uncertain.

-- Fullback Luke Lawkton suffered a hamstring strain in practice Wednesday so he sat out the following day's workout.

-- Weather forecasts in Houston call for very high, muggy temperatures but Cable doesn't seem too concerned. The Raiders have a plan for playing in the heat and will try to weather through.

"It's just something you have to deal with," Cable said. "I don't think it'll be a whole lot different than Kansas City, for Sunday's report anyway.'

-- Contrary to an ESPN report, Cable insisted the Raiders have not waived John Bowie from injured reserve. Bowie, who was placed on IR to make room for Miller, was alleged to have been waived from the IR according to Adam Schefter but Cable deined such a move had taken place.

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