Behind Enemy Lines: Raiders, Part III

As Daunte Culpepper gets back into the starter's seat in his return to the Metrodome, his ability to control the game and the football will be a significant key to the Vikings-Raiders matchup. Denis Savage of BlackandSilverIllustrated.com and Tim Yotter of VikingUpdate.com pontificate on the keys to the game for both teams.

Matchup to watch when the Vikings are on offense:

Sidney Rice versus the Raiders cornerbacks. The Vikings have been preaching about their desire to increase their explosive plays, and rookie wide receiver Sidney Rice is their best option there. He isn't likely to beat the cornerbacks with his speed, but if the Vikings can get the run established and bait the safeties to help there, Rice has a chance to use his big frame and outmuscle the defensive backs for passes. The Raiders know the Vikings would like to run Taylor, but Rice is still somewhat of an untapped resource and could come up big if his hamstring is sufficiently healed.

Matchup to watch when the Vikings are on defense:

Ben Leber versus Raiders blitz pickup. The Vikings haven't been consistently sacking the quarterback without blitzing, and Leber is their best blitzing linebacker. He also has a knack for causing and recovering fumbles and, yes, Daunte Culpepper has a propensity to fumble the ball. Since turnovers are a big part of the game, stripping the ball out of Culpepper's hands could create desperately needed scoring opportunities for the Vikings, whether that happens by returning an interception or fumble or simply setting up the offense.

Matchup to watch when the Raiders are on offense:

Daunte Culpepper versus the combination of Cedric Griffin, Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith. The Raiders have played a passive offensive game through much of the season but have to open the playbook up. Only 10 passes from Culpepper have traversed 20 or more yards and that needs to change this week. He faces a challenge against an experienced secondary and will have to trust his receivers to get open and stretch the field. If he can't recognize the coverages or is inaccurate, the Vikings defensive backfield could have a big day.

Matchup to watch when the Raiders are on defense:

Chester Taylor versus the Raiders defensive line. Getting penetration has been a problem for Oakland. They have been consistently losing the battle of the trenches. Gerrard Warren and Warren Sapp need to collapse the interior of the line to free up playmaking linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard. If the middle of the line is bullied, look for Taylor to gain a lot of yards, and that will open up the passing game for easy completions.

The Vikings will win this game if ...

Tarvaris Jackson can have at least a decent game. The Raiders have a fast defense, as the Vikings have attested to all week, but they can be run against. The key, however, will be if the Vikings can balance with that with a somewhat consistent passing game. To date, they've struggled to do that, but this game is the start of Jackson's season-ending journey to prove he can either be a quarterback of the future or sound the alarm for a veteran starter in 2008.

The Vikings will lose this game if ...

Their offense struggles to move the ball early. It appears that all the Vikings' defenders need to see is a few early three-and-out drives from their own offense before their frustration boils over. The defenders, while far from perfect themselves, have shown a tendency to not believe this offense can work, and without Adrian Peterson breaking out the offense has done nothing to dissuade those fears. An early deficit with a stagnant offense could precipitate give-up mode.

The Raiders will win this game if ...

They don't turn the ball over. They have given the ball up 22 times this year – tied for second-most in the AFC. Plus, the quarterbacks have been responsible for 15 fumbles, losing four. Those opportunities for disaster and a short field must be eliminated for the Raiders to have a chance at winning and it starts at the helm with Culpepper.

The Raiders will lose this game if ...

They can't stop the run. Tarvaris Jackson doesn't scare many people but Taylor should. He is a talented back that can create space and opportunities with a variety of moves. Should Taylor run well, it opens up the play-action-pass game and will get the cornerbacks biting, giving Jackson the room he needs to make completions.

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Denis Savage: Culpepper is jacked to face his old team and his fellow mates are calling him "Pep" for his lively attitude and demeanor. Will he settle down when gametime hits? Will the emotion serve him well or hinder him? In this case, look for Culpepper to play a solid game and cause the Vikings angst on their home turf, ending the Raiders losing streak. Raiders 24, Vikings 20.

Tim Yotter: Vikings fans have seen the inconsistent nature of their team all season, and it's impossible to tell which version will show up this Sunday. The Raiders have weapons at wide receiver, but the key will be getting to and frustrating Culpepper early. The thinking here is that the Vikings defense will be ultra-aggressive early and force the issue, hoping to goad Culpepper into fumbling or throwing before he's ready. A turnover could be the turning point. Vikings 17, Raiders 13.


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