By Ryan Leong
Although the Raiders practiced on Monday, Wednesday is the big day when practices are geared specifically towards the next opponent. This week, that opponent ia the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons.
Normally, a bye week is supposed to give a team some rest and a chance to adjust whatever hasn’t been working. For the Raiders, a bye week is usually a break that just prevents the team from losing another game. Since 2003, coming off a bye week, the Silver and Black have lost nine straight post-bye games under six different head coaches. The last Oakland win after a bye was in 2002 — the year of their last AFC West title and AFC championship.
It’s been a well documented fall from grace since then. The team has yet to post a winning record, maxing out at 8-8 in 2010 and 2011.
Wednesday was the first practice where players wore pads. It’s part of a big test taking on that undefeated Atlanta team led by quarterback Matt Ryan.
Oakland’s defense has been a sore subject all season long. The team has yet to get an interception, tying them with the Lions as the only two teams without an interception. Meanwhile, defensive end Andre Carter had an extra week to prepare for his comeback after tearing his quadriceps muscle last December 18 at Denver while with the New England Patriots. Coach Dennis Allen has yet to confirm whether or not he’ll play but he did suit up with pads. The Raiders have recorded only three sacks and Carter’s presence could help on that struggling pass rush.
And on offense it’s been the same story. An inability to run the ball with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s zone blocking scheme isn’t doing anything for Darren McFadden. Quarterback Carson Palmer says it’s critical they keep trying to improve on their ground game, even though it ranks last in the NFL.
“Running the ball is what we want to do,” Palmer said Wednesday. “Obviously we want to do it better than we have and that’s why we continue to work at it. But it’s what gets the play-action game going, it’s what gets explosive plays because Darren can score from anywhere.”
There’s no better team to run against than the Falcons, who rank 27th in run defense but are 7th in defending passes. Right now, McFadden has only had one 100-yard rushing game and is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Palmer is on pace for career highs in passing yards, completions, and attempts. But the only stat that matters is wins, and right now he’s 1-3.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is nearly three weeks removed from that nasty concussion he received from Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy. Heyward-Bey spent the night in a hospital and missed the Denver Broncos game. He is now a full participant in practice and is probable to start in Sunday’s game.
Offensive tackle Khalif Barnes (groin), tight end Richard Gordon (hamstring), and cornerback Shawntae Spencer (sprained right foot) all missed practice. Barnes and Spencer are probably going to miss their third straight game. Without Spencer at cornerback, expect Michael Huff to make his third straight start at the cornerback position.
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Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.