By Sam McPherson
The Oakland Raiders got off to the wrong start in Week 1 with their 19-14 road loss to the New York Jets, but brighter days could be ahead for the Silver & Black as they host the Houston Texans in Week 2. The Texans, even though they won their opener over the Washington Redskins, were the worst team in the NFL in 2013, and they still have a lot of personnel holes in their lineup.
This means the Raiders could be in a great position to win their home opener at the Coliseum this upcoming Sunday, if they can grow and improve from their Week 1 effort against the Jets.
The Texans are 1-0 this year after losing their final 14 games of 2013 to finish with the worst record in the league. Houston beat Washington at home in Week 1 by a 17-6 score. But this is the same franchise that posted a 12-4 record in 2012, with much of the same talent in place. So to underestimate the Texans would be bad for the Raiders, even if Oakland did beat Houston last year.
Texans on Offense
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Texans starting quarterback, and he was efficiently effective in Week 1, completing 14 of 22 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown. Houston doesn’t need Fitzpatrick to win the game for them; they just need him to not lose it. Head Coach Bill O’Brien is a quarterback guru, so you know the Texans trust his offensive guidance of the mediocre talent the organization has at the position.
Arian Foster is still the man in Houston’s ground game, and he churned out 103 yards last week on 27 carries. His longest gain was only ten yards, though, so it was a grind against the Redskins. The Texans really don’t have an able backup for him now, either, now that Ben Tate has gone to Cleveland.
However, Houston does have two really good wideouts. Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins are both capable of 100-yard days every time out, so the Raiders secondary will have their hands full if the front seven can’t get pressure on Fitzpatrick.
Texans on Defense
Defensive end J.J. Watt is the big name on the Texans defense, and he did get a sack last week against the Redskins. But he’s not the only one to fear on the defensive side of the ball.
Linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive back Johnathan Joseph also bring a physical presence to the Houston defensive game plan.
The Raiders may have caught a break, though, as No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney injured himself in Week 1 and likely miss the game in Oakland.
Texans Players to Watch
Foster led the league in rushing once (2010) when he ran for 1,616 yards at 4.9 yards per pop. But he’s not the same player he once was after missing half the season last year. And without a truly talented quarterback to keep the defense honest, stopping Foster is now the key to beating Houston. If the Texans are able to use Foster to run for 100+ yards against the Raiders to control the clock, it’s going to be a long day for Oakland.
In addition, the Raiders can’t let a guy like Fitzpatrick beat them with his arm. He’s not that good as his career 77.8 QB rating attests. But Fitzpatrick is capable of hot streaks: he’s 28-49-1 in his NFL career as a starter, so somehow he’s been just good enough to start a lot of games—and not good enough to win a lot of those starts.
Oakland is at home, and they have to be feeling confident after last week’s finish against the Jets. The fans at the Coliseum are craving a win—especially with the Oakland Athletics struggling on the baseball side of the stadium ledger right now—and Houston is due to crash a bit emotionally after their own home opener.
The Raiders can, and will, win this game, because of the home-field advantage. But it will be a close one, probably by a touchdown or less.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.