Breast Cancer Week in the NFL means one thing: It is time for the annual Texans-Raiders matchup. These two teams know each other almost as well as division rivals as it seems they play every year.
The symmetry abounds this year as these are the two
teams cities, George Blanda helped lead to greatness.
Side Rant Alert: How stupid is it that the Titans are the Oilers, but don't ever use the name and the Texans have to be the Texans? Just call them the Oilers for crying out loud. The Titans don't need it. Chris Johnson does something amazing and we see it breaks a team record held by Earl Campbell and Matt Schaub does something amazing and sets a franchise mark, yet Warren Moon had obliterated that number in the Oilers run and gun system.
Back to the symmetry, it does not stop at George Blanda. Just like last year, the Raiders face off with the Texans in Week Four featuring a 1-2 record. And just like last year, everyone is looking to see if the one win was more of a fluke than the two losses.
Last year, the Raiders had just suffered a demoralizing drubbing against the Broncos and were hoping to get things righted against the 32nd ranked Houston Texans defense.
In case anyone doesn't have the same flashbacks involving a confused fat deuce QB in pink wristbands that I do, let me just say it didn't happen. The Raiders managed just 8 first downs, 165 total yards at a whopping 2.9 yards per play.
Looking back at that day, I feel better about where this team is now. They have come a long way. This year's redzone struggles would be a luxury for last years squad. They were 0 for 1 against the Texans. That's not it, either. It was after that pitiful performance on Breast Cancer Day that almost all Raiders fans were certain they had identified the biggest cancerous boob on the planet, their QB.
The only one in Raider Nation that may have been as hated as the QB was Al Davis. We were almost all convinced he would never change his ways. That he would continue to draft projects that never project and he would be to stubborn to let his coach pull his guys.
The Raiders hit a bottom on that day that they did not start ascending from until they changed QB's. This is where the potential for the greatest symmetry of all comes in. The point that balances out last year's discovery of the bottom. This is a chance for the Raiders to start scraping at their ceiling.
It will be no easy task. The Texans are a solid squad with a scary offense and the number two rushing defense. They themselves are looking for a bounce back after a drubbing at the hands of their in state rivals, Cowboys.
Still, there are matchups that favor both teams and some compelling strength against strength matchups. Look for yourself.
The Walker Texas Ranger Head Butt to the Melon
Texans Rushing Offense vs. Raiders Rushing D
In a season that has seen the Raiders already go against Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson, the Raiders are facing their biggest test for the new look run D this week as the NFL's leading rusher Arian Foster comes to town.
Foster is averaging an obscene 5.9 yards per carry and maybe the most impressive thing about this is the fact that his long carry is 42 yards. That is just a lot of successful carries.
Football Outsiders has ranked them number one in the league in efficiency in carries between the Guards. The Texans know where to butter their bread. 35 percent of their carries are going right up the middle.
They have carried outside the right tackle with the second most frequency, but it is also their least efficient running location. They are carrying outside right twice as much as outside left.
It'll be interesting to see if that tendency changes as Trevor Scott and Matt Shaughnessy typically lineup opposite the LT. They will be going against the Texans backup LT, Rashad Baker, but Baker does not appear to be a typical backup and may be able to have his way with these guys in the run game.
If the Texans continue to favor the right side, it'll be big game for LaMarr Houston and a chance for him to make his mark on the run D. Given the success the Texans have up the middle though, the key here will be the health of John Henderson and Richard Seymour.
If the two of them are healthy, the Raiders should have a chance at slowing down the Texans running game.
Mario vs. Mario
This is the end, beautiful friend.... Of our elaborate plans, the end. I wonder if Jason Campbell is happy about not starting this week?
Mario typically moves between sides and the Raiders don't have a Tackle that can handle him, but I expect he'll spend most of his day blowing past the LTs. He is going to need to be doubled. He has 4 of the 5 his team's sacks. The only positive I can find is that Mario Henderson makes every DE he plays against look like Mario Williams. The Raiders offense is used to getting dominated there.
Raiders 3rd down O vs. Texans 3rd down D
The Raiders are only converting on 30.4 percent on third down and the Texans are only allowing 30.3 percent on third downs.
The Bruce Lee Sidekick Breaking Texas Ranger's Ribs
Raiders Passing Attack vs. Texans Pass D
The Texans pass D has been atrocious. Especially against TEs. In three games they have allowed 25 catches for 288 yards to TE's. That's 8.3 catches and 96 yards a game. That's not far off from the 12 completions and 120 yards the Raiders managed through the air against the Texans last year.
It's not just TEs that are doing the damage. The Texans are giving up 368.7 yards per game through the air. With the Raiders WRs now being worthy of attention, the Texans will not be able to key on Zach Miller, who should have a big game.
The Texans fans are not particularly enthralled with any of their secondary, but they are pretty certain that FS Eugene Wilson is the Devil. Their SS Bernard Pollard has been good defending the run, but he can be exploited in the pass game. Add to this smallish corners and the Raiders may finally get that deep strike they are looking for. Could this be the week that DHB gets to leave a D in his dust?
Raiders Passing D vs. Texans Passing O
It's hard to say the Texans passing O would be at a disadvantage against anyone, but the matchup here might just favor the Raiders. Andre Johnson will be a game-time decision. If he does go, Nnam has proven he can shut him down even when he is healthy, let alone when he is sporting a high ankle sprain.
The Raiders finally decided to have Nnam spend most of the game shadowing a WR last week. If Johnson does play and he is injured, it will be interesting to see if they decide to do it again.
Nnam could be used on more than just Johnson. Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones have 29 catches between them. The Texans like to use 3 WR sets to get all of these guys on the field. If Chris Johnson is able to play the Raiders have a decent nickel package to go man to man on these guys.
TE Owen Daniels appears to be about half of his pre-injured self. He is having a hard time getting separation and only has 6 catches for 60 yards. This will free up the Raiders safety to provide deep coverage or bring that extra man into the box.
This is important, because the Texans have given up 11 sacks this year. Many of these sacks can be attributed to Matt Schaub holding onto the ball too long. The Raiders have been able to generate a decent pass rush with just their down lineman this year. They have 7 sacks this year with all but one coming from the D-Line. If the corners can get a good bump on the Texans WRs the D-Lineman may be able to feast on a hesitant Schaub.
The Raiders have been solid on pass D, allowing only 127.7 yards per game. This is good enough for second in the league.
The Raiders Run O vs. The Texans Run D
The Texans have the second ranked run D in the league. They are only allowing 53.3 yards per game. Some of this is no doubt attributed to teams trying to beat them with the pass, but even with that they are only giving up 3 yards per carry.
When they have been beat on the ground it is usually up the middle. Football Outsiders rates the Texans D-Line 28th in defending runs between the Guards. This works out well for the Raiders who are ranked 7th in these runs. The Raiders are 3rd in the NFL with 6 carries between the Guards by RBs going for more than 10 yards.
What Needs to Happen for Happiness
First and foremost the Raiders can't beat themselves. They'll need to perform at money time (3rd downs and redzone). Can it please be Miller time in those situations?
This is a battle of the first and third leading rushers in the NFL. Whichever team best establishes their running game will likely be victorious. The Raiders are going to have to exploit the middle of the Texans D-Line and the suspension of Brian Cushing.
It would be nice if Robert Gallery were able to go to help get that inside push, but it'd be nice if I crapped gold bars, too.
The Raiders D-Line needs to bring its A-game. This, of course, will be much easier if they are healthy.