AFC South: Oakland Raiders

Texans vs. Raiders preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The loser of this Week 2 matchup will face some tough early-season consequences.

If the Oakland Raiders lose their home opener, they'll fall to 0-2, which will be difficult for their fan base to accept. The Raiders made a lot of changes this offseason. If Oakland drops another game, it will be difficult for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning record since 2002 to get to 9-7 or better this year.

If the Houston Texans lose to the Raiders and rookie quarterback Derek Carr, the Texans will have to deal with the reality that they passed on Carr in the second round before the Raiders took him at No. 36. Derek Carr is the younger brother of David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick by Houston in 2002. Derek Carr and his family moved to Houston to be with David, who flamed out with the Texans. Perhaps the Texans were afraid to sell the choice of another Carr to their fan base. If they lose this game, though, the Texans might face more questions.

Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson discuss the matchup:

Williamson: Tania, will the Texans regret not taking Carr?

Ganguli: They did a lot of work on Carr in the pre-draft process and liked him. Coach Bill O’Brien spoke very highly of Carr this week, too, saying he will be a good pro and the Raiders did a good job drafting him. He was then quick to say he also thinks Tom Savage, who the Texans drafted in the fourth round, was a good pick there. This is something I’ll definitely watch as the season goes on. The Raiders took Carr, who is obviously now their starting quarterback, three picks after the Texans selected guard Xavier Su'a-Filo with the first pick of the second round. The players are in different situations, so it’s not fair to directly compare them. Carr was there for the whole offseason, in a place where the starter was struggling tremendously. Su'a-Filo's arrival was delayed by the quarter-system rule; the NFL prohibits players from working out with their new teams until the player's academic calendar is complete. In the meantime, Ben Jones won the left guard job. Bill, why aren’t the Texans facing their former quarterback, Matt Schaub, who is now the Raiders' backup? How did he handle the Raiders' decision to start Carr?

Williamson: The Raiders figured Schaub would be a short-term answer, but he didn’t necessarily have what it takes to be a difference-maker who could win games. So Oakland decided to serve youth now with Carr. As far as how Schaub handled losing the starting job, he was terrific. This guy is a pro. Schaub admitted he wasn’t pleased with the move, but he handled it well. Carr has praised Schaub for offering to help in any way possible. Schaub’s actions have made the transition easier for everyone. Tania, Texans punter Shane Lechler, who was Oakland's punter for many years, is a Black Hole favorite. Is this a big game for him?

Ganguli: The Raiders' organization means a lot to Lechler. He appreciates Al Davis spending a fifth-round pick on him in 2000. He loved his 13 seasons there -- especially the Super Bowl season. But, like many players in this situation, he doesn’t want to draw too much attention to that. It helps that he faced the Raiders last season. It also helps that he barely knows anyone on the team anymore. Lechler said this week that he hopes to punt for the Texans as long as he punted for the Raiders. That would be quite a feat. Bill, speaking of favorites, DE Antonio Smith was a favorite in Houston. What has his role been Oakland?

Williamson: Smith is one of the many veterans the Raiders paid for this offseason. He is a starter and one of the leaders of Oakland’s defense. Week 1 wasn’t great for Smith and his defensive teammates, but the Raiders think he can help this season. Smith is a big fan of former teammate J.J. Watt. Who isn’t, right?

Ganguli: Watt’s play in the Texans' season opener was truly spectacular. He had a fumble recovery, a batted pass, a blocked extra-point attempt, two tackles for loss and a sack. Watt will be a problem for Oakland, no matter how they try to combat him. And what was really helpful for the Texans in their season opener was that Watt had help. That will be the challenge for Oakland. The Raiders can double Watt, as most teams do, but that creates opportunities for a guy like Brooks Reed, who had another outstanding game. Finally, Bill, how good is the Raiders’ run defense?

Williamson: The Raiders think they are going to have a stout run defense this season. They are big and strong up front. That didn’t help against the Jets, who had 212 yards rushing and averaged 6.2 yards per run. The difference in the game was a 71-yard touchdown run by New York’s Chris Ivory in the fourth quarter. The weather was warm and the defense was on the field a lot for Oakland. And they did wear down. That is an area this team must improve quickly.

Derek Carr's unusual Houston childhood

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
12:27
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What Derek Carr remembers is Toro, the Texans' mascot, charging at him through the A-gap.

It was at halftime of a Texans football game in which Derek's older brother, David, was playing. Derek, then 12 years old, took the field for a game against the mascots. He pointed out the linebackers and everything, as if playing a real game.

"I’ll never forget that," Derek Carr said. "I remember he hit me, and he started laughing. We used to hang out and play catch at practice all the time, obviously when he wasn’t in costume. It was funny because he hit me, and he let me know he was there."

Derek Carr
Houston TexansIn 2004, Derek Carr took the field at halftime of a Houston Texans game.
It was a surreal childhood for Carr, growing up in Houston where his big brother was the franchise's first No. 1 overall pick. Playing catch with mascots, with future hall of famers and with radio personalities. This week he'll face the team he grew up around, only this time he'll be the opposing starting quarterback.

He was a confident kid -- even a little bit cocky. Every time Andre Johnson walked out of the postgame locker room, Derek would be sitting there with a couple friends. He'd tell Johnson that one day he was going to go to Miami and be the quarterback at The U.

Johnson always figured the kid would follow in his brother's footsteps and go to Fresno State instead. Carr quipped Miami didn't want him.

"He did that, had a great career [at Fresno State]," Johnson said. "The one thing that stood out about him is he had a lot of confidence."

As the second first pick in franchise history, Johnson developed a bond with the whole Carr family. He went golfing with the patriarch and with David. He attended a few of Derek's middle school football games, too, able to blend in despite being Andre Johnson.

"I don't think too many people knew me then," Johnson said with a laugh.

It meant a lot to Derek.

"He was just always so nice to me," Derek said. "I was always bugging him, telling him I was going to go to Miami, all of these things. ... I remember him always taking the time to see how my season was going or like I said, he went to some of games, which is pretty cool. Not a lot of kids have a Hall of Fame receiver come to their football games."

The David Carr era in Houston ended in 2006. Johnson lost touch with the family after that. In the meantime, Derek did follow in his brother's footsteps at Fresno State. He became one of the country's top college quarterbacks, got married young and became a father, and then muddled through pre-draft critiques -- a little too heavily based on his brother -- to get to a place where he earned a starting job. (Read this excellent story from ESPN's Seth Wickersham on the two brothers.)

Johnson can't wait to catch up with Derek on Sunday in Oakland.

"Just ask him about the experience," Johnson said. "How was it? Stuff like that. Just ask him about the family. Used to go out and play golf with his dad and stuff like that. Me, him and David. They’re a really cool family and good people to be around."

NFL Nation TV looks ahead

May, 27, 2014
May 27
12:00
PM ET
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast episode No. 7. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) and Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter) discuss a range of topics from alleged hypocracy in the NFL, to Michael Vick talking out of both ends of his mouth, to Beast Mode skipping the White House. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Double Coverage: Matt Schaub

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
8:00
AM ET
SchaubJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsThe Oakland Raiders believe quarterback Matt Schaub can rebound this season.
The Oakland Raiders acquired two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans on Friday and Raiders coach Dennis Allen immediately anointed the 10-year veteran his starter, even as he already had Trent Edwards, Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor on his roster.

Schaub, though, is coming off a career-worst year in which he was often booed at home, threw a flurry of interceptions returned for touchdowns, lost his starting job and had a career-low total quarterback rating of 43.65. In fact, Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson saw his new quarterback's fall from grace as a blessing in disguise, saying, “Had he not had the season he had last year in Houston, he wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli broke down Schaub and his leaving Houston for Oakland.

Paul Gutierrez: It was obvious that Schaub bottomed out last year. The question is why -- was it more mental or physical?

Tania Ganguli: There was certainly a physical aspect to it. His arm strength wasn't what it had been. But a bigger part of it was mental. You can't pin everything that went wrong with the Texans' offense on Schaub. But the pick-six is such a catastrophic play that the streak of four games with one thrown was mentally very taxing on both the team and the quarterback. I've heard a lot of people around him say that his pick-six to Richard Sherman (his third of last season) was the one that ultimately crushed his confidence.

Do you think Oakland is a place where he can regain his confidence?

Gutierrez: So long as the offensive line holds up and gives him time. The Raiders have made a concerted effort to overhaul the offensive line since free agency began, picking up left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Austin Howard and guard/center Kevin Boothe. The Raiders also got a veteran receiver in former Packers wideout James Jones, so general manager Reggie McKenzie has been building around the quarterback position, so to speak, to get a veteran signal-caller to serve as a bridge, of sorts. Schaub fits that description, no? Thing is, McKenzie and his scouts have failed thus far at identifying and settling on a franchise quarterback. They inherited Carson Palmer, but traded him away in favor of Matt Flynn, who bombed. Then they zeroed in on USC’s Matt Barkley last spring in the draft before the Philadelphia Eagles swooped in and took him. They used a fourth-round draft pick on Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, who was cut a couple of times and ultimately picked off their practice squad by the Tennessee Titans. Finally, they seemed to botch the handling of Terrelle Pryor and undrafted rookie Matt McGloin. With the money owed Schaub, unless he restructures his contract, the Raiders believe he will regain his confidence.

And yet, after last season’s debacle, is Schaub the kind of guy who would benefit from a mere change of scenery?

Ganguli: ESPN Stats & Info passed along some stats that support your skepticism, but I think a change of scenery will be great for Schaub nonetheless. First their points: Schaub has declined over the past three seasons in stats like first down percentage, total QBR, yards per attempt and interception percentage. The dramatic drop in QBR (from 67 in 2011 to 64 in 2012 to 37 in 2013) and dramatic increase in interception percentage (2.1 to 2.2 to 3.9) indicate a statistical anomaly. Given what the Raiders are going to be spending on him, it's clear that's what they believe, too. What made 2013 so bizarre is Schaub had not been a turnover machine historically. If he's in a situation where things around him go well, he can recover. But things have to go well around him. The struggles the Texans had with their running game were a very underrated part of why their offense wasn't working. Schaub had done really well out of play-action in the past, but didn't last year. Is he going to a place where the running game will support his endeavors?

Gutierrez: Which brings us to the $100,000 question (the amount of money guaranteed to running back Darren McFadden). It always comes back to the health of the perpetually injured McFadden. If McFadden is healthy -- he’s never played more than 13 games in a season and has missed 19 of the Raiders’ past 41 games, including six last season -- and used properly to his skill set, he’s a quarterback’s best friend. Look at how good and effective he made Jason Campbell look in 2011, before both were lost for the season with injuries. As noted above, the overhaul of the offensive line would suggest the Raiders are going to go all-in with a power running game and after McFadden, Oakland has the CFL’s Grey Cup MVP in Kory Sheets, a virtual rookie in Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with injury, and Jeremy Stewart. Obviously, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the Raiders’ running game. No doubt, McKenzie & Co. are hoping Schaub brings some answers with him, without weighing him down with unrealistic expectations.

Schaub, you’ll recall, is already in the Raiders' annals for his part in the "Divine Interception" play in 2011, when he was picked off in the end zone to seal an Oakland victory in Houston the day after Al Davis died and with the Raiders having only 10 players on the field. How cognizant is Schaub of NFL history in general, the Raiders and that play in particular, or is he simply a football player?

Ganguli: Wow, I forgot all about that. And it figures, doesn’t it? Run off on the heels of an uncharacteristically interception-laden season, Schaub gets traded to a team against which he threw an interception that led to an eerily perfect moment in the franchise’s history.

He might be a student of the game’s history, but will rarely let the public into any aspect of his being that isn’t related to the game immediately in front of him. I challenge you, Paul, to extract the personality we all knew was beneath Schaub’s stone exterior. By all accounts, he is interesting, funny and has a great personality. We just never saw it publicly. Schaub went to great lengths to make us believe he was dull, but he isn’t.

It won’t be long before Schaub faces his old team again. The Texans have a trip to Oakland on their schedule, which is less interesting than if the Raiders were to return to Houston with Schaub at the helm, but it’ll be interesting nonetheless. What’s your prediction?

Gutierrez: I accept your challenge, Tania, and look forward to seeing what’s underneath said “stone exterior.” Many see it as more milquetoast and that was a reason so many fans clamored for the likes of Michael Vick because, really, ain’t nothing boring about the artist formerly known as Ron Mexico. And actually, for what the Raiders are doing, Schaub is their man. He was their No. 1 target all along, followed by Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and then Vick. Fans may not agree with what McKenzie and Allen are doing but as far as the Raiders are concerned, it’s exactly what they want to do. As far as a prediction, I’ll wait until the roster is completely overhauled and the schedule is out and we see when, exactly, Schaub faces the Texans in Oakland. The cynic will predict a back-breaking and game-changing pick-six for Schaub against his former team. The optimist sees a 400-yard passing day and victory for Schaub and the Raiders against the Texans. Look forward to chatting again then.
After getting egg on his face Wednesday, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie went back to work on Friday, signing former Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, along with cornerback Tarell Brown, a day after inking linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli broke down Smith leaving Houston for Oakland to the tune of a reported two-year, $9 million contract.

Paul Gutierrez: What I’m wondering, Tania, is what kind of defensive end is Smith, the prototypical edge-rusher the Raiders so desperately need, or more of a run-stuffer on the edge?

Tania Ganguli: He's better at pass rushing than run stuffing. The Texans’ scheme under Wade Phillips, one he liked to call the Phillips 3-4, featured an attacking front. Most of their pass-rushing pressure came from their defensive ends, Smith and J.J. Watt, rather than their outside linebackers. That’s not exactly by design – they would’ve loved more pressure from those edge guys – but it spoke to the skill they had at their defensive end positions. Smith is strong and can overpower opposing linemen.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Smith
George Bridges/Getty imagesAntonio Smith recorded five sacks for the Texans this past season.
How do you see the Raiders using him?

Gutierrez: As a pass-rusher/run-stuffer. Cop out, I know. But last season’s sack leader, defensive end Lamarr Houston, had six sacks and was better at stopping the run, though he left for the Chicago Bears, and the Raiders have not had anyone with double-digit sacks since 2006. Still, it is interesting that Smith, Tuck and Woodley ALL play on the left side. They still have to figure out what they’re going to do with the right side, unless they switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. Then, all bets are off.

Many Raiders fans have been screaming for Richie Incognito to join the Raiders and shore up the offensive line. But with Smith here now, kind of hard to see it happening with the bad blood, no? Could you explain it?

Ganguli: Oh, that would be interesting. Those two have a history going all the way back to college, when both of them played in the Big 12, Incognito at Nebraska and Smith at Oklahoma State. Then they played in the same division in the pros with Smith at Arizona and Incognito at St. Louis. They know each other well and Incognito knows how to goad him. In the 2012 season opener, Incognito engaged in some shenanigans with Smith’s ankle, in Smith’s view trying to twist and/or break it. He kicked Incognito in the head as he disengaged himself and landed a $21,000 fine. The fine was reduced to $11,000 after an appeal, but still went on Smith’s permanent record with the league. When they suspended him for what they viewed as him ripping off Incognito’s helmet and using it as a weapon during the 2013 preseason, they sent him a note detailing his history of discipline. Smith was again reacting to Incognito’s shenanigans, this time with his face mask and so his face, head and neck. Again, it cost him. It wasn’t the smartest move, taking off Incognito’s helmet, but I thought the talk that he “could have killed” Incognito was a little overwrought. One thing to know about Smith: He’s not the type of guy who gets into scuffles like this with everyone he faces. This is a specific deal between those two guys.

Another thing to know about Smith: He created an alter-ego called the Ninja Assassin while in Houston. Wore a ninja mask during pregame introductions. His sack celebration was him pulling out an imaginary sword from an imaginary sheath and brandishing it. Other times he’d say he was Tonestradamus, and make predictions about whatever came into his head. He’s silly, and even in the bad times I didn’t sense Texans fans tiring of it. How do you think Raider fans will respond to that?

Gutierrez: Put it this way: Raider Nation is going to love it. Or have you not seen how every home game is Halloween on Hegenberger, what with so many costumes and characters filling the Black Hole. He will be a fan favorite, so long as he produces. That being said, how much of his success was his being on the other side of Watt, and, with Smith, a 10-year vet turning 33 in November, how much tread does the Ninja Assassin have left on his tires?

Ganguli: I should note, unless he’s changed his mind, the Ninja Assassin is dead. Smith said that if he didn’t return to Houston he was going to leave it behind and find another character. I’m sure he’d love suggestions. I think a two-year deal was smart on the part of the Raiders. He’s got plenty left right now, but beyond 2015, that’d be tough to say. I think his fit, rather than his age, is why the Texans let him go. Watt and Smith had a symbiotic relationship. Two of Smith’s most productive seasons, sack wise, came after the Texans drafted Watt, but one of those was 2011, a season during which Watt hadn’t yet turned into what he is today.

Wrapping up, Smith was always happy to help younger teammates in Houston, taking an active mentoring role with some. Can you see that developing with anyone on the Raiders' roster?

Gutierrez: Poor Ninja Assassin. My dad actually toured the Far East on a martial arts expedition with Sho Kosugi, who starred in all of those ninja movies of the early 1980s. But I digress ... to answer your question, most definitely. Sure, the Raiders went the vet route with Smith, Tuck and Woodley, but they do have high hopes for defensive end Jack Crawford, who will be entering his third season and was initially drafted in the fifth round as a project, of sorts, out of Penn State. Plus, they kept undrafted rookie Ryan Robinson a year ago over seventh-round draft pick David Bass. So if Smith is up for some mentoring, the Raiders have some young bucks who would be wise to sit and learn at his knee. So long as they don’t ask any ninja-related questions, I surmise.

Live blog: Titans at Raiders

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
2:30
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Tennessee Titans' visit to the Oakland Raiders. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
 
Michael Griffin and Rashad JenningsUSA TODAY SportsMichael Griffin's Titans and Rashad Jennings' Raiders both come in with 4-6 marks.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- For the first time since 2004, the Tennessee Titans visit the Oakland Raiders.

Both teams are 4-6 and trying to establish their respective identities. The Titans are breaking in Ryan Fitzpatrick under center in the wake of Jake Locker's season-ending injury. The Raiders will see how undrafted rookie Matt McGloin responds in his first home start with Terrelle Pryor nursing an achy right knee and, perhaps, just as sore feelings.

ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down the matchup:

Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Paul, the Raiders have their own issues with an injury-prone-yet-enticing member of the offensive backfield who "should" be a franchise-type player in running back Darren McFadden. He's in a contract year, though, and with each missed game -- he's missed 16 of the Raiders' past 35 games and has never played more than 13 in a season -- he seems less likely to return next year. With that in mind, what is the vibe on the Titans' purported franchise quarterback, Jake Locker, as in, is the franchise ready to roll with him going forward? And how different does the offense look with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center coming to Oakland this weekend?

Paul Kuharsky: There are a lot of variables for Locker. The Titans have to execute his option for 2015 in May to ensure he's under contract for two more years. That would come with a salary of over $13 million. I can't see them making that leap. But I expect he'll be at the front of the quarterback line in training camp in 2014 for his fourth season. He's got to show he can play as he did in the team's first four games this season and that he can stay on the field for 16 games. In his two seasons as starter, he will have missed 14 of a possible 32 starts. He's got the arm, the movement skills, great speed and can be a good decision-maker. But no one can say he's a franchise guy yet, and that's a problem after three years.

I'd expect the Titans to go forward doing what they did with Fitzpatrick against the Colts. Run a spread-out, hurry-up offense that passes to set up the run and gets the offense in a rhythm. When he doesn't turn the ball over he can be a winning quarterback, but he tends to turn it over.

How did Matt McGloin burst onto the scene and what do you think the long-term future is at the position for Dennis Allen's offense? How much of McGloin's debut was due to Houston's defense?

Gutierrez: McGloin came in for a tryout and, Allen says, it took all of three throws for the Raiders to fall in love, so to speak, and know they wanted to sign him. He entered camp as a "camp arm," the fourth-string quarterback, and by attrition has risen ... surpassing fourth-round draft pick Tyler Wilson; trade acquisition Matt Flynn, who was cut; and Terrelle Pryor, who was slowed by a sprained right knee and ineffectiveness. Truly, the Raiders are going with the hot hand of McGloin rather than the achy knee of Pryor. McGloin was impressive, even if the bar was set low, and he was helped out by short fields early -- two of his first three drives started at the Texans' 16-yard line. But the offense did bog down at times as the Raiders converted just two of their final 15 third-down conversion attempts, going 0-for-9 at one point, after converting their first three. Despite Houston now riding an eight-game losing streak, the Texans did have the top-ranked total defense in the league last week for a reason. And McGloin was more than effective against it. His receivers seemed to have trouble with the velocity on his throws early and often. We'll see if they'll settle in now.

Speaking of settling in, Raiders fans remember Kamerion Wimbley racking up 16 total sacks in two seasons and leaving for Tennessee because Oakland could not afford his salary in Reggie McKenzie's first year as GM. I see now that Wimbley has started just one game this season and has ... one sack. So, what's eating Wimbley?

Kuharsky: He wasn't a good fit from the start. The Titans had a free-agency plan in 2012 and Mario Williams was going to be their primary target. But Peyton Manning came free, owner Bud Adams told his people to pursue him, and everything else got set aside. Then the Titans missed Manning and Williams. When things calmed down, Wimbley came free and they gave him big bucks as the best available pass-rusher. But he wasn't a very good fit in their 4-3, and he's less so this year as Gregg Williams joined the staff and altered the scheme. So he's sometimes part of the nickel rush package now, and that's the extent of it. He's a low-impact guy making big money, and it's pretty much a guarantee that he will be cut loose after this season.

He and the other guys getting more time on the front four have tapered off and aren't producing consistent pressure. How's McGloin's pass protection?

Gutierrez: Well, considering he was sacked "only" twice by J.J. Watt, you could make the case that the offensive line performed admirably for McGloin in Houston last weekend. In fact, the line has been a patchwork outfit this entire season -- according to Pro Football Focus, Oakland has used 19 different combinations thus far -- and is only now getting truly healthy. Even left tackle Jared Veldheer, who underwent surgery on his left triceps in training camp, is on track to return on Thanksgiving at Dallas. Still, against the Texans, and per PFF, "McGloin's percentage of dropbacks under pressure (44.1 percent) was highest in the league this week and the raw number of pressured dropbacks (15) was fifth." It's a reason Terrelle Pryor and his mobility made more sense than Matt Flynn to open the season. Indeed, the Raiders are still searching for their identity on the offensive side of the ball.

When it comes to the Titans, then, which team are they -- the one that won three of its first four games, or the one that has lost five of six?

Kuharsky: It sure seems like B. That 3-1 record included wins at Pittsburgh and over the Chargers and Jets, two teams also vying for the sixth playoff spot. But the loss was to the miserable Texans. The 1-5 stretch included losses to tough teams -- the Chiefs, the Seahawks and the 49ers, but also to the Jaguars, who had not won before a visit to Nashville. The defense has come back to earth and the run game the team is supposed to be built around is below average. This seems like an elimination game. I think the Titans have a better roster than the Raiders. But I won't be a bit surprised if they drop another one.

How do the Raiders' results mesh with preseason expectations?

Gutierrez: Well, the ultimate goal is to win as many games as possible, right? And since the Raiders have let wins against Indianapolis, Washington and the New York Giants slip through their fingers, it's been a season chock full o' woulda, coulda, shouldas. But anyone with a lick of sense knew this was a rebuilding year. And, at 4-6, and having already equaled last season's win total while ending a 10-year streak of losing their first game after a bye week, you could say the Raiders have overachieved. Especially since, as it stands right now, the Raiders are just one game out of the AFC playoffs, sitting tight as the No. 8 seed in the six-team playoff field with the Titans right behind at No. 9. Owner Mark Davis last year said he knew that team was not a Super Bowl-caliber club, but he expected it to challenge for a playoff spot. He did not want to see regression, which was most of what he did see. Now? He wants to see progress. Beating the Titans would be a step in that direction.

Terrelle Pryor and Andre JohnsonUSA TODAY SportsHealth permitting, Terrelle Pryor will try to break the Raiders' eight-game road losing streak against Andre Johnson's Texans.
The 2-7 Houston Texans will host the 3-6 Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

The records might make this seem as if these teams are in similar positions, but in reality they aren't. Oakland wasn't expected to excel. The Raiders were ranked 29th in ESPN.com's preseason NFL Power Rankings. Some rankings had them as low as 32nd.

The Texans, on the other hand, started the season expected to be Super Bowl contenders and slowly fell apart. Houston is on a seven-game losing streak, the longest single-season streak in franchise history.

The Raiders are on a losing streak of their own. They have lost eight consecutive road games, dating to last season, but that isn't a franchise record.

Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli take a look at this matchup.

Ganguli: So Paul, how is Shane Lechler's departure viewed in Oakland? It has been suggested by some, including Lechler, that his leaving affected Sebastian Janikowski's kicking. Do you think it has?

Gutierrez: When Janikowski missed four of his first 11 field goal attempts through six games, after missing three all of last season, the whispers that the man known as SeaBass was swimming upstream by missing his longtime running mate grew to shouts. But while the new holder/punter, Marquette King, shouldered the blame, even special-teams coach Bobby April intimated it was a mental hurdle for Janikowski, who had Lechler as his holder for 13 years.

This much is true: Every miss this season has come from the left hashmark for the left-footed kicker. And his misses against Indianapolis and Washington have been especially costly momentum shifts. Janikowski, though, has converted four straight field goals, so the comfort level seems to be growing between Janikowski and King. In fact, the youthfully exuberant King brought celebratory foil balloons into the Raiders' locker room to congratulate Janikowski after his 50-yard field goal against San Diego on Oct. 6. But yes, I believe trust issues and familiarity were at the root earlier ... even if it was not a Ray Finkle Laces Out situation (gratuitous "Ace Ventura" reference).

Speaking of Lechler, how has he adapted to being back "home" in Texas, beyond his stats?

Ganguli: Lechler has done great. He is the brightest spot on a special-teams unit that has struggled. He really has enjoyed being so close to home. He has visited his hometown. He definitely wishes his career hadn't ended with the Raiders, but I think this was a good second option. Of course, he probably also thought he was coming to a Super Bowl contender, as the Texans' other free agents did, and that hasn't worked out either.

Switching to offense, what has Terrelle Pryor had to learn about playing quarterback in the NFL before being able to contribute as he has been this year?

Gutierrez: Honestly, and this is by his own admission, he had to learn how to throw a ball properly. Pryor admitted this summer that he never really learned how to throw a ball up to NFL standards while at Ohio State. He also talks glowingly about working the previous two years with former Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer in how to read defenses. You can't question Pryor's work ethic. And up until about a month ago, Pryor was on the fast track to Most Improved Player status. But he has, many say, regressed the past four games. In that stretch, he has thrown eight interceptions and only one touchdown while completing 61 of 120 passes (50.8 percent) for 714 yards. Plus, he has been sacked eight times for 110 yards in losses. The offensive line is still banged up, and no doubt his receivers can be inconsistent. And keep in mind, Pryor suffered what he termed a sprained MCL in his right knee, so his mobility is limited.

Keeping on the "regression" theme, what has happened to the Texans? They were a Super Bowl contender coming into the season, and now they're in a seven-game tailspin. They'll be without Arian Foster, who has averaged more than 100 yards rushing and has caught eight passes for 172 yards in two career games against the Raiders, and Ed Reed, the mistake signing the Texans acknowledged this week, via your story. But they should be getting coach Gary Kubiak back. So how will they respond this weekend?

Ganguli: I don't know that the emotions will carry them. Not a lot changed without Kubiak there despite players wanting to win for him. His offensive philosophy is similar to that of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who ran the offense in Kubiak's absence. These players have pride, and the losing streak they're on was unthinkable at the beginning of the season. There was no reason to expect the struggles quarterback Matt Schaub had early this season. He didn't play consistently poorly, but he made some costly mistakes. The Texans were gaining a lot of yards on offense and weren't allowing many yards on defense. But their turnover margin was among the worst in the NFL, and their red zone offense and defense weren't good. After the poor start, things kind of started piling up. They lost inside linebacker Brian Cushing again, Foster dealt with injuries before being put on injured reserve, and while their right guard position has solidified finally after the loss of current Raiders guard Mike Brisiel, the Texans are still looking for improvement at right tackle.

They still have talent on the roster, starting with reigning defensive player of the year J.J. Watt. His numbers aren't what they were last year, but he is still playing well. He's disruptive. Last weekend, he forced and recovered two fumbles. Which Raider or Raiders will be responsible for minimizing his damage?

Gutierrez: If Watt is on the quarterback's blind side, that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of veteran left tackle Khalif Barnes, who had a rough go of it against the New York Giants' front seven in general and Jason Pierre-Paul in particular. Barnes was flagged three times for holding and another time for a false start. If Watt wants to try his hand on the other side, he'll find rookie Menelik Watson awaiting him. Watson also had a tough game against the Giants' Justin Tuck and showed his relative lack of in-game experience. I would expect the Raiders' running back, either Rashad Jennings or Darren McFadden, if he's healthy, to pick up some chipping assignments. If Pryor plays -- he missed practice Wednesday resting his sprained right knee -- he might welcome an overaggressive Watt, though he should be warned to be careful what he wished for in Watt, yes? If Pryor cannot go, expect a baptism by fire for undrafted rookie Matt McGloin.

Since we're on the topic of guys who have to step up, who will try to fill Foster's nimble-yet-powerful shoes? And can he make a dent against the Raiders' on-again, off-again defense?

Ganguli: The Texans have a very capable player to replace Foster -- Ben Tate. The issue for Tate will be that he's still healing from a painful rib injury he suffered Oct. 20 in Kansas City. Tate broke four ribs but hasn't missed a game. He's tough. Tate has led the league in yards after contact per rush for nearly the whole season. Coaches have tried to protect Tate to keep him fresh, but he wants to go more. Behind Tate are two younger players -- undrafted rookie Dennis Johnson and young veteran Deji Karim.

Live blog: Jaguars at Raiders

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
2:30
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Jacksonville Jaguars’ visit to the Oakland Raiders. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:15 p.m. ET. See you there.

Terrelle Pryor, Maurice Jones-DrewAP Photo Terrelle Pryor and Maurice Jones-Drew are key players to watch in the Raiders-Jaguars game.

Oakland showed a flash of life in a 21-17 loss at Indianapolis last week and Jacksonville struggled mightily in a 28-2 home loss to Kansas City. Many see the Raiders and Jaguars as the two most downtrodden teams in the NFL, but somebody has to win, right? It’s not like they can play to a scoreless tie, unless … in any event, these two hook up Sunday in Oakland.

Paul Gutierrez: So, the Jaguars are the 32nd-ranked team in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings, and the Raiders are 31st. Not exactly a clash of the titans, but there were several silver (and black?) linings in Oakland’s 21-17 loss in Indianapolis last week. Primarily, the play of newly anointed starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor. To a man, the Raiders said there is no such thing as a moral victory. Yet there was a feeling of promise in the Raiders’ postgame locker room not felt in a while. What was the feeling like in the Jags’ locker room after they not only lost their starting quarterback, but lost the game to Kansas City in such dispiriting fashion, and does it already feel like another long season is in store in Jacksonville?

Michael DiRocco: Disappointment, but not just at losing. The offense played poorly in all phases, which was somewhat surprising because it had shown signs during the preseason of being competent. Most troubling was the play of the offensive line, especially the interior, where center Brad Meester and guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley really struggled. Six sacks and not crossing midfield until the fourth quarter was embarrassing. But the Jaguars were missing starting receiver Justin Blackmon (suspension) and starting tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), so that mitigates things somewhat. While the team believes it can certainly play significantly better than that, the veterans are realistic and understand that this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL and the new regime has begun a rebuild that will take three years. You've got to feel for Matt Flynn. Goes to Seattle and gets beat out by Russell Wilson. Then ends up in Oakland and gets beat out by Pryor, who played well in the season opener. He made a lot of plays with his feet but certainly has a way to go as a passer. Is he the long-term answer for the Raiders at quarterback or will we see Flynn at some point this season?

Gutierrez: Yeah, the humanistic side has to feel for Flynn’s predicament. Then the snarky side comes out and thinks he and his millions -- remember, he signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract extension with $6.5 million guaranteed after the Raiders traded for him this spring -- will be just fine, thank you very much. But your point is taken. Especially since Flynn was second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie’s handpicked choice to be this rebuilding franchise’s, ahem, franchise quarterback. And really, the case can be made that Flynn is a better prototypical NFL quarterback than Pryor. But that’s with a solid offensive line and a strong running game and trusted receivers. The Raiders, really, are still looking for those things. So until that trifecta comes in for Oakland, the playmaking Pryor is the Raiders’ best hope for winning games. Even if he was not the new regime’s choice and it inherited Al Davis’ last draft pick. At this point, it seems Flynn is destined to be a career backup, albeit a well-compensated backup. And speaking of clipboard holders, what’s taking the Jags so long to ink Jacksonville’s favorite son, Tim Tebow (you knew there’d be a Tebow question somewhere, right?), especially with ticket sales needed and Chad Henne being no Blaine Gabbert, and vice-versa? Or is it too soon?

DiRocco: The Tebow ship has sailed for the Jaguars. General manager Dave Caldwell said earlier this year that the Jaguars were not going to sign Tebow -- who at the time was still under contract with the New York Jets -- "even if he's released." He's sticking to that. As for the ticket sales argument, there's no way to quantify whether sales would increase and by how much if he was signed. Plus, the Jags are actually doing pretty well in the ticket department. The team hasn't had a blackout since 2009 and averaged at least 62,331 fans at every home game over the past three seasons. The No. 1 task for the new regime is to find out whether Gabbert can be a franchise quarterback and the player around which to build the team over the next decade. The only way to determine that is for him to play the entire season. Barring a rash of injuries to free-agent quarterbacks, I just don't see a scenario in which Tebow returns to his hometown. Sebastian Janikowski, who went to nearby Florida State, is one of the more colorful players in the NFL. There are a lot of colorful stories floating around about him both in the locker room and off the field. What's your favorite -- at least among the verified ones you can tell?

Gutierrez: Wow, you caught me off guard. This is, after all, a family website, no? I kid. Kinda. But yeah, the evolution of the wild child formerly known as Jano (he hates that name, by the way) has been a unique experience. He is now a doting father to twin girls. No word, though, on how strong their kicking legs are yet. Off the field, he’s become a proficient golfer. When he arrived in Oakland as a first-round draft pick way back in 2000, he had never touched a club before in his life. Then Shane Lechler, his long-time running, er, kicking mate, introduced him to the links. Now? He’s a regular in the Lake Tahoe Pro-Am. Then there was the time he had to punt for an injured Lechler against Kansas City in the rain. It was as ugly a punt as it was effective -- the Chiefs player fumbled the ball away and the Raiders recovered. It went down in Oakland and the crowd loved it. Speaking of guys known by one name or simple initials, how much does MJD have left in the tank for the Jags? Can a return “home” this weekend rejuvenate him?

DiRocco: That is a good question, because there is some uncertainty regarding whether MJD can again reach the level at which he played in 2011, when he led the NFL in rushing. He did miss 10 games last season with a foot injury. Nobody expects him to rush for 1,600 yards but he does need to be a 1,000-yard rusher for this offense to be effective and help take a load off Gabbert/Henne. Another thing to consider is that Jones-Drew is in the final year of his contract. He'll need prove that at 28 he's still one of the league's better backs in order to have a chance to sign the kind of deal he wants -- whether it's in Jacksonville or elsewhere. Speaking of running backs coming off an injury, hasn't that been the biggest knock on Darren McFadden? What kind of odds would you give on him playing all 16 games?

Gutierrez: Ouch. The biggest knock on Run DMC has been his inability to stay healthy throughout his career. He has never played in more than 13 games in any of his first five seasons and he has missed 23 games in his career. He insists he’s not injury-prone, though, and that each injury is a freak occurrence. Maybe, but based on his track record, it’s not a question of if McFadden gets hurt but when, and how the Raiders are equipped to deal with his absence. Harsh? Maybe, but also true. And based on that history, odds are low that he'll play all 16 games this season. Then again, he is in a contract year. And after being neutralized last week by the Colts to the tune of 48 yards on 17 carries, what better time for him to get going than against the Jags? In two career games against Jacksonville, McFadden has carried the ball 35 times for 176 yards.

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