OK, so just who are these Oakland Raiders anyway?
Are they the marauding Silver and Black bunch that stole one against San Diego, escaped one against St. Louis and plundered and pillaged one in Denver? Or are they the timid fellows that came up short in road dates at Tennessee, Arizona and San Francisco, not to mention a home encounter with Houston?
At the end of the day, is it 3-4 with a bullet — or a yawn?
A date with a former division rival this Sunday may or may not make it official. But it should provide at least a smidge more clarity.
Head coach Tom Cable and the Raiders host the then-AFC and now-NFC Seattle Seahawks just seven days after their most successful voyage in years, a 59-14 terrorizing of the Denver Broncos in which the point total they amassed equaled the league’s highest since Jacksonvilles 62-7 shellacking of Miami in Dan Marino’s swan song during the 1999 AFC Playoffs.
Former Arkansas standout and 2008 No. 4 overall draft pick Darren McFadden, whose initial tour in the NFL had drawn assessments that rhymed with “dust”, “rust” and “gust”, took at least 16 steps toward altering perception with a career-best 165 rushing yards and four touchdowns — three on the ground and one in the air — during last week’s rout.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said afterward. “As a running back you want to go out there and get the ball in your hands and do what you can do. It’s a lot of fun being able to carry the ball that much.”
Handing off to him again this week figures to be a job for quarterback Jason Campbell, the Washington castoff who arrived in Oakland and lost the gig to Bruce Gradkowski after two games, then regained it two games later when his under-center rival went down with a strained right shoulder.
“Our whole mind-set was just cut it loose, make plays and have fun,” Campbell said after the Denver game. “You always want to exceed the expectations and do everything you can to help the team get to where we want to go and win. We probably were pressing a little bit too much early on in the season. I think now guys are just cutting it loose and just playing football.”
For Seattle, it’s been a sound recipe so far.
The first six games of the Pete Carroll Experiment have drawn rave reviews, as the Seahawks have won four times and established themselves as the early favorites in a moribund NFC West.
Among their divisional rivals, the wildly inconsistent Arizona Cardinals are 3-3, the rebuilding St. Louis Rams are 3-4 and the thought-to-be progressing San Francisco 49ers are 1-6.
Carroll and company have found their sea legs after a 2-2 start, winning two straight against Chicago and Arizona since a Week 5 bye.
They got their own Player of the Week nod as well after last week’s 22-10 defeat of the Cardinals, when kicker Olindo Mare was honored on special teams for booting five field goals and pushing his streak to 30 straight.
“I love being in first place, but it doesn’t mean anything right now,” Carroll said. “To me it’s like the BCS. It doesn’t matter right now, it’s how you finish.”
The Raiders hold a 27-23 advantage in their all-time regular season series with the Seahawks, but were 16-0 road losers when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. Oakland won the previous meeting, a 31-17 affair at The Coliseum in 2002. The Hawks are 0-5 in Oakland since last winning there in 1997. The Seahawks and Raiders met twice a year when both resided in the AFC West from 1978 through 2001.
In addition to the regular season series, the franchises have met twice in postseason play, splitting a pair of meetings. The then-Los Angeles Raiders were 30-14 winners in the 1983 AFC Championship at the L.A. Coliseum, while Seattle returned the favor with a 13-7 home victory in an AFC First-Round Playoff the next year.
Carroll and Cable will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart’s respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
It’s been a study in contrast for Seattle, which has depended on a gradually aging quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck throwing to a resurgent youngster in wide receiver Mike Williams. Hasselbeck guided his team to a Super Bowl appearance a few years back, but has slowly slipped into anonymity since. This year, hes completed 122-of-204 throws for 1,248 yards, six touchdowns, six interceptions and a pedestrian 75.0 passer rating, though he’s had past success against the Raiders — including a 103.3 rating, three touchdowns and no picks in his past two starts. Including playoff games, his teams are a gaudy 35-6 when he reaches at least 95.0 on the rating scale. Williams, branded a bust after a high draft pick by Detroit, has 348 receiving yards through six games and needs just three more to eclipse the so-so career best he posted with the Lions in 2005. His two-yard reception against Arizona last week was his first touchdown since 2006. In the backfield, recent acquisition Marshawn Lynch went for a season-high 89 yards last week.
Cable and his coaching mates will be looking for an effort similar to what they saw in Denver last week, when the Broncos were throttled to the tune of 240 total yards and just 11 first downs while committing three turnovers. Statistically, Oakland opponents have averaged 331.1 yards per game, including 138.9 on the ground — an enviable target for Lynch and backfield mate Justin Forsett. Hasselbeck will aim to exceed the less-porous 192.3 yards per game the Raiders have surrendered through the air. Opponents have completed just 54.7 percent of their pass attempts on Oakland, with three interceptions and 16 sacks allowed. Mammoth defensive tackle John Henderson, a product of Tennessee who stands 6-foot-7, leads the team with four of those sacks, while linebacker Kameron Wimbley is right behind with three. Another tackle, Tommy Kelly, looks for a fourth straight game with at least a half-sack, while cornerback Chris Johnson tries to repeat the 30-yard interception return for a touchdown he had against Denver.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Assuming he gets the nod under center, Campbell gets a crack at the Seahawks for the second time in his career and the first since he went 20-for-33 for 206 yards and a score for Washington in 2008. The ex-Redskin is 63-for-111 for 713 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He spent the bulk of his time handing off last week, as the Raiders amassed 328 rushing yards — the third-most in the distinguished franchise’s history. As mentioned, McFadden was responsible for 165 of those yards and tied a franchise mark with four touchdowns, three on the ground and one on a Campbell pass. Hes aiming for a third straight triple-digit showing against an NFC foe after posting 145 and 105 yards, respectively, in the last two. Among Campbell’s would-be targets, University of Florida product Louis Murphy has 90 or more receiving yards in two of his last three games against the NFC, while tight end Zach Miller needs a single catch to become the fourth Raider at that position to reach 200. He’s scored in four of his last five games. Murphy, however, will miss Sunday’s game after suffering a bruised lung against the Broncos.
Like the Raiders, the Seahawks were plenty stingy in their last go-around, allowing just 10 points to the Cardinals in a 22-10 victory. It was the fourth straight game — and fifth out of six this season — in which an opponent scored 20 or fewer points against Seattle. Arizona managed just 227 yards and 13 first downs while coughing the ball up five times. On the season, Seattle has given up an average of 338.8 yards per week, including only 77.5 on the ground and just 3.3 yards per carry. Against the pass, the Seahawks have generated 19 sacks in six games and limited quarterbacks to a 53.7 completion percentage. End Chris Clemons leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks and aims for a fifth straight game with at least a half-sack. He had his first forced fumble as a Seahawk last week against Arizona. In the backfield, rookie safety Earl Thomas — a first-round draft pick — leads first-year players with four interceptions and needs just one to equal Michael Boulware’s franchise rookie record. Cornerback Marcus Trufant had a forced fumble and a recovery last week.
Seattle’s star-less offense isn’t bursting with weapons, but Lynch has adapted well to new surroundings since escaping Buffalo and Williams is picking up notice as a receiver as well. Also, the defense has been effective in limiting opposition scoring and could be a useful choice. For the Raiders, McFadden and Miller are the most obvious options.
While momentum and home field clearly favor the Raiders, their inconsistency in big spots during myriad attempts at renaissance remains troubling. Until they string together wins against middling or better foes when expected to do so, the smart money says go elsewhere. Expect an opportunistic Seahawks team to force just enough Campbell mistakes to win a close one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 17, Raiders 13