After consecutive wins against the Jaguars and Chiefs, the Raiders know they have an opportunity to truly open some eyes with a third straight victory this Sunday.
But beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the O.co Coliseum will be a much more difficult assignment for a team that has improved from 1-4 to 3-4.
Tampa Bay also is 3-4, but the Bucs are coming off a 36-17 win over the much-improved Vikings, and they have a balanced and explosive offense that will test an Oakland defense that has improved much over the past three games.
Oddsmakers have made the Raiders a 1- to 1 ½-point favorite.
Tampa Bay has a good rookie running back in Doug Martin (who had more than 200 yards of total offense vs. the Vikings), a big-play receiver in former Charger Vincent Jackson and quarterback Josh Freeman, who has been electric at times this season.
The Bucs have scored at least 28 points in three consecutive games for rookie head coach Greg Schiano.
Over his past three games, Freeman has nine touchdown passes and just one interception.
Plus, Tampa has an opportunistic defense that has 10 interceptions, including two it has returned for touchdowns.
For the Raiders to win a third straight game and stay competitive in the AFC West with the Chargers (4-4 after their Thursday night win over Kansas City) and 4-3 Broncos (who play at Cincinnati Sunday), they’ll have to continue to play much more solid defense and also take advantage of their opportunities on offense.
The Raiders have moved the ball fairly well in recent games with a better running game (with the addition of more power-blocking plays into the zone-blocking scheme) and the passing of quarterback Carson Palmer (who has thrown for at least 200 yards in a franchise-record 13 straight games). But once the Raiders have gotten into scoring position, they’ve stalled.
In 23 trips into the red zone, Oakland has scored just eight touchdowns. That 34.8 TD percentage inside their opponent’s 20-yard line is second worst in the NFL. That’s led to a lot of Sebastian Janikowski field goals, but the Raiders may need more touchdowns to keep up with the Bucs.
“We’ve had a number of opportunities and it’s not something we’re satisfied with,” Palmer told reporters this week. “You just have to find ways to get better. You have to find out what went wrong and correct them. ... It sounds simple and it’s not, obviously, or else we would have corrected it, but we’re always going to continue to work at it and grind on it and get it to where it needs to be in the red zone.”
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp says the unit put in extra work this week on its red-zone offense.
“Execution has got to step up,” Knapp told reporters this week. He said red-zone offense often takes longer to develop than the standard offense, “Because things happen faster, because of where you’re at on the field. It takes a little more precision, and that just takes time and repetition.”