How bad are the Raiders going right now?
Well, they’re facing a team that’s lost seven straight games – and yet are seven-point underdogs.
The Raiders (3-6) will try to break their own two-game losing streak Sunday in Houston against the Texans (2-7). The Texans won their first two games of the season over the Chargers and Titans, but then have been knocked off, in order, by the Ravens, Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Chiefs, Colts and Cardinals. And, since the start of the season, they’ve lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub and standout running back Arian Foster.
Yet over the past three games, the Texans’ offense has been much better under the direction of young quarterback Case Keenum, a second-year undrafted free agent from the University of Houston. Keenum, who was on the Texans’ practice squad last season, has started the past three games and has posted a quarterback rating of 105.1, throwing seven touchdown passes against zero interceptions. And, over that span, Houston has stayed close in all three games, losing by one point to Kansas City and three points each to Indianapolis and Arizona.
And, in Andre Johnson, Keenum has one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. So, the Texans passing offense that will face the Raiders defense Sunday has been much better lately. But it’s Houston’s defense that could be Oakland’s biggest problem.
The Raiders – already struggling for consistency when they have the ball – will have to try to score on a defense that is the No. 1 ranked unit in the NFL. The Texans allow just 280 yards per game. And, defensive end J.J. Watt, last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is a force. This season, Watt has 6½ sacks, four passes batted down, three forced fumbles and 42 tackles.
“This is a very talented football team that they have,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told reporters this week. “They’re the No. 1 ranked defense in the National Football League. They’re very aggressive. They’re very physical and they have a lot of good players on that side of the ball.”
Allen compares the Texans a bit to the Giants, who beat Oakland last week, because of their terrific front seven.
“They do a great job both in the run game and getting after the passer, so it’ll be a tough challenge and we have our work cut out for us,” said Allen.
The job of containing Watt will fall to Tony Pashos, who is expected to start at right tackle Sunday after missing four of the past five games with a hip problem. Rookie Menelik Watson should also get some snaps at the position, too.
Pashos told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com that Watt will be a challenge.
“He’s as advertised,” Pashos said of the third-year standout from Wisconsin. “For such a young guy, he’s doing a lot of great things in this league. You have to be on your A game. You have to be at your best.”
The Raiders, meanwhile, hope to have Terrelle Pryor at quarterback Sunday. Pryor has been dealing with a sprained right knee suffered two weeks ago. He played against the Giants with it, but was largely ineffective. This week, Pryor missed some practice time, so rookie Matt McGloin played more snaps at quarterback. But, Pryor returned to practice Thursday and should play.
If the Raiders hope to score, however, Pryor will need to be much better than he’s been in recent weeks. Over the past four games, Pryor has thrown eight interceptions vs. just one TD pass.