Victories have been hard to come by for the Raiders over the past couple of seasons, so consider the Jaguars’ trip to Oakland this week a gift.
The Raiders, coming off a close loss to the Colts in Indianapolis last week, have their home opener Sunday against a struggling Jacksonville team that lost 28-2 to the Chiefs in Week 1.
The Jags are also pushing backup quarterback Chad Henne into the starting lineup (because of a hand injury to Blaine Gabbert), are missing No. 1 wide receiver Justin Blackmon (suspended), tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf injury) and starting corner Dwayne Gratz (high ankle sprain). They also could be without several other starters who were nursing more minor injuries this week.
Plus, the Jags have never been great travelers (they’re 2-7 on West Coast trips) and provided the Raiders with one of their four victories in 2012, an overtime decision at O.co Coliseum.
Oddsmakers have the Raiders as 5½- to 6-point favorites.
If the Raiders can top the Jaguars to even their record at 1-1, they’ll have a little momentum heading into a Monday night matchup against the Broncos on Sept. 23 that right now appears as if it would be a certain loss. Following that game, the Raiders host the Redskins, another game against a playoff team from last season in which Oakland doesn’t figure to be the favorite. So a victory over the Jags would appear to be imperative to sidestep the possibility of an 0-4 start.
The Raiders, of course, aren’t thinking that way.
After almost upsetting the Colts on the road last week, the Raiders have generated a bit of a buzz on the team and among the fan base because of the play of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and an improved defense. The players are just excited to be playing at home in front of a stadium that is now sold out.
“It’s going to be electric this time instead of trying to quiet another team’s crowd,” Pryor told reporters this week. “So I’ll feed off it and it’s just going to get me even more excited and it’s going to get me on my game.”
Defensively, the Raiders showed an ability to get to quarterback Andrew Luck last week. If they can put similar pressure on Henne – who will be missing some of his best targets – the Jaguars offense could be in for a long day. Last week against the Chiefs, the Jags (with Gabbert) could muster only 178 total yards and averaged just 2.5 yards per play.
They still have a very dangerous running back in Maurice Jones-Drew, but he had a disappointing day against the Chiefs, gaining just 45 yards on 15 carries.
Their only punts came early in the first quarter on a safety from a blocked Chiefs punt out of the end zone.
On offense, the Raiders will try to get running back Darren McFadden on track after a so-so game against Indianapolis. But most attention will be on Pryor, to see if he can continue to play the way he did last week, when he threw for more than 200 yards and ran for more than 100. If he continues to show that he can break down defenses – and pass accurately – the season will look much more promising.
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said this week he’s just continuing to look for steady improvement.
“If we can continue to build upon the start, continue to add, continue to create and be creative in what we’re doing, then we’ll at least give ourselves a chance to win a football game,” he said, adding, “We just try to build every day and get a little bit better.”