Writer's note: I always thought "What I'd Like To See" was a crappy title, so I changed it. While the title changes, this is still the weekly article where I'll break down what I perceive to be the most important match-up, scheme, or angle that could define the weekly game.
This week, I am having a problem as I look at a match-up or area of the game which will be critical to a Houston Texans win. I don't mean to sound like an entitled fan of a dynasty team, but I believe it's fair to say that the Texans have more talent than the Oakland Raiders and should win on Sunday. Yet, I have a nagging voice in the back of my head.
That nagging voice reminds me of recent events. In 2009, it was the game in St. Louis. I'm reminded of the 2008 visit to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. There are struggles against Cleveland that the nagging voice brings up as well. All of these games are examples of the Texans' unparalleled ability to beat themselves and play down to their opponent's level. I don't need to go into those games in detail because I know they're in the back of any good Houston fan's mind.
I hate thinking of the game in this way because I don't want to insult the Oakland Raiders. Honestly, their fans get enough of that elsewhere. Is it easy and warranted? Well, when Crazy Al Davis is focused on putting together the best track team the world has even seen, then yeah. See? I wasn't even trying to make fun of them, and I still ended up doing so. Soon, maybe, the Raiders won't be the butt of many jokes. Starting in this past off-season, Oakland has shown that they want to improve. So far, that effort has seen mixed results on the field.
The Raiders are not as bad as their reputation would have you believe. A chip-shot field goal away from 2-1, the Raiders actually rank in the top-five in multiple statistical categories. They are the fourth-best rushing offense in the NFL (147.3 yards per game), have the third-best overall defense (260.7 YPG), and sit second in total pass defense (127.7 YPG).
Of course, the flip side to those statistics has me looking at a schedule that includes Tennessee, St. Louis, and Arizona - three teams that aren't passing juggernauts (although opposing QBs have a rating of 94.2 against them despite the Raiders having the #2 pass defense) and two of those teams
are from the terrible NFC West have losing records.
In all honesty, this is a puzzling match-up because the numbers show a very respectable team, but the schedule makes me doubt what I see statistically. The real Oakland Raiders will likely be revealed in their next two games - next week against San Diego and this week against the good guys in deep steel blue. Unfortunately for this post, I can't write it in two weeks and send it back to myself today. I have to call the match-up as I see it now.
As much as I respect our silver-and-black foes, as I said before, the Texans have more talent. This is where this week's critical match-up comes into play.
This week's biggest area of intrigue is the Texans versus themselves. This is especially true after the Week Three collapse where the Texans stole the shotgun from Dallas and blasted their own feet to oblivion.
Aside from the special teams, where Oakland employs the mutant legs of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler, the Texans have the talent and depth advantage - even if WR Andre Johnson's ankle prevents him from playing.
The Texans can run the NFL's leading rusher, Arian Foster, at the 23rd ranked run defense, while their own second-ranked run defense goes head-to-head with Oakland's lone consistent form of offense - the fourth-ranked rushing attack I mentioned earlier. I'll italicize this for emphasis, but don't be shocked if this is a low scoring, run-heavy game on Sunday.
A run-heavy game would be especially likely if the Texans don't test the true mettle of the Raiders' pass defense, and the Raiders don't see if Houston can make QB Bruce Gradkowski look like an All-Pro. Even if that were to happen, the Raiders' pass protection has allowed the third-most sacks in the NFL, which means the Houston pass rush may show up in Oakland...if they want to.
The last phrase describes this week's key match-up: "If they want to." Will the Texans get up for this game? Will there be a hangover effect from such a bad loss? Will they care? Will they be so embarrassed by last Sunday's game that they use Oakland to send a message? Or will they struggle (lose?) on the road against an opponent they perceive as inferior? Will the Texans look lackadaisical or will they come out looking to take a week of frustration out on the Raiders?
How do you measure getting up for a game? How do you plan to do that? Well, looking at last season's St. Louis game, you look for mistakes - drive-killing penalties, an inability to convert third downs, and an inability to take control early as a good team should do. Namely, the Texans need to point the gun up towards Oakland and execute with confidence as opposed to shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly. They need to look sharp, as they have done at times in 2010.
Do I think the Texans win? Yes. I say that with 90-95% confidence. However, winning is not enough this week. Houston needs to handle the Raiders as division-rival Tennessee did. After last week's disaster, the Texans need to restore their confidence, look like a high-quality team again, and prove that Week Three was a fluke.
If the players want to prove last week was a fluke, then the Texans must commit fewer than five penalties, convert 45+% of their 3rd downs, and set the tone of each half with early touchdowns. I would even hope they challenge the Oakland secondary since, despite the illusion of second-fewest yards allowed, Vince "I'm Not A Freakin' Pocket Passer" Young, Sam "I'm A Freakin' Rookie" Bradford, and Derek "How Am I Freakin' Starting" Anderson have a combined 94.8 QB Rating against them. In a sense, the blueprint against the Raiders doesn't need to be overly complicated.
If the Texans want to beat the Raiders, they need to do the following: Show some heart. Play with some intensity. Finish plays. Avoid self-inflicted mistakes. Execute. If the Texans can do all of that then a win, with some breathing room, is more than achievable.
What are your concerns with this week's game in Oakland? What do you want to see the Texans do or avoid?