Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams: Preview


Alas, after 368 days, the Oakland Raiders finally won another football game.  However, the time for celebration has come and gone (although Khalil Mack and Sio Moore might still be celebrating), and it’s time to focus on the next opponent.

That next opponent is the St. Louis Rams, who currently sit at 4-7 in the tough NFC West.  The Rams are still fighting for their playoff lives, although their elimination from contention is really just a formality at this point.

The Raiders, on the other hand, are looking to do something they have not done in two seasons – go on a win streak.  The last time Oakland won two games in a row was October 21, 2012 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars and October 28th, at Kansas City.

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Although they only have one win to show for, the Raiders have made strides under Tony Sparano.  In five of the six games with Sparano at the helm, the team has been within one score heading into the fourth quarter.  Also, the team did not score more than 14 points once this season under Dennis Allen but they’ve scored 24 or more points three times under Sparano.

What’s most important about this progress is that it shows with decent coaching, the team can play well.  For the most part, the young talent on the team is improving each week, which provides hope for the future.

Taking a closer look at this matchup, the Raiders should again find themselves in position to win a game.

To start, there is one factor that is crucial to the success of the team on Sunday; the health of Latavius Murray.  It’s crazy if you think about it – the success of the team depends on the third-string running back drafted in the sixth round who has 14 career carries – but it’s true.

Murray instantly provided the Raiders with something they lacked all season, a threat on the ground.  Just to temper expectations before we crown Murray our savior, we still don’t know what we have with him, but we do know what we have with Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.  That’s why the health of Murray is so important.

Murray showed a capability that the other running backs simply haven’t, which is bouncing runs outside the tackles for success.  McFadden, Marcel Reece and especially Jones-Drew have done little in this regard, and with Aaron Donald in the middle of the Rams’ nasty defensive line, that matchup does not bode well for Oakland.  The latest reports say that the team is not optimistic of Murray’s chances to play on Sunday (concussion), but be sure to closely monitor his health.

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Except for the game-winning drive, Derek Carr played a bad game last week.  There were at least three throws that should have been intercepted, but Oakland caught a break.  If Murray can’t go on Sunday, Carr will need to play much better if the Raiders hope to pull off a second consecutive victory.

The main thing here is simply not turning the ball over.  For the most part, the defense has played well these last six weeks or so; at least good enough to give the offense a shot at winning.  If Carr and the rest of the offense can post a clean sheet in the turnover column, they’ll give themselves a chance to win it at the end.

One player who might help the offense is Rod Streater, who has a chance to return from a foot injury that has had him sidelined since the New England game on September 21st.

For the Rams, veteran Shaun Hill is expected to be the signal caller on Sunday.  This will be Hill’s third start since replacing Austin Davis.  Protecting Hill will be former Raider Joe Barksdale and near-Raider Rodger Saffold.

For the Rams, they have a few key players that Oakland needs to focus on.  The first one is Tre Mason.  Mason is a hard runner and a load to tackle, so fundamental wrap-up tackles will be needed to slow him down (I’m looking at you, Miles Burris).

The next group is the receiving corps, which consists of Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Jared Cook.  How Jason Tarver mixes and matches the secondary will be a key to the game.  DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie have been the most reliable to this point and may have to shadow Britt and either Austin or Bailey.  That leaves the other to face either Carlos Rogers or Tarrell Brown (hopefully Brown).

Mack plays at the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game, leaving either Burris or Sio Moore as the primary option to cover Cook.  Just don’t give up any big plays and the team stands a good chance to win this one.

I think that is exactly what will happen: Raiders win, 20-17.