After getting reality (and their collective behinds) handed to them against the Cowboys last week, the Texans are back to square one of the NFL cycle: trying to regain all the respect they'd been handed and summarily lost from people who thought they were for real. They travel to Oakland this week to deal with the Raiders, 1-2 after a heartbreaking loss in Arizona where Sebastian Janikowski channeled his inner Kris Brown and missed three field goals, including one in the closing seconds that would've won the game. On paper, this should be the easiest game the Texans play all season. The Raiders are clearly one of the least talented teams on the schedule, and the Oakland Coliseum doesn't bring the same homefield advantage that Invesco Field does to Denver, nor do they have the familiarity with the Texans that the Jacksonville Jaguars have.
After last week though, you'll be hardpressed to find anyone calling for a blowout. The secondary was abysmal, the pass protection was out of sync, and the red zone offense just flat out stunk. So how will this play out?
WHEN THE TEXANS ARE ON DEFENSE
I think this is about as good a matchup as the Texans could hope for. After their shellacking against Tennessee, the Raiders moved the ball pretty well the next couple of games. Darren McFadden is obviously priority number one, as he seems to have recaptured the form he came into the league with, but the Texans run defense has never been the real problem here. The Raiders ran only two draws against the Texans last year (the Texans main weak point as a run unit) and they also ran just three screens. Both of those numbers are pretty well in line with how they operated last year, so while McFadden will probably be much better than he was against the Texans last year, don't look for him to eclipse 100 yards again unless the Raiders have a late lead and push him to try and run the clock out.
Feels like I say this every week at this point, but my most important matchup for this week will be Amobi Okoye versus Raiders guard Cooper Carlisle. The Raiders have, again and again, neglected to really address their offensive line in the offseason. Carlisle is old and mediocre, and Okoye tends to have his best games against poor guards. The Raiders offensive line is porous enough to where the Texans could get pressure on Bruce Gradkowski either way, but if they get extra pressure from Okoye this game could be a route.
That said, don't count out the Raiders passing attack. Darius Heyward-Bey, after an incredibly terrible rookie year, has shown signs of cromulence this season. Louis Murphy and Zach Miller are both quality receivers as well. It will again be up to the pass rush to bail out the secondary, although Eugene Wilson's benching should make things a little more palatable for the back four. They won't drop as many passes as they did last year against the Texans, that's for sure.
WHEN THE TEXANS ARE ON OFFENSE
I think the Texans match up pretty well with Oakland here as well. The Raiders have a very strong front four and Rolando McClain has looked interesting early, but their other linebackers are pedestrian at best and outside of Nmandi Asomugha shutting down the receiver he chooses to shut down, the secondary isn't exactly dominant either. The Texans offensive line has looked strong whilst run blocking so far, so that plays against the Raiders main strength of shutting down the run. They also have the receivers to take care of the rest of Oakland's secondary.
The only real questions I have here are in pass protection. The most important decision the Texans staff will face is just how much longer they can give Owen Daniels to recover from his injury on the field. He's looked slow, he still can't block, and his inability to create separation has been an underrated part of Matt Schaub's sack problems. A game plan comprised with more Joel Dreessen is probably in order at this point. The most important stat will be drops by Jacoby Jones; he was great last week against Dallas, but with Andre Johnson likely to be blanketed by Nmandi, the Texans can't afford any slipups from their secondary receivers.
I'll also be keeping my eye on Rashad Butler, who did an excellent job against DeMarcus Ware last week despite the three sacks (mostly not his fault), as he goes up against the underrated Matt Shaughnessy. I'd also like to see some more work in the screen game for Arian Foster and Steve Slaton, if not for big yards, then for the simple fact that keeping Schaub clean needs to be important to the coaching staff.
If the Texans were rolling, this would be one of those games that we'd laugh about. Give them the ol' "Mario Williams or a hurricane named Mario Williams?" rhetorical question, and slap a 20 point victory on. I think the matchups favor Houston, and I'm not terribly enamored with Gradkowski or the Oakland defense. I am predicting a Houston victory, but I am hedging a bit in saying that it'll be closer than it probably should. Houston 24, Oakland 17.