RB Darren McFadden races down the field against the Jaguars in 2010. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders return to O.co Coliseum for the first time since September 23, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in Regular Season Week 7 action. After a hard-fought game in Atlanta in which the Silver and Black lost 23-20 on a last-second field goal, the Raiders come home to face the Jaguars, who also have a 1-4 record.
The Raiders last faced the Jaguars in Jacksonville December 12, 2010. Oakland fell to the Jaguars 38-31, but RB Darren McFadden recorded 209 all-purpose yards (123 rushing, 86 receiving) and scored three TDs.
QB Carson Palmer knows the Raiders need to win this game. "It's a must win game for us," said Palmer. "Coach [Allen] had a chance to put all the standings and the records in the AFC up and show us where we stand. [Jacksonville is] a good football team that plays really good on the road. They have the same record, but they have been very successful on the road over the history of the last three years. We have to play good football. We get a chance to play in front of our fans. It is an AFC game and an opportunity to start climbing our way back into this race."
Head Coach Dennis Allen puts the same emphasis on each game, but wants to win this week as much as anyone, and believes his team is up for the challenge. "We are focused on the game at hand, but what I wanted our guys to understand is that even though we haven't started the way we wanted to and we haven't played like we're capable of playing, that everything we set out at the beginning of the year is still right there in front of us," said Coach Allen. "I think sometimes when you start off at 1-4 that you feel like things are lost, but that's not necessarily the case. Our guys are focused in. They understand what we have to get done and we realize that trying to get a win this week against Jacksonville would do a lot of good for us."
In order to get their second win of the season, the Raiders will have to face a tough Jaguars offense with Bay Area-native Maurice Jones-Drew at running back. "He does a lot of things really well," said Coach Allen on Jones-Drew. "He's got great balance. He's tough; he's very quick. He's explosive into the hole, does a nice job in the passing game, both at catching the ball as well as in protection. He's a well-rounded back and he's an extreme talent that will be a challenge for us."
Jones-Drew has run for 408 yards and a touchdown so far this season. "I'll tell you, they can run the football," said defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "The group of running backs is outstanding. Jones-Drew is a very good player. He's really hard to tackle. He keeps his pads down, and he moves forward. He can catch and he can run. Their tight end is a good player. They're trying to find their identity and learn how to work together. They're a team that can move the football. We need to make sure that we're very sound in gap-discipline this week in the run game, and then challenging receivers."
The Raiders defense held Atlanta's offense to 45 yards rushing in Week 6 and is working to have the same success this week against Jacksonville. "I think it was all about our mentality," said DE Lamarr Houston. "We came in there wanting to be physical, and we were physical for the most part. I think that's what we've got to keep on doing: trying to be the most physical team on Sunday."
The Jaguars offense is led by young quarterback Blaine Gabbert. "We've got to try to get them in passing situations," said CB Joselio Hanson, who had the Raiders first interception of the season against the Falcons. "I know what they really want to do is run the ball and have Maurice Jones-Drew really help that offense. He's 50 percent of their offense, so that's probably what they want to do. So if we can get them in third-and-long and really stop the run I think we can get some chances at the ball."
SS Tyvon Branch, who also had an interception in last week's game, believes the Raiders defense has to remain balanced against the run and pass to be successful. "Defending the run, that's all swarming. We've got to swarm to the ball, and gang-tackle," said Branch. "In pass coverage we've got to stay tight in our man, and stay tight in our zones. We've got to throw some different looks at a young quarterback and hopefully force him to make some mistakes."
The defense will also face a passing attack with wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Mike Thomas. "They're good receivers," said Hanson. "I don't know if Laurent Robinson is playing, but they're all NFL-caliber receivers. All of them are big guys that can run so we've got to be on our 'A game' to really figure out a way to get some turnovers and limit their catches."
To disrupt the passing game, the Raiders want to pressure the quarterback like they did last week when they had nine quarterback hits and one sack. "We've just got to keep doing our job, and keep pressure on the quarterback," said Houston. "We've got to make sure we keep destroying the pocket. We didn't have as many sacks last week, but I think we're heading in the right direction."
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders offense will contend with a fast Jaguars defense. "They'll play wide ends and try to funnel everything inside," said offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. "They fly to the ball. They do a good job in disguising their coverages. They're simplistic but they play very fast."
The Raiders will face a Jaguars team that has had two weeks to prepare for their trip to Oakland. "I think it's all about staying consistent," said WR Derek Hagan who had three key catches on the Raiders final drive in Atlanta. "Obviously Jacksonville is coming off their bye week. They're going to be motivated and ready to play. When you've got time off you feel a little fresh. It was the same way with us when we went down to Atlanta. We were coming off a bye-week and felt fresh. We know we have to come out and play four quarters of ball, and come out with the victory."
The Raiders want to get their running game going in order to open up the passing game. "I expect [the defense] to be sound. They're smart guys," said RB Mike Goodson. "They play smart football and don't make a lot of mistakes. We're going to have to execute and be on top of our game. We've just got to hit the holes as running backs. We can't really control anything else. We've got to make sure we hit the holes hard. When they open up, run."
When the backs get going, opportunities for Palmer and his wide receivers open up. And when they do, the receivers know they have to be read. "We know the way that we're capable of throwing the ball," said Hagan. "The O-line is giving Carson plenty of time back there to spread the ball around to all of his receiving targets. I know if we're able to do that we'll be fine."
The players are ready for their next challenge and are excited to face that challenge in front of Raider Nation. "It's going to be great," said Hagan. "We know the fans are always into the game whether we win or we lose. To us it's all about getting victories. We've got to come out and play hard and get back into this race. We know we're two games back. All the other teams in the AFC West are off this week. We know if we get this victory we'll be one game back. It's going to be a fight to the finish."
"We want to get back," added Branch. "We want to win some games. We want to give them a win so they can have something to brag about when they go to work."