The Oakland Raiders travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts in Regular Season Week 1 action. Each team's slate has been wiped clean to start the season and both teams will challenge each other for their first win.
This is the Silver and Black's first trip to Lucas Oil Stadium, but they will see many familiar faces in Colts' gear. Former Raiders center Samson Satele and Raiders 2009 first-round draft choice WR Darrius Heyward-Bey now play for Indianapolis. Additionally, Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano, served as the Raiders defensive backs coach for two seasons (2005-06). Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver coached for Stanford when Colts QB Andrew Luck and TE Coby Fleener were part of the Cardinal's squad.
Raiders FS Charles Woodson will play in his first regular season game back in the Silver and Black. "It means a lot that I got the opportunity to come back here and play," said Woodson. "I'm looking forward to taking that step to getting the Raiders turned back around, helping this organization out. I'm looking forward to it."
After a 2-14 season in 2011, the Colts turned things around when they drafted Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck took his team to the playoffs, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Ravens in the first round.
"I think they play extremely hard on defense. They play really fast," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "Offensively, I think they're very talented. I think the quarterback is an exceptional player. They're explosive in the kicking game, specifically in the return game. This is a good football team. This is a playoff team from last year, and I think it's a better team than it was last year."
Luck will be one of the biggest challenges for the Raiders in Week 1. "Figuring out Andrew is kind of a hard thing to do," said Coach Tarver. "He's very smart. Andrew's a great player and an even better person. He's curious, smart, funny, and he's a pleasure to be around."
After an effective rookie season, Coach Pagano is still seeing improvement from his quarterback. "I think just from a comfort level there is a big difference. Familiarity. He's been through a season. Understands the speed of the game," explained Coach Pagano. "For as much success as he had in year one, all the fourth-quarter comebacks and that type of thing, the game is slowing down for him even more. From that standpoint, there's a certain comfort level. He's always had great command of the offense and the huddle, things like that. You can just see it growing and growing with each and every day."
The Raiders defense will have to be smart and precise to slow down Luck. "He's a big challenge because he's a smart quarterback," said FS Charles Woodson. "He poses a few different challenges. He's an accurate quarterback. He's a big quarterback and he's also mobile. You have a guy with all of those attributes, it can make it tough. As long as we play good, fundamental football we'll be all right."
The Raiders starting middle linebacker and quarterback of the defense, Nick Roach, knows the defense will have to focus much of its energy on the second-year quarterback. "It starts with their quarterback," said Roach. "It's pretty obvious he makes them go, so the biggest thing will be containing him because he is pretty capable outside the pocket and extending plays. Outside of that, he'll take his shots occasionally and then he's got some pretty good speed to throw to."
One of Luck's main targets is WR Reggie Wayne. "You have to try to limit his catches," said Woodson. "They're going to throw the ball to him a bunch, but we can't just allow him to catch the ball every time that they target him, so you have to stay close to Reggie. He's one of the best receivers in the NFL. He's going to get his catches, but you just have to try to limit them."
Complementing Wayne is Heyward-Bey, a former four-year Raiders veteran. "It's going to be fun to see DHB out there," said WR Rod Streater. "He was a great leader when he was here, helped me out a lot."
Streater and the Raiders offense will be faced with a tough and quick Colts defense. "I think from a personnel standpoint they're bigger and a little more stout up front," said Coach Allen. "The key for that defense is I think they fly around. I think they enjoy playing football. When things do break down, you see a lot of guys running the football and correcting mistakes that happen up front. I think they're a better football team overall than what they were last year."
"They've got two really good safeties, LaRon Landry and [Antoine] Bethea so it's going to be a challenge in the run game because obviously we have to go and block them," said Streater. "They have pretty good corners. They've got No. 23 Vontae Davis. He's a really good corner, very physical, so it's going to be a challenge for us."
The offense wants to come out fast and execute. "I think the keys for us on offense are just going to be execution, making sure we just execute everything that we do in practice," said Raiders captain FB Marcel Reece. "The goal in our preparation is to expect nothing new because we expect to prepare ourselves for anything and everything they do."
Getting the running game going early with a healthy RB Darren McFadden is important for the Silver and Black.
"Be fast, be strong and run downhill – I think those are the biggest things," said Reece. "We have some dogs up front and really, when we play with confidence in our running game, I don't think there's going to be anybody that can stop us. With Dmac healthy, I think the sky is the limit for our running game. I think we just have to start it off fast and keep it coming often."
Reece is looking forward to the match-up with LB Robert Mathis. "In order to consider yourself great, you have to play against great players. Rob Mathis is a great player," said Reece. "I look forward to any time him and I are going to be matched up together. I spent some time with him over this off-season at the Pro Bowl and he's a great player. He prepares himself for all his matchups and he plays hard, he plays fast and he has a great motor. "
The offense wants to make plays and leave everything on the field. "We have to go out and make the plays that present themselves to us," said Streater. "We have to go out there and play hard and not beat ourselves and do the little things that matter."
Starting fast is a key for both sides of the ball, particularly on the road. "It's very important to start fast, especially in the first game of the year," said Reece. "Starting fast is not just starting that game fast or that play fast or that drive fast, but it's starting the season fast. When you start the season fast, when you start anything fast, you give yourself even more confidence than you already have."
Getting off to a good start on offense or defense sets the tone for the rest of the game. "It's big, especially on the road, you want to get the momentum as fast you can," explained Roach. "Just being in a foreign environment, it's always good to at least have the energy flowing on your side. It'll be big."
The energy level has been elevated during practice this week as the team prepares for its first important battle of the 2013 campaign. "Now it's for real. It's just something about knowing this can set you up for things later on in the year and it means something toward whether you're playing after the regular season is done and all that. It definitely means a little more," said Roach.
Raider Nation will get its first look at the 2013 Raiders when they take the Lucas Oil Stadium field Sunday. "We want to go out here and try to get this win Week 1 and come home Week 2 to a live Raider Nation crowd, Black Hole crowd, and have fun with it," said Woodson.