The Raiders travel to Houston to take on the Texans in Week 11 action. Houston won its first two games of the season and has lost seven straight. Despite their losing record, the Texans are statistically ranked No. 1 on defense and No. 9 on offense.
Hoping to snap a losing streak of their own, the Raiders look to get their first win on the road when traveling to Texas this weekend.
"All we can control is how we go out and prepare, how we get ready to win a football game against the Houston Texans – in a game that'll be another tough game," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "They're a top offense; they're the number one rated defense in the National Football League. They have good football players. They're well-coached. So, it'll be a tough challenge."
Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak, who is returning to the sideline after being hospitalized two weeks ago, respects the type of football the Raiders are playing. "I think they're playing very well. I have a lot of respect for them and they're playing extremely hard. They're a lot like us. They've lost some really close football games, like the one they lost last week on the road," said Coach Kubiak. "It's a big challenge for us. I'm really impressed with the job [Raiders Head Coach] Dennis [Allen] is doing. I've got a lot of respect for them."
The Raiders offense will contend with a defense led by DE J.J. Watt, who has already recorded 6.5 sacks on the season. "Number one, he's a big, strong guy that's able to anchor in against the run, but he's got exceptional quickness and exceptional burst," said Coach Allen. "For as big as he is, his burst to get to the quarterback is probably as good as I've seen. He does a good job of setting up inside moves and then beating guys on the outside and using his athleticism. I think when you really look at it, for a big guy, he's exceptionally athletic."
The offense doesn't expect to stop Watt, but they want to limit what he's able to accomplish. "He's a great player, so you don't necessarily stop him, you just hope to contain him and make sure he doesn't stop you," explained FB Marcel Reece. "I think that's the main thing is make sure…he's what you call a 'game-ruiner.' You got to make sure he doesn't ruin the game for you and continue to execute and stay on schedule."
QB Terrelle Pryor remembers Watt's abilities from his college days. "I recall that he sacked me in college, so I know he's a good player. And I know even in college we had to put double teams on him and stuff like that," said Pryor. "You've got to make sure to block him and you just got to go play the game. He's going to make his plays. He's a good player. He's going to make plays and you want to keep it to a minimal and try to contain him."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson knows the Raiders will have to account for Watt on every play, but will also have to be ready for all the Texans defensive players. "Defensive Player of the Year, great size strength and speed, and he's surrounded by great players around him so it makes it difficult to just focus on J.J. Watt," said Coach Olson. "I think their defense overall has a lot of talented players, so you have to be careful. Again, as we said, we don't want that guy to wreck the game for us offensively, but you can't spend so much of your energy on him that you forget about the rest of the 10 players on defense there because they have some very talented guys aside from J.J. up front and at the linebacker position and in the secondary they're talented."
The Texans defense is also extremely sound against the pass, limiting teams to an average of 166 receiving yards per game. "I expect them to do well in coverage. They're a good defensive team," said WR Andre Holmes. "You have to expect a lot from your opposing team, you have to respect them, so you don't get caught off guard. They're going to come out there and they're going to play hard so we have to be ready."
Reece and the offense understand the caliber of defense they are facing this week. "First off, you can't deny that statistically they're the best defense in the league and they're very disciplined and they do what they do and they don't change much for people," said Reece. "Their front seven is ridiculous, maybe the best front seven we've played all year. They're going to come after the quarterback and we have to protect well and like I said stay on schedule."
The Raiders have started games with a lead in six of their nine games this season. Now the challenge is finishing the game and continuing to put points on the board throughout the second half.
"I think you just have to go back to the basics and just keep on fighting. We've got a good team, I believe it, and I think at the end of the day you've just got to go back to the basics and not lose focus on the team," said Pryor.
The Texans will start QB Case Keenum, who has thrown three touchdown passes in each of his last two starts. The undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Houston has impressed his head coach. "First off, nothing is too big for him," said Coach Kubiak. "For a guy that's a rookie free agent to get thrown into the fire that we've thrown him in, he's handled himself really good. He's went on the road and had his team in a three point game and a one point game and had them in position to win and played very well here against Indianapolis. I think he's handled himself very well. We know he has the ability, but there's nothing like the experience. I just like the way he handles the group, the way he prepares to play."
Coach Allen has seen Keenum provide the Houston offense energy over the last few weeks. "As Case Keenum has come in there, he's given them a little bit of a spark," said Coach Allen. "They've really thrown the ball down the field and connected on a lot of deep passes, play-action type of passes, double move type of routes, and so this kid looks to be pretty aggressive as far as trying to get the ball down the field. They still do what they do. They haven't really changed a whole lot as far as what their offense is. They still run the zone-blocking scheme and still play-action passes and try to hit the deep ball."
Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver believes one of the keys against Keenum is making him uncomfortable. "He knows where guys are, and he's got confidence in himself to throw the ball up to the play makers. For the most part, he's kept the balls away from the defense, but like any quarterback, we have to find a way to affect him," said Coach Tarver. "When you can affect quarterbacks, you've got a chance for tips and overthrows, just like their defense does a good job of. We've gotten better at tips and overthrows and catching the ball when it's thrown to us and taking advantage of opportunities."
CB Tracy Porter, who had a pick-6 on Eli Manning last week, has noticed Keenum's success in throwing the deep ball. "He has a big arm," said Porter. "He's a guy that's a little bit more mobile than the other two quarterbacks that they have, so it's going to take us staying in coverage longer and playing through the receiver more than not because he's going to put the ball up there and those guys do a great job attacking the ball. We can't get lax in our coverages and take a down off."
Keenum, in his first two starts, averaged over 10 yards per pass. "He's very athletic. Even though he's not one of the taller quarterbacks, he still finds a way to move around, escape the rush and get out of the pocket and create, create time to throw those deep balls," said safety Usama Young. "If he doesn't have it, often times he'll run with it. So he's one of those quarterbacks that has a duel threat and that makes it a little harder to stop him on defense."
The young Texans quarterback has a deep threat in WR Andre Johnson. The 11th year wide receiver has already accumulated 850 receiving yards. "It's just another challenge for us. He's a guy that's been doing this for quite some time now so he's pretty much seen every DB in the league," said Porter. "He's a big, physical guy that can go up and get the ball. It's going to be one of our biggest challenges yet, but I think if we continue to prepare, we'll be ready for it."
Young says the safeties are going to have to be aware of Johnson and be ready to help the corners in coverage. "With Andre Johnson, you've seen it his whole career, you have to double him, triple him and put as many guys on him as you can without hurting the defense," said Young. "He's a guy that's fast, he's strong, he can run every route, even if you double cover him, he'll find a way to beat it. Sometimes quarterbacks just throw him a jump ball with two guys on him and he still comes down with it. As safeties, we're going to have to know where the corner is and his leverage and take Andre Johnson when he tries to beat them away from that leverage."
The Texans are aided by a strong running game even without RB Arian Foster, who was placed on injured reserve. RB Ben Tate has filled in in the backfield. "[RB Ben Tate] has had a good year, especially early in the year," said Coach Tarver. "They've done a good job for a long time — consistent scheme, well-coached and been able to move pieces around. They're a very good offense. This is a good offense. This offense moves the ball, so we need to do what we need to do which is set edges in the run game, use our hands and get off of blocks."
Porter has experience with Tate from his time in New Orleans. "Ben Tate, he's a guy who can carry the load by himself," said Porter. "In my days playing in New Orleans and going against those guys in practice during training camp, he brings a downhill running style and he's a big solid back that take some contact and continue running downhill. That's something that's going to take a population of guys on defense to wrap him up and bring him down to the ground."
The Raiders will see long-time punter Shane Lechler in a different color jersey for the first time. Lechler has punted 20 inside the 20 and averaged 48.7 per punt.
Special teams continues to be an important aspect of the Raiders game each week. Holmes recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff return by the Giants, which led to a Raiders 1-yard touchdown run. They also blocked a punt in the same game. "I think special teams, for one, it puts our offense or defense in a better position to be able to score or keep the other team from scoring so it's very important in that way. And also, you have a chance to try to get the ball," said Holmes.
Each week, the Raiders have faced challenges in all facets of the game. The overarching key this week is finishing.
"I think playing aggressive, physical football and taking the ball on defense and keeping it on offense and just finishing [are keys]," said Young. "We've had a lot of games where we've started out on top, but we haven't come out with the victory because we haven't finished in the second half. So I think that's going to be a major key to us winning – maintaining the football and at the same time playing sound throughout the entire game so that we can come through with a victory and take a nice flight back to Oakland."
"We have to go out and play well. We have to go out and execute," said Coach Allen. "We have to go out and do our jobs and do our jobs right and do it full speed on every play. It's really not a complicated process. There's no magic formula. It's really we have to take our guys, go on the road, focus in and do our job for 60 minutes. If we do that, then we have a chance to have success."