The Oakland Raiders host the Tennessee Titans at O.co Coliseum in Week 12 action. The two teams face off with identical 4-6 records, the Raiders coming off a big goal-line stand win in Houston and the Titans off a 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Tennessee lost starting QB Jake Locker to a foot injury and is now led by veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who the Raiders last faced in Buffalo in 2011 with disappointing results. Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes in a come-from-behind effort for the Bills.
The Titans defense is ranked 10th in the National Football League, only allowing 330 total yards per game. The passing defense is also ranked near the top of the league.
The Raiders were able to overcome the top-ranked defense in Houston last week with a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. And against a talented offense, the Raiders defense only gave up 16 points. Oakland wants to replicate that success at home against the Titans.
"Obviously, this is a big game for our football team. We need to be able to come out and put back-to-back weeks together," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "We understand that it's a tough challenge against this football team. I think they have explosive playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, both in the passing game and in the running game. This is a defense that plays very aggressive, a lot of man coverage, tough, physical defense. We'll have our work cut out for us."
The Silver and Black will go into battle with QB Matt McGloin, making his second consecutive start. McGloin threw three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Texans, earning a chance to lead the offense vs Tennessee. "He didn't look like a rookie," said Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak. "I thought he was very poised and that's a tough place to play; there's a lot going on in Houston. He really did a great job I thought last week taking advantage of what was there, finishing drives for the team, not making mistakes, three touchdowns, no interceptions. I imagine they're very happy with him, and they should be."
The Titans noticed McGloin's poise in their film work preparing to take on Oakland. "He was a very confident guy," said Tennessee CB Alterraun Verner. "Like I said to some other people, with him being a rookie and playing in his first big time start, he played very confident. He wasn't afraid to throw the ball. He ran the offense very well, and he found a way to win for the team. So, I was very impressed by his performance."
Verner has five interceptions and two forced fumbles so far this season. Between the secondary play and the front four, the Titans have held opposing teams to only one passing touchdown in the last three games. "Listen, this is a really good defense," Coach Allen said. "They're the 10th-ranked defense in the National Football League, so it's going to be a tough challenge. They play really aggressive, really physical. They get after the quarterback, and we understand what the challenge is. We've got to rise up to it."
The Titans have not done as well against the run, however. "I think they're very, very talented. I think they're very good and they can stretch the field, so you have to worry about deep passes," said Verner. That's what most people will try and focus on with them. It's one of those games where we have to be on our game from start to finish. Especially as a secondary because the Raiders might try and run the ball on us because we haven't successfully done that – teams try to exploit that. So we have to be on our game because then the Raiders can play-action and take a shot. So they're very capable and I've been impressed also."
The Raiders offense expects more man-to-man coverage than they've seen during the first half of the season. "Talented players [on defense]," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson. "They've got a good scheme as well, but very talented. They play a lot of man-to-man coverage because they have a lot of confidence in their secondary, so we'll see more man coverage than we've seen all season. It's a strength of theirs and they're able to get a rush on the quarterback a lot of times with the four-man rush. So that helps out that secondary when you're able to put pressure on a quarterback and you've got the players in the backend to play straight man. So they're very talented in the secondary."
The Raiders offensive line was able to protect McGloin well in Houston against the No. 1 defense in the league and want to continue that success this week. "The D-line is a big, tough physical group that is playing really good football," said T Tony Pashos, who handled DE J.J. Watt well in Week 11. "They have the ability to both pressure the quarterback as well as stuff the run. As an offense we have to identify the fronts that they give us and make any adjustments that we need."
McGloin is ready for an opportunity in front of the home crowd against a talented defense. "It's a good team," said McGloin. "They lost a lot of close games that could've gone either way. They're a good team, we're aware of that. They have a good secondary, they're good upfront, they're a good team overall, good defense and a well-coached football team. So we're aware that we have our hands full and you know, but we're ready for the challenge."
McGloin has found a reliable target in TE Mychal Rivera, who caught five passes in Houston, including a 26-yard touchdown. "Matt is a great quarterback," said Rivera. "He throws the ball really well. He knows coverages so I look forward to catching a lot more balls from him."
Rivera is ready for the man-to-man coverage the Raiders offense expects. "They're going to play a lot of man-to-man coverage," said Rivera. "They're a real physical team. They switch up fronts, they switch up a lot of coverages so we have to be ready for anything. We have to continue to use our momentum from the last game, the last victory, and bring it into this game and also use our home crowd to our advantage, our home schedule to our advantage."
The running game will be key for the Silver and Black again this week. Against Houston, RB Rashad Jennings notched 150 rushing yards, including an 80-yard touchdown dash. "It's satisfying for the line, the team, the entire Raiders organization," said Pashos on Jennings' TD run. "We were jumping on the sideline; I was jumping on the field. We were ecstatic and I'm sure fans at home were jumping off their couches. That run that Rashad had was a thing of beauty. I thought it was one of the best runs I've ever seen. It was something special."
Coach Munchak is keenly aware of the Raiders successful running game over the past few weeks, as Jennings is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. "His run last week, the 80-yarder, was a thing of beauty," said Coach Munchak. "He's a physical runner, that's what they want to be. I know they're in the top five in rushing, with what they're trying to do with the ball, and that's how they went in there and beat Houston, having run the ball as well as they did. He's a big, physical back that is getting better the more he plays and so it's something we're going to have to contend with."
The Titans have a weapon at running back as well with speed-burner Chris Johnson. Although Johnson has struggled this season, he is capable of breaking away for a touchdown on any given play. "Really you just have to get him off his path because he's a great downhill runner so you want to get him going sideways and get as many people to the ball as possible," said DT Stacy McGee, who helped cause LB Nick Roach's first career interception in Houston.
Oakland's defense only allowed one offensive touchdown last week and their rush and coverage have been working hand-in-hand for several weeks now. "They try to create a lot of confusion, especially on your sub packages and on third-down and three -wide receiver formations," said Coach Munchak. "They bring a lot of different people, whether it be linebackers, DBs, safeties, I mean they're all part of the package. They give you more to think about and they've had success doing it and so we expect to see more of the same and that will be the challenge."
Fitzpatrick will lead the Titans offense on the field. "With No. 4 [Fitzpatrick] at quarterback, he does a pretty good job at spreading the field and picking a side and throwing it to the guy that's open," explained Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver. "He did a good job early in the Indianapolis game, so that's what we have to make sure, we have to understand what they're doing by formation and who they want to get the ball to and take his favorite guys away."
The quarterback has receiving threats at both wide receiver and tight end. Delanie Walker leads the team in touchdowns with five. "He's a good player. He's a physical tight end, kind of a hybrid," said CB Phillip Adams. "He kind of has wide receiver tendencies so he's going to be a good match-up, just his physicality."
WRs Kendall Wright and Nate Washington have tallied a majority of the receiving yards. "I think they have very good skill players and they're well-coached from the front all the way through," said Coach Tarver. "They do a good job with their offensive line, they have their veteran tackles and they've done a nice job up front of picking up different stunts and protections regardless of who their quarterback has been. We have to keep the top on the coverage and contain their skill players. They'll catch some balls, they're good route-runners and they do a good job after the catch so we need to make sure we swarm and keep the ball in front of us."
The Raiders defense has rebounded over the last two weeks with critical goal-line stands and turnovers. They have been working all week to bring that performance to the home crowd. "[This game is] very important, just coming off that win in Houston last week," said Adams. "Every week is real big for us, but this game really, really means something and we want to come into our home and have the energy and have the passion for our fans wearing all black and just have that intensity and take care of business."
The Raiders understand the magnitude of this game. "We have to realize that the games are ticking down to the end and we don't have many home games left and we have to take advantage of the opportunities," said Rivera.
McGee and his teammates are expecting a loud, excited crowd at O.co Coliseum. "Here the fans are wild, they crazy, they love us, they're diehard," said McGee. "I feed off the fans. The louder they get, the better I feel, the more chills I get and the harder I play."
The team hopes to see Raider Nation with the same passion in the stands that they plan to bring on the field.