Both the Raiders and Texans are coming off disheartening losses. Oakland lost 24–23 to Arizona and fell to 1–2 when Sebastian Janikowski missed a 32-yard field goal on the game’s final play. After opening the season 2–0 with wins over Indianapolis and Washington, the Texans suffered a 27–13 loss at home to Dallas, their in-state rival. The team that wins Sunday could well be the team that puts last week’s setback behind it the fastest.
Keys for the Raiders
• The Raiders need to fix their red zone offense before their season goes down the drain. Last week they drove inside Arizona’s 20 five times and came away with one touchdown and two field goals in a one-point loss. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, in his first start since replacing Jason Campbell, misfired on a couple red zone shots in the end zone to tight end Zach Miller. Gradkowski, Miller and wide receivers Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey should be able to do some damage against a Texans pass defense that ranks last in the league, allowing over 368 yards per game.
• The Raiders’ defense, tied for second in the league, is facing by far its biggest challenge of the young season and will have to play its best game. Houston ranks No. 4 in the league in total offense at 407.0 yards per game and is averaging 25.7 points. None of Oakland’s first three opponents — Tennessee, St. Louis and Arizona — ranks higher than 24th in total offense. The Raiders will face a balanced attack that features running back Arian Foster, the league’s leading rusher, superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson and explosive quarterback Matt Schaub. Fortunately for the Raiders, Johnson re-aggravated a sprained ankle Sunday, and Schaub can be sacked. He’s already been dumped 11 times.
Keys for the Texans
• The Texans’ run defense, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL, will get tested by Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who’s having a breakout season and is ranked third in the rushing race. Houston’s bigger concern, though, is dealing with Gradkowski and a revitalized Raiders passing game. The Texans’ pass defense has been atrocious so far this season, although it is worth noting that they have faced three elite quarterbacks — Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo. One of the best ways to handle Gradkowski would be for defensive end Mario Williams to put him on his back. Williams has four of the team’s five sacks, and he’ll have a huge advantage against left tackles Mario Henderson and Jared Veldheer (a rookie), who are rotating at the position.
• Handing the ball to Foster and letting him attack the Raiders’ 24th-ranked run defense would be a good place for the Texans’ offense to start Sunday. Foster leads the league with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 5.9 yards a pop. The Raiders have been borderline obsessed with improving their run defense, which has caused them to be overaggressive at times — especially strong safety Tyvon Branch — and susceptible to play-action passes.
The Raiders are a desperate team, which makes them dangerous, but the Texans lead the series, 4–1, and beat Oakland 29–6 last year in Week 4 at Houston. Playing at home will help the Raiders, but not enough for them to keep up with the high-scoring Texans. Texans 27–21.