When the 2010 NFL schedule came out, the Raiders undoubtedly considered this game a slam-dunk against a Rams team that went 1–15 last season. Not so fast. After the Raiders opened with a 38–13 debacle against Tennessee, and the Rams, with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, gave Arizona all it could handle before falling 17–13, this matchup has the look of a tossup. The Raiders have gone an NFL record seven straight seasons with 11 or more losses. After an offseason filled with high hopes, coach Tom Cable and the Raiders desperately need to beat the Rams and avoid an 0–2 start, which could easily spiral into another lost season. The Rams, considering the way Bradford responded in his first NFL game and how close they came to upending the defending NFC West champs, have to see Sunday’s game as a chance to grab an early win.
Keys for the Raiders
• Quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked four times and harassed countless others in his Raiders debut last week when he passed for only 180 yards. The Raiders’ offensive line, particularly offensive tackles Mario Henderson and Langston Walker and rookie center Jared Veldheer, have to give Campbell more time to throw. Raider offensive linemen had trouble handling the crowd noise at last week at Tennessee, where Titans rushers consistently beat them to the punch. They should do a better job playing in front of the home fans.
• After all the work they did during the offseason to improve their run defense, the Raiders gave up 205 rushing yards to Tennessee, 142 of those to Chris Johnson, the NFL’s 2009 rushing king, who burned them on a 76-yard touchdown run. The week the Raiders face Rams running back Steven Jackson, who ranked second in the NFL in rushing last year. The Raiders need to contain Jackson and force Bradford to try to beat them with his arm.
Keys for the Rams
• Bradford threw 55 passes in his NFL debut, completing 32 of them for 253 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. Those are impressive numbers for a rookie, but the Rams need to find more balance in their offense and get Jackson untracked on the ground against a Raiders defense that has long been better against the pass than the run. Jackson rushed for just 81 yards on 22 attempts against Arizona, an average of 3.7 yards per carry.
• The Rams forced seven Arizona fumbles and recovered four, but they didn’t turn any of those turnovers into points. This week, coach Steve Spagnuola’s team needs to keep forcing turnovers against a turnover-prone Raiders team and also capitalize. Campbell fumbled twice on sacks last week, losing one, and threw one interception that was returned 32 yards to the Raiders’ three-yard line.
Over the past seven seasons, the Raiders have shown they can lose to anyone — they lost their home opener to Detroit in 2007 — and a loss to the Rams wouldn’t be shocking. That said, the Raiders will be a desperate team Sunday, playing in front of the home fans for the first time and facing a rookie quarterback from a team that had one victory in 2009. If the Raiders can’t win this game, Cable should get his resume updated. Raiders 21–14.