In their first couple of games of the season, the Oakland Raiders appeared to be a legit Super Bowl contender. Now the team has lost two in a row and possibly their quarterback for an extended period of time.
Derek Carr is expected to miss between two and six weeks after breaking a bone in his back in last Sunday’s loss in Denver. Former Buffalo starter EJ Manuel will be tasked with running the offense until Carr returns. Carr is officially listed as questionable for this afternoon’s game and was able to practice on a limited basis, but it seems highly unlikely he will play based on the injury.
Fortunately for Oakland, its opponent on Sunday comes to the West Coast dealing with plenty of issues of their own.
Baltimore also has lost two games in a row after starting out 2-0. Not only has the defense regressed after two strong showings, but the offense hasn’t gotten much done either. The Ravens went from beating the Bengals and Browns in Weeks 1 and 2 by a combined score of 44-10 to losing to the Jaguars in London and at home to the Steelers by a total of 54 points (outscored 70-16).
Baltimore has won seven of its 10 total matchups (including playoffs) against Oakland, although the Raiders won last season 28-27. Carr threw four touchdown passes in that game, three of them to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who missed last week’s game because of a chest injury but should return today.
Baltimore at Oakland
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 8 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Oakland -3
Three Things to Watch
1. EJ Manuel
After a forgetful stint with the Bills, Manuel will get another shot to prove he can play in the NFL. Manuel, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 draft, starter in Week 1 as a rookie but struggled before suffering a knee injury that caused him to miss five weeks. He reclaimed the starting job the next season but was benched after four games and made just three more starts through 2016. After going 6-11 for the Bills (played in 28 games) over four seasons, Manuel signed with Oakland as a free agent to back up Carr.
Manuel entered this season with a career completion rate of 58.3 percent with nearly as many interceptions (16) as touchdown passes (19). Last week in relief of Carr, Manuel completed 11 of 17 passes for 106 yards against Denver. He also was picked off once and sacked once as the Raiders managed just one field goal in the four drives Manuel led.
“I’m looking at it as an opportunity that’s before me right now,” Manuel told the Sacramento Bee. “I’m not necessarily looking for a second chance.”
2. Joe Flacco
Once upon a time, some people considered Flacco among the group of elite quarterbacks in the NFL, thanks in part to his success as a starter and helping lead his team to a Super Bowl title in 2012. However, Flacco and the Ravens have struggled as a team in recent seasons and in particular the quarterback has not been at his best lately.
In his last two games, Flacco has thrown just one touchdown pass and four interceptions. Against the Steelers last week, Flacco finished the game with a 64.6 quarterback rating. As bad as that was, it was still an improvement from the 12 he posted against the Jaguars in London in Week 3.
Flacco currently ranks 31st in the NFL in passer rating (65.0) with DeShone Kizer of the Browns (50.9) the only one behind him among qualified players. Not surprisingly, Baltimore is ranked 30th or worse in total, scoring and passing offense through four games.
"Listen, I'm going to put it on me every time as a quarterback of this football team," Flacco said on Wednesday according to ESPN.com. "That's what it's all about."
3. Raiders’ defense
Over the first two games of the season, Oakland’s defense appeared to be an improved unit. Any gains that were made early, however, have been erased during the Raiders’ current two-game slide.
Last week against Denver, Oakland gave up 143 rushing yards. The Raiders are currently 24th in the league against the run at 120 yards per game.
One positive has been All-Pro Khalil Mack. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year recorded seven tackles and two sacks against the Broncos last week. With Flacco struggling and him admitting he hasn’t been trusting his pocket lately (sacked nine times already), look for Mack to try and apply pressure to prevent Baltimore from finding its rhythm on offense.
Baltimore and Oakland enter this game with identical two-game losing streaks. However, a closer look shows that these two things are not alike.
The Raiders lost on the road to both the Redskins and Broncos, the latter coming by just six points despite quarterback Derek Carr leaving early due to injury. Meanwhile, the Ravens got blasted in London by the Jaguars and at home by the Steelers by a combined score of 70-16.
Baltimore has had all sorts of trouble on offense and now the defense is going in the wrong direction too. Even with EJ Manuel at quarterback, Oakland should be able to muster enough offense with Marshawn Lynch running the ball while leaning heavily on the defense to make just enough plays to put an end to its losing streak.
Prediction: Raiders 20, Ravens 17
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.