Both the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans are trying to bounce back after tough losses a week ago. The Raiders (3-3) were absolutely whipped by the Green Bay Packers as Aaron Rodgers picked apart the Oakland defense for five touchdown passes. The Texans (4-3) let a golden opportunity slip from their hands as they dropped a close game in Indianapolis and fell out of first place in the AFC South.
Both teams are still trying to find an identity nearing the halfway point of the season. The Texans definitely have more offensive firepower, especially in their passing game with Deshaun Watson finding his groove. The Raiders are a bit of a surprise this season at 3-3 but seem to be just a few pieces short of being a pretty good team. While both squads were wounded a week ago, they both still find themselves in second place within their respective divisions. A win on Sunday for either team would keep it above water and in the playoff hunt.
Oakland at Houston
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Texans -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Limiting mistakes
The Texans were kicking themselves in last week’s postgame media scrums for what players and coaches called "self-inflicted wounds." Penalties and turnovers cost Houston a shot at a huge road win against their division rival and a first-place spot in the AFC South. The Texans have been getting in their own way all season long, ranking fifth in the league in penalties against and staying dead even in turnover margin nearly halfway through their schedule. Last week against Indy was no different, as the Texans were flagged 10 times for 54 yards and turned the ball over twice. The last giveaway, a Deshaun Watson interception, came on what could have been a game-tying drive with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
This week is a good opportunity for the Texans to clean it up against a Raiders defense that is one of the worst in the league at forcing turnovers (only five) and lacks a dangerous pass rush.
2. Can either defense pressure the QB?
The jokes about Oakland's lack of a pass rush have been many and warranted since they traded Khalil Mack to the Bears last season. This season, the Raiders are 27th in sacks with just 10 in their first six games. But the Raiders aren’t the only team in this game that struggles to get to opposing quarterbacks. The Texans have recorded seven more sacks than the Silver and Black this year. While 17 may seem like a lot more than 10, it’s still only good enough for 17th in the league.
The once-feared Houston pass rush has been tamed over time with the trade of Jadeveon Clowney, the retirement of Brian Cushing and the gradual decline of J.J. Watt (four sacks this season). That leaves linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the only player in this game with at least five sacks on the season (5.5).
Sunday’s game will come down to who can protect their quarterback the best. Watson is among the 10 most sacked (21) and hit (41) quarterbacks in the league, while Oakland’s offensive line has been stellar at protecting Derek Carr, allowing just eight sacks.
3. The ground game
The Texans will have a clear advantage in the quarterback battle on Sunday with Watson calling the shots, but the two teams are about even when it comes to running the football. Houston has relied on a resurgent Carlos Hyde (111 att., 461 yards) to carry most of the load this season, and it’s worked. With the help of Duke Johnson (6.2 yards/rush), Hyde has turned the Texans into a top-10 running team, averaging 134 yards as a unit per game (8th) and taking some of the burden away from Watson.
The Raiders took a shot and drafted Josh Jacobs in the first round of this year’s draft, and the rookie from Alabama has been paying dividends. He is currently fifth in the league in yards per carry (5.1) and yards per game (92.3), putting himself in the driver's seat for Rookie of the Year honors and turning the Raiders into a top-five running team (137 yards per game).
The Texans and Raiders have fantastic run defenses, both ranking in the top five in yards allowed per game. And despite Houston’s ability to stop the run, I won't be surprised if Jon Gruden gives Jacobs at least 25 touches, especially on first and second downs, to put Carr into more manageable third-down situations, where he has excelled this season (134.9 QB rating, 29 first downs, 5 TDs).
If the Raiders want to pick up a road win and get back above .500, they need to keep Watson and Houston’s balanced offense off the field. They do that by running the ball effectively and converting on third downs, which they do at a 50 percent clip, second-best in the league. However, that’s easier said than done when the Texans have so many weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Give me Houston by a field goal.
Prediction: Texans 31, Raiders 28
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.