NFL Preview - Oakland (0-0) at Tennessee (0-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, a couple of teams that know exactly how to start a season off on the wrong foot, will stand in the way of one another's Week 1 success at LP Field on Sunday.
The Titans will be seeking a measure of early-season good feelings just one year after opening the campaign with a wretched 0-6 start that quickly derailed the organization's effort to match its AFC South-winning, 13-3 showing of 2008.
Tennessee did recover to some degree in '09, with quarterback Vince Young engineering an 8-2 finish after re-claiming his job from veteran Kerry Collins, but the climb for Young and company was too steep to result in another playoff appearance. With that history still looming large in the rear-view mirror, the Titans know they can ill-afford to sputter out of the gate again.
Jeff Fisher and company welcomed back most of the core that helped enable last year's down-the-stretch success, including, of course, running back and franchise face Chris Johnson.
Johnson, who collected 2,006 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns a year ago, is vying to become the first player in NFL history to post back-to-back 2,000- yard campaigns. The results of that quest won't be known for months, but the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year does have a chance to make a smaller measure of history on Sunday.
With 100 rushing yards against the Raiders, Johnson will extend his streak of 100-yard games to 12 consecutive, which would be the second-longest in NFL history behind only Barry Sanders' 14. Johnson's current number of 100-yard games is the equal of Marcus Allen, who reeled off 11 straight triple-digit performances (regular season) as a member of the Raiders in 1985-86.
While attempting to prevent Johnson from surpassing the mark of a Raider legend, Oakland will also be trying to shed a dismal recent history in Week 1 contests. The Silver and Black have lost seven straight season-openers since a home win over the Seahawks to start the 2002 season, and haven't won a Week 1 game on the road since downing the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in 2001.
One mark in the Raiders' favor is a rare piece of continuity in the head coach's chair, as Tom Cable was brought back by owner Al Davis for a second consecutive season-opener. As he heads into his 29th game, Cable is Oakland's longest-tenured head coach since Norv Turner coached 32 contests for Davis in 2004-05.
The team did undergo a change, however, in the quarterback role. Oakland sought to close its revolving door at the position by acquiring Jason Campbell from the Washington Redskins back in April.
Campbell has a 20-32 record as a starter since entering the league in 2006, but is regarded as a drastic improvement over ex-starter JaMarcus Russell, who was released by the team in the spring after a miserable 25-game run as the team's QB.
The design of the offense has also undergone a slight alteration, with Hue Jackson taking over as coordinator after Cable called the plays during Oakland's 5-11 season of 2009.
The Raiders hold a 23-18 advantage in their all-time regular season series with the Titans, but were 13-9 road losers when the teams last met, during the 2007 season. Oakland won the previous meeting, taking a 34-25 decision in Nashville in 2005.
In addition to their regular season edge, the Raiders are 4-0 against the Titans/Oilers in the playoffs. Oakland defeated Houston in the 1967 AFL Championship (40-7), in a 1969 Inter-Divisional Playoff (56-7), and a 1980 AFC First-Round Playoff (27-7), while downing Tennessee in the 2002 AFC Championship (41-24).
Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher is 5-4 versus the Raiders as a head coach, including the '02 playoff loss. Oakland's Cable will be meeting both Fisher and the Titans for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Though Campbell (3618 passing yards, 20 TD, 15 INT with Washington) indisputably offers the Raiders a more reliable signal-caller than Russell, just how capably he is able to function in the attack will hinge greatly on a suspect group of receivers and offensive line. Second-year-pros Louis Murphy (34 receptions, 4 TD) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (9 receptions, 1 TD) look like the team's top outside threats heading into Week 1, with potential starter Chaz Schilens (knee) unlikely to be available for the opener. Tight end Zach Miller (66 receptions, 3 TD), the team leader in catches and receiving yards last year, could be Campbell's top option. The group protecting Campbell will include rookie center Jared Veldheer, from tiny Hillsdale College in Michigan, shaky right tackle Langston Walker, and left guard Robert Gallery, who missed the final 10 games of last year with a back problem. The trench group will also be attempting to open holes for a running back corps that could be minus Michael Bush (589 rushing yards, 3 TD, 17 receptions), who is regarded as questionable after missing time in the preseason with a broken thumb. With or without Bush, the team needs disappointing former first-rounder Darren McFadden (357 rushing yards, 1 TD, 21 receptions) to step forward and offer a spark in the running game.
After finishing next-to-last in the NFL against the pass in 2009, the Titans will likely be pleased to start off slow against a still-developing aerial attack. Tennessee sought to address a deficient pass rush in the offseason by selecting Georgia Tech end Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) in the first round, though Morgan was bothered by a calf problem during the preseason and might not see much action in Week 1. The Titans list journeyman Jason Babin (14 tackles, 2.5 sacks with Philadelphia) and holdover Jacob Ford (22 tackles, 5.5 sacks) as their starters at end heading into the opener. That situation puts more pressure on a secondary group led by incumbent starters Cortland Finnegan (63 tackles, 5 INT) at corner and Chris Hope (80 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sacks) and Michael Griffin (73 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) at safety. The newcomer in the starting DB group is 2009 sixth-round pick Jason McCourty (23 tackles), who the team is hoping can be an upgrade over Nick Harper. The main run-stopping crew features some changes as well, with LBs Colin Allred (15 tackles) and Will Witherspoon (92 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT with Rams and Eagles) and DT Jason Jones (15 tackles, 4 sacks) all new to the Tennessee starting lineup. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch (120 tackles, 2 sacks) remains a lynch pin of a front seven that finished tied for 10th in the NFL against the run a year ago.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
The Titans are unlikely to make much of a secret over what they'll do offensively on Sunday, as they seek to hand the ball to Chris Johnson early and often. Johnson had one of the great individual seasons in NFL history in 2009, and will be running behind four of the five o-line starters that helped enable that success. The newcomer of the bunch is left guard Leroy Harris, who was promoted to a full-time starting role after the team opted not to re-sign veteran center Kevin Mawae and moved Eugene Amano from guard to the middle. Despite the run-first approach, Young (1879 passing yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 281 rushing yards, 2 TD) should be able to keep the Raiders honest after posting a career-best 82.8 passer rating last season. The makeup of the receiving corps should bear watching. Kenny Britt (42 receptions, 3 TD), the team's 2009 leader in receiving yards (701), has been demoted to second-string after a poor preseason, with Nate Washington (47 receptions, 6 TD) and Justin Gage (28 receptions, 3 TD) expected to run with the No. 1s on Sunday. Tight end Bo Scaife (45 receptions, 1 TD) is another reliable middle-of-the-field target for Young.
Though the switch at quarterback garnered most of the headlines for the Raiders in the offseason, the transformation of the team's defensive front seven was another shift instituted in the interests of greater credibility. Two new starters at linebacker - rookie Rolando McClain (Alabama) in the middle and ex- Brown Kamerion Wimbley (68 tackles, 6.5 sacks with Cleveland) on the weak side - along with second-round rookie end Lamarr Houston (Texas) and free agent pickups John Henderson (36 tackles, 3 sacks with Jacksonville) and Jay Alford (15 tackles, 2.5 sacks with Giants) were brought in to shore up a defense that was 29th in the NFL against the run last year. Richard Seymour (47 tackles, 4 sacks), who is expected to see most of his time on the inside rather than at end this year, remains a big part of the team's run-stuffing efforts. Houston and holdover Matt Shaughnessy (29 tackles, 4 sacks) are among those being asked to attack Young on Sunday. The Raiders secondary, led by corners Nnamdi Asomugha (34 tackles, 1 INT) and Stanford Routt (28 tackles, 1 sack) along with safeties Michael Huff (55 tackles, 3 INT) and Tyvon Branch (119 tackles, 1 sack) - should once again be a team strength.
Chris Johnson (the Titans' version, not the backup Raiders cornerback) was the No. 1 overall pick in the majority of fantasy leagues in the preceding days and weeks, and his Week 1 performance will be worth watching both for those who own him and those who are forced to play against him. His probable running back counterpart, McFadden, also looks like a worthwhile start given the injury problems plaguing Bush. Otherwise, the two tight ends - Miller and Scaife - look like decent plays, as do kickers Sebastian Janikowski (26-of-29 on field goals in 2009) of the Raiders and Rob Bironas (27-of-32) of the Titans. Not a lot of aerial fireworks expected in this one, so QBs and wideouts should take a seat on the bench, and neither defense is particularly known for its big-play prowess.
The Raiders head into the 2010 season looking more credible and potentially competitive than they have in some time, but a Week 1 road game will probably not find this team at its best. Offensively, Oakland is breaking in a new QB and coordinator, is banged up at running back and has a couple of question marks on the line. On defense, the Raiders have undoubtedly strengthened the front seven and could make life somewhat difficult for Johnson, though this team has a bunch of fresh faces in that area and is not going to bat a thousand against a back of his stature. Look for the Silver and Black to have their moments and hang around for three quarters, before Johnson wears them down in a decisive fourth.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 24, Raiders 13
09/09 13:44:48 ET