NFL Preview - Washington (3-9) at Oakland (4-8)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In one corner, the Washington Redskins are kicking themselves after blowing three straight leads in the fourth quarter. In the other, the Oakland Raiders are feeling confident following two wins in three weeks against quality opponents. The two lightweights will collide this Sunday, when the Redskins travel across the country to take on a resurgent Raiders bunch at the Oakland Coliseum.
The Redskins squandered late leads against NFC East-rivals Dallas and Philadelphia before coming close to handing New Orleans its first loss of the season last Sunday at FedEx Field. Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham, who was cut this week, failed to give Washington a 10-point lead when he missed a 23-yard attempt late in regulation, while running back Mike Sellers fumbled in overtime to set up New Orleans deep in Redskins territory for a 33-30 win.
Suisham's bags were packed shortly after the loss, with rookie newcomer Graham Gano taking over and set to kick in his first NFL regular-season game.
It was a disheartening loss for everyone on the Redskins, including quarterback Jason Campbell, who said afterward that the team should be "6-6 and fighting for something" instead of being 3-9 and putting head coach Jim Zorn under some more heat. Campbell has played extremely well in losses to Philadelphia and New Orleans, but unfortunately the rest of the team hasn't. Washington has lost its last three games by a combined seven points.
Washington will be playing its third matchup against the AFC West this season and is 1-1 against the division. The Redskins lost to Kansas City in Week 6 before rebounding with a win versus Denver in Week 10.
It won't be an easy time by the Bay this weekend, since the Redskins are 0-6 on the road this season and have lost nine straight as the guest dating back to last year. Washington's most recent road win was a 20-17 victory at Seattle's Qwest Field on November 23, 2008.
Oakland put forth a satisfying defensive effort in Sunday's improbable 27-24 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field to improve to 4-8 this season. Former backup turned starting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has guided the Raiders to a pair of comeback wins, with the Raiders defeating Cincinnati a few weeks ago and taking down the defending Super Bowl champions last Sunday.
Gradkowski is hoping to put together another admirable performance in order to help Oakland match last season's win total of five games. The Raiders haven't won more than five games in a season since 2002, when they finished 11-5 and lost to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. They're definitely not going to the Big Game this season, but have been playing like there's no tomorrow. Head coach Tom Cable has been able to put all of his off-the-field problems behind him and focus on more important things such as winning football games.
Cable's biggest move was making the switch from incumbent starter JaMarcus Russell to Gradkowski, yet he hasn't specified if the change will carry over into a more promising 2010 campaign. Cable may not even be at the helm next season, so he's trying to pull out all of the stops right now to leave a lasting impression on legendary owner Al Davis. Cable can only hope wins over Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- all playoff-caliber teams -- will resonate in Davis' thinking process.
Oakland has a 7-3 lead in its all-time regular season series against Washington, including a 16-13 road win in the last head-to-head meeting, during the 2005 campaign. The Redskins won the previous meeting, in 1998 in Oakland, by a count of 29-19. The road team is 4-0 in the series since the then-Los Angeles Raiders prevailed at The Coliseum in 1989. The Raiders last defeated the Redskins in Oakland in 1980.
In addition to the regular season series, the clubs have met once in the postseason, with the then-Los Angeles Raiders stunning the Redskins, 38-9, in Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa following the 1983 season.
Zorn and Cable will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective franchise, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Campbell (2,724 passing yards, 15 TD, 12 INT) threw three touchdown passes last week to move past Gus Frerotte for seventh all-time in Redskins' history. The former Auburn star now owns 50 career touchdown passes in 48 career starts and also moved ahead of Frerotte and into seventh place on the team's all-time list with 9,966 passing yards during last Sunday's loss. He recorded a career- high 367 passing yards versus the Saints and notched his sixth career 300-yard passing game and first since Week 3 at Detroit. Even though they have just three wins and one of worst offenses in the league, the Redskins have outscored their opponent by a 69-13 difference in the third quarter. They outscored the Saints, 10-3, in that period last weekend. Campbell has only been sacked twice in the last three games and has been getting more time to hit his open targets. Leading receiver Santana Moss (49 receptions, 3 TD) has posted five or more catches in four of his last six games, but has only one touchdown in the past eight weeks. He'll have a tough matchup again this week. Devin Thomas (23 receptions, 3 TD) is starting to emerge as a deep threat and a reliable receiver for Campbell, while tight end Fred Davis (32 receptions, 3 TD) is tied with Moss and Thomas for the team lead in touchdown receptions.
Raiders star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (30 tackles, 1 INT) will be on Moss most of Sunday afternoon, which leaves Thomas and fellow Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El opportunities to cause some damage. Oakland held the Steelers to 269 yards through the air and picked off two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger once last week. Santonio Holmes still burned the Raiders for 149 yards and a score on eight receptions, however. Cornerback Chris Johnson (59 tackles, 3 INT) and safety Michael Huff (50 tackles, 3 INT) are tied for the team lead with three picks apiece. Safety Tyvon Branch (94 tackles, 1 sack) led the way with 11 stops in Pittsburgh, partly because the front line and linebackers had trouble tackling. If Branch leads the stop unit again in tackles, the Raiders will not be able to get away with it in consecutive weeks at this level. Ends Richard Seymour (35 tackles, 4 sacks) and Trevor Scott (27 tackles, 5 sacks) are responsible for applying the pressure and disrupting the timing of Campbell in the pocket.
Sellers' fumble last week was the final nail in the coffin for the Redskins, who will give most of the carries to Rock Cartwright and Quinton Ganther this week. Cartwright (212 rushing yards) has carried the ball 13 or more times in each of the last three games and had 39 yards on 13 touches versus the Saints. Ganther (88 rushing yards) had a career-high 46 rushing yards on eight carries last weekend and will also see action again in Oakland. The Redskins are 22nd in rushing offense this season and were dealt tough blows when backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts both went down with injuries. Portis was placed on injured reserve this week and is still feeling the effects of a concussion suffered November 8 at Atlanta. He played in eight games this season and rushed for 494 yards on 124 carries and one touchdown. He also caught nine passes for 57 yards and a score. Betts is also done for the season with a serious knee injury.
Luckily for the Raiders, Washington is down to its last batch of running backs with Portis and Betts already done for the season. They say you're only as good as you're last game, and the Raiders were doused by Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who posted 103 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries last week. Cable has two solid linebackers to help soften the blow on Sunday, as leading tackler Kirk Morrison (96 tackles) is in search of his fifth double- digit tackle performance of the season. Thomas Howard (64 tackles, 2 sacks) and Morrison combined for 10 stops last week and have four games left on the schedule to add to their totals. Tackles Tommy Kelly (49 tackles, 1 sack) and Gerard Warren (27 tackles, 1 sack) should have a light day up front, since the Redskins will most likely take a pass-first approach to this matchup.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Gradkowski (854 passing yards, 6 TD, 3 INT) started under center last week for the third consecutive time in place of Russell, and posted a career-high rating of 121.8 after throwing for a career-best 308 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Cable has been impressed with Gradkowski's patience and mechanics in the pocket and has built a strong trust in his new starter. Gradkowski, who became the first quarterback in team history to throw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter since Ken Stabler in 1979, still needs more protection, as evidenced by the three sacks he's taken in each of the last two games. With guard Robert Gallery already out indefinitely because of a back problem, Gradkowski may not have center Samson Satele this week due to a calf injury. Rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward- Bey (9 receptions, 1 TD) has been having a hard time trying to find a rhythm and has only nine receptions this season. Heyward-Bey, whose first NFL touchdown reception came on November 26 at Dallas, will be facing a team he watched during his college days at Maryland. Fellow rookie receiver Louis Murphy (23 receptions) leads the team with four touchdown catches and is coming off a breakout performance in Pittsburgh, where he racked up 128 yards and two scores on four grabs. Tight end Zach Miller (43 receptions, 2 TD) leads the Raiders in receiving yards (611) and receptions.
Surprisingly, the Redskins have one of the best pass defenses in the league and will be ready for Miller, Murphy and Heyward-Bey. This unit has shut down some of the best receivers in the league, and the team is expecting it to be no different this week in Oakland. Cornerback and former Raider DeAngelo Hall (43 tackles, 4 INT) is expected to return to action after missing two straight games because of a knee injury. Hall leads the team with four picks this season, while fellow cornerback Justin Tryon (21 tackles, 1 INT) is hoping he can return to the field Sunday. Tryon joined Hall on the sidelines for the New Orleans loss due to a hip problem. Washington, which is limiting opponents to 190.2 passing yards a game this season, has been getting its money's worth out of safeties Reed Doughty (76 tackles, 1 sack) and LaRon Landry (68 tackles, 1 sack). Landry is coming off one of his best games of the season, as he registered a game-high 12 stops, three passes defensed and a sack against the Saints.
While the Raiders have the worst passing offense in the league and are near the bottom in total yards and points scored, their ground attack is somewhat respectable. Oakland is 20th in rushing offense this season behind the backfield stable of Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Fargas (462 rushing yards, 2 TD) has been the best Cable has running for him and is coming off back-to-back games with 63 rushing yards. He hasn't scored in three straight weeks, but is averaging 4.7 yards per carry in 2009. With or without injuries, McFadden hasn't flashed the same skills from his college days in Arkansas. The lean back has no more than 25 yards rushing in each of his last four games. Let's see how the Raiders do Sunday against two of the biggest tackles in the game.
If Oakland has any plans on punching the football in from inside the 20-yard line on Sunday, it better plan carefully, since Washington leads the NFL in red zone efficiency after allowing opponents only eight touchdowns in 29 trips. The Redskins stopped the Saints four times in the red zone, yielding four field goals, and held the Eagles to three field goals two weeks ago. Washington's defense is also tops in the league in fourth-down efficiency. The Raiders will have a hard time running against the likes of stuffers Albert Haynesworth (29 tackles, 3 sacks) and Cornelius Griffin (26 tackles, 2 sacks). If Fargas and the other backs can get past the front line, middle linebacker and leading tackler London Fletcher (109 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) will be waiting. Outside linebackers Rocky McIntosh (66 tackles, 1 INT) and Brian Orakpo (40 tackles, 7 sacks) have the speed to chase down opposing running backs and are also good blitzers. Orakpo is second on the team in sacks with seven, while defensive end Andre Carter (50 tackles, 9 sacks) leads the pack with nine. Orakpo is tied for first among rookies in sacks, while Carter owns eight in the past eight contests.
Both quarterbacks in this matchup have a great chance of racking up points as most leagues are starting their playoffs this week. Campbell has been great for owners the past few games, while the same holds true for Gradkowski. Gradkowski, though, may take a step back after perhaps unloading all of his bullets in front of family and friends at Pittsburgh. If one of these signal- callers is going to have a productive day, that means a receiver will as well. Make sure Moss and Thomas are in the lineup, because they're Campbell's best targets right now. Davis is an option, but not a reliable one. Don't gamble on Cartwright or Ganther this week either. Murphy and Heyward-Bey are respectable options if an owner needs about seven-to-eight points from either one. Don't start either one of the defenses, while Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski is a healthy choice for Week 14 since Washington is tough inside the 20.
Sunday's matchup between the Redskins and Raiders won't shatter the Nielsen television ratings, but will produce enough popularity around the league. Both teams have been playing better than their respective records have shown, with the Redskins having more momentum on their side thanks to recent play against three of the better franchises in the NFL. This could be one of Zorn's last games at the helm in D.C., so a win is obviously needed to keep his job status stable. But in this "what have you done for me lately?" NFL world, Zorn could be on his way out regardless of Sunday's outcome or what Washington does the remainder of the season. That would be a tough pill to swallow for Zorn, who will still be waiting for the guillotine to drop even after the Redskins leave the Bay Area with a double-digit victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 23, Raiders 10
12/10 19:26:46 ET