On Sunday, the New England Patriots (8-5) and Randy Moss visit the Oakland Raiders (3-10). Last time both of these teams met, it was the opening game of the 2005 season, and Moss was making a splash in his debut in Silver & Black with a 5 reception for 130 yard and 1 touchdown performance.
That type of output was rarely seen again in Oakland, as Moss became public enemy number one for fans after his uneventful two campaigns by the Bay in which he sulked and was all but forgotten in the landscape of NFL receivers.
Since, Moss has rejuvenated his career and propelled himself back into the limelight with 159 catches for 2,334 yards and 31 touchdowns in 29 games with the Patriots. “It kind of hurt him, while he was here, to see some of the things that were going on, and you would see maybe a lack of production from him,” Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “But he was frustrated, and everybody deals with their frustration in different ways. I’m not shocked at all that he’s been able to do what he’s done.”
At this point, there isn’t much to talk about on offense. The offensive line – especially both tackle spots – has been horrid. The once promising ground game is now inconsistent. JaMarcus Russell has one reliable target, and with the play of both tackles, they made need him to stay in and block on the edges to keep their young passer healthy.
Tight end Zach Miller leads the team in receptions (45) and receiving yards (614). In his second year, he appears to be one of the few keepers that will help this putrid aerial attack in the future. Bill Belichick praised Miller this week when he likened him to Antonio Gates because of his offensive capabilities, stating, “It just seems like he’s always open.”
What to Expect:
Finally, the line has been shaken up. Mario Henderson, who was deserving of a look at left tackle weeks ago, will start in place of the maligned Kwame Harris. Also of importance may be the return of center Jake Grove. The opening day starter has been out of action for four games with a calf injury, and in recent weeks, his replacement John Wade has not been as effective, which has slowed the production of the running game.
Russell was held out of some action in practice this week after sustaining an ankle injury last Thursday versus the Chargers. But all signs point to him being out there versus New England.
With a lot of attention being paid to Miller, Oakland needs to find a way to expose the Patriots linebackers with screens to Darren McFadden. Shorter routes and causing confusion along the depleted front-seven of New England should be in order for the Raiders.
Nnamdi Asomugha versus Randy Moss all day. That’s what every Raider fan would love to see.
Asomugha has been up for every challenge this year, and after allowing a long pass reception in the game versus the Chargers last week and being flagged for pass interference on the same play, the Pro Bowl bound cornerback will cherish his match-ups against his former teammate. And he remembers most of what Moss told him about being a cornerback in the NFL, which he will implement on Sunday.
“He would help me out with different ways to play coverages that receivers hate to go against, just different nuances that can get under a receiver’s skin,” said Asomugha. “I’ve always kept those things in my pocket and have been grateful to him for that.”
What to Expect:
The Raider secondary will get tested all over the field on Sunday. Moss can get down the field with the best of them and Wes Welker can rip up coverages underneath with his precise route running and toughness. Chris Johnson has to rebound from his poorest effort versus the Chargers and both safeties have to be ready to lay big hits and help as needed when Moss gets vertical. How Rob Ryan mixes up his blitzes will be key to disrupt the flow of the offense.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Matt Cassell returned to practice on Thursday after missing Wednesday’s session following his father’s death.
On Wednesday, Belichick stated, “Our thoughts are with him and his family during this time,” as there were no indications regarding his return to the team. “Right now we’re just taking it day to day. He’s going to take care of what he has to do.”
With the logjam atop the AFC East and Cassell’s return to the practice field, all signs point to him starting. If not, the Patriots could turn to Kevin O’Connell, with Matt Gutierrez being only other passer on the roster.
What to Expect:
Regardless of who’s under center, the Patriots will try to re-establish a ground presence against the Raiders 30th ranked rush defense. Sammy Morris has averaged only 9 carries for 38 yards per game over their last three contests. Expect those numbers to go up this weekend as well as the number of touches that Kevin Faulk will get. Former Raider LaMont Jordan rushed for 18 yards on 4 carries last weekend but fumbled as he has seen limited action in 2008. Any positives out Jordan and/or a big game from Moss will just add more salt to the Raiders wounds.
This unit has been decimated by injuries. Linebackers Adalius Thomas, Tedy Bruschi and Pierre Woods have been banged up, forcing New England to bring back Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau – both who were out of football this season.
A leader in that secondary and hard hitter Rodney Harrison has been on injured reserve, and two cogs along that line, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork are questionable for this weekend.
Belichick commented in his weekly briefing, “Last week, we had some players like Junior (Seau) and (Roosevelt) Colvin and Le Kevin Smith, Mike Wright, Lewis Sanders, Antwain Spann, guys like that probably weren’t expecting to play as much as they did. We had some guys go down in the game and they jumped in there and did a good job so, but that’s what a team is about. Everybody’s always got to be ready to do their job because you never know when you number is going to be called to play one play or play 50 plays. Whatever that is, we need to everybody to step up at this time of the year. It’s a one-game season against Oakland and we don’t care about last week and we will worry about next week next week.”
What to Expect:
The Raiders don’t scare anyone on offense. And Belichick’s defenses can confuse and make any quarterback look bad, especially a young one like Russell. If New England doesn’t allow the big plays down the field and tackle well, it will be hard for the Raiders to sustain drives and move the ball down the field. New England is worried about the Raiders ground game and how they will utilize McFadden. If they control that, then not much else can hurt them.
- Oakland leads the regular season series 14-13-1. Last time they met, the Patriots prevailed 30-20 at Gillette Stadium during the nationally televised Thursday night opener.
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will attend the game.
- OL Robert Felton was added to the practice squad. CB Michael Waddell was waived on Tuesday.
- LB Ricky Brown will be out this week (groin).
- Harris benching was long overdue, as he leads the NFL with 15 penalties.
- The Patriots have won nine consecutive games in December and are 21-2 in the month since 2003.
- A loss this weekend, and the Raiders will become the league’s first team with six straight 11 loss seasons.
Wes Welker and Randy Moss vs. Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson
Welker is shifty, precise in his route running and tough. Moss is a flashy big play threat. Asomugha is tough as nails and clever. Johnson has speed and can make plays on the football. The mixing and matching of these confrontations will make for good viewing.
Richard Seymour vs. Mario Henderson
A good showing by Henderson will have Raider fans scratching their heads to as why it took so long to get him back on the field after solid starts when he replaced Harris due to injury.
Patriots 24 – Raiders 13
TV & RADIO
The game will be televised on CBS with Kevin Harlan providing play-by-play and former Raiders QB Rich Gannon handling color analysis. If sold out per NFL blackout rules, the game will air locally on KPIX Channel 5. The game will also air in Sacramento on KOVR Channel 13 as well as on KHSL in Chico, KION in Monterey and KJEO in Fresno. The game will air on Raiders Radio originating on KSFO 560 AM, the Silver and Black Flagship for the multi-state Radio Network. Greg Papa and former Raiders player, assistant and head coach Tom Flores will man the booth for the 12th straight year. The radio pregame show and postgame show will feature Raider Legends George Atkinson and David Humm along with KGO’s Rich Walcoff. (Broadcast information cited from official Raiders Web Site)
Home Team: Oakland Raiders (3-10) Home: 1-5 Road: 2-5
Road Team: New England Patriots (8-5) Home: 4-3 Road: 4-2
When and Where: Sunday, December 14, 2008, 1:15 p.m. PT | Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA