By Max Luckan
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to play in tough conditions this Sunday as they travel to the West Coast to take on the Oakland Raiders at the O.co Coliseum, which boasts the famous “Black Hole.” Raiders’ head coach Dennis Allen and Bucs’ head coach Greg Schiano will meet for the first time.
The Raiders (3-4) have wins against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Jacksonville Jaguars this season, but have been blown out by the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos. Sort of like the Bucs, the Raiders have had an up-and-down season thus far, but are only a game back of the AFC West leading Broncos.
Raiders on Offense
Certainly capable of explosive plays, the Raiders offense features running back Darren McFadden, who could be one of the best in the league if he was more consistent. McFadden garnered 114 rushing yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Eight, but his yards per carry average has diminished this season. A big concern, however, is McFadden’s versatility, specifically his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, something the Bucs will definitely have to be weary of. Quarterback Carson Palmer has completed 60.2 percent of his passes this season, and has thrown nine touchdowns. The Raiders’ receivers — Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey – have excellent speed on the outside and can get open downfield in a hurry. While Palmer struggles to find them at times, the threat is definitely there.
Raiders on Defense
Currently, the Raiders’ defense is ranked at 20th in the NFL, which is 11 spots higher than the Bucs’ defense. The Raiders give up 26.7 points per game, but that mainly stems from the 35 points given up to the Dolphins, and the 37 given up to the Broncos. The main threat derives from the defensive line, where Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are two of the better interior linemen in the game. With the Bucs struggling with injuries on the offensive line, the key will be how they contain Seymour and Kelly, and also Matt Shaughnessy rushing off the edge.
The linebacker corps, led by MLB Rolando McClain out of Alabama, who has racked up 36 tackles so far this year, has struggled at times. While McClain is the general of the defense and the main focus, LB Philip Wheeler has played well recently, recording a sack in the game against the Chiefs.
In the secondary, Tyvon Branch has steadily improved into one of the top strong safeties in the game. ProFootballFocus.com gave Branch a +4.3 grade in the game against the Chiefs. Branch has the ability to come up and stop the run, but is also good at breaking up passes in coverage.
Raiders Players to Watch
Darren McFadden: Even though McFadden hasn’t been nearly as consistent this year as he’s been in the past, he still possesses the ability to break off a big run at any time, and can catch passes out of the backfield. McFadden is hard to tackle in the open field and a significant threat at all times.
Denarius Moore: Moore has become a prototypical Raiders’ wide receiver because of his great speed and home run capability. Averaging 16.1 yards per catch this year, Moore already has four touchdowns and needs to be watched on the outside against a banged up Bucs’ secondary.
The Raiders should be taken seriously, especially since the game is at home for them. The Bucs are 0-5 all-time when playing in Oakland, and don’t fare particularly well when it comes to West Coast games. Head coach Greg Schiano said he will keep the normal routine going, but the Raiders will be a challenge for the Bucs this Sunday, especially because they are dealing with multiple injuries right now.
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Max Luckan is a freelance writer covering all things Tampa. His work can be found on Examiner.com.