Coming into the season, the week 7 matchup with the Jets looked like one of the winnable games for the Raiders. Then after week three, the outlook for this contest was a dim one for the Raiders. The Raiders were 1-2 and coming off a bad defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos. While the Jets were looking like a surprise contendor after defeating the Titans to stay undefeated. A week 4 loss to the Saints did little to dampen the spirits of the Jets being that the Saints were arguably the best team in the NFL. While the Raiders big loss to the Houston Texans seemed to completely demoralize the team.
The most demoralizing thing about losing the Houston game was that it looked to be one of the few winnable games for the Raiders before they headed into a brutal four game stretch against the Giants, Eagles, Jets, and Chargers. At the week four mark these teams had a collective 12-4 record. The only .500 team in the bunch being the Chargers of whom the Raiders already lost to at home in the opener.
Since that time, some fortunes have changed.
Little did the Jets know, but that win in week three, against a now fully realized horrible team in the Titans, would be their last for a while. They went from 3-0 to 3-3 after three straight losses. Two of which were to division opponents Miami and Buffalo. During which time Mark Sanchez has gone from “The Sanchize” to the rookie we all expected he would be, Braylon Edwards is dropping passes as he was always known for, and one of the Jets’ best players– defensive tackle Kris Jenkins– is out for the season with an injury.
UPDATE: It is confirmed that the Jets will also be without two of their best receivers, Jericho Cotchery and Brad Smith, leaving Braylon Edwards as their only proven receiver. On top of that, they are also without Pro Bowl corner Lito Shepherd which could open of the passing game a little for the Raiders.
Meanwhile, back at headquarters, the Raiders are coming off their best overall performance of the season. A game in which the Raiders defense completely dominated the Eagles. And JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders’ offense also looked better than it has all season.
Adding to the positive feeling in the Raider lockeroom is the fact that OT Khalif Barnes and WR Chaz Schilens are both back from injury and newly re-acquired OT Langston Walker is ready to step in and contribute.
Schilens’ return is possibly the most exciting as he had been the most reliable receiver on this Raider team since the latter part of last season. He was slated as the number one receiver coming out of camp, but went down with a stress fracture in his foot before he was able to step into that role. The passing game has struggled with two rookies who have had trouble catching Russell’s passes.
The question now is which rookie receiver will be sat down to make room from Schilens in the starting lineup? Or will he start at all? He could be eased into the lineup. But either way, it is a huge boost to JaMarcus Russell’s confidence as well as the entire Raider offense to have him back.
Then there is the question of what kind of factor will Khalif Barnes be in this game? Will he take over at left guard as Cable has hinted at? Both Barnes and Cable have said that the former left tackle is not ready to take over at right tackle as he has not practice enough from the right side. Add to that Barnes’ admitted reluctance to step in as the right tackle and it seems even less likely. However, sliding into the left guard spot would be a seemless transition. Robert Gallery did it to much success. And with Gallery out, Barnes would be a more than apt temporary replacement. He certainly would be a step up from Chris Morris.
Langston Walker was signed last week at which point Cable and Walker both said it would take until at least the Jets game for him to acclimate to the Raiders playbook. He would most likely be a step up from Eric Pears at the right tackle position. If not, then he will add nice depth at the position.
With both teams having solid pass defenses and suspect passing offense, we can expect a lot of running from both teams. The main difference will be that while the Raiders have a solid, healthy defensive line with veteran Pro Bowlers Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis on the ends, the Jets lost their Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins and have Bust Vernon Gholston on the end. Advantage: Raiders.
The Raiders and Jets are two teams that are going in different directions right now which, if the stars continue to allign, could lead to one of the better matchups the Raiders have this season.
What remains to be seen is if the Raiders can take those advantages and capitalize on them. And as Shakespeare once wrote: “Ay, there’s the rub.”