The Raiders have been banged up all season long. It probably seems like they haven’t managed to field an entire starting unit. It would seem that way because it is true. But come Sunday, the Raiders will be fielding as close to the team they intended since the first game of the season.
This may not seem to be the case considering the fact that it looks like Darren McFadden will not be taking the field yet again. He has been out since week seven with a mid-foot sprain. In fact, he went out the same time Jason Campbell was lost for the season which means that Carson Palmer has yet to play a single snap with him.
But even without McFadden in the lineup, the Raiders will still be as healthy as they have been all season long. The key newly returning players are wide receiver Jacoby Ford, running back Taiwan Jones, and safety Michael Huff.
Ford has been out since week ten and Jones went down a week later. The two of them should prove quite valuable to the offense. Ford completes the receiving corps that just recently had tight end David Ausberry listed as a wide receiver due to the lack of healthy players. Ford himself has played in just seven games this season.
Taiwan Jones looked to be back last week against the Chiefs. He practiced all week and intended to play, but during pregame warm-ups he was deemed not ready and was made inactive for the game. He was supposed to be the change of pace back to replace Darren McFadden but unfortunately Jones was healthy for just three games before he joined McFadden on the injured list.
Huff has been healthy much of the season but has missed the last two games. He was replaced by Matt Giordano who has done quite well. However, the issue with Huff being unavailable is that Mike Mitchell and Jerome Boyd see more playing time. Both are a liability in pass coverage and opposing offenses feast upon the bountiful open space their receivers are able to run through. Best case scenario is for Huff and Giordano to both be available especially against Philip Rivers and the Charger offense.
With these players returning to the lineup, there are only two intended starters who will not be available—Darren McFadden and Matt Shaughnessy. Sure, if you want to get technical you could add Jason Campbell and Chris Johnson. But Campbell has been replaced by Carson Palmer and would not start even if he were healthy. Though Chris Johnson’s absence is not injury related, he may not have been the starter either. Lito Sheppard has been the starter since he took over for Demarcus Van Dyke in week nine.
Next week will be a far cry from weeks seven and eight when at various points the Raiders were without their leading rusher, leading receiver, starting quarterback, starting fullback, starting corner, best defensive end, and starting middle linebacker. The result was a 28-0 loss to the Chiefs and a thrashing by Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
It is no coincidence, however, that the following week the Raiders pulled out a win with only their leading rusher and best defensive end out of the lineup. Those are the same two players who are not in the lineup now as the Raiders are set to face the same team they defeated in week ten—the Chargers.
In that game Michael Bush had 157 yards rushing and Taiwan Jones had seven carries of his own for 39 yards. Both averaged over five yards per carry. On the other side, the Chargers’ top running back, Ryan Mathews, was held to just 34 yards on the ground with no rushing touchdowns.
The Raiders were without Huff in that game which contributed to allowing Rivers to throw for 274 yards and two touchdowns. Giordano had one of his four interceptions in that game. With he and Huff both available, Rivers’ life will be made more difficult.
The only other player who will likely be unable to play Sunday is John Henderson who is suffering from a knee injury and missed last week as well. But even if he can’t play, the Raiders’ injury report goes from 16 players with 8 players at questionable or worse last week to just three players not practicing this week.
A great recipe for success is to start with all the ingredients.