By Dan Durkin-
A weekly glimpse at the Bears’ upcoming opponent. This week: Oakland.
(CBS) The 2011 Oakland Raiders have endured a lot of adversity. They’ve lost their owner, their starting quarterback, their star running back, and yet, they find themselves atop of the AFC West. Buoyed by a bruising rushing attack, the Raiders have an opportunity to seize control of an awful division and make their first playoff appearance since 2002.
Former starting quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6 against Cleveland. 4-2 at the time and facing the possibility of turning the season over to Kyle Boller, the Raiders pursued another option.
Around the same time that Campbell broke his collarbone, billboard-buying Broncos fans successfully bullied Broncos head Coach John Fox into starting Tim Tebow at quarterback. I expected the Raiders to make a call to their division rival to find out the cost to pry away benched quarterback Kyle Orton. The Raiders thought bigger.
They put together an offer Cincinnati couldn’t refuse – a 2012 first-round pick and a conditional 2013 second-round pick that could become a first if the Raiders make the AFC title this year or next – and Carson Palmer became a Raider. Palmer and Raiders head Coach Hue Jackson share a history dating back to Palmer’s true freshman year at USC in 1998. Jackson was Palmer’s offensive coordinator for three seasons, and also his quarterback coach in 2000.
Palmer had been mired in a stalemate with the Cincinnati Bengals and had not made a start since a January 2nd loss to the Ravens. Rather than forcing Palmer immediately back into the starting lineup, Jackson chose to start Boller against the Chiefs at home. Boller’s first pass as a starter was a completion, unfortunately to the other team for a pick six. Boller went on to throw 13 more passes, two of which were intercepted.
Much like 1998 at USC, Jackson was forced to turn it over to a green Carson Palmer. Palmer fared no better, throwing three interceptions of his own, one of which was also returned for a pick six. In total, Boller and Palmer turned in one of the worst quarterbacking performances in NFL history, netting 15 completions and 6 interceptions.
Adding insult to injury, star running back Darren McFadden suffered a right foot injury in the game, which has shelved him for the past four weeks. Things were looking grim for the Raiders, who were already under scrutiny what they gave up in the Palmer trade, a trade that Hue Jackson called “the greatest trade in the history of the NFL”.
It got even worse the following week when the Raiders let a Tebow-led Broncos team hang 38 points on them at home. Back-to-back divisional losses at home wasn’t what Raider nation had in mind.
The Raiders have righted the ship since then, reeling off two road wins against the Chargers and Vikings, and Palmer seems to be playing with more confidence. Bowling-ball running back Michael Bush is starting-caliber and has no less than 96 yards in his three starts. Seeing that the Bears have historically been vulnerable to runs straight up the middle of their defense, Bush’s straight-ahead running-style poses a challenge.
On the edge, the Raiders have speed to burn in receivers Darrius Heyward-Bay, Denarius Moore, and Jacoby Ford. Ford is also a dynamic return specialist for the Raiders, but was held out of Week 11 with a foot sprain. At the moment, there’s no word on his availability for Week 12. Palmer has been able to work the ball to all three receivers, so the Bears must be technique sound, as the possibility of a shot over the top of the defense always exists against the Raiders.
Defensively, the Raiders are very stout on the defensive line. Veteran defensive tackle Richard Seymour is the anchor, but Tommy Kelly and rush specialist Kamerion Wimbley have also put a lot of heat on opposing passers. With Caleb Hanie set to make his first NFL start, you can count on the Raiders using a lot of pressure packages to see how Hanie responds.
The back-seven has a few play-makers as well, in linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Tyvon Branch. However, the Raiders aren’t a very opportunistic defense, and teams have had success passing and running the ball against them this season. If the Bears are unable to have success against the Raiders 25th ranked run defense, it will be a long day in Oakland.
Next to the Bears, the Raiders may have the best tandem of specialists in the NFL with power legged punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski also known as the “Polish Powderkeg”. Lechler is without question the best punter in the NFL, so it will be interesting to see if the Raiders directional punt with Lechler, or turn him loose. Lechler may want to challenge Devin Hester, but we’ve seen how that’s worked out for teams on numerous occasions. Janikowski has been dealing with a bum hamstring, which has affected his range. This will be a close game, so Janikowski’s range – or lack thereof – may prove to be a factor.
As well as the Raiders have played on the road the past two weeks, this is a team that was embarrassed at home by Tebow and the Broncos just three weeks ago. It’s hard to know what to expect from the Bears in their first game without star quarterback Jay Cutler, so the Raiders do have the edge. Either way, it will be played very close to the vest by both teams, and whichever team is able to minimize turnovers will come out victorious.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.