Jaguars, Raiders meet with both needing wins
The Oakland Raiders showed improvement on both sides of the ball last week, but they still couldn't get back into the win column after their bye.
The Jacksonville Jaguars can't fare much worse as they return to the field.
Oakland tries to build on a near-upset of the NFL's lone unbeaten team Sunday when it hosts a Jaguars team that's had plenty of time to stew over one of the worst losses in franchise history.
Coming off a 37-6 loss at Denver on Sept. 30 that quarterback Carson Palmer called a "good, old-fashioned butt-whupping," the Raiders (1-4) rolled up season highs with 474 total yards and 149 yards rushing while picking off their first three passes of the season in last Sunday's 23-20 loss at Atlanta.
Palmer responded from throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown with 2:40 left by leading an 80-yard drive that Darren McFadden capped off with a 2-yard scoring run, but Oakland lost again as Matt Bryant nailed a 55-yard field goal with one second left.
"We've got to learn how to finish and win those types of games," first-year coach Dennis Allen said. "That's what our job is. This is a production business. It's about winning and losing, and we weren't able to get it done yesterday."
Like the Raiders last week, the Jaguars (1-4) get back to work following a blowout loss.
"I think the answers are in this building," said coach Mike Mularkey, whose team lost 41-3 to Chicago on Oct. 7. "I think they are in that locker room. They are in that staff room back there. They're in the meeting rooms, on the practice fields, during our preparation. I think the answers are all here, and we've just got a find a way to get those to transfer over to games so we can play complete games and play like we're capable of playing."
The Jaguars, though, do not have a good formula for winning. Behind second-year signal-caller Blaine Gabbert, they are last in the league in total offense (241.2 yards per game), passing (142.8 ypg) and scoring (13.0 ppg). They're also tied for the fewest rushing touchdowns in the NFL with one.
The story isn't much better on the defensive side as Jacksonville is allowing 27.6 points per game - 25th in the league - and has a NFL-low three sacks, something it'll hope the possible return of linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) can rectify.
"It's been the same thing for five years," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "Obviously, we're not working hard enough. I don't know. We're just not playing well right now. We have to figure something out. No one here is going to save us."
The Raiders have just four sacks this season, but the potential return of linebacker Aaron Curry could help against a Jaguars team that's surrendered nine sacks in the last two games. Curry, the fourth overall pick by Seattle in 2009, is expected to come off the PUP list and practice this week following offseason knee surgery, but it's far from certain he'll be ready to play Sunday.
"We're going to get him out there and let him run around, see where he's at and begin the evaluation process to figure out if and when he's going to be available on the roster," Allen said.
Allen said he was pleased with how rookie linebacker Miles Burris performed in nickel coverage last week against Matt Ryan and the Falcons' talented receivers, but it's uncertain how often the Raiders will line up with an extra defensive back Sunday. Gabbert has completed just eight passes that have gone at least 20 yards, and his wideouts haven't helped. Jacksonville's receivers have dropped 12.8 percent of catchable passes, the worst rate in the league.
Oakland's defense is the NFL's worst on third down, getting off the field just 50.7 percent of the time, but at 31.3 percent offensively in third-down situations, Jacksonville is sixth-worst.
Slowing down Jones-Drew could be a challenge - his 4.9 yards per carry is the second-best rate of his career - but the Raiders' run defense met the test last week, limiting the Falcons to 45 yards on 15 carries.
Jones-Drew ran for 101 yards and a TD the last time these teams met, a 38-31 Jaguars home win Dec. 12, 2010, that was their fourth straight in the series since 1997.
McFadden, who scored three TDs and set a career high with 209 scrimmage yards in that contest, is running for a career-worst 3.2 yards per carry. He has both of the Raiders' rushing scores.