By Sam McPherson
The 2014 Oakland Raiders have a win, and with that out of the way, they can now concentrate on just …winning.
It may seem odd, but it’s the truth—things tend to flow in the NFL, and a victory can mean a lot of positive things for even the worst of teams. And the Silver & Black still are at the bottom of the NFL food chain, even after their big win over the Kansas City Chiefs at home last Thursday.
Now, it’s on to St. Louis to face the Rams, the one-time, crosstown foe of the Raiders franchise when both teams played in Los Angeles. If Oakland wants to keep it going, the team will need to be rested and ready for what their next opponent brings to the table.
The Rams are 4-7 this year, but they’re much better than that record indicates. Head Coach Jeff Fisher is one of the best in the game, and he gets the most out of his talent almost every week. St. Louis has wins over playoff-caliber teams Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, and the Rams barely lost to Dallas, Philadelphia and San Diego. They can play with anyone.
However, they have turned in some stinkers this year: St. Louis lost by 28 points to Minnesota in Week One. In addition to the those four losses, the Rams also lost to the 49ers, the Chiefs and the Cardinals by healthy margins of 14 points or more.
That is one tough schedule, actually: This team has played with the best in the league in its first 11 games, but they’ve been competitive in a lot of them. The Raiders can’t quite say the same, but Oakland also has played its share of close ones against good teams in 2014.
Rams on Offense
After losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford—again—to injury before the season even started, St. Louis has been using substandard guys at the position all season. Journeyman Shaun Hill started in Week One before the Rams then went to third-year QB Austin Davis for the next eight games, and he posted an 85.1 QB rating with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
But the team went back to Hill recently, and he led the team to that big upset of the Broncos and Peyton Manning a few weeks ago at home. However, Hill is limited in his skill set: Davis has more potential, and the Rams really should be sticking with the younger guy at this point. Both QBs could see time against the Raiders defense.
St. Louis has three solid running backs to share the rock: rookie Tre Mason (108 carries, 445 yards), second-year RB Zac Stacy (66, 257) and sophomore Benny Cunningham (54, 210 and three TDs). Likewise, they have a trio of reliable receivers for either QB to throw to: tight end Jared Cook (37 catches, 473 yards), wide receiver Kenny Britt (27, 477) and Cunningham (28, 225).
Rams on Defense
The Rams have three tackling machines on the defensive side: outside linebacker Alec Ogletree (75 tackles, two INTs), strong safety T.J. McDonald (70 tackles, one sack) and middle linebacker James Laurinaitus (73 tackles, two sacks). Good luck avoiding this trio if you’re the Raiders on offense.
Defensive end Robert Quinn leads the team with six sacks, while defensive tackle Aaron Donald has added five QB drops. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is tied with Ogletree for the team lead in interceptions.
St. Louis is only 19th in overall defense this year, but somehow they’re getting the job done. When you hold the Broncos to just seven points, you’re a team to be taken seriously on defense.
Rams Players to Watch
On offense, Cunningham is kind of the do-it-all back for the Rams, and if he gets a lot of touches, that won’t bode well for the Oakland defense and its ability to stay off the field. The Rams would be better off starting Davis against the Raiders secondary, but either way, the Oakland defense needs to stuff the Rams running game and force St. Louis to throw the ball.
Defensively, the Rams give up yards, but they have a lot of talent out there to shut down even the best offenses, obviously. St. Louis, too, will focus on shutting down the running game, and the Rams want to dare Derek Carr to beat them—especially if Latavius Murray isn’t recovered yet from his concussion suffered against the Chiefs last week.
We can’t get too carried away with the Raiders’ first win, as a lot of things went right for the team that probably won’t repeat themselves. And the Rams are a good team—especially at home. They lost to Dallas by three at the Edward Jones Dome, and they beat Denver and Seattle there, too.
The Rams lost a heartbreaker to the Chargers on Sunday to all but eliminate them from the NFC playoff chase, and the Raiders will have some extra rest and momentum. But St. Louis still is a better team—and better coached, too—and Oakland needs to prove they can win on the road, which they haven’t done since November 2013.
Expect the Silver & Black to lose by a touchdown or less—again.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.