Earlier this week, first-year Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson made the kind of bold statement Al Davis would appreciate and approve of.
With the death of the iconic owner, those words have an added poignancy heading into Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
On Monday, Jackson said his Raiders (2-2) would win the AFC West, trying to keep his team confident as they bounce back from a 31-19 defeat to the New England Patriots. Despite the loss, Oakland’s improved play and Jackson’s personality have shown expectations have been raised.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get in the playoffs and go challenge for a Super Bowl. I am not backing down from that,” Jackson said.
It may be wishful thinking for a team which hasn’t won more than eight games since going 11-5 in 2002 - the franchise’s last Super Bowl appearance - but the Raiders seem to be buying into that goal.
“We just finished the first quarter of the season,” cornerback Stanford Routt(notes) said. “We’ve got 12 more. All the challenges from here on out, they’re just going to get bigger and they’re going to get more important.”
This week’s challenge may be more emotional following the passing of the 82-year-old Davis on Saturday at his home in Oakland. The NFL’s most original owner, Davis instilled a unique culture in the Raiders, the “Just Win Baby” mantra that Jackson appears to have channeled early in his tenure.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to sit and talk football, the X’s and O’s and what it takes to win in this league consistently on a consistent basis, and there’s nothing like working for coach Davis,” Jackson said.
Johnson injured his right hamstring in last week’s 17-10 win over defending AFC champion Pittsburgh. He had a minor procedure done Wednesday, and coach Gary Kubiak said Johnson will miss “a period of time.”
“We’re probably going to get played a little differently,” Kubiak said. “When Andre’s on your team, everybody tries to take him away.
“We can’t replace Andre. We’ve got to, as a group, try to replace all the production that he adds on the field. That means everybody’s got to pick it up, and we’ll have a chance to prove it.”
Luckily for the Texans, they’ll be facing the Raiders’ 29th-ranked defense which allows 409.8 yards and 28.3 points per game.
Arian Foster(notes), who rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown in a 31-24 win over Oakland on Oct. 3, 2010, seems fully recovered from a hamstring injury after carrying 30 times for 155 yards and a score last week.
“We’ve always leaned on him pretty good,” Kubiak said of Foster. “When we run the football 30-35 times in a game, we’re usually playing pretty good football as a team. I like to think we can do that every week.”
Without Johnson, Matt Schaub(notes) - sixth in the league with a 101.7 passer rating - will have to search for other targets. Johnson has caught 25 passes, while tight end Owen Daniels(notes) is second on the team with 14 catches.
“We’re going to have to have some guys step up and play well,” Kubiak said.
The Raiders have some of their own offensive issues to work out.
Oakland gained a season-high 504 yards against New England, though Jason Campbell(notes) threw two interceptions to snuff out potential scoring drives which resulted in the Raiders scoring a season-low for points.
Darren McFadden(notes) was held out of the end zone and gained 75 yards on the ground, though 41 of them came on one run. In three games against Houston, McFadden has rushed 30 times for 91 yards and no touchdowns.
The Raiders rank eighth averaging 410.8 total yards, while the Texans are fourth in the league allowing 17.5 points per game.
“We know we can be a legit and an elite offense in this league,” Campbell said. “We’ve done it. Not just one week here and there. We’ve done it week in and week out. … We definitely feel like we have the ability and we have what it takes to get to the next level.”
The Texans have won five of the six all-time meetings, taking both matchups in Houston by an average of 18.0 points.