Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. On Sunday, the Ravens play the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium. Thanks to Jerry McDonald, the Raiders beat writer for the Oakland Tribune and the Bay Area Newspaper Group, for giving us the lowdown this week.
MV: I'm not sure how much our readers pay attention to what's going on out in Oakland, but with a new coach, a new general manager, and the late, great Al Davis rocking a white sweat suit up in heaven, how is the Raiders organization different than it was a couple of years ago?
JM: Dramatically different. As in normal. There's a general manager (Reggie McKenzie) who is in charge, who works closely with the head coach (Dennis Allen). McKenzie has the final say on personnel decisions. Allen handles everything on the field. Mark Davis, Al's son, is the “owner,” but he said from the outset it was McKenzie's show. Players who were Al Davis favorites have been cut. Al's preferred defensive schemes (four-man rush, man-to-man defense, minimal blitzing) are long gone. Attempts have been made to cultivate a relationship with the media. All are big changes.
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MV: Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran all over the Raiders last weekend. What happened, and how much concern is there that Ravens running back Ray Rice, a two-time Pro Bowler, will be able to do the same Sunday?
JM: A big concern, I would think. I would expect the Raiders to be much better this week, although even if they hold Rice to half the yardage Martin got (251) it would be a big problem. Adjusting to new schemes, the Raiders have alternately been bad against both the run (Reggie Bush) and pass (Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger). They've also looked pretty good against both against one good team (Atlanta) and two very bad ones (Jacksonville, Kansas City).
MV: Carson Palmer was a pain in Baltimore's you-know-what when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. He has been with the Raiders for a little over a year now and appears to be settling in. How do you think he has played this season and what is the offense's ceiling with him under center?
JM: Palmer could end up setting a Raiders passing yardage record this season, but that was never the plan. The hope was they'd be one of the top rushing teams in the NFL, instead they're one of the worst. The Raiders’ 3-5 record is not impressive, but without Palmer, one of several quarterbacks they've had since Rich Gannon, they'd be 0-8. He makes one throw per game that makes you scratch your head, but has been very good at bringing the Raiders from behind in the fourth quarter.
MV: I know it's early in the week, but do you expect Darren McFadden to play Sunday after suffering an ankle injury against the Buccaneers? And who carries the ball if he and Mike Goodson are sidelined?
JM: Based on McFadden's injury history and the diagnosis of a “high” ankle sprain, my guess would be no, he won't play. If he's on the field practicing in some form Wednesday, I'll be convinced otherwise. Goodson also has a “high” ankle sprain. Those are usually a two-to-three-week proposition, it seems. It was interesting the Raiders didn't work out any running backs Tuesday. It could mean they might use Taiwan Jones, a speedster whose ball-security is a concern, or athletic fullback Marcel Reece, whose primary strength is as a receiver out of the backfield.
MV: From afar, it appears the Raiders defense is in the middle of an overhaul with some younger players getting phased in alongside veterans like Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. Is that the case? And which young defenders should we -- and better yet the Ravens -- keep an eye on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium?
JM: Seymour and Kelly are mainstays, yes, but their play hasn't always been dominant. Can be at times, but certainly not often enough. Two newcomers have energized the Raiders defense when it plays well. Strongside linebacker Philip Wheeler, a Cover 2 linebacker with the Colts, has been a solid player and at times a very good player. He's blitzing more than he ever did with the Colts and makes plays all over the field. Fourth-round pick Miles Burris has also become a fulltime player and lends energy and enthusiasm. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain plays only in base (4-3) defense and was replaced by Burris in the nickel, with Wheeler becoming the defensive play-caller.