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After two weeks, it's still unclear who the Raiders are

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Sept. 19, 2011 @ 1:46 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

After two weeks, who are the Raiders? Some would say they are a physical running team that wears down opponents with a skilled backfield, while others would argue they are a vertical passing team thanks to their group of speedy wide receivers. Defensively, they have shown up as an aggressive unit that uses a ferocious line to manhandle opponents, but also a careless bunch that gives up too many big plays.

Through two games of the 2011 season, the Raiders are all of those things. The team has the ability to throw and run, be physical and lazy, all within 60 minutes of football.

On Sunday in Buffalo, the Raiders were in full display. With 131 yards rushing and 323 yards through the air, the offense seemingly did enough to help the team gain its second consecutive road win. But after a strong first half, a sloppy defensive effort in the final 30 minutes, highlighted by a horrible blown coverage by MLB Rolando McClain on the Bills' final offensive play, resulted in a heartbreaking 38-35 loss.

The PFW Spin

Oakland faced the Broncos in the late Monday-night game in Week One, had a short week, then flew across the country to take on the Bills in Week Two. Yet if the Raiders thought the NFL schedule makers were tough to them with their first two games, just wait until they see what's next.

In the coming two weeks, the team hosts the Jets and the Patriots, then travel in Week Five to face the Texans — three teams who are a combined 6-0 right now and all legit contenders for the AFC title. However, all three upcoming opponents are far from perfect squads, and the Raiders will have a chance to establish themselves as playoff contenders. If there ever was a question of the identity of the 2011 Raiders, the subsequent three Sundays will answer them.

Offensively, the split personalities aren't a huge problem. Because of the versatility of many of their skill-position players and confidence in QB Jason Campbell to make the correct decisions with the ball, the Raiders can be effective on the ground or through the air, even more so when their top receivers return to the lineup from injury. Against the Jets this week, expect the team to try and use New York's aggressiveness in its favor, running a lot of counters and screens in an attempt to get RB Darren McFadden or one of the Raiders' speedy wideouts in the open field. The run-pass balance might end up a 50-50 split, but that's more so because of the situation, not the team's Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality.

The defense is a different issue. Not only were the Raiders continuously beaten by the Buffalo attack in the second half on Sunday — to the tune of five consecutive possessions that resulted in a Bills touchdown — they were beaten by long throws and dump-off passes, up-the-middle runs and wide sweeps, by receivers, running backs and tight ends. And that's with Buffalo having one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Jets and Patriots will be a step up in competition, meaning the Raiders' front four — the key to their man-to-man defense — will need to do better than the three QB hits and zero sacks they registered on Sunday. Give Santonio Holmes time to run down the field or Tom Brady a clean pocket to throw in, and the Raiders have very little chance of emerging with a win.

Through two weeks, the Raiders are a lot of different things. Most importantly, though, they are a .500 club after two road games. With three consecutive games coming up against playoff contenders, including two at home, Oakland will show its fans and the rest of the league its true identity based on its performance in those games.

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