NFL Week 5 features a marquee matchup between two hungry playoff contenders, a franchise that just lost its legendary owner Al Davis and two of the top talented running backs in the league today on Sunday, as the 3-1Houston Texans host the 2-2 Oakland Raiders in Reliant Stadium at 1pm EST.

Arian Foster, the 2010 NFL leading rusher, is back healthy for the Texans and reestablished his stellar status with 155 yards and 1 touchdown on 30 carries (5.2 YPC) last week in the win over the Steelers. Darren McFadden, currently the 2011 NFL leading rusher, produced a decent 75-yard performance (5.4 YPC) in the loss to New England and also accumulated 4 receptions for 48 yards through the air.  However, I have an intuition that some other warriors might become the difference in this game.

Al Davis

How will the Raiders perform with the recent jaw-dropping news of the passing of the maverick, rebel, renegade, true innovator and unforgettable team owner?  Sure, he wasn’t a star player that teammates see on a daily basis.  Nonetheless, he was a major part of the organization and the entire league as well for several decades.  It will be very interesting to see how the team handles the loss right away.  Perhaps it will pose as a distraction or produce added inspiration.  This appears to be a play it by ear type of scenario.

Ground Game  

HOU Run Defense: The Texans haven’t exactly been thoroughly tested against the run this season.  While the defense has drastically improved in pass defense (10th in the league) and applies consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the unit has only faced the running game 22 times per game—among the fewest in the league.

Those first four opponents (Indianapolis, Miami, New Orleans and Pittsburgh) averaged five yards per carry and clearly aren’t all the crème de la crème in the league by any means anyway.  The Raiders surly envision a wide opportunity to run wild with McFadden.

Albeit this may not be the yester-year of the Raiders with Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, it possesses a great young group that can strike fear in opponents if they become careless.

Head coach Gary Kubiak is already planning for the worst and refers to the 2-2 Raiders with their star running back as “a totally different challenge that we’ve faced so far.”

As a team, Oakland is averaging almost 180 rushing yards a game, the most in the league.  The Raiders also have nine rushing TDs and no other team have more than five.

OAK Run Defense: On the other side, Oakland’s weakness is defense and the organization ranks 29th against the run and 29th in total defense.  The Raiders are allowing 5.9 YPC on average and looked ugly against the Bills and Patriots.

Head coach Hue Jackson pointed out his team did stop the run fairly well against the Broncos and Jets, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry on 38 attempts and 138 yards.  Facing the likes of the Patriots and Bills, the Raiders surrendered 400 combined rushing yards on 55 carries (7.3 YPC) and this week’s test will be incredibly daunting.

While the Texans are without Andre Johnson, he missed last year’s together as well.  Moreover, Owen Daniels missed the matchup and Arian Foster was out for much of the early action.  Daniels and Foster are both good to go for this game.  Second-year-pro Ben Tate has also shined this season and should have an impact as long as he’s in the lineup (ruled as questionable), along with Derrick Ward (questionable) and Chris Ogbonnaya out of the backfield.

Injuries

Injuries to players like defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (out, shoulder) will not help.  Richard Seymour, the captain of the defense, knows he and the rest of the unit must come out ready right out of the gate.  The Raiders can ill-afford to get caught up in the head games that cost pivotal penalties like last week against New England.

Conclusion  

If the Oakland defense begins the contest very well and contains Foster and Tate and forces quarterback Matt Schaub to air it out, the Raiders have a better shot of winning this game on the road.  The Silver and Black typically struggle in Reliant Stadium.  I don’t envision the team making careless mistakes and devote enough time to control and contain the running game.  Andre Johnson won’t be around to terrorize the Nnamdi-less secondary.

I truly expect a bounce-back week from Jackson’s troops, with the Raiders keeping it close and most likely winning the battle.