The first of three NFL games in London kicks off Sunday 14th October, as the 1-4 Oakland Raiders meet the 2-3 Seattle Seahawks at Wembley Stadium.
While the second coming of Jon Gruden — he was initially Raiders head coach from 1998 to 2001 — has not yet resulted in the smooth revival the fans were hoping for, panic has not set in.
The Sports Gazette spoke with Gruden, Derek Carr and a number of other players on Friday’s media day and instead, there’s an impression of union. Of togetherness. There’s an understanding that Gruden has embarked on a long-term project in Oakland and, as such, it will take time.
The Raiders only arrived in London on Friday afternoon, but Gruden and the players insisted that the pronounced veteran presence on the team would negate any potential jet lag.
Gruden said: “The veterans on this team are here to set the foundation of how we want to play, practice and prepare and how we want to compete.”
In terms of on-field matters, the Raiders’ key issue this season has been their inability to close out games that in which they had chances to win. Before their comeback victory against the Cleveland Browns, they scored three points in the fourth quarter of the three previous games combined.
This, as well as Derek Carr’s early season turnover problem — eight interceptions in five games — makes clear why the Raiders have struggled. On defense, the lack of a pass rush since trading Khalil Mack has defined their season so far, with only six sacks.
“We’ve done some good things on offense,” Gurden explained, “but good is not good enough. We’ve got to be great. We haven’t won a lot of games but we’ve had our opportunities. This team has a way to go, a lot to prove.”
For Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, there was an acknowledgement that they started the regular season poorly.
“We didn’t play well in the first two weeks, but we are in a mode of improvement. Getting back to .500 is important,” Carroll said.
He continued: “The style of play is not important, but everyone buying into that style is key. Having a clear ethos is important for us. We can see where the team is going.”
The style the Seahawks adopted is a familiar one; run the ball, play tough defense. Despite the names not being as recognisable as the legendary ‘Legion of Boom’ — the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor — this is a young and talented group. Led by Bobby Wagner and Frank Clark, this unit currently rank 12th in total defense.
On offense, an emphasis on the run game has paid major dividends in the last two weeks. Despite losing to the Los Angeles Rams, there was a clear improvement, with Chris Carson and Mike Davis running hard and effectively.
The Seahawks offensive line has been much maligned for a number of years, but with growing continuity the group of Duane Brown, Ethan Pocic, Justin Britt, DJ Fluker and Germain Ifedi has begun to impress, particularly showing off their size and power in the run game.
Quarterback Russell Wilson, a key beneficiary of the line’s notable improvement, agreed: “Improvement to the offensive line and the focus on the running game has become the basis of the offense once again.”
London games are difficult to predict, as it is hard to know how the teams will react to the change in environment. Normally the temptation would be to pick the teams that have been to London before — in this case the Raiders.
Fundamentally though, the Seahawks are the better team; they’re in better form and have had more time to acclimatise to London. This all points towards a Seahawks win.
The Seattle Seahawks at the Oakland Raiders kicks off at 18:00 BST on Sky Sports Action.
Featured photograph/Adam Le Roux