Sunday, September 21, 2014

Patriots defense primed to take advantage of aging Raiders' line, rushing attack

If after two games, the top rusher on your team is the quarterback, it should conjure up two different scenarios - neither of them good.

First, it means that you simply have no running game and, second, it means that your quarterback is running for his life - and it is fair to state that this team is probably going to be at or near the bottom of the NFL statistically on offense, and also probably means that they have a losing record.

The Oakland Raiders are such a team, and the stereotype fits like a glove.  But it's not all bad, and if the New England Patriots aren't careful, their defense could fall victim to a curious malady commonly known as "Sandbagger Syndrome".
Jones and the rest of the Patriots defensive line should have a field day

Despite the presence of veteran runners Darren McFadden and newcomer Maurice Jones-Drew, the Raiders are dead last in rushing through two games running behind a retooled offensive line that thus far have been just plain offensive.

How bad has it been?  Rookie quarterback Derek Carr leads Oakland in rushing with 57 yards, topping McFadden (52 yards) and Jones-Drew (11 yards) - and while Carr's yardage has come on only five carries, it is important to note that 41 of those yards came on a scramble against a surprisingly porous Houston Texans' run defense.

McFadden's 3.3 yards per carry is serviceable if the team can ever get enough of a lead to be able to run the ball effectively, but Jones-Drew's horrible 1.2 yards per carry is made even more abysmal when considering that ten of his 11 yards came on one run, the other lone yard on eight carries indicating that he may have lost his edge when he can't bulldoze his way to a single yard per carry.

But it is stats like these that bring the word "sandbaggers" to life.

The term sandbagger is generally exclusive to golfers who cheat the handicap system by playing worse than they really are in match play in order to raise their advantage in tournament play - and while no one is suggesting that the Raiders would be sandbagging purposely, it could very well be that their rushing numbers simply indicate a really bad offensive scheme that could start to perform better as time goes on.

That said, is Sunday's contest against the Patriots in New England's home opener that time?

Doubtful, but even if the Raiders' offense begins to find some cohesion, a mixture of a Patriots' run defense and a forecast calling for rain could doom any hopes Oakland had to jump start an offense that has relied on their passing game almost exclusively to this point...

...which we know isn't an option given that the Patriots' represent the fourth-ranked passing defense in the league - which is neither here nor there this early in the campaign, but given the strength of the New England secondary and their renewed emphasis on the pass rush, Carr may find it difficult to get anything going at all without a running game to give life to the play action.

So there is some pressure to be felt by the Patriots' front seven, as they certainly don't want to give life to Carr and an offense that is struggling mightily.

Some figure that head ball coach Bill Belichick would authorize some movement along the defensive line to get favorable matchups in the pass rush, such as flip-flopping reigning Defensive Player of the Week Chandler Jones from right to left to take advantage of greybeard Khalif Barnes' regressing skill set and also to make up for the probability that linebacker Jamie Collins will likely be inactive...

...but the smart money has Jones staying put as an end of the line rusher, possibly moving to a five tech on passing downs to matchup with rookie left guard Gabe Jackson - but this matchup also could go in the direction of getting a rookie-on-rookie look between Jackson and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, which could open up a virtual plethora of possibilities on the edge.

In the passing game, New England has the decided advantage, with names like Revis, Arrington and Ryan covering Raiders' receivers James Jones, Rod Streater and Denarius Moore - but one area that the Raiders could have a glimmer of hope is in the size of depth receiver Andre Holmes and move tight end Mychal Rivera.

Holmes is a huge target a 6' 4" and plays the possession receiver on intermediate routes and in the red zone, while Rivera is a threat down the seam at 6' 3" and 245 pounds.  Both had decent seasons in 2013 and have tremendous upside, and with Collins possibly being out in favor of rookie linebacker Deontea Skinner, Rivera could be the most dangerous pass catcher on the field.

Belichick could do well to find a way to protect Skinner, if needed, which may mean more of a three man look on the line - but that is an extreme considering that he could simply switch to a nickle or dime and use a double slot with Arrington and Ryan, leaving Malcolm Butler or Alfonzo Dennard (if active) to deal with the outside stuff.

Regardless, the Raiders don't appear to have much to offer the Patriots in terms of an offensive attack, and unless Oakland's offensive scheme is that of a bunch of sandbaggers who save everything to play well against top competition, it goes to figure that the young New England defense could have their way with the aging Oakland offense.

No comments:

Post a Comment