Back to the Bay is a weekly column from Just Blog Baby Podcast cohost Rory Anderson. Follow him on twitter @holistic_pickle or tune into the JBB Podcast on BlogTalkRadio.com for more of Rory’s Raiders insights.
I have a love-hate relationship with Lesean McCoy right now. On one hand, he was a stud with a capital “S” for one of my fantasy teams (the one that happened to beat my wife in our family and friends league) and on the other hand, his performance on Monday Night Football topped Terrelle Pryor’s rushing performance and the stole the crown as the NFL’s leading rusher. Yes, I know it’s a small sample size, but there are reasons for some serious optimism within Raider Nation. This game against the Colts although it was a losing effort, was the next best thing the Raiders could have done to inject some life into the fan base. It is rare and almost sad to say, but Sebastian Janikowski cost the Raiders this game by missing his first field goal attempt. If he had hit that, they would have been able to kick a field goal late to win rather than needing a touchdown to win.
Janikowski wasn’t the only Raider to have some poor plays in Indianapolis. Cornerback Tracy Porter was burned on multiple plays and was the defensive back that gave up the touchdown to Reggie Wayne. He looked out of sorts on the outside and I think his time as a starter will be short. DJ Hayden, who is technically the nickel back but plays outside in three receiver situations, was much better and was in the pocket of his man on almost every play. He gave up several catches, but that is the nature of the modern NFL. What he did exceptionally was closing on the receiver after they made the catch and getting an arm inside the catching radius trying to knock the balls down. It was a good effort and for a rookie in his first game, he is starting well. On the other side Mike Jenkins played a solid game and nearly had an interception late in the game. He was a half second off and could have made a dramatic impact play. I was excited to see that kind of aggressiveness out of the defensive backs. That aggressiveness came through on the blitzes and the nosiness of the safeties. For all of Porter’s struggles, he looks fantastic coming off the edge as a slot blitzer. He is very natural there and is able to fake his intentions well. Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch did not make any big plays, but they did very well making sure tackles and helping to generate heat on the blitz.
Kaluka Maiava played a solid game, but he is no Sio Moore. Sio brings immense energy to this defense and his pass rushing is an added bonus. Nick Roach stood out to me watching the tape, because he is so fundamentally sound. He made several textbook tackles. Roach isn’t a flashy guy, but he has taken a leadership role on this defense and he commands it. He is everything Rolando McClain wasn’t. I have one message for Kevin Burnett, wrap up baby! He had Andrew Luck in his arms for a sack and he let him spin out of it and that miscue really covers up what was a good read and an instinctual play by Burnett.
The defensive line was the group that impressed me the most. I have been saying through the offseason, that Raider Nation needed to be patient and wait until the real bullets started flying, and Jason Tarver sure helped me out. Getting four sacks is impressive especially considering the Raiders only recorded 25 last season. I was especially impressed with Lamaar Houston and this system is obviously built to allow this guy to get some legitimate sacks in real pass rush situations. For all of the Reggie McKenzie hate I combatted on Twitter all offseason with fans screaming about how the Raiders should have drafted a defensive tackle, I now get a chance to gloat a little. I know it’s a small sample size and there will be teams that put up points against this defense, but there is a lot of young talent on this defensive line. Guys like Pat Sims and Vance Walker made an obvious impact, but even Christo Bilukidi played well even though he didn’t make any dramatic plays. On one play, I even saw Pat Sims dropping into coverage from his defensive tackle position and he looked decent at it. They have a ton of role players that fit the scheme perfectly. What I saw was a balanced, hybrid defense utilizing two gap concepts and a variety of blitzes from all over the field with both man and occasionally zone coverage on the back end. It was an exciting, dynamic defense that I enjoyed watching. All it needs now it to force turnovers.
Terrelle Pryor…wow…Where do I start? What I loved most about Terrelle Pryor on Sunday were non playing related aspects of his game. Firstly, I love the fact he isn’t braggadocios. After a big play or touchdown there isn’t a bunch of celebratory nonsense from Pryor. He acts like he’s been there before and I love that. Secondly, after the game he called his performance “awful”. That is the mark of a good quarterback and a mature player that wants to get better. When a player demands more from himself he will get better.
The downside with Pryor’s game on Sunday was the two interceptions. That first interception to me was on Rod Streater. Pryor had single coverage with Greg Toler covering Streater and he put up a ball for Streater to make a play on. It was pretty well thrown although he should have put it more toward the sideline. Ultimately Streater has to make a more aggressive play for that ball and play a little defense to knock that down. The second interception looked like some sort of miscommunication on someone. It looked like there was a different route expected by Pryor but without knowing the play call it is hard to determine who was at fault.
On the field Pryor did many things I loved besides running the football. I noticed on several plays where the Colts had good coverage downfield, Pryor was scanning the field going through his progressions before running the football. It was reported today that the Colt’s locker room thought it was a single read then run system, but they are wrong. Yes that was the case on some plays, but there were some very traditional west coast concepts that forced Pryor to go through his progressions. If you watch Colin Kaepernick you will see a quarterback that is a single hi-lo read on 95 percent of his passes, but this offense is much more traditional and only highlights the option concepts. Before this game most if not all “experts” related Pryor to Tim Tebow. On Sunday Pryor completed 65 percent of his passes. Last time I checked Tim Tebow averaged fewer than 50 percent completion rate. That comparison should have a short life span.
Concerns Moving Forward
I know Pro Football Focus has the left side of the Raiders offensive line rated very poorly, but most of the pressures that were given up are correctable. I saw an alarming amount of communication issues from the offensive line with Lucas Nix, to getting the play calls in, and in the defensive backfield. These communication issues should take care of themselves over time as this team continues to grow together. The Raiders are a young team and what they need most is time to learn and mature together. Lucas Nix was the reason why Terrelle Pryor was sacked late in the game. The defensive line slanted to his right in order to have five pass rushers man on man with the offensive line. The fifth rusher was the outside linebacker and he was picked up by Barnes. The center picked up the slanting defensive tackle which left Nix with picking up Robert Mathis. For whatever reason Nix thought Barnes was picking up Mathis and he turned too early to help double the man inside. These things happen with offensive lines that haven’t played together for long. An offensive line is to work as one and that requires understanding exactly what the guy next to you is doing.
As I mentioned before, I am also concerned about the delay of game penalties and communication issues in the huddle for Pryor. I understand these issues will fade as time passes, but this has to be addressed immediately. Once these issues are figured out I think the rest will fall into place and I am excited to see how this offense continues to develop and expand.
What I’m Confident About
I am confident that Darren McFadden will get on track with the running game in time. It was clear to me the Colts were determined to stop McFadden and they underestimated the abilities of Terrelle Pryor. Teams in the future will see this on tape and they will adjust their schemes to help take away or slow down Pryor and when they do they will open up lanes and opportunities for McFadden. This is what a mobile quarterback does. The extra threat of the quarterback running the football whether with the option or off of a bootleg, scares defensive coordinators to death and they will work to stop it.
After watching the faces of the Colts defenders late in the game, I am confident that offensive coordinator has a plan and the most important part of it is burning out the defense by frustrating them with multiple looks, motions, and Pryor’s feet.
What to Expect From the Jags
Do not underestimate this team especially with Chad Henne at the helm. Blaine Gabbert is the only quarterback worse than Mark Sanchez and his injury is opening up an opportunity for Chad Henne who is a bigger threat than Gabbert. Henne is mechanical and fundamentally sound, but that positive quality is also his downfall. His mechanical nature does not let him think outside the box as much as he needs to and he has a tendency to eat a lot of sacks if he is confused by the coverage early. Henne has a solid arm and Raider Nation saw what he could do last year.
Maurice Jones-Drew seemed slow in their game last week, but I wouldn’t sleep on him. He is from the Bay Area and will have several family members at this game especially after he suffered his mid foot injury at the Raiders last season. Beyond MJD, the Jaguars are short on talent without Justin Blackmon who is suspended for the first four games. Cecil Shorts has talent, Ace Sanders is scary fast/dynamic, and Denard Robinson is full of speed, but they have inconsistent hands that lead to several drops. The Raiders should do a fair amount of press coverage and make sure they get a hand inside on the receivers in order to disrupt the passing game.
Last week the Jaguars ran a lot of cover two man under which means two safeties deep and man coverage underneath. They did blend in several different blitz packages, but the pass rush was mediocre at best and when they weren’t blitzing this defense was incredibly bland. This defense does have some talented players on it that the Raiders much watch out for. Paul Posluszny is a tackling machine in the middle, Tyson Alualu is a nice run stopper, and rookie defensive backs Jonathon Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz are talented players that were playmakers in college. Cyprien is a very nosey safety and I was very high on Gratz in the draft. He is a physical corner that can get in a receivers face. Ultimately I think a quick guy like Denarius Moore should have opportunities to show the rookie some new tricks.
I expect a victory from the Raiders in this game. I was one of the few that made a case for the Raiders to win last week and with that bit of success, the Raiders need to move forward confidently, but humbly. They must work hard and treat every week the same way. I expect Dennis Allen to have this team prepared well and Terrelle Pryor should have them amped to win for Raider Nation. Some may want to see a blow out in this game and as much as I would enjoy seeing that happen, I could ultimately care less. Just Win Baby.