Back to the Bay: No Pressure


I usually like to start off my columns with some sort or humorous aside or musing in order to get the reader in a relaxed state and then dive head first into the deep end with less shock. For some reason I am finding it very difficult to do that this week. I wrote this introduction several times with little to show for it. When push comes to shove, this is not a time for fun and games for the Raiders and it’s not for the reasons you may assume. After Sunday there are going to lives changed dramatically either for the better or for the worse. There is the very real possibility that some men are going to lose their jobs, but conversely they can also save them and possibly save this season so it is not a complete disaster. It is that simple. Win this week and stay the head coach of the Raiders, Dennis Allen, or lose and say hello to the very likely short interim tenure of Tony Sporano. No pressure.

New England Recap

This game was so close. Watching the coaches tape, one could make the argument that the Raiders were the better team on Sunday. The worst part is, they lost due to a holding penalty that was completely bogus. On that play Jackson’s hands stay within the width of the defender’s pads and he continues to drive him as he allowed to do as a blocker. The defender simply gives up on the play and then trips over his own man which is what draws the flag. The only thing that makes it worse, was the blatant holds from Patriots left tackle Nate Solder who was being terrorized by rookie Khalil Mack all game long. To see a player get beat so bad so consistently in a game that he becomes desperate to protect his quarterback and holds, is a beautiful thing. It is just a pity the referees realized it was a Patriot holding therefore it was a mathematical impossibility for there to be any holding.

Let us not get overly distracted by the last second holding call, and realize that the Raiders had opportunities to put the Patriots on their heels early and failed. This is in part due to execution, but it is also the inconsistency from Greg Olson. For the most part, I think Olson has been fine as the Raiders offensive coordinator. I know some in Raider Nation and some good friends of mine really do not like him, but I think his scheme can be very effective if run properly. Derek Carr is starting to show some significant mastery of the scheme and we are starting to see wrinkles and creative looks from Olson. For instance, Olson went to 21 personnel (2 running backs and one tight end) in an empty set (nobody in the backfield) with Leonhardt on the outside to the left. He ran a 7 yard comeback for a first down.

The issue I have with Olson is his strange tendency to radically change what is working when the offense is chugging right along. The best example of this is when he runs a direct snap to McFadden or the wildcat after a big play. I understand what he is trying to do, but he is coming at it all wrong. Rather than that sort of play, Olson should then throw in an end around with Denarius Moore, or go empty backfield, or hit the defense with some sort of exotic formation. Most importantly, Olson should be prepared to call that play and have it loaded ahead of time rather than taking fifteen seconds to get the play call in searching for ideas.

On the positive side of things, the running game of the Raiders is starting to become more consistent. Although there were some key instances where the Raiders were stuffed on short yardage due to putrid blocking, the team overall looked more fluid running the ball. The biggest differences have been communication and the growth of Austin Howard. Howard made the transition from right tackle to right guard and he is starting to look more comfortable at that position. I also noticed several instances where Howard was tapping his center to communicate something which was new.

When checking Pro Football Focus for the grades for the Raiders offense I was stunned with the results. They gave the Raiders offense on overall of -17.7 with the worst performances from Howard, Leonhardt, and Rivera. I have no idea how they came to the grades they did this week. They also gave the Patriots defense a total grade of 20.5. I realize I’m just a blogger on a fan site, but the tape did not tell that story. Thinking about this more, what if the Raiders would have scored that final touchdown and went for two and won? That means they would have won with a total grade of -6.8 while the Patriots lost with a grade of 8.8? Usually Pro Football Focus is on point, but once in a while it is obvious that their grades are entirely based upon judgment calls.

Defensively, the Raiders seemed like they listened to me on the last podcast and read my last column. Tarver decided to continue with the hybrid 3-4 defense, but the primary change was going back to mostly one gap responsibilities. That is precisely what this defense needed and it was obvious that the Raiders defenders responded in kind. Justin Tuck was still asked to two gap as a five technique from time to time, but he was also allowed to rush from the interior with one gap principles and tore up the right guard in front of him several times, including a devastating sack on Tom Brady.

The most disruptive player on this defense was Khalil Mack and his tendency to produce tremendous pressure really stressed and strained the Patriots offense. Overall the Raiders produced two sacks, four hits, and eleven hurries on Tom Brady, while the Raiders offensive line shut down the Patriots pass rush holding them to no sacks, three hits, and eight hurries. The Raiders also out averaged the Patriots on the ground with 3.0 yards per carry as opposed to the Patriots 2.4 yards per carry. The Patriots longest run was eleven yards. On the whole the Raiders defense only gave up a little over three hundred yards and sixteen points on the road against one of the most consistent franchises in the NFL. The moral of the story, Greg Olsen has to let Derek Carr sling it deep with more crossing routes. The problem for the Raiders is that their best slot receiver, Rod Streater, is out for several weeks. Solution? Vincent Brown.

Previewing the Dolphins

I know Lamar Miller ran for over one hundred yards last week, but the Chiefs actually have a fairly poor run defense and the Dolphins still got blown out. I do not see Miller having that sort of game against the Raiders. The offensive line for the Dolphins on tape was very poor and his best runs were made on stretch plays where he cut back on a defender who did not contain the back side. I was not impressed with the Dolphins offense when I watched all three of their games. Against the Patriots week one they seemed to have an identity or at least the Patriots did not know how to disrupt it, but the next two games looked like an offense that was completely disjointed. There seemed to be no overall goal or scheme and the use of the formations seemed overly simplistic.

At times the Dolphins offense would show some real creativity and the Chip Kelley influences we would all expect, but those disappear for long stretches of time and the overall approach seems to be very conservative. The interior of the Dolphins offensive line is relatively poor, Brandon Albert has been struggling with the bull rush all season and counter moves off of it, and the rookie right tackle Ju’Waun James has hands that drift off the pads consistently.

The place the Dolphins are best is the defensive line. Starks, Odrick, Vernon, and Wake can make for a very stout front four, but they are not without their faults. Against the Chiefs, three of the four sacks came from Odrick and Starks shutting out Wake entirely. That is against one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL with several subs. The Raiders are a more talented group and they match up well against the Dolphins. Starks is a very large nose tackle and the Raiders have two very large guards that can handle him. Donald Penn will be responsible for blocking Olivier Vernon and based on his performance so far this season, I would expect Penn to neutralize him most of the time. The issue is Barnes at right tackle against Cameron Wake, but with the occasional chip from a back or tight end, I think the Raiders can do well in the trenches.

In the defensive backfield the Dolphins have the duo of Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan. Both are physical veteran cornerbacks, but the Raiders will be matching them against tall and physical receivers. I would suggest going at Cortland Finnegan as much as possible. Finnegan is a penalty time bomb just waiting to go off and frustrating him early would be highly advantageous to force a mistake later in the game. Derek Carr has shown he is not scared of talented cornerbacks and he went directly at Darrelle Revis last week making him look bad on several back shoulder throws. As I seem to say every week, the Raiders must open up this offense in order to win. Yes this coaching staff has been very close to winning two games with a very conservative and bland approach, but if they ever hope to get the eighth man out of the box they have to make teams scared of the passing game.

I like the idea of attacking the Dolphins with four seam routes and forcing the defensive backs to man up deep and force one on one matchups. Simply because the Raiders do not have a number one wide receiver or a track star, does not mean they cannot be effective throwing deep. Instead the Raiders have several receivers who know how to go up and get the ball. Whether it is Olson’s play calling or Carr who missed a potential touchdown on the interception to Moore at the end of the Patriots game, this team needs to be more aggressive. I would suggest throwing early and often incorporating more spread sets and pistol formation. Let Carr get into rhythym and then when the Dolphins have to loosen the box to defend the pass, the Raiders will see the run lanes open up.

Luckily for the Raiders they got to London on Monday and oddly they have a team coming to them with a five hour time difference to get accustomed to on short notice. Too bad this is not an early game.

Prediction: Dolphins 13, Raiders 17