Oakland Raiders Week 12 Primer: Free Fall

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Nov 19, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is tackled by Jacksonville Jaguars strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (37) during an NFL football game at EverBank Field. The Jaguars defeated the Titans 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mariota and a Pass Rush

This game really comes down to two things for the Titans: Get the ball out of Mariota’s hands quickly and occasionally test a defense deep, while on defense generate a pass rush. The Titans lead the NFL with sack efficiency and have two outside pass rushers that are pretty decent. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan make a solid tandem, but it all starts and ends with Jurrell Casey.

Without him, the Titans front would be completely impotent. With 5 sacks as a nose tackle in a 34 front, Casey is the tip of the spear for the Titans. Orakpo leads the team with seven sacks and inside linebacker Woodyard also has five sacks. The defense the Titans currently run resembles the blitz heavy defenses of Pittsburgh lore and can be beaten the same way.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans go the way of Marcus Mariota. Mariota has 13 touchdowns and six interceptions this season and more often than not is looking for tight end Delanie Walker who leads all NFL tight ends with 53 receptions. This is a faily balanced offense that is on the whole conservative. Interim head coach Mike Mularkey is a seasoned NFL offensive mind and is very risk adverse. Do not be surprised however, if the Titans are aggressive with the Raiders early in order to put the Raider defense on its heels.

The running game for the Titans is relatively bland and not entirely effective. The two primary runners are Andrews and Sankey, but Dexter McCluster gets a fair amount of runs. As a team they have rushed for a little over 1100 yards and average less than 4 yards per carry. On the whole, the Titans are not a terrific offense and the games in which they put up big points generally come with a defense giving them easy fields to work with.

This however does not mean the Raiders should be sleeping on this team. Most of all, the Raiders need to finally commit to what it is they do best on both sides of the ball. Musgrave needs to be a pass first play caller. The Titans have young, inexperienced, and mistake prone defensive backs in three of the four positions. The matchup for the Raider receivers and tight ends is weighted very heavily in favor of the Raiders.

Defensively, the Raiders need to play almost exclusively with two high safeties. If you recall the column I wrote about coverages, I explained how the Raiders have the front seven to handle most running games without an additional safety. By playing with two high safeties the Raiders can go between man, zone, and quarters coverages very easily mixing and matching based on need. What this does is prevent the Raiders from giving up long passing plays while keeping everything else in front of them.

One change the defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr made last week was the addition of the slot corner blitz. He utilized DJ Hayden as his blitzer and was very effective in using it. Every time the Raiders used a fire zone concept, but Hayden hit home several instances creating several botched plays. The best result was the sack by Ben Heeney which only happened because the running back that stayed in to block had to pick up Hayden and it allowed Heeney to blow past his blocker.

There has been a lot of talk of the Raiders starting Ben Heeney. I have issues with the title of “starter” especially on defense because I believe in matchup based defenses like ours, but in terms of snap counts, I do believe Heeney has earned a significant bump. His best play of last week was a little-noticed play.

The Lions were in a first and goal situation on the two-yard line and went to a spread look. Immediately Ben Heeney was pointing to the outermost receiver who was a back telling the defense to make sure he was covered. Immediately after the snap Heeney shaded that way and the ball went to the receiver he was focused on and he made the tackle.

This play illustrates that he is beginning to truly understand the game and the speed of the game is slowing down. He still has a tendency to overrun plays rather than keep his hips opened and moving laterally to the line of scrimmage, but that can be corrected over time. His speed and veracity are well noted and will work best for a team that operates best with two high safeties. In that scheme you need linebackers that are fast and can flow away from offensive lineman that are downfield on screen plays.

What may be the most important matchup for the Raiders in this game is the undrafted rookie free agent the Titans will be starting at guard against the Raiders. This is important because Spain will be getting a huge dose of Jelly Ellis at left guard in base downs, but it should also be a big blitz target for the Raiders. Because of this, Heeney’s speed could prove to be invaluable as a blitzer. Curtis Lofton is a very good run defender, but in terms of a guy who can make plays in all phases, Heeney is carving out a huge role for himself.

Next: Week 12 Primer: Conclusion