With Michael Crabtree suspended for two games and Amari Cooper likely out with injuries, who steps up for the Oakland Raiders in the receiving corps?
The Oakland Raiders may still be in the playoff mix in the AFC at 5-6, but will be shorthanded in the receiving corps on Sunday afternoon versus the New York Giants. Even though the Giants are 2-9 on the year, Oakland will presumably be without its two best receiving options in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
Crabtree will be serving the first game of his two-game suspension on Sunday for the fight he got into with Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib at home in Week 12. Through 12 weeks, Crabtree is tied for the team lead in receptions (42), leads the team in touchdown catches (six) and is second in receiving yards (502). His team-leading 50.2 receiving yards per game will be missed these next two weeks.
Cooper is likely out with a pair of injuries he suffered on Sunday. A cheap-shot hit by Broncos safety Darian Thompson gave Cooper a concussion and a bum ankle. He will have to clear concussion protocol, plus get his ankle in order so that he can play on Sunday versus New York.
Cooper is tied for the team-lead in receptions (42), second in touchdown catches (five) and third in receiving yards (499). His team-leading 89 targets means that quarterback Derek Carr will have to spread the ball around to other guys. But who? Who will have to step up in the receiving game for the Raiders on Sunday versus the Giants?
The reason this is so important is because the Raiders only win when Carr looks to throw the ball down field. When he averages 8.0 yards per attempt through the air, Oakland is 5-0. Should Carr fall below that threshold, the Raiders are 0-5 in games he has started. The Raiders obviously lost the Week 5 game EJ Manuel started in place of Carr due to injury.
Oakland has two ways to get around missing both Crabtree and Cooper. The Raiders could lean on Marshawn Lynch in the running game to open up downfield passing lanes for big games. Or the Raiders could exploit the Giants with quick passes in the slot and get the tight ends more involved.
Lynch has shown that he is good for about 20 carries and 75 yards per game on the ground if that’s the way offensive coordinator Todd Downing wants to go. Last week, Lynch had three catches that helped him get over 100 all-purpose yards against the Broncos defense.
Carr has had success with downfield throws to deep threats Johnny Holton and Cordarrelle Patterson. Holton only has four catches this season, but they have gone for 161 yards and two touchdowns. His role is definitely increasing in the Oakland passing game.
Patterson only has 21 catches for 186 yards as a receiver this season. However, his 54-yard gain last week was the play that sealed the deal versus the Broncos for the Raiders. Downing can also use Patterson as a running back with an end-around or a jet sweep to shake things up.
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If Oakland can use Lynch to open up downfield passing lanes for Carr, that would be terrific. What would be even better is if Carr got back to throwing the ball to tight end Jared Cook. He could be a major difference maker in this game.
Cook leads the team in receiving yards (536) and receptions (42). He is having a career-year for the Raiders, but is coming off his worst game of the season. Cook was targeted five times, but only caught one ball for one yard. He nearly had a one-yard touchdown reception, but that got taken off the board because he didn’t haul it in upon further review.
Another interesting stat is if Cook has six catches in a game, he goes over 100 yards and the Raiders win. His two best games were against Kansas City in Week 7 and Miami in Week 9. Look for Carr to get him involved early and often in this game.
So who has to step up for the Raiders in the receiving game? It would have to be Cook, as he is the best pass catcher Oakland has heading into this ball game. Crabtree’s suspension might get overturned. Cooper may be healthy enough to play. However, this game is about the pitch and catch between Carr and Cook. They’ll need to lean on each other to win this ball game.