At 4-5, there is little room for error if the Oakland Raiders want to make it into January.
Having to face the New England Patriots in Mexico isn’t exactly a dream scenario if you’re looking to stay in the playoff race. Or is it?
The Patriots are certainly good, but their 7-2 record isn’t all that it appears. With a last-minute win over the Houston Texans and the controversial fumble call versus the N.Y. Jets, this team could easily be 5-4. Not to mention barely beating a poor Tampa Bay Buccaneers team on Thursday night, New England surely isn’t the dominant team we’re used to seeing. The Raiders will certainly have more than a good chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champs on Sunday and here is how they can accomplish that.
Free Bowman, Bring The Heat
If there is one thing any team has learned on how to beat Brady it’s bringing the pressure. Now, it’s no secret Oakland’s front four have underperformed, which is a big reason their defense has struggled. Fortunately, Sunday’s matchup favors the Raiders in this respect.
Oakland’s recent addition at linebacker has been a major upgrade to their defense. NaVorro Bowman has helped tremendously in the run game but in Mexico, the Raiders need to unleash him on Tom Brady. Bowman won’t be able to cover the speedy Patriots receivers so his best use will be to get after Brady and allow Khalil Mack to go one-on-one on the outside against either of the Patriots’ tackles. Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle both struggle against fast defensive ends, as seen in the video below, which should play into Mack’s strengths perfectly.
Blitzing Bowman will either allow Mack to work the matchup without being double teamed or could set Bowman up for some big plays for himself.
Control the game with the backfield
Patriots currently rank 26th in the NFL against the run and that should excite not only Oakland’s entire backfield but also Derek Carr. Carr shouldn’t have to carry this team on his arm come Sunday. Oakland’s massive linemen should devour New England’s front four and linebackers and allow Lynch to work over the Patriots’ second level.
In the play below, the Chiefs deploy a tight bunch formation with their receivers then pull a tackle and the tight end to get to the second level and allow Hunt to get to the edge. Todd Downing uses similar formations in his run packages so it could play very well into Oakland’s game plan.
Much like the Raiders’ game against the Chiefs, Oakland needs to establish a ground game then allow Carr to work the play action.
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Establish The Third Threat
Last week we saw Jared Cook eat Miami’s secondary alive with eight receptions for 126 yards. Oakland must deploy a similar strategy this week and get someone other than Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree catching balls. This will allow for one-on-one matchups to open up Crabtree and Cooper which could result in some home run plays that Oakland will undoubtedly need to beat the Patriots.
The Raiders have run similar successful plays like this with Cordarrelle Patterson and should deploy a few on Sunday to get Patterson involved. This will also help Carr in establishing play action.
Whether it’s Patterson, Cook, or Roberts, Oakland has to establish a third threat through the air for Carr to lean on, if needed. New England’s Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore could give Cooper and Crabtree fits all afternoon.
Oakland has a better chance than many are giving them to beat the Patriots come Sunday. The talent is certainly there but will the coaching allow the talent to play to this team’s potential? That has been the question all season. One game we can look to is the Patriots and Buccaneers matchup; until that game, the Bucs had only registered a single sack through four games and Brady had not thrown an interception, but the Bucs sacked Brady three times and picked him off once. Similarly, Oakland has yet to record a single interception through nine games and generate any kind of pass rush so the law of averages tells me Oakland’s defense is set for a big game in Mexico.
I believe Oakland gets it done on Sunday similarly to their win against the Chiefs. With a steady ground attack led by Lynch, Oakland’s offense will take it to the Patriots’ defense. On the other side of the ball, I look for the Raider’s defense to do just enough to keep Oakland in the game, forcing a turnover or two along with multiple sacks. Tavecchio will enter “Legend” status when he nails a 46-yard field goal as time expires.
Final Score: Raiders 30 Patriots 28