This week, Andria’s Analysis will take a look back at the Raiders versus the Dolphins, and delve into the upcoming game against the New England Patriots in Mexico City.
The Oakland Raiders had a bye this week after a close win over the Miami Dolphins. Many had concerns after the Dolphins game, wondering if this Raiders team is up to the task of beating an ever-improving Patriots team in their second annual “home game” in Mexico City. The answer to that isn’t simple, nor is it clear. Here are some factors that may decide the game.
Oakland had a tough time versus Miami
Most people agree that a “win is a win,” no matter how it comes or who it’s against. While it’s true that every win counts, some wins are much prettier than others. The Raiders’ meeting against the Dolphins was expected to be a tough contest before the season started, but it proved tougher as the game loomed closer, but for very different reasons.
The Dolphins have had a difficult season, most notably because of losses like the week prior, when they were completely shut out by the Baltimore Ravens, another team that’s struggling to keep themselves in playoff contention. Watching the Raiders struggle against a team that had just landed a goose egg was disheartening, to say the least.
Even though there were obvious challenges, there were some bright spots in the outing. The offensive line was able to adequately neutralize Miami’s pass rush, including Ndamokung Suh, who spent one play on his face after splitting the right tackle and guard, a play that was well-planned and executed.
There was also promising play from Raiders’ second-round pick, safety Obi Melifonwu. While he didn’t have huge numbers and wasn’t able to get that first interception that the Raiders so desperately seek, he looked more competent than most of the secondary has all year.
Perhaps most promising was watching Marshawn Lynch break out like everyone expected him to from day one. He scored two touchdowns in the game: one was a 22-yard run into the end zone, his longest run of the season; the second was a 3-yard punch up the gut, following the aforementioned faceplant by Suh. This was very good news for the Raiders, as it solidified their choice to pick up Lynch to make exactly these plays.
Mexico City is painted Silver and Black
This Sunday will mark the second annual trip to Mexico City for the Raiders to play in Estadio Azteca versus perhaps one of their most salient opponents this season. The Patriots head south of the border to continue their dominance and prove that they are not the shell of a team that they looked like at the start of the season. Oakland is playing not only for revenge from the storied Tuck Rule game nearly two decades ago, but to reclaim the confidence that they had going into the season, and hopefully revive that confidence that so many had in them before Week 3.
Keys to Victory
Oakland’s strength is supposed to be their offense, although this season has been a struggle. They do seem to be steadily improving week to week in hopes of putting that three-game skid behind them. If they expect to pull out a victory against the reigning Super Bowl champs, Derek Carr has to exploit their weak secondary.
The offensive line needs to be at the top of their game to block any pass rush that the Patriots can muster. Dink and dunk won’t work; Carr needs long passes down to his receivers, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper need to catch those passes and beat their man in coverage, and Jared Cook needs to be employed early and often. The tight end has caused problems for opponents of late, and he is a weapon that can not only beat a secondary but can overtake a linebacker with his size and speed.
The run game has to be present and blocking is crucial. With Jamize Olawale likely to play this week, the Raiders backfield will be full of talented options both running and blocking. If they run double tight end sets with some play action mixed in with downfield bombs, this offense has the means to contradict New England’s questionable defense.
The Oakland defense has looked flat, although they have been able to keep the team in the game on more than a few occasions. Superstar edge rusher Khalil Mack has drawn so much attention that his sack total is downright abysmal; 4.5 sacks wasn’t expected halfway through the season. Bruce Irvin hasn’t been any better, drawing flags instead of making plays, and all that anyone needs to know about the secondary is reflected in their zero interceptions on the year.
If the defense is expected to perform at all to the level that they need to beat Brady, each and every one of them needs to show up in a big way. The Patriots offensive line can be penetrated, as evidenced by the 22 sacks that Brady’s taken this year. With a strong middle line addition in NaVorro Bowman, the Raiders can take advantage of that with an attack from every angle.
The other aspect, perhaps more worrisome than anything else, will be containing the transcendent pass attack that the Patriots are known for. Brady’s ability to take over the field is uncanny; he reads a defense as well as anyone and adjusts accordingly. The Raiders can’t get complacent in their schemes. They need to mix it up in order to keep Brady on his toes, otherwise, he will shred the Oakland secondary with ease. Having Melifonwu on the field can certainly be a boost, but rookies get star struck too. Each and every one of these players will need to focus on the task at hand to keep this game winnable.
So who is the favorite in this game? That’s obvious: the Patriots. But how unreasonable is it to believe that Oakland can pull this off? It’s not unreasonable at all. The team has all the tools and if they employ them correctly, the offense can maintain its control and keep the defense off the field. The fewer opportunities Brady has to handle that ball, the better off the Raiders will be. This may seem crazy, but Mexico City belongs to the Raiders and they may very well pull this out. If not to save their season, but just to save face.