Khalil Mack is no longer an Oakland Raider. Saturday was a shocking morning for all in Raider Nation and was filled with anger, frustration, and disappointment. By the end of the day, Khalil Mack was signed for 141 million dollars and the Raiders had a pair of first-round picks while losing a second. Also when the day was over, most of Raider Nation had turned the page and moved on to the week one match up against the Rams.

Shorties at Safety

The safety position has been one of the larger concerns for the defense all offseason. There have been several rumors about how the tandem was going to move forward, but after the final 53 man roster was announced a new depth chart was published by the team. It had the starting safeties as Marcus Gilchrist and Karl Joseph. When push comes to shove, this is the best duo the team can field. This might be a short duo but it is a dynamic one that will fly around and make plays.

Reggie Nelson and Erik Harris will back up the duo with Harris most likely to get the most reps in sub packages. Gilchrist is a dynamic playmaker who is at home in the slot, which will bring Erik Harris onto the field if Gilchrist is the slot defender. In addition to his size,  Harris provides the athleticism needed to properly take on a tight end in man defense. Expect a significant amount of sub-package looks when the Raiders take on teams with dynamic tight end threats.

Rams Go 11

Sean McVay, the Rams second year head coach, took the NFL by storm last season turning Jared Goff into a viable NFL quarterback. One reason their attack was so potent was their use of “11” personnel. 11 personnel is the use of three receivers, one running back and one tight end. When labeling personnel with numbers, the first digit refers to the running backs and the second refers to the number of tight ends. Subtract that combined number from five and you have the total number of receivers as well.

Per Football Outsiders, the Rams ran 11 personnel 81.4% of the time which was the most in the NFL. More importantly, their DVOA was 25.5% which was the sixth-best in the NFL. What 11 personnel does for the Rams is force a defense into picking their poison. The defense can choose to go to a nickel package, in which case they lighten the box, making it easier for Todd Gurley to run the ball.

When a defense chooses to maintain a base defense and not lighten the box in order to stop the run, the Rams are then able to pass the ball more effectively by taking advantage of the lack of speed on the field. The way to stop a balanced and effective 11 personnel team is to split the difference defensively. Big nickel or the 425 defense places a larger defensive back, almost exclusively a safety, in the slot. This allows the defense to be better against the run while maintaining enough speed to defend the pass both laterally and vertically.

As previously mentioned, the Raiders could have a dynamic big nickel package with Gilchrist in the slot, Karl Joseph as the free safety, and Erik Harris buzzing into the box as a strong safety. Also in other sub-packages with a real concern for pass defense, the Raiders could bring in Derrick Johnson and Nicholas Morrow to help the group. If Gurley is able to run the ball effectively, the Raiders could also go big at the linebacker spots with Lee and Whitehead. What the big nickel provides is flexibility.

Strength vs Strength

By far the most entertaining battles in this game will be along the interior offensive line of the Raiders. The trio of Osemele, Hudson, and Jackson will be going up against Donald, Suh, and Brockers mostly. As overwhelming as the Rams defensive line can look on paper, the Raiders have such a talented interior trio that they will be forced to move those three around to try to exploit the offensive tackles.

When the Rams widen the defensive front and then follow it up with blitzes to try to confuse Penn and Miller, the Raiders should be able to exploit seams up the middle in the run game. Last season the Rams ranked 30th in the NFL for run defense. Where the Raiders can really make their mark offensively is coming out with two running backs or two tight ends and nullify the scariest part of the Rams defense: the blitz.

Get The Lead

Peyton Manning was famous for having a team that every year had the same formula. Lead with an overwhelming offense, get early points, and turn your mediocre defense against the opposing team with a couple of devastating defensive ends. McVay’s Rams are another in a line of teams who are continuing this mold and taking it to the next level.

Gruden’s Raiders will be no different. Ideally, this team needs to jump out to an early lead and then sit on the ball, pounding opposing defenses into submission. The Rams ultimately are light on defense outside of their three down linemen because they are built to defend the pass and play with a lead. Here is where being the counter puncher comes into play. Everyone knows that the Rams will look to dictate an early lead so they can get creative with pass blitzes. If the Raiders can flip that script and set them on their heels, they can nullify that strength.

Prediction

After the emotions dissipated following the trade of Khalil Mack, a ray of hope began to fill the metaphorical skies of Raider Nation on social media. With or without him, the Raiders have many reasons to be optimistic and fans have many reasons to believe this team can win every week. This will go down as one of the hardest games of the season for Jon Gruden’s Raiders. What cannot be overlooked is the importance of the young defensive players along the Raider defensive line.

The sack office of Hall, Hurst, and Key is officially open for business and they are led into battle by elder statesman and mentor Bruce Irvin. By getting interior pressure, Hall and Hurst can force Goff off of his marks and into the waiting arms of the defensive ends Irvin and Key. What the Rams lack is the talent along the interior offensive line that the Raiders have. That is not to say that the trio of Saffold, Sullivan, and Blythe is bad, but they are not as talented as the guys that the Raiders field.

Upon final whistle, we will see the Raiders victorious, having pillaged the team of Rams and laughed when they conquered and won. This game will be good and exciting until the end, wrapping up with a final score of 27-20 Raiders. The line for this game as of Tuesday 9/4/2018 is Raiders +4.5 and you should take the points.

Follow me on Twitter @holistic_pickle and check out Chris and me picking the lines here.

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