Category Archives: game previews

Game Preview: Raiders at Steelers

I mentioned before that in their dominating victories over the Jets and Chargers in the last two weeks, the Raiders caught some significant breaks in each game, and that the mark of truly good teams is that they know how to take advantage of those breaks when they come along. The Raiders came into each game playing crisp, focused ball, and the breaks just made it that much easier to roll their opponents.

So in heading into Heinz Field — always a tough place — this Sunday, the Raiders catch yet another break, in that Steelers RB LeVeon Bell, arguably the key component in their offense, is out for the rest of the season. DeAngelo Williams is also a very good running back, averaging just under 5.0 yards per carry, but so is the Jets’ Chris Ivory, whom the Raiders held to just 17 yards on 15 carries last Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger is clearly still on the mend, but he and Antonio Brown are always a dangerous combination. Given the QB shuffling Pittsburgh has had to do far this season, it’s understandable that Brown is by far the team’s leading receiver, with 52 receptions for 718 yards and 3 TDs. But after that it’s a very steep drop-off; tight end Heath Miller is second with 27 receptions for 273 yards, and receivers Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey all linger between 209 and 257 yards.

Oakland has better balance as far as receivers, with Michael Crabtree’s stats very close to Amari Cooper’s, but also key contributions from receivers down the chain, such as Andre Holmes and Marcel Reece. Holmes only has six receptions on the year, for 107 yards, but three touchdowns, showing how effective his size and speed are when used. The o-line is providing great pass protection, as Carr has been sacked only 10 times in 7 games, and Carr’s confidence in Cooper and Crabtree have allowed him — and them — to progress very quickly as the season goes along. Really, you can see it from game to game.

The key here is really more about getting the road whammy off their back. On the one hand, the Raiders won in Cleveland for the first time in thirty years; on the other hand, they then went to Chicago and played down to the level of the opponent, and lost a squeaker. But the two games they’ve put together since the bye week have boosted them into the top ten power rankings, they are very healthy compared to most other teams right now, and are rolling. This is going to be another good game, and a very winnable one.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Jets

The Jets, with a new coach and some quarterback issues, are surprisingly good so far this season, already appearing in the top ten rankings of many observers. This is primarily due to their top-3 defense and rushing attack. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has beaten the Raiders with three other teams (Buffalo, Tennessee, and Houston) and looks to become the only QB to do that with a fourth team. Fitzpatrick’s numbers are nothing to write home about, but what the stats don’t record is how he keeps drives alive, keeps his offense in the game, and doesn’t make dumb mistakes. Since Geno Smith got cold-cocked in the locker room at the beginning of the season and has been out since with a broken jaw, Fitzpatrick has kept the team going in a division where the Patriots seem determined to make every other team pay for their (the Patriots’) transgressions.

The Raiders are riding high after pummeling the Chargers, and looking to prove themselves as legitimate contenders, sooner rather than later. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have brought out the best in Derek Carr, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has done a stellar job in tailoring the offense to the players’ strengths. This should be a good game, with every chance for Oakland to win against a highly touted opponent.

Game Preview: Raiders at Chargers

Both the Raiders and Chargers are coming back from heartbreakers, Oakland barely losing at home to the undefeated Broncos before the bye week, while San Diego traveled to Lambeau Field and barely lost in a valiant effort against the undefeated Packers. Philip Rivers threw for a team record 503 yards (and is on a pace to set a season yardage record), leading the team very near a tying touchdown before petering out.

So these teams each have a lot play for right now, as their respective seasons are at a turning point. Rivers is nearing the end of his career, and his team is already at 2-4, on the verge of chucking the season. The Raiders, on the other hand, are 2-3, but for a precious few missed plays and opportunities could be 4-1. The teams have nearly identical records, but is on their way up, the other on their way down and out. And games in San Diego, like games in Arizona, are practically home outing for the Raiders anyway.

So the keys to victory are what they always are: cover the opponent’s tight end (Antonio Gates has victimized the Raiders for years, obviously); diversify the offense with more tight end use; and run as much as possible to keep a balanced attack. This should be a good game.

Game Preview: Raiders at Bears

The Raiders are (for them) riding pretty high on two exciting wins, including one on the road, and in the Eastern time zone at that. The win in Cleveland removed the whammy of at least five significant losing streaks for the team. It would be understandable, especially heading into a matchup with the team most rankers regard as the league’s worst right now, if the Raiders got ahead of themselves a bit, and looked past this game to next week’s home stand against the Broncos.

But head coach Jack Del Rio, with his rather hokey but effective “keep chopping wood” approach, seems unlikely to let the team do that. Even a bad Bears team is always tough at home, and Del Rio is going up against his former boss in Denver, John Fox. Chicago DC Vic Fangio built a mighty D in San Francisco, and while he doesn’t have nearly the talent to work with that he did with the Niners, he’s still a wily strategist who will do his best to stuff Latavius Murray and confuse Derek Carr with disguised blitzes and stunts.

In the end, this should be a game for the Raiders to tighten things up as they head home for what would be a chance to tie for the division lead in the AFC West. As we’ve seen in the two victories, where Oakland jumped to early leads and had to fight to hang on for wins, they have trouble putting opponents away. That’s something you expect from a young team trying to gel and learn how to win. It’s something they’ll continue to refine as the season progresses, because good teams aren’t going to let them get away with it.

But let’s face it — the Bears are bad, really bad. They’re bad with Jay Cutler, and even worse without him. The Bears have a chance because parity and any given Sunday, but as long as the Raiders keep playing the way they have been, there’s no reason Oakland shouldn’t win this one convincingly.

Keys to Victory

Run like hell: The numbers don’t lie — the Raiders have won every time Latavius Murray has had at least 15 carries. Give the man his touches, mix in Marcel Reece, Taiwan Jones, and Roy Helu, Jr.
Use the tight ends: So far this position has been pretty quiet, with the three TEs (Rivera, Smith, and Walford) having just 8 catches for 36 yards between them. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been pretty good at being creative and adaptable in his game plans, no doubt Carr will be using them more as the season progresses.
Cover their TEs: Conversely, opposing tight ends have dogged the Raiders’ linebackers and secondary. Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge, who in seven full seasons had 48 catches total, had a career day last Sunday, with six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Chicago’s Martellus Bennett is the Bears’ leading rusher, and is easily the best TE the Raiders have faced yet this season. It will be a challenge to keep Bennett contained, while not leaving talented WRs Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal wide open.

Game Preview: Raiders at Browns

At first glance, this game might look like a bad one — Oakland has not won a road game since 2013, and the last time they won in the Eastern time zone was in 2009. But the Browns have some key players banged up already, and have a bit of a quarterback controversy to boot; despite a solid performance in last week’s victory by Johnny Manziel, Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine has opted to start Josh McCown, who is on the downside of his career.

So this game is really something of a test, to see if the team that showed up and played hard for a full 60 minutes against a good team can travel across the country and smack a solid but vulnerable team. Travis Benjamin is a dual threat as a receiver and punt returner, and will probably give Oakland’s shaky secondary fits. But this is a good chance for the Raiders to finally get that road-game whammy off their backs.

Keys to victory

Running game: Latavius Murray needs more carries, and the Browns’ improving run defense is as good a test as any.
Marcel Reece: If anything, Derek Carr has almost too many weapons now, and it’s fun to watch him make use of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Andre Holmes. But Reece and tight end Mychal Rivera are also potent weapons, and keeping them in the mix will keep Cleveland’s pass D on their toes.
Pass rush: Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith have come close to getting sacks, but so far Oakland has zero sacks. Cleveland has a talented offensive line, but McCown is not the most mobile QB, and there will be opportunities.

Game Preview: Ravens at Raiders

It’s hard to say convincingly that the Raiders are already in a must-win situation against Baltimore tomorrow, but after last week’s opening-day debacle, it’s not too far off. Between their failure to perform on offense or defense, the critical injuries sustained, and three of their next four games (after tomorrow) on the road (after not winning a single road game last year, and only two total in the last three seasons), the team is already in something of a hole.

Since the defense cannot be counted on to stop even a team whose only real offensive threat is an aging Steve Smith, the only real key to victory is to keep the defense off the field. That means getting that running game going, and sticking with it. It’s great that Derek Carr’s hand was not broken, and we all hope he’s able to utilize Cooper and Crabtree to great effect. But it’s really going to be all about moving the chains and getting first downs, patiently and methodically. Big plays are nice, and every team needs them once in a while. But until the serious flaws in the pass rush and the secondary can be addressed, the main thing is to maximize time of possession. Use all the running backs creatively, keep them fresh, and avoid that stupid infield dirt.

It’s unexpected that defense would be the biggest flaw in this team so far, with both the head coach and the general manager being former linebackers, and Del Rio historically having an emphasis on defense in building his teams. Ultimately it comes down to talent and scheme, and we just don’t have enough talent or depth yet, and are getting snake-bit by injuries already. So throw luck into the mix as well.

You’d think that after over a decade of the worst luck, it has to change eventually. But that’s called a sunk cost fallacy.

Game Preview: Raiders at Broncos

This one could and probably will get ugly — the Broncos are undefeated at home (by an average of 12 points, though their last two home games were somewhat closer); Peyton Manning just came off his worst game as a Bronco (4 INT, including a pick-6) in a 37-28 loss in Cincinnati last week; and the Raiders will probably be without key defensive starters Khalil Mack and T.J. Carrie.

It would be nice to see the Raiders finally get a piece of Manning, who has abused Oakland since moving to Denver, but it’s hard to see how that happens. Maybe the weather will be bad and keep the score low. Maybe Manning is hurt. Maybe the Raiders look at what the Bengals did defensively last week and throw their own twist on it. Mack has shown himself to be a real difference-maker, getting double- and even triple-teamed at times, and it’s going to be a lot tougher if he’s unable to play.

It’s been yet another bad season — downright terrible at times, in fact — but there are some positive signs, regardless of any potential changes in coaching or management:

  • After starting 0-10, Oakland won 3 of their last 5 games, all against opponents with winning records, who were still playing for potential playoff berths.
  • Those wins have come at a price — they no longer have a shot at the #1 draft pick, which would at least have had considerable trade value. But they will still land in the top 5 (probably #3 or #4), so they can still either trade down for more picks, or grab someone like Amari Cooper or Leonard Williams.
  • Rookies Derek Carr and Khalil Mack appear to be future key players the team can rebuild around.
  • There are several other core players on both sides of the ball (Murray, Reece, Rivera, and maybe James Jones, Andre Holmes on offense; Sio Moore, T.J. Carrie, Justin Ellis, Shelby Harris on defense) that also show serious potential.
  • The team will have around $65-70M to spend in the offseason. They may need to retool their free agent approach a bit, maybe even drop a lot of money on game-changing players in their prime, such as Ndamukong Suh or Dez Bryant, but contracts loaded with incentives will get some returns.

Probably half the roster will be turned over — again — and there are a lot of holes yet to fill. But the Raiders seem to have found their quarterback, and with a complementary running back to build a solid tandem with Latavius Murray, and a play-making receiver to top their WR corps, they’ll be on their way back up the ladder.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Bills

This is one of those games that looked a lot easier at the beginning of the season. After a rough start, Buffalo has won 3 of their last 4 games, the lone loss in Denver by a touchdown. Their defense is top 5 in points allowed, and total and pass yards allowed, and leads the league in sacks. In their two most recent games, they held Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning without touchdown passes.

So on paper this looks like the Raiders might be running into a buzzsaw, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. For one, the offense is struggling; the only team they’ve been able to score over 30 points on is the Jets (both times). Only one other game have they scored over 26 points (29 points, week 2 against Miami).

The Bills are 3-3 on the road, and Oakland is their only trip to the West Coast — their only trip further than Denver, in fact. Kyle Orton has managed the quarterbacking duties respectably enough, but it’s the defense that is keeping Buffalo in (slim) contention for a playoff berth. The last time Orton faced Oakland was as a Bronco in 2010, when the Raiders stormed Denver and thrashed them 59-14. Obviously these are two entirely different teams now, but clearly Orton can be gotten to, and pushed into epically bad games.

The Raiders regressed last week in Kansas City, but they have won their last two home games, and the recent storms in California have left their below-sea level field soaked. This is anyone’s game; if the Raiders can play tight, focused ball like they did against the Niners, instead of the mistake-prone mess they had last week, they might just pull this one out.

Game Preview: Raiders at Chiefs

The good news:

  • Raiders have won 2 of their last 3 games, both against teams with winning records.
  • One of those teams was the Chiefs.
  • The Chiefs have lost both games since giving the Raiders their first win.
  • Kansas City still has not had a wide receiver score a touchdown since last season.

The bad news:

  • The Chiefs still have a tough pass rush, and a tougher run defense.
  • It’s Arrowhead Stadium.
  • Raiders haven’t won on the road since November 2013.
  • KC is still mathematically alive for the playoffs, if they can win out and get some help.
  • That game in between the two wins was historically bad, so it’s way too soon to think the team might have turned a corner finally.

But anything’s possible. The Chefs have a lot in common with the 49ers, except Alex Smith is nowhere near as mobile as Colin Kaepernick. If they can just do what they’ve done in their two wins — balanced offense, competent running game, shut down the opposing running game — there’s a chance. There’s always a chance.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. 49ers

After last week’s historic pounding from a middling Rams squad, conventional wisdom might say that the upcoming Battle of the Bay, against a Niners team that has been to the Super Bowl and two botbNFC Championship games over the past three seasons, could be even worse.

But unless the Rams game was a harbinger of deeper problems with the Raiders, I don’t see this one being that bad — in fact, they might even manage to squeak out a win the way they did against the Chiefs the week before the Rams game. For one, this year’s SF team is not on par with the past three versions, not even close. Free agency losses, key injuries and suspensions, the turmoil surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s status, and most importantly, the Raiders game falls between the two Seattle games on the Niners’ schedule. They are not thinking about the Raiders, except as maybe practice fodder; they are thinking about getting thumped by their bitterest division rival on Thanksgiving, and having to turn around and go against them again in one of the toughest stadiums in the league.

So it’s a classic “trap” game, and San Francisco’s second-half offense has been dormant all season. If the Raiders can contain Kaepernick and Gore, force Kaepernick to throw instead of run, and (as always) generate a running game of their own with the sudden discovery of Latavius Murray, they can at least stay in this game. The 49ers have been competitive this season primarily because of their defensive play, especially their punishing line. But Aldon Smith has returned from his suspension as somewhat less than the unstoppable force he was, Willis and Bowman are out, and the secondary is vulnerable.

Realistically, the Niners are still the better team despite all their flaws, but the Raiders can show some resilience just by finding ways to stay in this game.