Oakland Raiders Keys to Success: Detroit Lions

Andrew Flores – Nov 17, 2015

Last week’s loss left the Raiders reeling. The Vikings offensive coordinator was able to exploit the Raider’s deficiencies all game long. While it wasn’t flashy the Vikings were effective.  The Vikings stout defense was able to harass Carr consistently. But it is my opinion that Raiders’ offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was the biggest issue within this game. That being said the Raiders will need to refocus and show some resilience. The Detroit Lions will be confident coming off of a historic win against the Green Bay Packers. This Lions team has underwhelmed throughout the season, but they cannot be underestimated.

In analyzing this Lions team let’s look past the record. Offensively the Lions have the pieces to challenge any defense. Calvin Johnson Jr. is of course the name that comes to mind when analyzing the Lions. While many in the media have played up the narrative that Johnson has lost a step. Johnson’s struggles this season are the product of an inept offensive line. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked an astounding 22 times this season. The Lions offensive line’s struggles continue when they are asked to run block as the team is averaging a league worst 66.9 rush yards per game. That being said the Lions have surrounded Stafford with weapons. While Johnson is the first name that comes to mind, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and Ameer Abdullah are all playmakers.

Ignore the narrative, Calvin Johnson is a once in a lifetime talent at wide receiver, and in spite of his team’s struggles he has managed 740 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. At 6’5 with speed surpassing his impressive size he is a matchup nightmare. Over the years he has developed excellent chemistry with Stafford and is often the go to guy for the Lions.  The Lions will look to challenge a Raiders’ secondary that has struggled recently.  Those struggles could very well continue on Sunday as Johnson is complemented by another solid receiver in Golden Tate. Tate has been often overlooked, but he is dynamic playmaker with excellent hands and speed. Last season when Johnson struggled with injuries Tate was able to step up and become the number one receiver for the Lions. He ended the year with 1,331 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. In tandem with Johnson he gives Detroit one of the best wide receiver combos in the league.   But these two talented receivers aren’t the only playmakers for this Lions team.

The Lions also boast a former first round pick in tight-end Eric Ebron. While Ebron has not had the impact the Lions most likely expected him to have when they drafted him 10th overall. He is dynamic at 6’4 with natural hands and a 4.6 forty time. Ebron will likely be a focal point of the Lion’s game plan on Sunday. Expect the Lions to exploit the Raider’s weakness and target Ebron in the red zone as he currently has 3 touchdowns.

Finally let’s focus on the Lion’s electric rookie running back in Ameer Abdullah. In the preseason many analysts compared Abdullah to a Lion’s legend in Barry Sanders. While it was high praise and it was definitely too early to make such a comparison, he has the tools to develop into a top running back in the NFL. When you watch Abdullah you see a player that can make defenders miss with ease.  He has exceptional wiggle that is very much reminiscent of Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy. Despite being only 5’9 Abdullah runs with a good power. Abdullah is a solid receiver out of the backfield, but has not seen the field often on 3rd down as he is a liability in pass protection. Abdullah can also make an impact on special teams as last week he had a record tying 104 yard kick return.

Defensively the Lions key players are Ezekiel Ansah, Haloti Ngata, and Darius Slay. Ezekiel Ansah is one of the better defensive ends in the league. Ansah excels at harassing the quarterback and currently has 7 sacks, so the Raiders will need to key in Ansah and protect Carr. Haloti Ngata could have the biggest impact come Sunday; this of course is dependent on the health of Raiders’ center Rodney Hudson. Hudson is one of the best centers in the NFL and without Hudson the Raiders struggled. Ngata will be tasked with shutting down the Raiders’ run game, and if Hudson is unable to go expect Ngata to make his presence known throughout the game. Ngata will be looking to make the Raider’s one dimensional as they have struggled when opponents have been able to do this. In the secondary cornerback Darius Slay has developed into one of the better corners in the league for the Lions. It will be interesting to see who the Lions match Slay up with.  I would expect Detroit to have Slay cover Cooper as he is the Raider’s top playmaker.

Offensively last week the Carr sputtered without center Rodney Hudson and his health will be of note in this game. Without Hudson the Raiders struggled to run the ball, and the lack of balance derailed a dynamic offense. If Hudson is back expect the offense to get back on track this week. Regardless of whether Hudson is able to play, Musgrave will need to coach a much better game. The play calling on Sunday was clearly an issue throughout the game. Musgrave must trust quarterback Derek Carr. Musgrave must open up the playbook and show some aggression. While Sunday was not all negative the Raiders will need to recommit to letting Murray run to the outside. The Raiders are doing a nice job of increasing tight-end Clive Walford’s role each and every week. He has already demonstrated he can be an excellent threat in the end zone, but they will need to continue to add plays into the offense for Walford as he has the talent to develop into a top playmaking tight-end. Look for Cooper and Crabtree to get back on track and continue with their stellar seasons. 

Defensively the key will be pressure. Stafford has struggled as a suspect offensive line has allowed 22 sacks this season. While the Aldon Smith suspension was brutal the Raiders will need to employ a next man up philosophy and overcome this loss. The pressure now falls on Khalil Mack. The reality is teams will be able to key in on Mack, as they will no longer have to worry about Aldon. Mack was dominant on Sunday, but he will need to elevate his play to new heights as he is the Raiders' top pass rusher. Rookie Mario Edwards Jr. will be expected to continue to elevate his play too. Make no mistake he has been an impact player for the Raiders off late. On tape one of the things I personally love about Edwards is he is always delivering punishing hits.  Edwards has also done an excellent job when tasked with creating interior pressure.Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will need to blitz, because if the Raiders do not blitz it could be a long day for the Raiders’ secondary as this Lions offense has plenty of playmakers. As a final thought Benson Mayowa and Max Valles could be the players that the Raiders look to. Max Valles is currently on the practice squad but is brimming with potential. Mayowa flashed last season as he plays with plenty of passion and has an excellent motor. 

After a loss in which the Raiders were thoroughly outcoached this week’s road game against the Lions will be telling.  The Raiders are full of talent and in analyzing this team I cannot help but see a team that has the talent to be a wildcard team this season. If the Raiders want to realize their playoff aspirations they will need to demonstrate that they can play playoff caliber football consistently. While the Raiders did display this in week 8 when they thoroughly bested a solid Jets team, last week’s loss was far from a playoff caliber performance.  This team has shown good progress throughout the first 10 weeks, but they will need to continue to play hard and will need to win the tough battles like this week’s game in Detroit. 

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