Oakland Raiders Week-1: Silver & Black Plan of Attack!
John Doublin – Sep 6, 2012
It's finally here! Oakland Raiders' football is, at long last, upon us! The first test of the 2012 NFL Season for the Silver and Black comes this Monday Night in primetime, as the AFC West division rival San Diego Chargers come to "The O" to do battle with the Raiders.
Both teams are coming off 8-8 seasons, but the Chargers are on the decline after several years of being the class of the division, while the Raiders are on the rise, following back to back .500 records that put an end to nearly a decade of losing.
The Raiders are also entering their first season since the passing of their patriarch, Al Davis. Not since 1963 had the Oakland sideline been devoid of the slicked-back hair, golden sun glasses, and unique style of Davis.
But sadly, no more.
The men from the east bay have a new front office, a new coaching staff and a 23 new players taking the field to begin the journey back to greatness.
While Charger head coach Norv Turner fights for his job, newly hired rookie head coach Dennis Allen sets out on his journey of restoring the Raiders to glory and, with the help of new general manager Reggie McKenzie, ushering a "New Era of Excellence."
This Monday night's game will mark the 105th meeting between these two teams, with the Raiders leading the all-time series, 57-45-2. In order for the Raiders to make that record one game better, they will have to play disciplined, yet hard-nosed football, and put the days of "beating themselves" in the past.
Establishing the run: As always, the success of Darren McFadden will determine the success of the Raiders' offense. Getting D-Mac at least 8 carries, plus 5 targets in the passing game within the first quarter of the game will go a long way to ensuring the Chargers are paying attention to McFadden, which will open up the play action pass.
The new Zone Blocking Scheme, (ZBS) is exactly what the Chargers will be expecting, since Greg Knapp has made it clear that's what he intends to implement in Oakland—not to mention, every website in the world is talking about it.
This would suggest that the ZBS runs, (i.e. 'zone stretches' and the like) will be planned for by the Chargers and may gain modest yardage. Therefore, beginning the game with those stretch runs, but then throwing out some old-school, Power lead plays and traps, (much like the Raiders did last year) will keep the Chargers guessing and could break for big yards.
The Raiders can't be afraid to run either, or both, styles of running plays. Mixing up the play calls will cause the Charger defenders to think twice, make them question what they're seeing and react slow to the motion of the play.
Passing game: The one thing Raiders' quarterback, Carson Palmer does best is the play action pass. The one thing the Raiders receivers have on every defense in the league is speed. Knapp should use them both.
Once the Chargers have keyed on McFadden, the play action fake, followed by a deep corner route, or just plain old "Fly" route should be there for the taking. San Diego has two major deficiencies on defense. Pass rush and deep speed. Using the deep ball off of play action could net some huge results for Oakland.
Knapp and Palmer will need to be careful when attacking deep, because whatever starting safety Eric Weddle may lack in speed, he makes up for with veteran savvy. Palmer will need to control the secondary with his eyes, move the safeties out of the route, and deliver an accurate ball to the speedy wide receivers.
This is not to say that Oakland shouldn't use standard three, five and seven step drop-back passes at all, just that the play action has more potential to break the big play, because although the Chargers may lack some speed in the secondary, they have smart players like Weddle and Pro Bowl caliber cornerback, Quentin Jammer in the secondary.
When the deep pass isn't there, Palmer can't force the ball and make one of the bad decisions he's been maligned for recently. Palmer can't be afraid to take what the defense gives him, check the ball down to a runningback or hit the tight end in the middle of the field.
Not every play has to go for 30+ yards.
Play calling: What fans witnessed in the preseason is hopefully not an indication of how Knapp will call plays in games that matter. There was a lot of the "Chuck Knox philosophy, circa 1993 Seahawks—run, run, pass, punt" going on, and that will result in certain defeat for the Raiders.
Knapp cannot be afraid to pass on first down or run on third down and more than four. If you set a trend, it can be followed, diagnosed and beaten. If you keep mixing things up, throwing out new wrinkles and do the unexpected, you give yourself the best chance to win.
Knapp needs to keep this in mind.
Surprise performer: Brandon Myers.
Stopping the run: The Chargers are likely to be without their starting runningback, Ryan Mattews. This could work out to be good and bad for the Raiders. With Matthews out, veteran runner Ronnie Brown will get the start and Brown is a much more "complete" back than Matthews.
Brown won't get the corner like Matthews can, but he's a more powerful runner, is more effective between the tackles and is a better receiver out of the backfield. The Raiders can't allow Brown to get comfortable or let his advanced age fool them into thinking he's not a capable back.
Gap discipline by the Raiders has been much improved this preseason and must continue Monday night to keep Brown and the Chargers' rushing attack in check.
Overall team tackling is greatly improved for the Raiders as well, which is a good thing considering Brown will run right through arm tackles. Oakland has to be fundamentally sound to stop Brown all day long.
As long as Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly can absorb blocks and create penetration, Brown will be forced into using the weakest part of his game—outside speed, (or the lack thereof). Assuming Matt Shaughnessy and Lamaar Houston are doing their job and setting the edge, the Raiders' linebackers should have a field day filling gaps and making tackles at, or behind, the line of scrimmage.
Stopping the pass: Phillip Rivers and the passing game is the "Bread and Butter" of the Chargers' offense. Containing the wide receivers, pressuring Rivers and creating confusion will be key for Oakland.
Everyone knows in the past, the Raiders would be in man-to-man coverage with one, deep safety. The days of this predictability are over as new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will be running multiple fronts, multiple coverages and much more exotic blitzes to stop opponents.
Antonio Gates will still be the primary target for Rivers, but with Vincent Jackson gone to Tampa Bay, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem will be the top wide receivers for the Chargers. Neither of these guys are Vincent Jackson and both can be neutralized much more easily.
Philip Wheeler has shown in preseason that the nightmare of tight ends running wild against the Raiders are over. However, no linebacker, no matter how good, can cover Gates alone all day long. It will take a team effort with Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff and Mike Mitchell helping Wheeler contain Gates.
Taking Gates away will cause Rivers to look elsewhere to complete passes and move the chains. This is where the confusion aspect comes in. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer will need to be true to their zone assignments. Assuming they are, Rivers can be baited into making mistakes and throwing interceptions.
The final, and possibly most important aspect of stopping the Chargers' passing game is pressuring Rivers. Despite his career numbers, Rivers his human and has flaws. One of those flaws is that he tends to panick and force the ball when he's under pressure.
In the first meeting between these two last year, Rivers was sacked six times and the Raiders won the game. In the second meeting, Rivers was almost untouched and the Raiders lost. It's not rocket science.
The Chargers' best pass blocker, (perhaps the best pass blocker in the league) Jared Gaither is out with a back injury—again. Gaither failed a physical last year when the Raiders brought him to Oakland for a look, now the Chargers are realizing why. This turn of events brings in rookie Mike Harris—who is not Gaither.
Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy needs to take advantage of this substitution and get pressure on Rivers. If Shaughnessy can do this, the Raiders won't have to commit blitzers to pressure Rivers and the secondary will be in a much better position to make plays.
Play calling: It's almost impossible to predict how new defensive coordinator Tarver is going to call the game. This is a good thing. Mixing up zone and man coverages will confuse Rivers, keeping Gates covered will take away Rivers' favorite target and exploiting the weak left tackle position with unexpected blitzes and straight-up one-on-one pressure from Shaughnessy all add up to Rivers making a mistake that gives the ball to the Raiders with a short field.
Surprise performer: Shawntae Spencer.
Additionally: Perhaps the most important piece to this puzzle is eliminating the single most demoralizing aspect of the Raiders' 2011 season—penalties. This preseason, the discipline of the Raiders appears to be much better. Oakland has averaged just under six penalties per game for barely 45 yards per game. This trend must continue, otherwise, Raider Nation will witness yet another game in which the Raiders beat themselves.
In closing: Essentially, as long as Greg Knapp isn't afraid of reverting back to the power scheme occasionally, mixing it in with the new zone blocking scheme, getting McFadden involved early and often, the play action deep passes should be available for Palmer and the Raiders' receivers to take almost at will.
Keeping the interior rushing lanes closed, forcing Brown outside where Shaughnessy and Houston are setting the edge should kill any hope of a Chargers' running game. Being aware of, and covering Gates all day, staying true to zone coverage resposibilities by the cornerbacks and applying pressure on Rivers by any means necessary will lead to turnovers and short fields for the Raiders offense.
Doing all this will lead to the Raiders getting their 2012 NFL Season off to the kind of start the fans are looking for—a win.
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