Oakland Raiders Week-2: Silver & Black Plan of Attack
John Doublin – Sep 15, 2012
Follow a disheartening loss at home to open the season against the Chargers, the Oakland Raiders are once again forced to travel across three time zones on a short week as they head to Miami to take on the Dolphins.
The Raiders' defense played fantastic in the home opener on Monday Night Football, only to watch lack luster offensive play calling and horrific special teams play virtually hand the game to the Chargers without much of a fight. This week's game must be different for the Raiders' offense if Oakland is to have any chance on the road against the Dolphins.
Establish The Run: The zone run has thus far been an unmitigated failure. The Raiders' offensive line is not suited to this scheme and Darren McFadden has never been productive in this scheme. It's still unclear why offensive coordinator Greg Knapp insists on sticking with it.
The power running game is what Oakland does best, both up front and from the running back spot. In order for the Raiders' to establish the run, Knapp must swallow his pride, put his ego aside, admit that the ZBS isn't working and call some good, old-fashioned power running plays.
A solid ground game will move the chains and get the Dolphins defense keying on McFadden and the running backs. At that point, Carson Palmer can do what he has done best his entire career—throw deep off of play action.
If Knapp is unwilling to concede his failing in this matter, it could be a long day for the Raiders and Raider Nation.
Play Action Passing: As stated above, Palmer is a very good play action quarterback. Assuming the running game is effective, Palmer should have ample time to survey the field, find open guys, set his feet and deliver the ball.
Getting Denarius Moore back from injury will help a lot. Last week the Raiders had no legitimate deep threat—not that Knapp called many deep routes anyway. This, combined with a completely predictable running attack stagnated the Raiders' offense making them one-dimensional. This allowed the Chargers to "pin their ears back" and pressure Palmer with no worries of broken coverages behind them.
Knapp has to keep the Dolphins' safeties honest and away from the line of scrimmage, but also make them believe that he is prepared to go deep. If not, the safeties will cheat up to the line and support the run. This will also remove the only thing Oakland seemed able to do last week, which was to dump the ball off to McFadden short.
There also has to be an option in the middle of the field. Brandon Myers had a solid game last week, but wasn't even considered a target until the second half. Getting Myers and the other tight ends involved early will keep, not only the Dolphin safeties honest, but their linebackers as well. This will open up more running lanes for McFadden.
Finally, Marcel Reece presents perhaps the most difficult matchup for defenses of any player in the NFL. He has the speed and power of a running back, the size of a tight end, and the hands of a wide receiver. He must be involved in the game plan much more than the three targets of last week. Hand him the ball, throw him the ball, get him out on a screen, run him deep...make the Dolphins account for, and adjust to him.
The more the Dolphins are thinking about McFadden, Reece, Myers and Moore, the more likely it is that Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rod Streater, Juron Criner and Derek Hagan can make impact plays.
This game is going to be a test—perhaps a FINAL test—for Knapp. If the offense plays well, his job is safe. If not, he could be on an extremely "hot seat." Knapp must use what works, put his team in position to score with plays designed to complement the players' abilities, not by forcing players to run a scheme that doesn't fit their talent, like he did in his last stint as the Raiders' coordinator—and like he did last week!
Honestly, the best thing for the Raiders' defense to do this week in Miami is—just keep doing what you're doing. The defense was a lone bright spot for Oakland in their Week-1 loss and if they can keep it up, this becomes a very winnable game for the Raiders, despite having to travel across the country on a short week.
More of a pass rush would be good, however. Pressuring Tannehill will likely force him to make some of those "rookie mistakes" he did last week. The Dolphins have a great left tackle in Jake Long, but the rest of their line is suspect, especially right tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard John Jerry. The individual talent is there, but they don't appear to be playing as a cohesive unit.
Tackle/end stunts and disguised blitzes from the linebackers and safeties will cause confusion along their offensive line and allow the Raiders to get to Tannehill—who, in light of his zero touchdown, three interception performance last week, has proven he'll make mistakes and give the ball to the other team.
The run defense needs to just keep up the good work. Reggie Bush can hurt you if he's allowed to get seams to run through. He's extremely fast and elusive in the open field. Keeping him hemmed in the backfield with no outside or cutback options will slow down their running game, thereby eliminating play action as an option.
The real threat posed by the Dolphins is getting Bush the ball in the flat with space to work. This was a problem for the Raiders last week as Antonio Gates and Charger runningback, Brinkley were constantly left uncovered on the edge of the defense. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver needs to be aware of this and have a plan to stop it.
Once the most-forgotten and least-discussed aspect of Raider football is special teams. But, no more. After last week's debacle, much emphasis has been placed on the "Third squad" of the Raiders.
Many in Raider Nation have taken for granted that Oakland will be solid on special teams, because for so many years, they had been. It's amazing what losing an apparently insignificant player like a long snapper can do to a team's ability to execute the routine.
Oakland has signed long snapper Nick Guess and looked at a few others. Another thing that certainly has happened is the Raiders have analyzed, discussed and found who really is going to be the backup snapper—and determined whether or not he's really capable.
Whether it's Guess or Travis Goethel, it's almost guaranteed that he has been given snaps with the special teams to perfect the snap itself, as well as to understand the protection calls. This played out as a critical downfall for Oakland last week, rest assured Allen won't let it happen again!
The return game needs to improve as well. Oakland simply can't seem to decide on a permanent return man. Since Jacoby Ford is no longer an option, Oakland brought back cornerback Coye Francies to help special teams, as well as to provide depth for the loss of Ron Bartell.
Whomever is returning kicks and punts, needs to be given better blocking. Again, this had been taken for granted for so long in Oakland that it became a problem when one thing went wrong.
These problems must end immediately. Much like Knapp, Special Teams coordinator, Mike Hoffman could find himself on the "hot seat" if the return game, the punt game and the kicking game don't perform much, MUCH better than last week.
Less that 12% of teams that begin the season at 0-2 make the playoffs. Less than 2% win a playoff game. Less that 1% win the Super Bowl. If Oakland goes into Miami and lays another egg like last week, the hole will be dug for them...a hole that history says, is extremely unlikely to be overcome or out of which they can dig themselves.
Knapp must put players in positions they are comfortable with, even if that goes against the scheme he wants to run. Tarver needs to just do what he's done so far, but generate a bit more pass rush and cover the flats better. Hoffman needs to turn 180 degrees from where the special teams were last week and find a permanent return man for the season.
Do these things, and a Raider victory is more than possible, it's likely. Do them not, and the "Silver linings" will fall into a "Black hole!"
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