Oakland Raiders Week 4 : Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
Justin Smith – Sep 28, 2012
Hello folks and welcome to another edition of Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns, this one to close out the first quarter of a very interesting NFL season.
After difficulties in dealing with special teams issues and the Miami heat in their first two games, the Oakland Raiders battled the Pittsburgh Steelers toe-to-toe at home, taking punches and countering until they walked off with a 34-31 victory that was a breakthrough in fight and toughness for this team.
They head to Denver this week to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos, who have struggled in their last two games and fallen behind early before attempting late rallies that fell short.
Both Oakland and Denver are 1-2; ironically, each team's win has come against the Steelers.
This is the Raiders second divisional game after an opening-night loss to San Diego, and Denver's first divisional game with Manning under center. It's one of the more storied rivalries in the NFL, and, with all the parody in the league - particularly in the AFC - may have playoff implications already.
Manning is a classic passing quarterback and the Raiders are weakened in the secondary as their two starters, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, are shelved again this week and therefore some less experienced players like Pat Lee, Joselio Hanson, and Michael Huff will once again be called upon to defend outside.
Who's under the most pressure this week? Why? What have the Raiders taught us we didn't know before?
Let's find out.
Oakland Pass Defense
This is the second time this year they've found themselves in PHK, but the first time around I questioned the viability of two players coming off injury in Spencer and Bartell. Spencer was playing well in coverage in the brief time he was healthy, and Bartell is a good tackler but not exactly a blanket on the outside; however, the point is moot. They will not play on Sunday in Denver.
Instead Pat Lee will start again, and Michael Huff slides down from safety to play corner. Lee and Huff were repeatedly burned on short and intermediate routes last week as Ben Roethlisberger threw for nearly 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lee made a couple of good plays on the ball, particularly punching it out of Antonio Brown's hands at a key juncture, but was often overmatched in coverage.
Steelers receivers - and TE Heath Miller - were more uncovered than a Kardashian near a camera and the Raiders didn't muster much of a pass rush to help out the corners. Hopefully the recent signing of Andre Carter can bolster the rush.
The Raider corners, Lee and Huff, Hanson and Francies, have their work cut out for them against the size and speed of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, with a cerebral QB in Manning who seems a step behind physically but is as sharp as ever mentally.
With the disappointing play of Matt Shaughnessy, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and especially Lamarr Houston - who I really thought was poised for a huge year but has been invisible thus far - and the ability of Manning to audible and call plays at the line, it may prove exceedingly difficult to get pressure. And if that doesn't happen, the Raider secondary showed last week they aren't capable of blanket coverage. Another aerial assualt could ensue without a pass rush - early, and often.
McFadden finally had a bit of a breakout game last week, going for 113 yards and a touchdown, and also catching a few key passes later in the game.
However the numbers are misleading: McFadden's very first carry of the game was a 64 yard touchdown. Take that away, and McFadden is left with 49 yards on 17 carries - a 2.88 ypc average and comparable to his dismal numbers the first two weeks.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's zone blocking scheme has taken the majority of the blame for McFadden's lack of production - and that's a fair enough assessment. The offensive line has been having difficulty opening holes; but McFadden has shown little to no ability to adapt or ad-lib when initial blocks break down.
Against Pittsburgh there were two separate occasions where the play was called to go outside right tackle and when the ball was snapped the outside was clogged up. On both occasions McFadden, had he looked and cut quickly, could've cut back to the other side for significant yardage and a potential Bo Jacksonesque run for the roses. He didn't. He rarely does; which is why he's better suited for the power blocking scheme where he just goes through a predetermined hole.
McFadden has dominated Denver in his career, averaging a staggering 144 yards per game against them. The Broncos have also shown suceptability to play-action this season, which Carson Palmer and McFadden run expertly.
With Joe Mays suspended, DJ Williams gone and Champ Bailey getting older the Broncos defense is far different than last time Dennis Allen coached them or the Raiders played them. They've improved against the run up front; but have lost some outside speed and that's where McFadden can really make hay.
McFadden is under pressure to show that he can make plays when his line hasn't opened a huge hole for him - something he's been lacking this season. He's also under pressure to maintain his dominance over Denver in hopes that the Raiders can get to .500 in both the standings and the division.
With his comfort level increasing and his past success against Denver it would be surprising if McFadden didn't have another big game. The Raiders desperately need it from him.
- Laundry list of injuries this week of players who may be doubtful, including McFadden, Tommy Kelly, Mike Goodson, Brandon Myers, Seabass and Richard Seymour. By all accounts all except Myers - who needs to pass concussion testing - should play without issue
- After taking a vicious helmet-to-helmet shot from the Steelers' Ryan Mundy - who is the one who concussed Myers as well - Darrius Heyward-Bey is thankfully home and resting comfortably. There is no immediate timetable for his return, as he has a neck strain and concussion. Mundy was fined $21,000 for a hit that wasn't even flagged. Thanks replacement refs.
-The Raiders and Broncos have played better in each other's houses over the last few seasons in this series then they have at home. Since 2008 they have played eight times, the Raiders holding a 5-3 edge. Oakland has won four of those games in Denver; Denver won all three of theirs in Oakland. That means in the last eight meetings the home team has won exactly once.
- Slings and arrows abound for Peyton and his last two weeks, but I for one see a QB who still knows the game. His arm doesn't look the same, though, and the Raiders would do well to sit on short routes and force Manning to beat them over the top. He hasn't shown he can do that in 2012 as of yet.
- McGahee's ribs are hurting but he was full go in practice and he always gives the Raiders fits.
- Philip Wheeler has quietly solidifed the Raiders' run defense on the outside and is having a little-noticed but solidly spectacular year.
- As I mentioned above, I'm very disappointed in Lamarr Houston. After spending the majority of preseason in the backfield of opponents, he's been a non-factor in every game thus far, disappearing for long stretches of time.
- Tommy Kelly is still good but Desmond Bryant is really coming on and needs to take snaps from Kelly and Seymour. He's simply a better - and younger - player at this point.
- The tight end position is looking promising after being a question mark. Brandon Myers has emerged as a reliable pass catching threat, Richard Gordon a good blocker who can get downfield, and David Ausberry a big target with good hands and the ability to get YAC.
Carson Palmer is Done
I've been giving Palmer the benefit of the doubt since last year, as he came into one hell of a tough situation. The preseason was worrisome, but not the end of the world as it was preseason.
But now? Palmer has shown he can put up numbers - 373 in week 2 - lead this team - coming back from four separate deficits to beat the Steelers last Sunday - and move in the pocket in Knapp's roll-out scheme.
While Raider fans and Raider Nation aren't happy with the running game and rightfully so thus far, Knapp's roll out bootleg passing game seems to suit Palmer quite well, and he's playing like it.
He is the one player most responsible for beating Pittsburgh last week. Coming off a disappointing loss to Miami and having yet to find their groove, the Raiders gave up 7 early points and things could've went in the toilet.
Fortunately McFadden's 64 yard TD burst got them right back in the game; but Pittsburgh scored at will and took leads of 7-0, 14-7, 17-14, 24-14, and 31-21 at various points in the game.
Yet Palmer never quit; he had paltry yardage numbers but three touchdowns, and made key plays when it counted. His spin move to get away from pressure on his last touchdown pass to Denarius Moore was an example of his mobility - which people claim he doesn't have - and agility. He has the ability to slide around the pocket; the Steelers only sacked him one time.
Palmer has improved each week and is beginning to look more like the Palmer of 2006 than the Palmer who came off the couch and into the fire last fall.
One thing is sure: he's the best QB the Raiders have had since Richie Gannon.
Well, going into Denver is never easy - except for the last four years - but I feel the Raiders have a good shot to win this game. The unfortunate X-Factor is that Denver's strength is passing the ball. Oakland's weakness is defending the pass.
But they showed against the Steelers they can win a shootout as well. If this turns into one, the Raiders should be able to move the ball against the Broncos just as easily.
The key is pass rush. If they can get some pressure on Manning and make him uncomfortable, things should go well. If they give him time to sit in the pocket and write his memoirs while simultaneously recording an 18 album opus of his line calls then they are in big trouble.
Dennis Allen knows the Broncos. The Raiders are getting tougher by the day - and Allen's penchant for discipline is really starting to work. This Raider team is as talented yet more disciplined than those in the past that have come into Denver and left with victory.
For the divisional race and playoff picture down the road they need to do so again.
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