Oakland Raiders v Atlanta Falcons - Key Matchups
David Wilson – Oct 10, 2012
On paper the undefeated Falcons are huge favorites for this week six clash. There again so were Pittsburgh in week three when they came to Oakland, but games are won on turf in the National Football League, not on paper as the Steelers found out.
It always seems with the Raiders, that just when there is a consensus that they simply cannot win, they do.
On the road on Sunday against the undefeated Falcons it will take a big effort to come out with the win, and as ever there are some individual performances that will have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
Raiders Offense v Falcons Defense
LT Jared Veldheer v RE John Abraham - As Oakland continues to struggle running the football, their ability to pass it becomes even more important. Carson Palmer is quietly playing very well indeed, and a contributor to those performances has been Jared Veldheer. The Raiders young left tackle has yet to allow a sack through four games, all against good pass rushing teams (Miami, Denver, San Diego, and Pittsburgh). He faces another stern test on Sunday against the best pass rusher on the Falcons team in John Abraham. Abraham is in his thirteenth year and shows no signs of slowing down, finishing last year with 9.5 sacks, and already having three this year.
Veldheer enjoys a considerable size advantage that should give him the edge in the run game, but it his ability to keep Carson Palmer upright that will have the biggest impact on the game. Abraham is a very consistent player who rarely grades out negatively overall against opposition tackles. If Veldheer can dominate him, it may be the start of Pro Bowl rumours for the third year player.
TE Brandon Myers v LB Sean Witherspoon - Despite the problems with the Raiders offensive line opening holes for Darren McFadden, it hasn’t all been on them. Brandon Myers has not blocked well for Raider running backs as the starting tight end all year, and his performances against both the Steelers and the Broncos were shocking. Myers has been constantly overpowered and driven backwards at the line, allowing opponents to make tackles behind the line on a regular basis.
The Raiders simply have to get their running game going if they are to rescue this season, and better blocking at the tight end position is a good place to start.
Witherspoon is an able linebacker, but is better in coverage or rushing the passer than defending the run. This is Myers chance to prove he can be an asset as a run blocker and a genuine all round performer. If Witherspoon gets the better of him, the Raiders really have to look to plan B.
Myers has caught the ball extremely well when targeted, but needs to come through in the more physical side of the game.
Falcons Offense v Raiders Defense
TE Tony Gonzales v LB Philip Wheeler - Tony Gonzales is still a great tight end in the receiving game, but his run blocking has fallen off considerably in the last two years. Wheeler has been by far the best Raiders defender over the first four weeks of the season, and has shown some text book linebacker play.
Wheeler’s ability to dominate Gonzales in the run game will be important, as it can help make the Falcons offense one dimensional, but it is also his ability to cover Gonzales in the passing game that will be key. If Wheeler can cover Gonzales well underneath, that will count for a lot on Sunday.
It is a big ask for a linebacker, as Gonzales is Atlanta’s leading receiver and still an elite receiving tight end. Watching him last week, he broke a number of tackles to make yardage after the catch and Wheeler has to keep this to a minimum. The Raider Nation have come to expect big things of Philip Wheeler though, and I believe he will play as well as any player will all season against the former All Pro.
WR’s Roddy White & Julio Jones v CB’s Pat Lee & Michael Huff - You knew coming in that this was clearly a huge mismatch. Both White and Jones are big, physical receivers who are getting the job done week in and week out. They also have a quarterback in Matt Ryan who is completely on top of his game and looking like a candidate for League MVP. In fact Ryan leads the league if not in yardage then in passing efficiency (106.1 rating) through five weeks.
With the Raiders struggling with a secondary decimated by injury, you have to believe that Atlanta will go after them in a big way with Jones and White. Huff and Lee are going to need safety help here to have any hope of success, as well as the front seven generating some pressure on Ryan. Generating pressure is not something the Raiders defense has been good at this year, but as ever the two phases of the game are strongly linked.
Oakland’s cornerbacks are giving opposing receivers a lot of room to move over the first four games, which hasn’t helped the defensive line as quarterbacks have been able to get rid of the ball quickly to open receivers. Some press coverage would be nice to see in order for pass rushers to get that extra second to get to the passer, because sometimes you have to take a risk on getting beaten deep in order to give yourself a chance to generate something. Anything would beat the slow death the defense suffered against the Broncos.
It would also be useful for the Raiders defense to intercept the football, something they have yet to do this year.
The old phrase ‘any given Sunday’ comes to mind here, but although an Oakland win would be against the odds here, it should not be ruled out. To do it, the Raiders have to get their running game going at last, win the turnover battle, and roll the dice every now and then on defense.
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