Oakland Raiders Week-6: Silver & Black Plan of Attack
John Doublin – Oct 12, 2012
The Oakland Raiders come off their bye week and find themselves having to travel to Atlanta, Georgia to take on currently unbeaten Falcons. This will be a stern test for the Raiders as the Falcons are a team on fire so far in the 2012 NFL Season.
The Falcons possess one of the best quarterback/wide receiver combinations, along with arguably the best tight end in the history of the game in Tony Gonzales, but stopping the Falcons' passing attack is only part of the challenge for the Raiders.
The Falcons also employ one of the most brutal, yet diverse rushing attacks in football with the power and experience of Michael Turner and the speed and explosion in rookie Jacquizz Rogers.
Defensively, the Falcons can really get after the passer with guys like John Abraham and Sean Weatherspoon. Inside, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux are stout against the run and tough to move off the ball.
The Falcons' secondary is no slouch either. Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel are ball-hawks that can change the game with one play. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are playing better at safety than just about any other tandem in the league.
So, how can the Raiders pull off a road win? How should they attack the Falcons? What are the Falcons' weaknesses?
The Raiders running game must be better than it has been for Oakland to have any chance. Running the same failed stretch plays over and over as they have been will fail—period. Offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp has to be willing to change things up and use what works best for the talent—the power run.
There is no reason in the world Oakland can't run a mix of power and zone scheme to get the running game going. If Knapp can swallow his pride and over-confidence in his system to employ some of what worked so well last year will get Darren McFadden going and open up the play action pass. Failing to make this adjustment will have the same result it has in the previous four games—zero production from the running game, the offensive line being set up to fail in pass protection and more three-and-outs.
To negate the great Falcons' pass rush, Oakland must use the aggression of the Falcons' defensive ends against them. Running delays, draws and screens to the running backs right into the areas that will be left vacant by Abraham and Ray Edwards getting up field will force the Atlanta defensive linemen to think before they act. That tiny moment of hesitation will go a long way to providing Carson Palmer time in the pocket to get the ball down field.
Using formations that have at least two wide receivers on the same side of the field will help as well. Although Samuel and Robinson are good cornerbacks, they are also gamblers who like to take risks. Getting Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey to run the right route combinations will create confusion in the secondary and the Falcons' cornerbacks will make mistakes. Those mistakes could result in big plays for the Raiders.
Using Brandon Myers in the middle of the field should keep the Falcons' safeties honest. If the safeties are forced to account for Myers between the numbers, they can't pay as close attention to wide receivers on the outside. Less help for the cornerbacks means more down field opportunities.
The Raiders have some great "wild card" players. Marcel Reece is impossible to cover with a linebacker and David Ausberry is a match up nightmare for secondaries. Knapp has to call plays that take advantage of these miss-matches. Getting the ball to Reece and Ausberry will give the Falcons' defense one more wrinkle to be concerned about. The more you make them think, the better your chances of hitting the big play.
If Knapp and Carson Palmer can work together to spread the ball around a lot, there will be big plays available. If the Falcons cover the wide receivers, the tight ends and fullbacks will be open. If they focus on the tight ends and fullbacks, the wide receivers can burn them.
It's about diversity and balance.
Stopping the Falcons' offense will be more important than beating their defense—and more difficult. Atlanta's greatest strength is the offense, by far.
Matt Ryan is playing extremely well, and he has some excellent weapons to utilize. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzales are the names everyone knows, but the Raiders can't sleep on guys like Harry Douglas and Jason Snelling. The Falcons will use these lesser-known players, and if they're left open, Ryan will find them.
The Keys for Oakland are simple: Put pressure on Ryan with as few players as possible and keep runningback Michael Turner from taking over the game.
The Oakland defensive line has to step up to the plate and get pressure on Ryan without using blitzes. If Ryan is allowed to stand in the pocket and survey the field, he will pick the battered Oakland secondary apart. If the Raiders are forced to use six and seven guys to pressure the quarterback, Ryan will dump the ball off and torch Oakland.
This game is in the hands of Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour, Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy. If those four men can pressure Ryan on their own, the secondary will have more players to cover the field and be under less pressure to perform. If not, Raiders' fans will witness more of what happened in the Broncos' game in Week-4—quick passes that keep the Falcons offense moving the chains and wearing out the defense.
The Oakland secondary cannot continue to play soft zone coverages as they have thus far in 2012. Allowing the Broncos' Eric Decker and Demarius Thomas free releases off the line is one thing, but to allow White and Jones to roam free uncontested will be catastrophic.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver can't be afraid to call more exotic coverages and even call some bump and run. Thus far, Tarver has had the cornerbacks playing eight to 10 yards off the line in an attempt to keep everything in front of them. He can't be afraid to gamble a little bit and play tight, man coverage to disrupt the timing of the routes. There's no reason whatsoever the Raiders cornerbacks can't jam the wide receivers at the line, then settle into their zone.
Covering Tony Gonzales early in his routes is good, but covering him late is even more important. Often times, Gonzales will be the third or fourth read on a given play and Ryan will get him the ball late. From there, Gonzales does what he's best at—make the catch and move the chains. This cannot happen if Oakland wants to win this game. Gonzales is Ryan's security blanket. The Oakland defense needs to take it away like Lucy takes Linus' blanket in the Peanuts cartoons.
Expecting Phillip Wheeler to cover Gonzales alone all day long is a recipe for failure. The Raiders need to mix it up. Having Wheeler, Branch and Giordano take turns covering the great tight end will eliminate any trends for Ryan and the Falcons to key on and exploit.
The Raiders' special teams have improved since their Week-1 meltdown, but they are far from elite. It will be important for Oakland to win the field position battle; solid returns coupled with good coverage will be critical.
Phillip Adams has done a nice job returning punts, but many of those returns have been called back by stupid penalties. Against Atlanta, this cannot continue. The return teams must be disciplined and not try to do too much. Just do your job and let Adams do his.
Jacquizz Rogers and Josh Harris can take one to the house at any moment. Oakland must stay in their lanes and make solid, text book tackles when the opportunity presents itself.
It would be great for the Raiders if Sebastian Janikowski can just kick a bunch of balls through the endzone and eliminate the possibility of a return before it even starts. Likewise, Shane Lechler could punt the ball near the sideline to force the returner into having fewer options for eluding tackles.
The single biggest flaw the Raiders have had this season is on third down—both on offense and defense. Oakland is 28th in offensive 3rd down conversions and dead last on defensive 3rd downs. This must change, not just in Atlanta, but for the rest of the season. Converting on third down will keep the Oakland offense on the field and the defense resting. The defense getting off the field on third down will give the offense more opportunities to score and again...keep the defense rested.
Oakland has yet to win the time of possession battle this season. This is due in part to having almost no running game, but also due to the defense playing soft. Both of these factors must improve for the Raiders to have any chance going forward.
Finally, Knapp needs to call better plays in the redzone. So far, Oakland is downright pathetic inside their opponents' 20 yard line. When you consider Oakland has McFadden, Reece and Owen Schmitt on the roster, it makes no sense. The Raiders must turn trips into the redzone into touchdowns. Field goals won't win games—especially this week in Atlanta.
In the end, the defensive line needs to apply pressure on its own, the secondary must play more aggressively and Gonzales needs to be covered all day for the defense to complete the job of stopping the Falcons' offense.
The running game has to come alive, whether it's with the zone or power scheme...or both, the pass rush of the Falcons has to be controlled with screens and draws, and the wide receivers need to work in unison to create confusion in the secondary.
All these things working together give the Raiders a chance to win this game—perhaps their only shot!
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