The Patriots may lean on Stevan Ridley and the ground attack in week three. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots host the Oakland Raiders in their home opener at Gillette Stadium Sunday.¬†This is the first meeting in New England since the 2005 season, although the last contest was Oct. 2, 2011 in Oakland. The Raiders lost to the Houston Texans 30-14 last week, while the Patriots rolled 30-7 over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Raiders look to get their first victory of the 2014 season, while the Patriots attempt to get over the .500 mark. This will be Oakland Head Coach Dennis Allen’s first game facing New England in his tenure, Bill Belichick is 4-1 against the Raiders since he’s been with the Patriots.
First Impressions: The Raiders are off to a slow start, and while there have been some positives, Oakland has serious deficiencies on both sides of the ball. They have struggled to run and defend the ground attack, putting a lot of pressure of rookie QB Derek Carr. Despite adding a lot of veteran talent, Oakland has allowed 24.5 points-per-game.
Run Game Could Be Factor:¬†The run game will be key for both teams. The Patriots will look to stay balanced offensively and should find some success. Oakland has allowed the most rushing yards to opponents this season, averaging 200 yards on the ground each contest.
The Raiders have the 31st ranked rushing attack in the NFL, averaging only 63 yards-per-game. Taking the running attack away from Oakland and forcing them to be one-dimensional could prove to be a huge advantage for New England. It was a similar situation last week against the Vikings and the Patriots had four interceptions on the day.
Defending Derek Carr:¬†While Carr has played respectable through his first two career starts, he has struggled to push the ball down the field, illustrated by his 5.6 yards per attempt. As aforementioned, the Raiders have struggled to run the ball efficiently. Putting cornerback, Darrelle Revis, against Oakland’s apparent top receiver, James Jones, and taking away their rushing attack, could fluster the rookie. If the Patriots jump out to an early lead, do the Raiders have the fire power to overcome the deficit?
Third Down Success: Looking at the box score after a game, third down success can often translate to wins. The Patriots need to capitalize on both sides of the ball this week. The Raiders have converted just 23.8% of third downs offensively (31st in NFL). On the flip side, Oakland’s defense ranks 29th on third downs, allowing opposing teams to convert 51.9% of the time.
Players To Watch:
Stevan Ridley¬†–¬†While Tom Brady gets the passing attack in sync, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a weak Raiders run defense. They want to stay balanced and getting Ridley on track early might be the remedy to their offensive woes. He was effective in week two (25 carries for 101 yards) would expect a similar workload Sunday.
Aaron Dobson¬†–¬†¬†There’s been a lot of talk about Brady relying too heavily on Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. With Dobson back in the mix, he could be a much-needed boost for a lackluster passing game. If Dobson can win his one-on-one opportunities, New England might have more success through the air.
Dont’a Hightower –¬†With opposing offenses focusing on Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, Hightower has put together back-to-back impressive performances this year. Playing much closer to the line of scrimmage has proved to be beneficial and look for him to have an impact on the edge.
Key Matchup:¬†Tyvon Branch vs Rob Gronkowski —
Both teams are vastly different from their last contest in 2011, but Oakland safety Tyvon Branch matched-up against Rob Gronkowski throughout the day. Gronk was held to just one catch for 15 yards. Branch is a physical, athletic player and could be once again called with the tall task of covering one of the NFL’s best weapons.
Prediction:¬†Patriots¬†41, Raiders, 17
After a week one loss, the Patriots responded with a solid win on the road against the Vikings. While New England’s offense has been hot-and-cold through two weeks, they won’t face much resistance in this contest. Expect the Pats’ defense to have another big day, putting the offense in position to rack up points throughout the day.
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