The Patriots and the Raiders face off in Mexico City this week and while this is a big game for both teams, it has taken on an aura of a “must-win” for Oakland as their playoff hopes will take a big hit if they lose on Sunday.
The Raiders are 4-5 and coming off of their bye week, so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for the Patriots and they’ll no doubt have done their homework but one of the main reasons they are in the position they find themselves in is because of their defense.
The Raiders were one of the teams that were expected to push the Patriots in the AFC this season. Many of the pundits had them ready to leapfrog New England and represent the conference this season in the Super Bowl. A loss on Sunday may just about doom their hopes of even making the playoffs. The Raiders must really go no less than 6-1 down the stretch to have any shot at the playoffs, and even that may be a bit iffy. That is why this upcoming game for them is a must-win. And they’re going to need their defense to play much better than it has so far.
Bad Matchups Abound: The Raiders defense faces a tough task this week because overall they don’t match up well against the this Patriots offense. The defense has yet to post an interception on the year and their top three cornerbacks are among the lowest in the league statistically in opponent’s quarterback rating.
Oakland last year knew that they had to improve their defense to make the big jump they envisioned for this season. They spent their first two picks on their secondary with CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu. But Conley was placed on IR this week and is gone for the season and Melifonwu, just came off of IR and played in his first game against Miami two weeks ago prior to the bye.
After watching some film on the Raiders, corners David Amerson and T.J. Carrie will probably get the start against Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett, as we expect Chris Hogan to sit again. That’s a matchup that favors the Patriots, but the real mismatches come inside.
The Raiders safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph do not match up well at all with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The Raiders linebackers have been woeful in coverage. Factor in Danny Amendola in the slot and running backs James White and Rex Burkhead in the passing game and Brady should be able to find mismatches all over the field.
Oakland may opt to put the big Melifonwu on Gronkowski this week. He has the size at 6’4, 244 and ridiculous athleticism to hang with Gronk. Nobody has been higher on Melifonwu than us here, and he has a tremendous future. But is it fair to saddle a rookie in just his second NFL game with guarding the best tight end in the league?
Pass Rush Disappointing: With a front four that features Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, you would think Oakland would be one of the better pass rushing teams in the league. But they haven’t lived up to that. The Raiders have only 13 sacks on the season which is actually less than the Patriots 16 thus far this season. That is one reason why the team has zero interceptions thus far this season.
Without a pass rush getting home and a shaky back seven on the defense it is no wonder opponents are completing better than 71 percent of their passes against Oakland’s defense. Opponent’s QB rating against them is 109.4. That is higher than Tom Brady’s 108.3 which explains the struggles that the Raiders secondary has had thus far this season.
Death By 1000 Cuts: The Patriots will no doubt opt to do what they always do and that is, be patient, let Brady find the mismatches and work their way down the field. James White leads the team with 46 receptions but the Patriots have five receivers with more than 30 catches. And opponents can’t go to sleep on Burkhead who missed several games with a rib injury, Dion Lewis or Martellus Bennett who just returned to the team after he was waived by the Packers.
However, if the Raiders start trying to crowd the underneath and middle routes, Cooks and Dorsett have the speed to stretch the field deeply. Look for Brady to work the middle to find the outside the numbers this week. They don’t normally take a lot of shots downfield but this week they may try to do more of those.
The Raiders haven’t been great against the run this season either and that could be a factor as well this Sunday. Burkhead, Lewis, White and Mike Gillislee give them plenty of options to keep the defense honest.
It will be intriguing to see how Oakland’s defense opts to play this week. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio have traditionally been a “do what we do” type of defense. If they don’t change things up this week, they could find themselves facing a tough uphill obstacle. But that’s why they play the games, every week is different and there are always surprises on the field.
¡Bienvenidos a México!
Posted Under: 2017 Patriots Season
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Bruce Irvin Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Jack Del Rio James White Ken Norton Jr. Khalil Mack Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett Mexico City New England Patriots NFL Oakland Raiders Patriots Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady