The Patriots are coming off back-to-back horrendous losses to the Cowboys and the Saints, where they were outscored 72-3. Now they head out to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders, the scene of their worst loss of 2022.
This was a game I penciled in that they should win, and if they play to their capabilities, they would. Vegas has had its own offensive issues this season, with a leaky offensive line and the failure to run the football effectively. In fact, the Patriots have outgained the Raiders in total yardage thus far through five games. Let that sink in a moment.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally in the Boston area on WBZ-TV Channel 4. They somehow drew CBS’ #1 team. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots’ flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriot offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Raiders Front Seven — Edge New England
I can’t believe I’m typing this…But the Patriots SHOULD have an edge running the ball. The fact that they have yet to do that yet defies description. Vegas hasn’t been good at defending the run this season, allowing 129.4 yards per game on the ground.
So, one team is going to have a get-right type of game this week. The Raiders can be exploited up the middle of the defense. Last season, the Patriots ran for more than 200 yards by running away from Maxx Crosby and using traps to counter his natural aggressiveness.
While the OL has to start blocking better, the backs need to start breaking tackles. Last year, Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 172 yards and a score on 19 carries. With the talk this week about the “start over,” perhaps it is Stevenson’s turn to get things going this year. After five games last season, he had rushed for 372 yards. This season, he has 188.
Patriots WRs vs. Raiders Secondary — Edge Las Vegas
Mac Jones has been terrible the past two games, and the struggles of the offensive line have been a big part of that. Jones has been under so much pressure from opponents pass rushers that he’s getting gun-shy and is seeing ghosts. Remember what happened to Sam Darnold? That can ruin a QB. See Carr, David, not his younger brother. Jones has made terrible decisions and doesn’t trust anything in front of him. He’s constantly throwing off his back foot, even when he doesn’t have to.
Vegas doesn’t have a tremendous pass rush, but they do have a tremendous pass rusher. Maxx Crosby, as we all watched on MNF, can single-handedly wreck another team’s passing game. Vederian Lowe has struggled mightily trying to hold up at RT. The Patriots will have to go to max protection or keep a linebacker in to block. Perhaps they shuffle the OL and move someone else out there. But they can’t let Crosby run amok.
The Raiders secondary has done well, holding opponents to just 197.2 yards per game. Marcus Peters hasn’t been great, but he’s a veteran and can still win with experience. Tyler Hall started at CB due to injuries but played well enough. Safeties Tre’von Moehrig and Marcus Epps have been solid this season.
Jones won’t have Demario Douglas or JuJu Smith-Schuster this week due to concussions. So, either Tyquan Thornton or Kayshon Boutte may be activated this week, perhaps both. I’d play the youngsters and get them some reps, as they bring the speed element and athleticism to the table. Jones, however, will probably look more to DeVante Parker and Hunter Henry as his go-to receivers.
Next up is the Las Vegas offense:
Raiders RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots run defense has been pretty solid this season, allowing 108 yards per game. But due to playing from behind, they are facing more runs. Their average allowed per rush is just 3.6, eighth best in the league. However, with Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore banged up, it could open up the game for Josh Jacobs.
The Raiders, due to their own OL struggles, are the 32nd rushing team in the league. Josh Jacobs is off to a very slow start, averaging less than three yards per carry. Vegas wants to run the ball, and they’ll probably be patient with the running game since the Patriots haven’t been scoring.
But with Ja’Whaun Bentley playing some good football right now, clogging the middle, with Anfernee Jennings, Keion White, and Deatrich Wise setting the edge, they should be able to limit the Raiders from controlling the ground game.
Raiders WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge Las Vegas
The Patriot pass defense was playing well until the injuries got to the point of them struggling last week. Losing their best defensive player, Matthew Judon, and their best cornerback, Christian Gonzalez, was a huge blow. Marcus Jones is lost for the year also, and Jack Jones is on IR and hasn’t been to practice yet. They got back Jonathan Jones last week, as well as J.C. Jackson, but they had several communication breakdowns. The pass rush minus Judon was poor.
The Raiders have not been lighting it up through the air either, having thrown for only six yards per game more than the Patriots. And that is with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing to Devante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Hunter Renfrow, with TEs Austin Hooper and Michael Mayer with Jacobs out of the backfield. They’ve given up 15 sacks and have trouble with INTs.
Jimmy G. has feasted in the middle of the field and loves the slants and crossers to the intermediate range. That’s what the Patriots have to try to take away. Jackson will probably match up with Adams, who is a great receiver and a difficult matchup. Jones will probably cover Meyers. But the pass rush has to get home this week. It was bad a week ago against a pedestrian New Orleans OL. They blitzed on 48 percent of the dropbacks and only got a 24 percent pressure rate. That dog won’t hunt.
Special Teams — Edge New Las Vegas
The Patriots’ STs have been steadily trending downward in recent weeks. Rookie kicker Chad Ryland had another FG miss last week and is just 4-8 thus far, although two of those were bad snaps by Joe Cardona. Cardona is uncharacteristically shaky this season. He had two poor snaps during punts last week. Punter Bryce Barringer has been solid. But the coverage units have been shaky, and the return game has been a nightmare.
Meanwhile, Vegas has had a very solid season with their STs. Kicker Daniel Carlson is very steady but had a pair of misses on MNF. Punter A.J. Cole has about a 50-yard net average. Returner DeAndre Carter has come close to breaking both kick and punt returns, and will have to be watched closely.
Next up, who wins and why…
The Patriots are still looking for answers as to what has ailed the offense, whose production has gone down every week from 20-17-15-3-0. Belichick said the solution was to “start over.” Bill O’Brien said the Patriots will make “some schematic changes,” but we’ll have to see what those are before we can make a yay or nay.
Three Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Defense or STs Need a Big Splash Play/TD — The STs, other than the FG block, have not made any splash plays. Perhaps a big return or a punt block would spark the team that is sorely in need of one.
Ditto for the defense. The defense has only two turnovers this season and only one interception. That is far too low for a unit as good as this one. It is time for a strip sack or a pick-six of their own. That was Jackson’s forte the first time he was here, now would be a great time to restart that trend.
Get The Running Game Going — Bill O’Brien has to scheme up a way for the Patriots to get the running game going. The team is 26th in rushing yards, with a 3.3-yard average per rush with only one rushing TD in five games.
The team is ranked 32nd in yards after contact, and that is something that Stevenson and Elliott have to change. If they can run the ball with Jones under center, it will open up some play-action passing.
Get Some WR Speed on the Field — The Patriots have not had anyone respect their WRs, especially in the deep part of the field. This is where Thornton comes in, and perhaps Boutte as well. At least make the Raiders respect the deep ball, and it could open up things underneath for Kendrick Bourne and the tight ends.
Not only are the younger guys more athletic, but with JuJu out, Parker hasn’t been effective either. Let’s see what these younger guys can do offensively in the passing game.
The Patriots can win this game, but until I see them win a game against a team that they should beat, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach. This is a game they should win, and can if they play the way they are capable of doing so.
Bill Belichick said that they are to “start over.” We shall see, but I don’t think it is this week. Raiders 24-6
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Devante Adams Hunter Henry Jakobi Meyers JC Jackson Jimmy Garoppolo Jonathan Jones Josh Jacobs Kayshon Boutte Kendrick Bourne Las Vegas Raiders Mac Jones Matthew Judon Maxx Crosby Mike Gesicki New England Patriots Tyquan Thornton