By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots suffered their first loss of the season last week after blowing a 21-0 lead over the resurgent Buffalo Bills. Now they must re-group and take on another team that is seemingly turning the corner the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders are also coming off an impressive win in the 34-24 win over the New York Jets last week in Oakland. The Patriots defense was gashed again and is now giving up an unacceptable 468.7 yards per game on defense. One game can be considered a fluke, two troubling and three a bad trend.
The Raiders boast the league’s leading rusher Darren McFadden and he’s been lighting it up in the early going. He rushed for 170 yards last week against the Jets. The Patriots boast the league’s #1 offense but last week Tom Brady threw for four interceptions, the amount he threw for all of 2010.
The Patriots are looking to rebound after a disappointing end to last week’s game, the Raiders are looking to continue some impressive play in the early going. Something has to give, so it’s on to the matchups.
Patriots Running Game: Most people believe that the Patriots should able to run the ball on the Raiders this week. Possibly so, but not as the featured attack, the Raiders limited the Jets running game after some early struggles last week and I don’t see the Patriots doing much here.
The Bills clogged the middle and Oakland with Richard Seymour, John Henderson, Tommy Kelly and ILB Rolando (the Pats are a finesse team) McLain are solid. The Pats running game hasn’t been strong yet this season, with most of the yardage coming on some quick hit plays. If the passing game gets going, then the RBs by committee featuring BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley will be looked to, to wear down Oakland’s defense.
Patriots Passing Game: Two keys here, no mistakes and protect Brady. If the Pats do those two things, they should light up a weak secondary that is both missing Nnamdi Asomugha and banged up.
Lost in the hoopla of Tom Brady’s 4 INT game with the Bills was that he torched them for 387 yards and 4 TDs. And he did it by being uncharacteristically sparse in spreading the ball around. With Aaron Hernandez possibly returning, Brady should torch Oakland’s corners Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt. Johnson is hobbled with a bad groin that slowed him against Mark Sanchez and the Jets.
Oakland has Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves and of course Richard Seymour, who would love to disrupt Brady’s timing in the pocket and the blocking up front will be key. If Brady gets time, both Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski should once again be key factors. The Raiders will possibly try to cover Welker with Mike Mitchell but he too is injured, which isn’t good news for Oakland. Either way, Brady should be in line for another big game this weekend.
Raiders Running Game: Key matchup of the game here, McFadden ground down the Jets last week, no easy feat and as physical as he is, he’s also athletic enough to make tacklers miss. He and Michael Bush make a formidable pair to move the chains.
The Patriots defense was not stellar against the run last week, Albert Haynesworth missed the game and now the team has brought back DL Gerard Warren to add some more physicality up front. The key player for the Patriots this week is MLB Brandon Spikes, Spikes was having a great camp before going down with an ankle injury.
He missed the first game, played sparingly against SD and was ineffective against the Bills. The Patriots will need him to step up big and be the bruising run stopper he is. On more than one occasion in Buffalo, Spikes over-pursued the run, which is uncharacteristic for him. But if the Raiders run the ball effectively they will have a good chance of winning. If Bill Belichick and the Patriots take it away, the Patriots should roll…simple.
Raiders Passing Game: The passing game in Oakland is based on short passes set up by running for large chunks of yardage. Therefore they are best when kept out of the third and long scenarios.
But everyone is passing against this Patriots defense right now, the corners Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden are struggling and S Pat Chung missed the last game after having wrist surgery.
QB Jason Campbell has some talented receivers in Darius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore along with talented TE Kevin Boss. The bottom line here is that Campbell has to be licking his chops at facing a struggling Patriots secondary and front seven that is getting little pressure on the QB.
This is a perfect week for Belichick to go to a 4 man front and blitz the QB. Warren had a good pre-season doing so and Mark Anderson who inexplicably only had 3 snaps after halftime in Buffalo should be cut loose with some mixed up blitzes from the secondary and linebackers.
Shaun Ellis has been largely invisible thus far as has been Haynesworth as they struggle back from injuries and conditioning. Sunday would be a good time to cut the defense loose and help out a struggling secondary against an offensive line better suited to run blocking than pass protection. At this point for the Pats defense there’s nowhere to go but up.
Special Teams: Neither teams return men, Julian Edelman for the Pats and rookie Taiwan Jones for Oakland figures to have many kicks to return as both kickers are adept at booting the ball out of the endzone.
The Raiders Shane Lechler is one of the best in the league at punting the ball deep and changing field position. The Pats Zoltan Mesko had an excellent game in Buffalo and needs to keep up the consistency.
As good as Pats K Stephen Gostowski is, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski has a longer leg, and recently tied the NFL record with a 63 yard FG in Denver.
“X”-Factors: The Patriots under Bill Belichick rarely lose back to back games, in fact it’s only happened twice in the past 9 years, in 2009 and 2002. Tom Brady rarely has two poor games in a row, and last week’s debacle should be all the incentive to come out and play well.
Oakland has to be very confident with a big win over the Jets where they ran the ball at will and are facing a Patriots defense that is reeling. The loony tune atmosphere in Oakland with the home crowd just adds to the home field advantage. Don’t discount the advantage of Richard Seymour facing his old team on Sunday. He’s had this one circled for a while now, rest assured.
Conclusions: The Raiders will attempt to pound the ball with McFadden as they’ve been very effective at doing that all season. It will not only open up big play-action pass plays down the field, but will control the clock and keep Tom Brady and the Patriots offense on the bench.
The Patriots offensive game plan here will be simple, spread out the Oakland secondary and pick them apart piecemeal where matchups dictate. Tom Brady is going to get a lot of yardage, but the Raiders will attempt to disrupt things by bringing pressure to help their secondary. The Jets last week had a lot of yardage after the catch, if the Patriots do the same with YAC (Yards after catch) then they will pile up some points.
If the Patriots can hold McFadden in check and make Oakland one-dimensional in the passing game, even with their struggles against the pass should make this a one-sided win. If they don’t, then expect a long afternoon in the Black Hole.
This one won’t be easy or pretty, but Brady will pass for 300 yards + and Gronkowski will have another big game as the Patriots return home with a hard fought 35-24 win.