The Raiders and the Bucs have each won two of the last three games to get to 3-4, and one of them will improve to .500 with a victory on Sunday. At the mid-way point, a 4-4 team is still in the hunt for the postseason, while a 3-5 team starts to plan January vacations.
A lot is at stake in this Week 9 game—the winner is a contender and the loser a pretender in their respective conferences. There’s a big difference between 4-4 and 3-5, from the way the media will portray it to the way the players will respond. Not every team is strong enough to endure a three-game hole.
Lose, and both teams are probably three games out of a playoff spot.
Playing at home is one advantage the Raiders have Sunday, and finding more advantages is the job of the coaching staff. Dennis Allen, Greg Knapp and Jason Tarver need to have a solid game plan for both beating and stopping the Bucs. Failure to produce this week would deal a significant blow to Oakland’s season.
The Bucs are balanced on offense, but completely unbalanced on defense. The Raiders will need a good all-around game from the defense and a passing attack that is hitting on all cylinders to emerge victorious.
It’s important that the Raiders can pass effectively and put up points through the air, especially if the defense struggles to contain Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Pass it Palmer!
Tampa Bay’s run defense is tied for the league-lead in yards per carry allowed at 3.5 and has allowed just 85.1 yards per game. The Raiders faced a similarly stingy run defense in Miami in Week 2 and Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson combined for 12 carries and 16 yards. The Raiders have made some adjustments, but a few scheme adjustments are not going to help them gain yardage on the ground against Tampa Bay’s front four.
The running game isn’t a good option, so the Raiders will have to go to the air to move the chains and put points on the board. The Bucs rank in the bottom five in pass yards allowed per game, 20-plus yard pass plays, sacks and average.
The Raiders need to throw the ball with some consistency and regularity against the Bucs. The Raiders should find success by targeting Denarius Moore, who has caught touchdowns in three straight weeks and is averaging about 70 yards on five receptions this season.
Carson Palmer should not forget about other options in the passing game, like McFadden (29 receptions, 214 yards), Brandon Myers (31 catches, 383 yards), Marcel Reece (18 receptions 177 yards) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (14 catches, 215 yards, two TD).
The Raiders have more than enough firepower to sling the ball around the yard, but have so far focused a lot of time on correcting the ills of the running game. It’s finally time for the passing offense to put this team on its back and carry it to victory.
Pressure and Play the Ball
One of the many issues with the defensive scheme favored by late-owner Al Davis is that it allowed teams to throw jump balls deep over the heads of the cornerbacks who would often fail to play the ball, get called for pass inference or allow the catch. That’s no longer the case in Oakland, which should make it easier for the Raiders to defend Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Jackson is averaging an amazing 21.6 yards per reception and Williams 17.4 yards per reception. According to ProFootballFocus, Jackson is second in that statistic among receivers who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps, and Williams is sixth.
How the Raiders handle these two offensive weapons could be the difference in the game.
The Raiders have shown some improvement on pass defense, but they are a far cry from resembling a defense that can lock down opposing receivers, and they will have their hands full on Sunday. The Raiders will have to help the secondary by generating a good pass rush.
Josh Freeman has been sacked just 11 times this season, one fewer than Palmer and good for sixth in the league according to ProFootballFocus. Despite good protection, Freeman has completed just 55.2 percent of his passes and is now without left guard Carl Nicks.
Freeman is making up for a poor completion percentage with long passes to Jackson and Williams. If the Raiders can get pressure and get him to force throws or check down, the Raiders will have a good chance to win the game. It takes receivers time to run deep routes, so pressure is the key to slowing down the deep passing attack.
The Raiders have some experience with slowing down good deep passing attacks and were able to limit Julio Jones and Roddy White and intercept Matt Ryan three times in Week 6.
They Raiders did it with a combination of pressure and coverage using a single deep safety and allowing Tyvon Branch to cover Tony Gonzalez one-on-one.
This strategy worked against the Falcons because Ryan likes to hit receivers in stride and will rarely throw an intentional jump ball. Freeman will allow his receivers to make plays on the ball, which means the Raiders should use some Cover 2 Man to try and make sure Jackson and Williams can’t get rolling.
Cover 2 man is a coverage that puts the pressure on the run defense and linebackers in coverage while allowing the safeties to help over the top. The cornerbacks can be aggressive to give the pass rush a chance and the safeties help ensures that Jackson and Williams can’t take advantage of jump ball without them being contested.
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