The Oakland Raiders are the only team in the AFC West not on a bye week. With the Chargers collapsing on Monday Night Football, the Raiders can climb within a game of the division lead with a win over the struggling Jaguars.
If the Raiders want to salvage the season after a slow start, they need a convincing win against one the NFL’s weakest teams. The Raiders can’t afford a loss at home against a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars if they want to be taken seriously in the AFC West.
The Jaguars are a team looking for an identity and are struggling both offensively and defensively. The Raiders are coming off their best game of the year. The Raiders should handle the Jaguars with ease, but the games aren’t played on paper, and Maurice Jones-Drew is capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them to victory.
The biggest focus for the Raiders defense has to be stopping Jones-Drew and not letting him get into space. Jones-Drew is a short running back that also runs with a lower center of gravity, and he’s capable of bouncing off linebackers and safeties.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Jaguars are averaging 5.7 yards per carry off left end and 7.3 yards per carry off right end. Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston will need to do a good job setting the edge and funneling Jones-Drew inside to the tackles and inside linebackers.
Jones-Drew is the best running back the Raiders have faced since Reggie Bush in Week 2. Bush ran for 172 yards that day and got the edge with ease. It’s essential the Raiders don’t repeat that performance, or Jones-Drew could run wild.
The Jaguars are a strong run-blocking team and will use fullback Greg Jones to clean up any miscellaneous defenders. The Raiders can create penetration by attacking center Brad Meester, which should disrupt Jones-Drew and force him to move laterally.
Failure to get penetration, take good angles or wrap up Jones-Drew could result in big plays. The Colts are the only team that has lost to the Jaguars this season, and failures on defense were the biggest reason.
Take this long touchdown run by Jones-Drew as an example. The Jaguars’ left guard pulls and becomes the lead blocking for Jones-Drew. The right tackle and tight end double the defensive lineman nearest the point of attack and Jones takes on the outside rusher.
The play is well blocked and both linebackers get caught and the defensive line gets zero penetration. Justin Blackmon comes into the play from the outside to put a block on the safety. All Jones-Drew has to do is run through a huge hole.
The safety is easily blocked and the cornerback takes a poor angle. One of the linebackers tries to recover from getting caught in traffic, but he’s too late to have a chance to tackle Jones-Drew, and there’s nothing but grass between him and the end zone.
Credit the Jaguars for well-executed blocking. The Raiders will have to get more penetration and take better tackling angles if they want to keep Jones-Drew from eating up yardage and finding the end zone. It will be a big test for Oakland’s front seven.
The Jaguars use Jones like an extra offensive lineman because he’s so good at run blocking. Jones is a rare fullback that wins most of his battles with linebackers and can even take on defensive ends.
Jones-Drew can also kill a defense with several 10-yard runs. Jones will execute a block on one linebacker and the left guard will pick off the other.
Once the linebackers are blocked, Jones-Drew can just eat up yardage. Jones-Drew is also very capable of bouncing off of safeties and turning a solid gain into a big play. The Jaguars take advantage of holding the defense when they can get away with it, and the Raiders have to fight through the holds so the officials will throw the flag.
The lack of penetration by the defensive line enables Jones-Drew to get several yards up field before he’s even hitting the hole. If the Raiders get moved off the ball like the Colts, they will put themselves at serious risk of losing the game.
Trick or Treat
Blaine Gabbert has improved this season, but he’s still prone to making mistakes. If the Raiders can force Matt Ryan to make mistakes, surely they should be able to take advantage of a struggling Gabbert.
The Chicago Bears took advantage of Gabbert late in the game when they mixed up their coverage on the outside. The Bears moved the safety into the box, and it looked like the Bears were in Cover 1 with man coverage on the outside and a single deep safety.
Instead of man coverage, the cornerbacks bailed into zone coverage and kept their eyes in the backfield and not on their receivers. Gabbert took the snap, failed to read the shift in coverage and tried to force a sideline throw to Blackmon. The throw was short, and Blackmon never adjusted. The Bears intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown to break the game open.
The Raiders like to mix man and zone coverage, and they can use similar techniques to try to fool Gabbert. Given adequate time, Gabbert might be able to make better post-snap reads, so a key component will be putting pressure on him in the pocket. If the Raiders disguise their coverage and get pressure on Gabbert, they should have opportunities to make big plays on defense.
Oakland’s pass defense isn’t suddenly great because of one good week, and even Gabbert might be able to find open receivers if the Raiders can’t also get pressure.
Darren McFadden is a sports car that’s stuck in the mud. Oakland’s offense is immensely more explosive when McFadden is slicing through the front seven and stiff-arming defensive backs. The Jaguars have allowed 4.7 yards per carry this season, and the Raiders should finally be able to get McFadden on track.
Unlike a weak Falcons run defense, the Jaguars should not be able to score enough to force the Raiders to throw. It’s a perfect opportunity to give McFadden 25 to 30 zone-running plays in hopes that he and the offensive line can work out some of the kinks.
The Bears executed zone runs with good success against the Jaguars and Matt Forte rushed 22 times for 107 yards (4.9 yards per carry). The Bears did a particularly good job executing blocks at the second level.
On this play, the center pulls around the left guard and gets to the linebacker to push him out of the hole. The right guard also does a good job of getting to the second level to prevent the other linebacker from impacting the play.
Forte finds the cutback and quickly explodes through it. Thanks to excellent blocking, Forte needs only to beat a safety. In this case, Forte is tripped up after a gain of 14 yards. McFadden is probably more dangerous in the open field than Forte, so if he can learn to find the cutback lane and explode through it he should find success against the Jaguars.
Carson Palmer to Denarius Moore
The Raiders can also go to the air to beat the Jaguars. Rashean Mathis is simply not the player he used to be, and the Raiders can exploit him, particularly without the deep safety help of Dwight Lowery who is likely to miss the game and is arguably the Jaguars’ best defensive player.
Derek Cox is a capable cover cornerback, and the Raiders would be wise to focus their efforts on beating Mathis deep. The Bears were hit on several deep passes over Mathis using Brandon Marshall and Devin Hester, and the Raiders should try to do the same with Denarius Moore.
One mistake a cornerback can make is getting caught looking in the backfield when they are in man coverage, which is a mistake Mathis makes while trying to cover Hester. He’s rotating all the way from the opposite side of the field. Hester takes a jab step inside and then uses his acceleration to gain separation from the slower Mathis.
Mathis gets caught looking into the backfield inside of playing Hester and he’s no longer fast enough to make up for his mistake, and it doesn’t help that Hester is extremely fast.
A better throw by Jay Cutler and Hester has a chance to catch the ball in stride and gain yards after catch. Palmer displayed nice deep accuracy last week on a deep pass to Moore for 49 yards, and he should look to Moore this week when deep when he draws man coverage from Mathis.