Raiders vs. Ravens: Sketching Out a Game Plan for Oakland

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Raiders vs. Ravens: Sketching Out a Game Plan for Oakland
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Taiwan Jones gets the first extensive action of his career.

The Oakland Raiders travel to the Eastern Time zone to face a Baltimore Ravens team that is 6-2 and haven’t lost a game at home since 2010. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Ravens blew out the Raiders because the Ravens are consistently among the best teams in the AFC and the Raiders have several key injuries.

Despite these facts, the Raiders can beat the Ravens by following a recipe that the Houston Texans used to secure a 43-13 win in Week 7 or the one the Philadelphia Eagles used in Week 2. In both games, the Ravens were gouged through the air by a receiver and a tight end.

The Raiders have a solid passing game and will have to lean on it more heavily with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson injured. To win the Raiders will need production from Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon Myers and the rest of the passing attack.

Taiwan Jones is expected to share the rushing duties with fullback Marcel Reece. While Jones is speedy and exciting anytime he gets the ball in his hands, Reece could prove to be a weapon for the Raiders on Sunday in Baltimore because of his ability in the passing game.

Of course, the Raiders will have to play better run defense than they did last week or the offense is going to be playing from behind. 

 

The Running Game

It’s the first extensive experience for Taiwan Jones, but he’s got speed to spare and he’s facing a Ravens team that has allowed 139.5 yards per game. That statistic is a bit deceiving because the Ravens have allowed just 4.0 yards per carry and only four explosive plays.

Jones hasn’t been given more opportunities because of ball security issues, and the Ravens have forced more fumbles on run defense than any other team (8). However, if Jones can secure the ball there could be opportunities for him to get to the edge of the defense and make a big play.

Jones will need his offensive line to get blocks at the second level to give him adequate space, but his agility and speed in the open field will allow him to do things that few running backs are capable of doing.

The Houston Texans had good success running on the Ravens as the team averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Arian Foster had 98 yards and two touchdowns with Ben Tate adding 47 yards and Justin Forsett 32 yards. Unlike Foster, Jones has the speed to get to the edge and outrun a defense. On several occasions Foster was either unable to outrun the defense or chose to take the ball inside rather than try to break one to the outside.

On this play Foster ends up taking the ball up the middle, but he has the option of taking the ball to the outside by following his fullback.

Foster gets caught behind his linemen, but he’s able to get around them and gain several more yards before he’s tackled. This is superb blocking as the defenders could never disengage to tackle Foster. Oakland’s blocking is more suspect and Jones will have more success taking the outside read and using his speed to run around the defense.

Foster isn’t perfect and sometimes he misses or overruns a cutback lane as he does on this play. By the time Foster tries to get through that hole the defense has cut it off, and his only option is to try and bounce the play to the outside.

If Foster is Jones on this play, he’s got a touchdown. Foster does manage to run around Baltimore’s linebacker, but he is eventually dragged down from behind. If the Raiders can get Jones cutting and slicing through the middle of the defense he’s eventually going to have the opportunity to break a big one to the outside.

The key is blocking and ball security. If the Raiders can hold onto the ball and establish a new line of scrimmage Jones is going to have the opportunity to make a few big plays. If Jones can’t secure the ball, or he’s being hit in the backfield with regularity, the Raiders will have to abandon the running game.

 

The Passing Game    

The Ravens have been prone to giving up passing yards to opposing tight ends. Brent Celek had 157 yards on eight receptions in Week 2, which are both season highs for him. Owen Daniels had his season high in receptions against the Ravens with seven. Jason Witten had his longest catch of the season against the Ravens. Benjamin Watson also has his season high in receptions and yards against the Ravens. Sensing a theme? The Ravens can be beat by tight ends.

Myers has turned into a very reliable option for Carson Palmer in the passing game. According to ProFootballFocus, Palmer has looked Myers' way 50 times this season, which is second only to Moore’s 59. Myers leads the team in receptions with 39 and has 442 yards and two touchdowns.

The Ravens have been prone to losing track of the tight end. The Ravens rushed six and dropped five, and the Eagles ran only two plays on pass routes and they were both wide open. Michael Vick slipped the pressure and found Celek for a big gain between four of the five defenders. With more time, Vick might have found his receiver deep for a touchdown.

That wasn’t the only time the Ravens lost track of the tight end. Celek ran a shallow crossing route, and both Ray Lewis (now injured) and the outside linebacker let him run across the formation and into the flat.

Vick found Celek wide open in the flat with Jeremy Maclin blocking 15 yards down the field. Celek would pick up a big chunk of yards. The Raiders don’t need Myers to hurdle Ed Reed at the end of the play like Celek for this to be a successful play. The Ravens have blown coverages, and Palmer simply needs to find the open receiver to be successful.

Reed is still an opportunistic safety, but the Raiders shouldn’t be afraid to attack him when the opportunity presents itself. Witten ran a deep cross and Reed couldn’t keep up. Reed likes to gamble and undercut routes, so Tony Romo threw it over the top and completed it for 35 yards. Aggressiveness can be used to your advantage, but the Raiders will want to pick their spots.

 

Stopping Ray Rice 

The Raiders came into last week’s game against the Buccaneers as one of the top run defenses in the NFL, and after Doug Martin ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns they dropped to near the bottom. Unfortunately, one bad performance was enough to make people doubt a previously stout run defense. Who wouldn’t after such a terrible performance?

Oakland’s issues against Martin were missed tackles and failure to get off blocks. Along with gap integrity, there’s really not much else to stopping the run. The linemen and the linebackers were both to blame for the poor performance, and the secondary didn’t save the day either.

Ray Rice is almost always productive, and he’s a big part of what the Ravens do on offense. Rice is averaging 109.1 yards per game from scrimmage, and about 30 percent of his production comes in the passing game.

The only team that has really shut down Rice was the Texans, who boast the second-ranked run defense in yards per game. Only three teams successfully shut down Rice in 2011, include the Jaguars, Seahawks and 49ers, which happened to be three of the top four run defenses in yards per carry.

The Raiders would probably be content with just slowing Rice down and keeping him from making big plays. The formula for stopping the run is pretty simple: hold your ground+stay in your gap+get off the block+make the tackle=good run defense.

The Texans are a team that knows how to get off blocks and tackle. The Ravens do a good job of engaging blocks with all the defenders, but the offensive lineman and the linebacker both get off the blocks and get their hands on Rice enough to drag him down for no gain. Notice they held their ground at the line of scrimmage, which minimized the possible running lanes for Rice.

Contrast that with what the Raiders did last Sunday. On this 45-yard touchdown run by Martin, Rolando McClain missed a tackle (1), Desmond Bryant held his ground, but couldn’t get off his block (2), Miles Burris couldn’t get off the block (3), Lamarr Houston gets blown four yards off the line and couldn’t get off the block (4) and Philip Wheeler tries to spin to disengage from his block without success (5).

Matt Giordano also missed an open-field tackle, but that is one of the hardest tackles to make, particularly against a running back as talented as Martin. Oakland’s defensive front is talented enough to stop the run, but they can’t get blown off the ball, get stuck on blocks and miss tackles like they did in Week 9. The Raiders need a much better performance this week to have any chance of winning the game.

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