The Oakland Raiders play their first home game of the season against a Jacksonville team that will be without quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars are also coming off a loss in their season opener in which their only points came on a safety.
Sounds like it will be a pretty easy game plan for the Raiders. It should be.
Many of the same things Jacksonville struggled with in its loss to the Kansas City Chiefs are what Oakland had success with in its own loss to Indianapolis. That should make for a fairly easy blueprint to follow.
Then again, the Jaguars visited the Raiders last year and lost both Gabbert and Maurice Jones-Drew early in the game to injuries but pushed Oakland to overtime before losing.
Here’s how we draw it up:
When the Raiders have the ball
Terrelle Pryor’s performance against the Colts added an entirely new dimension to Oakland’s attack. Of course, given Pryor's athleticism and inexperience, some of it wasn't scripted. Many of Pryor’s 112 yards rushing came on scrambles away from pressure when Oakland’s pass protection broke down. The Jaguars didn’t put much pressure at all on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, and their defensive line was manhandled most of the game.
That allowed Smith to dink and dunk his way down the field on Kansas City’s first touchdown drive, a pattern he followed most of the game. That’s an ideal approach for Pryor, given the lack of touch demonstrated on many of his deep throws against the Colts.
The Jags play a 3-4, and their linebackers had a tough time covering the Chiefs wide receivers on quick slants or crossing patterns, so it makes sense to keep the approach simple with the passing game.
Pryor’s running will again be the biggest key.
After Pryor set a franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback, offensive coordinator Greg Olson almost assuredly will try to work more of the read-option into the plan as well as more designed runs for the quarterback.
The Chiefs ran a play against the Jaguars in which Smith faked a handoff to the left then sprinted back to his right then turning up field for a big gain. The Raiders did basically the same thing against the Colts. With Darren McFadden lined up behind fullback Marcel Reece, Pryor took the snap and faked a handoff to his left before tucking the ball away and running back toward the right. Once he hit the corner, there was open field and a long gain to be had.
Oakland also needs to get McFadden going against a Jaguars run defense that wasn’t very effective in stopping the Chiefs Jamal Charles. To do that the Raiders need to get a better push from their offensive line, something that didn’t happen much against the Colts.
Oakland didn’t attempt many screens against the Colts but might be more inclined to do so against the Jaguars. Splitting McFadden out as a receiver in hopes of getting a mismatch against a linebacker is also something to consider.
Good old-fashioned, straight-ahead running won’t hurt either. The Chiefs had repeated success going up the middle on that kind of up-the-gut running play. Jacksonville defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks gets blocked out of the way by the pulling left guard. Defensive tackle Roy Miller is taken out by the center and linebacker Paul Posluszny gets sealed off by the right guard, creating a huge seam in the middle of the defense.
When the Jaguars have the ball
Jacksonville’s offense was epically bad against the Chiefs. They crossed their own 36-yard line just once and had just 178 yards of total offense. Losing Gabbert was a big blow but didn’t make a huge difference.
Maurice Jones-Drew remains the workhorse of the offense, and the Raiders can expect a steady dose of the former Northern California resident early so as to allow backup quarterback Chad Henne to ease into the game.
Jacksonville relies more on a short-passing game. Henne threw only six passes after Gabbert went down, and none of them were deep. That will probably change now that Henne has had a chance to work with the first-team offense in practice. The Jaguars also need to go deep occasionally to keep the Raiders from crowding the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop Jones-Drew.
Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver might be inclined to blitz a little more frequently early in the game in hopes of throwing Henne off stride. Oakland’s defensive line got off to a slow start against the Colts, and although the pressure got better as the game went along, only two sacks came from the front four.
Raiders defensive end Jason Hunter could be in for a big day. Hunter, who got a sack in the opener against Indianapolis, will be paired against Jacksonville right tackle Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick in the draft. Joeckel really struggled in the opener; he was repeatedly driven into his own backfield, and he missed his assignment on more than one occasion.
The main key is to stop Jones-Drew, put the game on Henne’s shoulders and force the Jaguars to play catch-up.