The Oakland Raiders faced one of the game’s best pocket passers during their loss to the Denver Broncos last week. In Week 4 they’ll square off against a completely different type of quarterback in Washington’s Robert Griffin III.
Head coach Dennis Allen isn’t even certain who his own quarterback will be as the Raiders try to reach .500 for the first time this season.
Terrelle Pryor returned to practice in limited non-contact drills Thursday but still hasn’t been cleared to play after suffering a concussion following a helmet-to-helmet collision against Denver. Matt Flynn has taken all the reps with the first-team offense during Pryror’s absence.
Allen has said he would like to name a starter before Sunday’s game, but it’s possible it might go down to just before kickoff.
Keeping RG3 contained has to be a priority for Allen, but it’s not the only key matchup for Oakland this week.
Here are a few of the more critical matchups facing the Raiders this week.
LT Khalif Barnes vs. OLB Ryan Kerrigan
This was already shaping up to be one of the more critical battles in the game. With Flynn a strong possibility to start, it could become even more so.
Kerrigan leads the Redskins with three sacks and is one half of Washington’s pair of stellar bookend pass-rushers along with Brian Orakpo. Yet he’s athletic and physical enough to drop back in coverage and is a better-than-average matchup downfield against running backs than most linebackers.
Barnes, who continues to play out of position, simply needs to keep Kerrigan out of the Raiders’ backfield.
That won’t be easy.
Since switching to left side, Barnes has been up and down. He has struggled with power rushers and has only had marginal success keeping defenders off the quarterback.
With the immobile Flynn still getting the majority of work while Pryor rests, expect the Redskins to load up on their blitz packages and try to attack from Barnes’ side of the field.
Oakland’s linebackers vs. RG3
Like many of the other young scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL, Griffin has done less running so far than he did a year ago. Of course, he’s the only one of them coming off a serious knee injury.
Griffin remains an explosive playmaker, but most of his success this year has come from his arm. He is averaging 325 passing yards a game and has thrown five touchdowns to four interceptions.
The Raiders, who had their problems with mobile quarterbacks a year ago, have to keep him under wraps to even have a shot at coming back.
Middle linebacker Nick Roach could serve as a spy on Griffin, though more than likely the pressure will have to come from outside linebackers Kevin Burnett and either Sio Moore or Kaluka Maiava. Moore, the rookie, was limited in practice Thursday.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver could try to rattle the Redskins’ quarterback by calling for heavy blitzing from the back end of the defense. But that in turn could lead to a breakdown in coverage by some of the team’s younger players, which then opens the door for a big play.
WR Rod Streater vs. CB DeAngelo Hall
A current Raider going against a former Raider. That’s actually a stretch since Hall was only on Oakland’s roster for eight games. Still, this is a classic example of youth versus experience.
Streater has been a diamond in the rough for Oakland’s offense. He’s tied with Denarius Moore for the team lead in receptions at 11 apiece fs this season, so the Raiders have to be patient until trying to attack his side of the field.
Because of the quarterback situation, Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson hasn’t been comfortable throwing the ball deep and instead has had the QBs focusing more on the short and intermediate routes.
That doesn’t mean the Raiders won’t try to go deep. Washington comes in with the league’s 32nd-ranked defense. The Redskins have struggled to stop the run and have been equally bad against the run.
Hall turns 30 this year and isn’t the player he was early in his career, but he’s not ready to slow down just yet, either.
DT Pat Sims and DT Vance Walker vs. RB Alfred Morris
Oakland’s run defense got a big slap in the face against Denver last week when the Broncos controlled the line of scrimmage and literally smacked the Raiders in the mouth. That shouldn’t happen this week, though Morris is a productive runner no matter what type of blocking he has.
Morris heads into the game averaging nearly six yards a carry and would probably have more if the Redskins didn’t fall behind so often.
It will be primarily up to Sims and Walker to slow him down.
Both are run-stuffing defensive tackles, and both can get into the backfield in a hurry.
The Raiders had big problems defending the run in Denver. The Broncos used three different running backs, and the defensive line kept getting blown off the ball.
All of that has to change in order for the Raiders to be successful.
CBs Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter vs. WR Pierre Garcon
Oakland’s starting cornerbacks will take turns trying to shut down the Redskins' top wide receiver, who already has 23 receptions and 280 yards. Because Porter moves inside to the slot when the Raiders go to the nickel, Jenkins will most likely draw the most work against Garcon.
If that’s the case, Jenkins needs to improve his game in just about every aspect. His coverage isn’t bad, but it’s his inability to finish things that has been costly. He also tends to give up big cushions on pass plays when he should be up tighter.
One of the two needs to be in Garcon’s hip pocket all game. All too often he’s been allowed to come freely off the line without so much as a nudge.