The Oakland Raiders don’t have much time to lick their wounds after allowing an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes to Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles in Week 9. Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning and the New York Giants are next on tap, and if Dennis Allen’s team isn’t careful, this once encouraging season could get ugly in a hurry.
The Giants have won two straight following an 0-6 start and are coming off a bye. While there are still issues on both sides of the ball for New York, the defense noticeably improved over the last two games and is finally playing up to standards.
That could be pivotal against the Raiders, who likely will be without running back Darren McFadden.
Oakland’s own defense has been called into question after Foles sliced up the Raiders secondary, as if he was playing against a Pop Warner team.
Was the performance against the Eagles just a blip on the radar or a signal that something more serious is going on? Time will tell.
For now, here are four things the Raiders must do to have a chance at beating the Giants for the first time since 2001.
Bring the heat on Eli
For some unexplained reason Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver opted not to blitz much at all in the 49-20 loss to Philadelphia. Perhaps Tarver was concerned about the risk of getting beat deep in the passing game and figured that more defenders dropping back into coverage would make it tougher on Foles.
Whatever the reason, it was an outright miserable strategy that wound up being costly. The Eagles quarterback was sacked twice, hit two other times and was pressured on only six plays overall.
As rough of a season as Manning is having, he’ll do the same thing that Foles did, if not worse, if the Raiders take the same approach.
Oakland has had varying degrees of success when blitzing, particularly when the heat is coming from the secondary. Because Manning has a quick release, the Raiders are going to need to get to him fast and often.
As was the case against Kansas City, it’s not even about getting the sacks. The key is getting heat on him. The Eagles blitzed Manning on 24 of his 53 drop-back plays in Week 8 and held him to 246 yards passing without a touchdown.
Give Jennings 25 touches
Backup running back Rashad Jennings took all of the first-team reps in practice for Oakland on Wednesday and is all but certain to get the start against New York because of Darren McFadden’s troublesome hamstring injury.
Although he doesn’t possess McFadden’s speed or breakaway ability, Jennings has proven to be a valuable resource in Oakland’s offense both running and catching the ball. He has the top two games in terms of catches by a Raiders player this season, and he’s filled in nicely on the ground when McFadden has been out.
No matter who lines up in the backfield against New York, it’s imperative that Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson get him the ball at least 20-25 times. The Raiders have had just one game this season in which they’ve had a running back carry the ball more than 19 times. More often than not, Oakland abandons the ground game when it falls behind.
New York has the ninth-ranked run defense but the Raiders should be OK. It’s looking like rookie Menelik Watson will get the nod at right tackle over injured Matt McCants, which should help the offense tremendously.
Stand up in the secondary
Overall this season the Raiders secondary has played fairly well. Against the Eagles it was a unit-wide collapse, however.
Part of the problem against Foles was that the cornerbacks had trouble staying on their feet. First-round pick D.J. Hayden slipped and fell on one of the two touchdowns he allowed. He also appeared to lose his footing on the second, though it’s not as clear. Cornerback Mike Jenkins also fell to the turf while in coverage, while Brandian Ross simply looked lost at times.
That can’t happen against the Giants, who have one of the game’s top wide receivers in Victor Cruz. Cruz has been lining up more frequently in the slot this season, so he’ll be the responsibility of Tracy Porter in one of the more pivotal matchups.
This one ties into the first, in that a better pass rush always makes things easier on the secondary. Likewise a shutdown effort by the defensive backs equates to a better, more effective pass rush up front.
Manning won’t need the time that Foles had to find an open receiver. He’s much more polished and experienced, so Oakland cannot afford to come out flat again on the back end of the defense.
Come out throwing
The Raiders tried to establish the run against Philadelphia early on, failed and played from behind most of the way. There has been a similar pattern in some of their other losses as well.
Contrast that to the Week 5 win over San Diego when quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw a 44-yard touchdown to wide receiver Rod Streater on the first play from scrimmage. The Chargers spent the remainder of the game playing from behind and on their heels.
New York’s pass defense has been average this season. On top of that, the Giants will probably do like most teams and stack the box to take away the run and force Oakland to throw.
If that’s the case, particularly early in the game, it should leave the Raiders in some favorable matchups down the field.
Like the pass rush, it’s not so much about being successful as it is in taking a shot every now and then just to keep the defense honest.