The Oakland Raiders face an uphill battle in their Week 14 game against the New York Jets, and it’s not just because the Jets have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. Dennis Allen’s team hasn’t won in the Eastern time zone since 2009 and may be without its top two running backs for the game.
Darren McFadden failed to practice for the second straight day since suffering an ankle injury last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Rashad Jennings is still recovering from a concussion and has yet to pass the required tests mandated by the NFL. Third-stringer Jeremy Stewart also hasn’t practiced this week.
The Jets have their own issues on offense, which is why if the Raiders are going to have a chance they’re going to have to do it with their defense.
Here’s a look at four things Oakland must do in its game in New York.
Give McGloin time
Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin grew up not far from where he’ll be making his fourth career start, and he figures to have a fairly large group of supporters in the stands. He’ll need all the help he can get if Oakland’s offensive line isn’t able to keep him upright.
The Raiders young quarterback is at his best when given enough time to operate in the pocket. Three weeks ago against Houston he was smooth and calm in his delivery because the Houston Texans weren’t able to mount much of a pass rush.
Over the past two weeks, however, teams have started to put a little pressure on McGloin, and he’s wound up hurrying some of his throws as a result.
The big key for Oakland will be containing Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who already has a career-high 10 sacks. Wilkerson is equally solid against the run, meaning Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer will have his hands full.
Force the Jets to pass
Chris Ivory has done a decent enough job running the ball for New York, but the Jets haven’t had the success on the ground they had hoped for. It’s critical that Oakland not allow this to be the week when things turn around for Rex Ryan’s crew.
The Raiders have done a good job defending the run because of how well their interior defense has played. Pat Sims, Vance Walker and rookie Stacy McGee have formed a solid middle rotation that has helped anchor a run defense that is allowing just under 103 yards a game.
If they can stop the run and force the game into the hands of New York quarterback Geno Smith, the Raiders’ odds of winning will increase significantly. Smith is closing in on the Jets’ franchise rookie record for passing yards, but he has been as erratic as any quarterback in the NFL this season.
Smith will try to get the ball to Santonio Holmes, who had a big game against the Raiders in 2009 as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oakland will double-team Holmes at times, but for the most part it will come down to the one-on-one coverage of cornerbacks Mike Jennings and Tracy Porter.
Let Reece carry the rock
Taiwan Jones got a lot of work with the Raiders offense this week because of all the injuries in the backfield. Jones was originally drafted by Oakland to be a running back but was converted to defensive back this past offseason, so there’s been somewhat of an adjustment getting him reacclimated to playing offense.
McFadden is all but certain to miss his fifth game this year, and there’s still some uncertainty over whether Jennings will be cleared or not.
That leaves Jones, who until this week hadn’t taken a snap on offense since the end of last season.
Fullback Marcel Reece would be a more logical choice, though head coach Dennis Allen said he would like use a by-committee approach if Jennings and McFadden are unable to play. Reece has a career 4.5 yards-per-carry average and has a punishing running style similar to Jennings, which will be critical against the Jets’ stingy run defense.
Reece is also a matchup nightmare as a receiver. Linebackers are too slow and safeties are too small.
If ever there was a week for offensive coordinator Greg Olson to get Reece heavily involved in the game plan, this is it.
Get off the field on third down
Oakland’s offense ran just 21 plays in the second half of the Thanksgiving Day loss to Dallas. A big reason for that was due to the defense’s inability to keep the Cowboys' offense off the field, particularly on third down.
That’s been an issue for defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s crew most of the season. Opponents are converting nearly 40 percent of their third-down opportunities against the Raiders, tied for the 10th-worst mark in the NFL.
The breakdowns have come up front and in the secondary. Oakland’s pass rush has tailed off over the past month, and the coverage on the back end has been much looser than earlier in the season.
Simply put, if the defense can’t get off the field on third down the Raiders won’t have much of a shot at all at ending their Eastern time-zone jinx.
*Any information and quotes used in this and any report by Michael Wagaman were obtained firsthand.