The 2010 NFL season is finally here and the Oakland Raiders take on the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.
This is, without a doubt my favorite time of year. Teams have made their roster cuts, players have studied the playbooks, and the preseason is behind us.
Now, it's for real.
Every week during the 2010 NFL season, I'll be releasing a slide show about what I think are the keys to the Oakland Raiders being successful against each opponent. These game plans will be released on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
I'll use my coaching experience to break down the opponent's roster and study their game film to determine their strengths and weaknesses. I'll then apply what I know about the Raiders to figure out the best way to win on gameday.
I'll attempt to find match up advantages for the Raiders to exploit. I will also look for ways for the Raiders to negate any match up advantages the opposing team might have.
Another useful tool in game planning is coaching tendencies. This allows a coach to predict how the opponent will react in certain situations, making it possible for his team to know something is coming based on down, distance, personnel, and formation.
Jon Gruden worked this aspect to perfection in the Raider Nation nightmare, Super Bowl XXXVII.
There is no way for me to know what head coach Tom Cable, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, or defensive coordinator John Marshall are planning for any opponent. The best I can do is offer up my ideas and observations.
We'll start with the offense...
Jason Campbell on the ground after a sack by 49ers Travis LaBoy.
Keeping Jason Campbell standing up may be the most critical thing for the Raiders all season long. The offensive line is improved, but still has its issues.
The center position is settled, but right guard is still a question mark. Cooper Carlisle has shown flashes of being great, but more signs of being totally incompetent. He simply cannot be counted on to be consistent.
Rookie Jared Veldheer has shown a lot of promise at the center spot, but has a great deal to learn about protection calls and reading an NFL-type rush scheme.
Veldheer will be tested immediately. The Titans can flat-out rush the passer. Jacob Ford is set for a breakout year, and defensive tackles Tony Brown and Jason Jones are also great at getting pressure up the middle.
Then there is the fact that the Titans have a tendency to blitz their very capable linebackers and safeties. This is a recipe for disaster if the Raiders can't pick up on what the Titans are trying to do.
I suspect that we'll see offensive coordinator Hue Jackson keeping the fullback and/or a tight end in for extra protection. Brandon Myers or Zach Miller in short motion to the side the pressure is likely to come from, and Rock Cartwright or Marcel Reece to help in the middle are good ways to help give Campbell more time.
There must also be short outlet receivers looking for soft spots in the zones to allow Campbell to unload the ball. Michael Bush or Darren McFadden in the flat, Zach Miller on a five-yard dig or "jerk" route, and Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, or Darius Heyward-Bey on intermediate curl routes can provide those dump-off routes.
Using the two remaining receivers, whoever they are, on 12- to 15-yard over routes or deep posts will occupy the safeties and keep them from keying on the outlet receiver and making big plays.
If the team executes this type of protection plan, the Raiders can have success against this very good Titan defense.
Will they? I guess we'll find out on September 12.
Michael Bush waltzes into the endzone.
Getting the running game going will not be easy. The Titans are very good against the run. There are some talented run-stoppers in the Titans' front seven.
The good news is that they run a 4-3 defensive front. This means that rookie Veldheer will not faced with a nose tackle on every play. He'll have a little space and time to make his reads and call out his signals.
This is not to say that Veldheer will not have to play well, just that the center will be uncovered most of the time, thus making it a little easier on him—but not much.
Defensive tackles Brown and Jones are good players, as is defensive end William Hayes. This leaves Jacob Ford as the player to attack.
I like Langston Walker's chances at controlling Ford and getting a good push in run blocking. Therefore, sweeps and tosses to the right with Darren McFadden, and power run plays between right guard and right tackle with Michael Bush, Michael Bennett, or Rock Cartwright should be effective.
If right right guard Carlisle can get a little help with the defensive tackle with a double team from the center, the fullback can take on middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch in the hole. That leaves the back one-on-one with inexperienced, but talented outside linebacker Colin Allred.
The Titans like to switch players up, so their alignment must be verified before attempting to run such plays. This plan will likely not work against the veteran Will WItherspoon.
I like the match up of Walker and a tight end on Allred. I can see this working well, and earning the Raiders four or more yards per carry and set up the play action pass.
Do coaches Cable and Jackson see it this way?
Jason Campbell has shown what he can do with a good tight end. Chris Cooley was turned into a Pro Bowler while Campbell was in Washington.
What can Campbell do with a great tight end like Miller?
If the Titans have a weakness on defense, it's in pass coverage. Their linebackers are athletic, but not great in coverage. I see this as a weakness to exploit.
Getting Miller into the void between the linebacker's underneath zones and in front of the safety's deeper zones will go a long way to moving the chains.
If the Titans try to cover Miller man to man, he will torch them—and they know it. I expect them to double him with over/under coverage and jam him off the line of scrimmage to throw off his timing with Campbell.
Miller has show in the past that he can, beat the jam, find the soft spots in zone coverage, and the ability beat just about any linebacker or safety in man coverage.
Short crossing routes, intermediate dig routes, and even a deep seam route or two have a great chance to be successful against the Titans.
Look for Miller to be a big part of the offense on opening day.
I've already discussed the Titans great pass rush. One of the best ways to offset a good pass rush is to set up screens and attack the edge of the defense.
Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, and Michael Bennett all have good hands are are dangerous in the open field. The Raiders should use this to their advantage.
The key to a successful screen is timing. Running it at the right time, on the right down, with the right distance to go, and executing it properly.
Hue Jackson has seen this work well in Baltimore with Ray Rice and I expect him to utilize the great speed of McFadden in this capacity.
Second down and more than seven and third down and five or more are classic blitz downs. A screen in these situations could go for big yards and, more importantly, slow down the pass rush.
Play action stop-and-goes, fade routes, and plain old fly routes are all possibilities to get the ball deep to the Raiders' talented young wide receivers.
Assuming the running game gets going, the play action deep ball is Campbell's specialty. He throws a nice deep ball and now has more than one receiver that can go get it.
I would set up plays that have Miller challenging the safety with a 12- to 15-yard post. That will keep the safety from being able to help the cornerback over the top against the great speed of Louis Murphy, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Chaz Schilens.
Out and ups, slant and goes, and hitch and goes are the routes that can hurt the Titans secondary
Only the Detroit Lions gave up more plays over 50 yards than the Titans. The secondary is the only real weakness the Titans have on defense and the Raiders must exploit it—and they have the personnel to do it.
Now, on to the defense...
You can't prepare for CJ2K's speed.
Every NFL fan in the world knows that if you want to beat the Titans, you have to control Chris Johnson. You're not going to stop him, you're not likely to contain him, all you can hope for is to keep him from beating you all by himself.
This will be no easy task.
The Raiders will have to play smart and maintain gap discipline. Over running the play will result in cut back lanes for Johnson to exploit. He has excellent vision and will not miss many opportunities to cut back and gash the defense.
Controlling the edge will also be important. If Johnson can turn the corner, it's all but over. This is where the Raiders must expect rookie Lamarr Houston and the other defensive ends to set the edge and not let anything get outside.
The defensive backs must then come up hard in support. They have to pass up a chance at the big hit and simply make the textbook, wrap up tackle. One missed tackle and Johnson can take it the distance.
If he is able to get room, there can be no arm tackles or attempts to just hit him without wrapping up—a la Michael Huff against Frank Gore in the preseason. If that happens against "CJ2K," he'll bounce off and disappear into the end zone.
On obvious running downs, the Raiders should avoid twists and stunts. Just assign every defender a gap and blitz those gaps straight ahead. Twisting and stunting can, and will result in gaping holes. This would be devastating.
The Raiders must force Vince Young to pass against the Raiders' great secondary to win. Young is a great young QB, but he's not Johnson. I'll take my chances.
Vince Young can hurt you with his legs and his arm.
I said in the previous slide the Raiders have to control Chris Johnson and make Vince Young beat them. Unfortunately, Young is more than capable of doing just that.
Young can win with his arm, and especially his legs.
The Raiders' pass rushers mustn't get too deep on the edge. If they run past Young it allows him to step up and away from the pressure, and it gives him the opportunity to break out and run for big yards.
This would be very bad for the Raiders.
Young is incredibly good at broken plays. He throws well on the run, and is great at keeping his eyes down field. If nothing is there, he is not afraid to take off and get a first down with his feet.
Controlling Johnson is difficult enough. If Young racks-up 50 or 60 rushing yards, the odds of the Raiders winning are greatly reduced.
In obvious passing situations, I would have Thomas Howard or Rolando McClain spy Young. This will reduce his ability to make first downs in long distance situations.
Blitzing Young is a double-edged sword. If you get to him, he gets rattled and tends to panic and make mistakes. If you don't get there, he's accurate enough to hurt you bad. Weighing the risk against the reward will be critical, and will change depending upon the moment.
Defensive coordinator John Marshall has his work cut out for him with this.
The Titans celebrate a long touchdown by Kenny Britt.
Kenny Britt and Nate Washington are legitimate deep threats that must be dealt with.
I have every confidence in the coverage skills of Nnamdi Asomugha, Tyvon Branch, and Michael Huff. Where I worry is cornerbacks Chris Johnson or Stanford Routt getting beaten by Britt or Washington and Huff wiffing on another open field tackle.
Seriously—it keeps me up at night.
Jeff Fisher and the Titans run a similar offense to the Raiders. Pound the rock with Johnson, then play action deep ball-stretch the field passing. The Raiders should be expecting, and prepared for this.
The Raiders' secondary have to rally to the ball, make solid tackles, and gang tackle whenever possible. If they fail to do this, there could be a repeat of the picture in this slide.
No Raider fan wants to see that.
John Marshall has to be able to mix up the coverages and blitzes to confuse the Titans' quarterback.
The days of a single-high safety working every time are long gone. There must be a good mix of over and under zones, man-to-man, and zone blitz coverages for the Raiders to be successful.
Don't blitz the same player twice on any drive. Don't blitz from the same position twice on any drive. Don't let Young see the same thing twice in the same quarter—much less the same drive.
The Raiders can't think they've found the perfect play. If you think for one second that you have found a play that is unbeatable, coach Fisher will see it, adjust to it, and beat it—badly!
The Raiders are pretty deep with players that can rush the passer. Defensive end and outside linebacker are positions of strength for this team.
Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy, Trevor Scott, Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley, and Quentin Groves can all rush the passer pretty well. That makes for a nice rotation.
The ability to bring John Henderson or Desmond Bryant in at defensive tackle means Seymour can be moved outside to make the front seven a little bigger and stronger on the edge. But, it also allows the big men in the trenches the ability to get some rest and rehydrate during a drive without giving up too much to the opponent.
Keeping the "big uglies" fresh could prove to be huge for the Raiders. If these all-important players get gassed, (as they did too many times last season) it will be nearly impossible to control the line of scrimmage. You can't win games if you lose at the line of scrimmage.
Games are won up front. Tired players lose more often than they win. Fresh players will keep the pressure on the opposing offense and wear down their offensive line. That is a recipe for Raider success in the trenches.
1. Protect Jason Campbell: Keeping tight ends and fullbacks in for protection.
2. Establish the run: Go after the defensive ends Williams Hayes and Jacob Ford.
3. Use screens: Get Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece in space on the edge.
4. Get Zach Miller involved early and often: Let Miller work in spaces between zones.
5. Attack the secondary: Play action and double moves with the speedy wide receivers.
1. Control CJ2K: Mind your gaps and wrap up.
2. Keep Vince Young in the pocket: He can kill you on the run and in broken plays.
3. Limit big passing plays: Solid, wrap up and gang tackling.
4. Confuse Young: Mix up all types of coverages and don't run any one play too often.
5. Rest the defensive line: Get a solid rotation that keeps the big men fresh.
Some of these ideas are obvious to most people. In my opinion, however, these are ideas and strategies that will lead to victory for the Raiders when they travel east to take on the Tennessee Titans.
Don't think this is all it will take to win though. There is more to it than just this. Raider Nation must hope the new blood in the coaching staff, mixed with the new talent and returning staff will provide the necessary tools to come out victorious.
So, what do you think? What did I miss? What other things would you add? Is this a solid plan? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.
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