Oakland Raiders Week 16: Pressures, Hurries and Knockdowns
The Raiders head into this weekend's contest with Indianapolis in a familiar must-win position. Every game from here on out represents an elimination game for the Raiders, and even if they beat the Colts there is no guarantee of a playoff spot.
The Raiders are currently 5-0 in their division, but their overall record is only 7-7. While obviously able to take care of business in their own neighborhood, the Raiders have been lost when straying outside the suddenly friendly confines of the AFC West.
In order for the Raiders to make the playoffs, the following has to happen:
They must beat the Colts and then the Chiefs in their last two games, putting them at 9-7.
The Chiefs absolutely must lose to the Titans in Arrowhead this Sunday; and the Chargers must lose one of their two final games against the Cincinnati Bengals (3-11) or the Denver Broncos (3-11).
If the Raiders lose to the Colts, the Chiefs beat the Titans or the Chargers win out, it's all over for Oakland's playoff hopes this season.
The Colts went through a midseason swoon when Peyton Manning decided to channel his old nemesis Ryan Leaf and throw more TDs to his opponents than his teammates. But he's over that funk now, and back to his old gesticulating, jumpy self behind center.
Can another cheesy commercial for a crappy product be far behind?
The Colts are also in a must-win position, having to win out in order to ensure their seventh straight AFC South title and a chance at the playoffs.
With that in mind, I give you this week's pressures, hurries and knockdowns, Raider style.
Pressures: Raiders Pass Defense
According to many takes, the Raiders were strafed by spectacular rookie Tim Tebow in his NFL debut. That being the case, the Raiders pass defense should be on notice. If Tebow looked that good, then it stands to reason that Peyton Manning will carve us up like a Christmas turkey.
In reality, the Raiders bottled up Tebow in the passing game and his numbers would've been even more pedestrian without a miraculous TD catch from Brandon Lloyd in the corner of the end zone that possibly shouldn't have even counted, and went through the hands of two defenders. So they did just fine.
The Raiders actually own the No. 5 passing defense in the NFL in terms of yardage allowed, and unlike in years past that ranking is not inflated solely because teams are running the ball constantly to protect big leads. The Raiders have been in most of their games with a chance to win at the end, so teams have had to run a balanced offense accordingly.
The Colts, though, own Peyton Manning. That factor alone gives them a chance in any game.
Though I cannot fathom how people continue to state Manning is better than Tom Brady (despite my personal hatred for Brady, he's clearly become the class of the position), he's still Peyton Manning. He has bounced back from his midseason swoon to lead the Colts to consecutive victories, and despite a patchwork quilt of receivers and linemen, the Colts continue to be dangerous because of the presence of No. 18.
The Colts throw the ball more than anyone in the NFL, and with the notable exception of last week, have a very hard time gaining yardage on the ground. This plays right into the hands of the Raiders, as the Colts' once impenetrable line has shown some cracks, and the Raiders are a top-tier pass rushing team.
However, the Colts have still given up the fewest sacks in the NFL at 14. But that is as much of a testament to Manning's ability to read and react to a defense as it is the line playing well. They're vulnerable this year, and it's shown.
The only drawback I see here is that both Richard Seymour and Nnamdi Asomugha are hobbled. Seymour, in fact, may not even be able to play due to a tweaked hamstring. Nnamdi is good to go, and will blanket Reggie Wayne, but his ankle still is not 100 percent and he's looked human since the injury.
The pass defense is under pressure to get pressure on Manning and stay disciplined on the back end. Manning will carve a team up underneath, but the Colts likely won't score as many points if you force Manning to dink and dunk. As soon as he starts throwing down the field successfully, the other team is in trouble.
The pass defense will also get a tremendous boost if the rushing offense does their job.
Pressures: Run Offense
The Raiders sit No. 2 in the NFL in rushing yardage, averaging just over 155 yards a game. The Colts sit at No. 28 in run defense, allowing just over 135 yards a game. So the Raiders should run all over the Colts, right?
Well, the Jacksonville Jaguars thought so too last week, and were rudely surprised by a Colts defense that finally came to play in the trenches.
The Raiders have made their bones on the ground this season, with Darren McFadden surpassing 1,000 rushing and 1,500 scrimmage yards last week in a tour de force performance against the Broncos that showcased all of McFadden's exceptional big-play repertoire.
The offensive line, much maligned for the early part of the season, has found their groove in the hybrid zone/power blocking scheme and the results are speaking for themselves.
Running against the Colts is imperative, as the more a team runs the ball successfully, the more they control the tempo of the game. And the best and most effective way to defend against Manning and the Colts is to simply keep them off the field.
The Raiders are currently No. 13 in time of possession, but they must hold the ball for more than the 31:08 they are averaging if they want to have a chance to hold the Colts off the scoreboard.
Manning has shown time and again that just when you think he doesn't have enough time to pull off something incredible, you're wanting to punch his goofy grin as he jogs off awkwardly with a win.
Well, if McFadden and the invaluable bruiser Michael Bush are able to gain their five yards per carry average and wear down the Colt defense, holding the ball and keeping the Raider defense fresh, then the Silver & Black have an excellent shot at this game.
For the first time since the 2002 season, the Raiders find themselves in meaningful games in December. In fact, the Raiders still have a shot at the playoffs this season, but must help themselves and hope for a few good bounces along the way.
This team has turned a corner this season, as they have broken numerous embarrassing and negative streaks this season, some of which are:
- Seven straight seasons of 11-plus losses (the team can lose a maximum of nine games this season)
- Thirteen straight losses to the San Diego Chargers (have swept them this season)
- Seven straight seasons with a losing division record (currently 5-0 in the division)
- No back-to-back wins in almost two full seasons (the team has won back-to-back games three times)
So the Raiders have improved. They have shown the ability to play under pressure, to beat teams they wouldn't have in the past and to play a full 60-minute game.
However, they didn't take care of business against teams they should've beaten, and thus the pressure is now on the Raiders. If they lose once in their next two games, they are finished. That missed field goal against Arizona in Week 3, painful at the time to be sure, is now the albatross that forces the Raiders into a "win or go home" situation.
They are under pressure to handle the pressure, play with intensity and the focus this game requires and not let the idea of their season being on the line determine how they play in this game.
Coach Tom Cable really seems to have changed the mentality of this team, as they come out fired up and ready to play more often than not, which is a change from recent times. But no one on this team has been in this kind of pressure situation before, and it is imperative they handle it with focus and preparation, or things could get ugly.
- Welcome back, Zach Miller. Although he's played the last three games, the Denver game last week was the first time he remotely resembled the dynamic pass-catcher that he is. I expect him to have a good week against a Colts team that struggles mightily in containing opponents' tight ends.
- It would have been nice to face Peyton Manning four weeks ago when he was looking like Ty Detmer, but fact is we have to face Manning in a desperation situation, with his season on the line and with our top cornerback hobbled. Not a good equation.
- Nnamdi said that he's still not 100 percent but is a go for this weekend. Since he hurt his ankle, though, he's looked distinctly human and Manning isn't one to shy away from anyone at any time anyhow. Expect Manning to look Nnamdi's way early to test the ankle.
- Darren McFadden should be just fine against this Colt defense that has similar issues to the Raiders in stopping the run. The Colts seem to stuff the run frequently, and then give up a huge play that inflates the numbers. They have difficulty with shifty backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield, which McFadden excels at.
- Don't read too much into them stuffing MJD last weekend against Jacksonville. Jones-Drew was clearly not 100 percent, and the Jaguars seemed out of sync and unfocused on offense all game.
- Those of us (including myself) who thought we could switch Michael Huff to corner with no adjustment were clearly wrong. Huff has good coverage skills, but he was toasted frequently against Denver last weekend despite the struggles of the Denver pass offense. Huff has the skills, but it's clearly more of an adjustment than the average fan thought.
Knockdowns: The Raiders Don't Play Meaningful Games in December
- A victory would ensure the Raiders' first .500 or better record in seven years
- A victory would keep the Raiders' playoff hopes alive
- Both Oakland and Indianapolis need to win out to ensure they make the playoffs
- If the Raiders lose, the Chiefs and Chargers can breathe easier
- If the Raiders win, the Jacksonville Jaguars look very strong to win their division
- This game has numerous playoff implications for both the AFC West and AFC South. Due to the excellent records of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England and the New York Jets, there are no wild-card implications
- A Colts win eliminates the Tennessee Titans from playoff contention, regardless of what they do against the Chiefs
- A Raiders win helps the Jaguars and Titans, but may not help the Raiders depending on what happens in the Kansas City game
As I mentioned before, the Raiders haven't played a meaningful game in December since 2002. But this game is meaningful for numerous reasons:
So there are a bunch of reasons why this game matters, not the least of which is that the Raiders, regardless of playoff implications, have something good going on in Oakland and want to keep the ball rolling.
Positive momentum into next year, either in the form of an unlikely playoff berth or a season-ending two-game winning streak that contributes to knocking the Chiefs and Colts out of the playoffs, would be a huge morale boost for the entire franchise and fanbase after the harshness of the last seven years.
Win or go home. That's it. It's all on the line this weekend, and may not even matter.
The Raiders can only control their own games, and know what's at stake this weekend. They know how much this fanbase yearns for success, for positivity. They know how badly we want it.
They want it to.
All indications this week are that the team has a laser-like focus on Indianapolis. They know they cannot control what San Diego or Kansas City do, and that they must take care of business no matter what.
Cable has this team preparing in the right way—with the focus all on the Colts and not on their division rivals. Although it's got to be harsh to know there is a very realistic possibility the Raiders could become the first team in NFL history to sweep their division yet not win it, they must focus on the task at hand and not worry about anything else.
The interviews with the players, coaches and personnel on the team have me convinced that is the case.
Now they must come out and show it on Sunday. This Colts team is more beatable and vulnerable than most in recent years; we must pounce and take advantage. We can pound this team physically, and must in order to win this game.
I hope Jared Veldheer takes some extra motivation from Dwight Freeney's derisive and arrogant comments the other day and puts him on his dreads repeatedly. Freeney is a great player; just not as great as he seems to think he is.
Regardless, it's going to be a great game to watch. I like watching the Colts, and I am looking forward to us playing them for a rarity. I'm looking even more forward to mashing them into the grass and pulling bits of Manning out of TK and Seymour's masks after the game.
Thanks as always for reading. All comments are welcome and appreciated. Have a safe, fun, and happy holiday season; be smart, be safe, but have a good time!