It will be strength versus strength as the Raiders' offensve, powered by multi-dimensional running back Darren McFadden, tries to muscle its way past the Jets' defense.
On Sunday, the Oakland Raiders will play their home opener in front of a sellout crowd at the O.co Coliseum. They face a familiar foe: the New York Jets. Oakland has not faced the Jets since their 38-0 loss in 2009, a game made famous because of then rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's decision to devour a hot dog on the sidelines during the rout.
Their rivalry dates back to the days of the AFL, but was rekindled in the early 2000s when the Raiders bounced the Jets from the playoffs in two consecutive years. Since then, save for a win against the Brett Favre led Jets of 2008, the Jets have had the advantage in the matchup.
The Jets, however, have not faced this incarnation of the Oakland Raiders yet. While their win in 2009 came against Tom Cable, JaMarcus Russell was still under center and Darren McFadden had not yet emerged as one of the premiere running backs in the National Football League.
Both teams are fresh off of very different outcomes last Sunday. Last week, the Raiders lost in heartbreaking fashion against the upstart Buffalo Bills on a last second touchdown pass, while the Jets easily handled the Jacksonville Jaguars.
I said last year during the Raiders' potential playoff run that the Jets were the only playoff caliber team that the Raiders could beat. Let's take a look at how the two teams match up. As always, I will give my prediction in the final slide.
As I mentioned in a previous article earlier this week, the Jets' All-Pro center Nick Mangold was hobbled because of a high ankle sprain. It is now being reported that he will not travel with the team to Oakland and is declared out for the game. Rookie Colin Baxter will most likely take his spot.
After a poor game against the Bills' offensive line, this is the kind of news that will have a defensive lineman's ears perk up. The biggest beneficiaries will be defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour, who will be lined up inside on Baxter on most downs.
Look a lot of stunts from the two tackles up the middle to attempt to confuse the rookie lineman, who now is put in the position to call out the blocking assignments. Keep in mind, defensive end Lamarr Houston lines up inside on passing downs when the Raiders show more of a pass rushing look. I expect him to have a solid game.
Another matchup to look out for is the Jets' right tackle Wayne Hunter against linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley has his hand on the ground in the Raiders' third down defense as a rush end and the team likes to put their best pass rusher on the right side of the offense, rather than the blind side of the quarterback.
Hunter has struggled thus far, especially in Week 1 versus DeMarcus Ware. While Wimbley is nowhere near the pass rusher Ware is, he did compile nine sacks last season.
For a unit that struggled mightily at Buffalo last week, look for them to get back on track here against the Jets and to show the same amount of penetration they showed in Denver Week 1. Shooting for at least three sacks and hold the Jets' rushing attack to under one hundred yards is a reasonable goal.
We go from one matchup where the Raiders have the clear advantage to one in which the Jets do.
Jason Campbell and the passing game will have their crack at corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie this Sunday, the clear strength of this football team. While Campbell was able to move the ball with ease through the air last week, you would be naive to think the same would happen this week.
The big question is who will Revis match up on? Revis, unlike how the Raiders have been using their cornerback Stanford Routt, is almost exclusively matched up on the opposing team's wide receiver. While the depth chart probably indicates otherwise, the Raiders' best receiver is probably rookie Denarius Moore. His game last week against the Bills will prevent him from slipping between the cracks. As shocking as it is, look for Revis to be lined up against Moore.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, coming off of an injury that prevented him from suiting up last week, is listed as probable and will most likely be the other starting flanker. That means Cromartie will be matched up on him. That is now two matchups in the passing game that clearly favor the Jets.
This is where the return of Kevin Boss will be pivotal for the Raiders' passing game. Brandon Myers has performed admirably in his absence, but Boss is going to turn a lot of heads with the production he will get this year. Campbell loves having a reliable target underneath and Boss can be just that. He is big and surprisingly nimble for his size. Look for him to play a central role in the passing game with Moore and Heyward-Bey locked up by the corners.
Also, wide receiver Derek Hagan should not be forgotten. While Heyward-Bey will most likely get the start, Hagan figures to get a lot of snaps as well, especially considering his performance last week. Unlike Moore and Heyward-Bey, he cannot rely on speed to get open. All he has is his veteran route-running abilities. Lined up against him will most likely by second-year corner Kyle Wilson, an inconsistent and mistake-prone cover guy for the Jets. Finally, a mismatch the Raiders can exploit in the passing game.
Because of the way the pieces stack up against each other, I do not expect Campbell's numbers to even remotely resemble last week's output. The key is for him to be methodical and mistake-free. A stat line like the one he put up against the Broncos in Week 1 is more likely. The Raiders will rely primarily on their running attack rather than try to test the skilled corners of the Jets. All that is needed is for Boss and Hagan to get open on third down.
While the Jets' secondary is their strength, the Raiders' secondary is probably the team's weakness, as evidenced by their meltdown against Buffalo in the second half.
As I said last week, the way to beat the Raiders is through a short passing game that employs a lot of quick slants and underneath routes. The Bills executed this to perfection and the Raiders were left reeling.
This week, the Jets will have their crack.
As strange as this may be perceived, Mark Sanchez is not the quarterback that Ryan Fitzpatrick is. Sanchez can be prone to making costly errors and cannot effectively run an offense that is predicated on throwing the football. He succeeds when the running game is clicking and can employ his play-action fake, one of the better ones in the league.
Regardless, the Jets have some receivers that can pose a tremendous threat to the Raiders. A pair of former Pittsburgh Steelers, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, man the flanker positions, with Derrick Mason coming off the bench. While all three are a fraction of the players they used to be, they can present a lot of problems for Oakland's cornerbacks.
It would be in the Raiders' best interest that they put Routt on Holmes and Chris Johnson, who was abused last week by Steve Johnson, on the slower Plaxico Burress.
Both corners are 6'1'', so each one would match up equally against the taller Burress, but the key here is Holmes. He is the more polished of the two receivers and to avoid a similar situation to last week, it would behoove the Raiders to simply have Routt shadow Holmes. Inexplicably, Johnson was lined up against the Bills' Johnson for the majority of the game. Not surprisingly, he looked lost and overmatched. Hopefully, the coaching staff learned from its mistake and puts their best guy on the other team's.
While Michael Huff, the Raiders' nickel corner on passing downs, should neutralize Mason, a player the team should keep an eye on is Dustin Keller. As it is, he presents matchup problems because of his size and speed. Once again, Oakland is without safety Mike Mitchell, who they would normally have cover speedier tight ends.
Strong safety Tyvon Branch cannot be trusted to cover Keller. He has not shown that he can consistently cover the other team's tight end, never mind their receivers. Look for the Raiders to try and throw Jerome Boyd, Mitchell's replacement, on Keller and hope for the best. They will also have middle linebacker Rolando McClain try his hand at covering Keller on some plays. He was spotty in coverage last week against Buffalo.
Because of this breakdown, the Raiders have no choice but to apply pressure on Sanchez early and often. If the front four can do it on their own, they will be in great position on the back end to make plays on rushed passes. Yet, if the front four is neutralized as they were last week against Buffalo, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan cannot sit back and hope for the corners to do their jobs. If after this first or second drive the Raiders cannot muster any push on the Jets' offensive line, they need to bring in the heat from the linebackers and the secondary. If Sanchez is unfettered in the pocket, the advantage clearly swings to New York's favor.
There is no facet of the game that is more important than Oakland's success on the ground. Once again, the Raiders face a 3-4 defense, a defense that has traditionally given them fits in figuring out how to block. Unlike the Bills however, the Jets are extremely adept at stopping the run.
Say all you want about Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Jets have not faced a running back like Darren McFadden. His combination of speed and strength is one that is unmatched in the league. Couple that with battering ram Michael Bush coming in for relief of McFadden, and this is a completely different running attack than the Jets' faced back in 2009.
The offensive line has been much improved thus far on the season and their transition to the power blocking scheme has been seamless. In addition to the starting five, the Raiders like to bring in an extra blocker on many occasions. That may change with Boss back in the fold, but if they choose to, Stephon Heyer, who is coming back from an injury, and Joseph Barksdale are viable options.
The one red flag in this facet has been the right side of the line. While the left side with Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, and Samson Satele has had a lot of success, the right side with Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes has been slacking. Not to say they have not been good, but there has been a tendency for more holes to be opening up for McFadden on the left side. This is no cause for concern yet, but it should be noted.
There is not much that needs to be analyzed in this matchup, the Raiders simply need to put hat on hat and dominate the line of scrimmage. They key here is execution and simply relying the team's strength to dominate the game. The offense is this game cannot be judged by points on the scoreboard. The tell-tale statistic will be time of possession. The Raiders need to control the clock and consistently move the chains. This will keep the Jets' offense off the field and limit their possessions. It is simple, if the Jets' offense is not on the field, they cannot score. In this case, a good offense can be a great defense.
Look for Michael Bush to be used a little more than in the previous two games in an effort to keep the Jets' defense off balance.
I did not want to focus on too many matchups this week as I did last week. I think more importance should be placed on the matchups I have outlined. There are fewer, but they are far more significant.
It really all boils down to time of possession. Can the Raiders run the ball on the Jets' defense? How will the Raiders' defense respond after last week's performance? Who makes more mistakes, Campbell or Sanchez? Will the Raiders make Shonn Greene look better than he is with undisciplined play and poor tackling?
I think it will be a back and forth affair, with both offenses having moderate success. The Raiders will once again be pitted in the game of the week. The good news for Oakland is that this game one that will play to Oakland's strengths. Their running game is simply far superior to that of the Jets. I also have faith that the defense will rebound and have a solid game.
It will be a very close matchup and, because of that, Raider Nation will be loud and rocking. They will be the difference in this one.
Oakland Raiders 19 - New York Jets 17