The last time the Raiders faced Tom Brady in Oakland was during the 2002 regular season, the year after falling to him in the Game Which Cannot Be Named. Oakland prevailed 27-20.
There's no need to rehash the recent history of these two teams. We all know the story by now.
On Sunday, the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders will face off at the O.co Coliseum. For the second week in a row, the hometown Raiders will be playing in front of a sellout crowd. This is the first time since 2008 that two games in a row have been sold out in Oakland.
Last week, the Raiders put on a show for their fans, defeating the New York Jets 34-24—a team that has made the AFC Championship game two years in a row. This week, a team with an even stronger pedigree for winning comes to town.
The Patriots are coming off a heartbreaking lost last week at Buffalo, a situation the Raiders were faced with two weeks ago. In the contest, despite a career day from Wes Welker and an impressive assault through the air from Tom Brady, the passing game had its hiccups. Brady was intercepted four times.
The Raiders won their game primarily through the ground, as Darren McFadden consistently moved the chains with his legs and Jason Campbell threw when he needed to. All of this came against a supposedly vaunted Jets defense.
Each team goes into this contest 2-1. The Patriots need this win in order to prevent a two-game losing streak, something they are not accustomed to. The Raiders need this win in order to gain respect and be considered a legitimate contender. Here, we'll take an in-depth look at how the two teams stack up. And, as always, I will give my prediction in the final slide.
We'll start with the elite player on either sideline—Tom Brady.
Brady has been on a record pace thus far this season and look for not much to change in this game. The Raiders' secondary is the weakness of this team. To make matters worse, Michael Huff and Chris Johnson have missed practice this week.
One player that the Raiders figure to have back for the first time this season is safety Mike Mitchell.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the key will be in how the Raiders plan to cover the receivers to affect Brady's timing. Man to man with an emphasis on pressing early at the line has to be the mode of attack. Brady likes to simply go to his hot read; the Raiders' defensive backs need to throw off their timing. This falls into Oakland's laps because many of the members in the secondary are more physical than the receivers of New England.
The best way to get to Brady is not to blitz him. He's too good at reading the blitzes and will simply go to the uncovered man. The Raiders need to be able to drop back seven or eight guys and make sure the unit up front is able to get penetration. If Richard Seymour, Lamarr Houston and Kamerion Wimbley can all get to Brady and the defensive backs can get a solid jam on the line, Brady will be forced to make bad throws.
Of course, this matchup in itself branches out to many other ones that are all interrelated...
Chris Johnson, in the middle of me writing the previous slide, has been declared out for Sunday's game. There is no way anyone other than Stanford Routt will be covering the speedy Wes Welker.
Johnson's replacements figure to be Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke. If Huff is able to go, he will be the team's nickelback.
Yet, Routt has had many experience playing in the slot after years of being the team's nickelback. This is precisely where Welker lines up.
Though he has been used this way yet in the season, the Raiders should give him free reign to roam around and shadow Welker wherever he goes. Routt certainly has the speed to keep up with Welker, though the routes he tends to run make it difficult to force incompletions.
Where Routt gets the advantage, however, is in the physical aspect. He is a bigger player than Welker and with a few quick jams at the line, as I mentioned before, Brady's timing is thrown off. Brady relies on Welker almost to fault and by messing with the timing of his routes, Brady is forced to look elsewhere. Which leads us to...
Brady's second favorite target is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has five touchdowns on the year.
Luckily for the Raiders, as I mentioned before, safety Mike Mitchell should be returning.
This is not to be taken lightly. It is Mitchell's responsibility to line up against receiving tight ends. He has done it in the past with Antonio Gates and Marcedes Lewis and has performed well.
Look for him to replace one of the linebackers, probably Quentin Groves, to give the team a speedier look and cover Gronkowski. If Mitchell's knee cannot hold up, you can expect Jerome Boyd to get the call. He is a similar player to Mitchell, and while he is a downgrade, he has played well in his absence.
That leaves rookies Chimdi Chekwa and probably DeMarcus Van Dyke with the task of covering New England's veteran receivers—Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco.
Ochocinco has been a disappointment so far for New England, but he should never be taken lightly. He is a crafty veteran who knows how to get open. Either Chekwa or Van Dyke have to be on their toes at all times.
Judging by how he covered Plaxico Burress last week, I would have Chekwa on the better of two, Branch. Branch has shown that he still has chemistry with Brady, while Ochocinco is still grasping the offense. Chekwa's confidence is higher than Van Dyke's right now so look for Branch to man up on Branch. Branch is much shorter than Burress, so Chekwa should have a little bit of an easier time of him.
Yet, there is one matchup that really dictates the success of the Patriots' passing attack...
I don't expect the Raiders to blitz much. As I said, Brady picks teams apart when they do that. It all falls on the Raiders' front four to generate pressure.
Defensive end Matt Shaugnessy could miss Sunday's game with an injury, which would be a big blow. However, the Raiders have a lot of bodies to use. Besides, Wimbley will be taking a lot of snaps with his hand in the ground, as he is more often used as en edge rusher.
That leaves Seymour, Kelly and Houston as the players to hold down the fort. Don't forget Jarvis Moss, who had a very solid day against the Jets last week, compiling two sacks.
Against New England's formidable offensive line, the defensive line needs to win the individual battles and get to Brady. That doesn't mean sacks are the only thing that matter. The line just needs a consistent push and force Brady to rush throws and decisions. The pocket needs to be collapsing.
Sacks are always nice though.
And speaking of Seymour...
You can bet Seymour will be fired up for this matchup. This is a game I'm sure he's been waiting for since 2009. He can say all he want about this game just being one of 16, but all that is thrown out the door once gameday comes.
Seymour is a fiery competitor, and this is why I include this slide. He needs to be able to channel that energy, turn it into a positive and wreck havoc in New England's backfield. He can't have a gaffe like last year against Pittsburgh.
While every Oakland fan, I'm sure, loved to see Ben Roethlisberger smacked to the ground; it took Seymour out of a big game. That certainly was not the reason the Raiders lost last year, but Oakland is better with him than without him. In the end, Seymour was not able to keep his emotions in check for a big game.
Look for him to use last year's game as a lesson. I'd be very surprised to see a personal foul penalty thrown his way.
Let's go from the Patriot's strength to the Raiders'.
This is a traditional finesse vs. power matchup. The Patriots rely on Tom Brady to move the ball through the air. The Raiders rely on smacking you in the mouth and running the football. A big part of that is Darren McFadden.
The title of this slide is misleading in a sense, because essentially the matchup I'm speaking of is the Raiders' rushing attack against the entire Patriots' defense.
Where the title comes in is that the best defense you can play against Tom Brady is to keep him on the sidelines. If he is on the sidelines, they can't score. This should come as no surprise.
It is up to Darren McFadden and Michael Bush to move the chains and not with big runs, though those are certainly nice. They need to be able to consistently get chunks of yards, four or five yards a carry, and methodically drive down the field. Tire out the Patriots' defense and keep Brady on the sidelines. It's a win-win situation.
This is why I don't expect the Raiders to constantly go for the home run. Look for very conservative play-calling on offense in an effort to move the ball slowly against a porous Patriot defense. They have not shown they can stop anyone.
That's not to say the shots down the field won't come however...
Remember the Jason Campbell we saw against the Buffalo Bills? Yeah, we need to see that guy again.
It is no secret that the Raiders use the run to set up the pass. Campbell is used as a game manager to make safe throws, and it works to perfection when the running game is clicking as it did against the Broncos and the Jets.
It has been three weeks now. The secret is out so look for the Patriots to do everything they can to stop McFadden.
This is where Campbell needs to come in.
He needs to be able to exploit the Patriots' secondary, which has shown a propensity to give up yards through the air. Jacoby Ford is expected back for this game, which gives the Raiders even more speed at the wide receiver position.
It is not inconceivable for Campbell to throw for over 300 yards. Whether the Raiders can win when he does remains to be seen. The key will be balance on offense and limiting mistakes. They will be in trouble if the give Brady a short field to work with after a turnover.
Injuries have been something that have plagued the Raiders since the offseason. Shaughnessy, Huff, Ford, Mitchell, Johnson and Murphy are all dinged up amongst others.
While Johnson and Murphy are probably out for this, all of the others are questionable. The Raiders have done a great job of finding a player to step up and fill another fallen one's shoes. However, this can't continue. Against a team like the Patriots, they need to have bodies.
A player like Brady is able to exploit mismatches, as is coach Bill Belichick. If a player's performance on the field is severely hampered by an injury, he needs to stay on the sidelines. Especially if the injury is on defense, Brady will attack it like a lion does a wounded gazelle.
Out of all of those injured players, the most important one, as I mentioned before, is Mitchell. Yet, even he is replaceable with Boyd. The key is not to aggravate any injuries and make them worse.
I said before this three-game stretch that I thought the Raiders would beat the Jets, because they matched up better against them. I also said I had them losing against the Patriots.
As much as I want to flip my prediction, I want to keep my integrity intact. I do think the Raiders have a legitimate shot at this one, and it should be a great game. I expect Darren McFadden to gain over 100 yards on the ground once again and for Campbell to continue showing a rhythm with his receivers. I just think Brady will prove to be too much for this defense. He rarely loses the game after a loss.
That is not to say all will be lost for Raider Nation. The Raiders will be 2-2 at that point, with their losses coming against the resurgent Buffalo Bills and the Patriots. Each of those two losses will be against two playoff contenders and have been close. That is nothing to scoff at.
I predict a high-scoring affair with the Raiders not being able to match the offensive output of the Patriots. But the Raiders are back folks.
New England Patriots 38 - Oakland Raiders 34