Perhaps former Raiders middle linebacker, Kirk Morrison, said it best when he said, “We didn't have that opportunity in the five years that I was there…to be playing December with so much at stake and with so much on the line.”
Very, very true Kirk. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The Raiders appear to be better off following their decision to trade Morrison, a five-year pro, in favor of 2010’s seventh overall draft choice, rookie Rolando McClain. They have held opponents to under 100 yards rushing in five out of 12 contests (41 %) that have all resulted in wins for the Raiders. During Morrison’s tenure as Oakland’s middle linebacker, the team only held their opponents under 100 yards rushing in 16 of a possible 80 games (20%).
Now what do the Raiders have to do to make sure they walk out of Jacksonville with a victory over Morrison’s new team?
Clearly they shut down the Jaguars rushing attack; then they should end up being 6-0 when holding their opponents under 100 yards rushing at the end of the day. However, I want to dig a bit deeper than the obvious answers.
Tight coverage on Tight Ends
While Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the most talented halfbacks in the NFL, the Jaguars are quietly holding two of the best young tight ends in the league in their pocket as well. Mercedes Lewis is second on their team in receptions with 41 and has hauled in eight of those catches for touchdowns. Lewis had an average of 12.9 yards per catch and is clearly a weapon in the play-action passing attack for quarterback David Garrard.
And while the Raiders are accustomed to playing against talented tight ends, the likes of Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzales, it’s not often they have to match up against two in the same game. Jacksonville’s second tight end, Zach Miller, is fifth on the team with 20 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown. While Miller is not the first option in the passing attack (if you can call it that), it is becoming more and more clear that he is a sure handed check down option for Garrard when he gets into trouble since 13 of those 20 catches have come in four of the last six games.
The Raiders will have to account for both of these guys in play action if they stand a chance to win the game.
Stuff the Alualu
One of the big reasons that the Jaguars were comfortable writing off John Henderson earlier this season is rookie defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, 2010’s 10th overall draft choice. One of the more athletic big men to come out of the draft in quite a few years, Alualu has not disappointed racking up 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 12 games started. The Raiders are not going to be able to run in the middle of the Jags defense without some serious efforts from their guys in the middle on offense.
Fortunately for the Raiders, while Alualu started the season off hot with 21 of those 30 tackles in the first seven games, it appears that opponents are either avoiding his area or have figured out a way to slow him down. Still if the Raiders want to move the ball on the ground this weekend, they will have to account for where this guy is on the field.
Don’t sing it Just bring it
I’ve heard a lot of talking this week from John Henderson and Quentin Groves about how the Jaguars wrote them off. Well all I have to say about that is that there are people in this world who talk a lot and can’t back it up and then there are those who talk the talk and walk the walk. So if you are going to blah, blah, blah all week, you better have your best game of the year on Sunday.
So far this year as a weak-side linebacker starter for the Raiders, Groves has been average in most games with only 33 tackles on the year, or less than three per game, and 0 sacks on a team that is currently second in the league in sacks. Meanwhile John Henderson has been hurt most of the season with a broken foot. Henderson said that he doesn’t care if he only had one leg, he would be playing in this game. I expect these two players to have their motors turned up and provide the Raiders defense with the energy they will need to win this cross country contest.
Regardless of who wins this game, it is going to go a long way towards deciding the AFC playoff race down the stretch. The Raiders have been horrible going to the east coast under Tom Cable since he took over as head coach. They are going to have to turn up the intensity as soon as they get off the airplane Saturday. It was a good idea by the Raiders’ coaching staff to get their team used to playing in an early game by making the team practice on an earlier-than-usual schedule this week.
A very unique approach to say the least, altering your teams’ routine this late in the season, but it is an admirable attempt to cure the woes caused from the jet lag of traveling forward in time three hours. It is yet to be discovered if the Raiders problems on the east coast are caused in part by the idea that they normally haven’t left their house yet when the east coast games start at 10 a.m. pacific time. We’ll just have to wait and see if it transitions into a positive come game time.
I know you all wanted me to talk about how the Raiders have to win the trenches, and I did touch on that with Alualu. But I also said that I was going to dig a bit deeper than the obvious. You have to win the battle of the trenches in every game and I’m searching for the keys to victory in this one specifically. A possible wild card for this game will be the presence of wide receiver Chaz Schilens, who played in only a handful of snaps against the San Diego Chargers, but head coach Tom Cable, said they will, “try to get Schilens more involved in the offense, because he really brings something to our team.”
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