This is for all the marbles, folks. If the Raiders lose this week, they can pretty much kiss their playoff hopes goodbye. The game within the game is of utmost importance. These two teams are very evenly matched, and both are fighting to earn a playoff spot. It will not be about who wants it more but who can be the smartest team on Sunday.
The Raiders and Lions are two of the most penalized teams in the league. The Raiders have long been known for shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, but they may be meeting their match in the Lions. Currently the top four NFL leaders in penalties among defensive tackles all play for the Raiders and Lions: Richard Seymour (9), Tommy Kelly (8), Corey Williams (7), and Ndamukong Suh (6).
Ndamukong Suh has become known for his personal foul penalties -- mainly because of the viciousness with which he commits those fouls. He is coming off a two game suspension for jamming an offensive lineman's head into the turf and then trying to kick him while he was down.
Richard Seymour was ejected from the game in Miami two weeks ago for throwing a jab at Dolphins' offensive lineman Richie Incognito. It was nowhere near the same level as Suh's stomping incident which is the only reason he got off with just an ejection and a fine.
This game will very likely come down to which team can make the fewest stupid penalties and mistakes.
Denarius Moore has been practicing all week and is set to play on Sunday. I have talked a lot about Moore's value to this team. I think he is possibly the most important player to return from injury. His speed and playmaking abilities are absolutely necessary to the success of this offense.
Carson Palmer trusts him, and Moore has proven to be one of only a couple reliable deep threats on this team. Palmer thrives on his ability to be accurate with the deep ball and that portion of the Raider offense has been gone with Moore and Jacoby Ford both injured. A one-dimensional offense is a no-dimensional offense, as has been proven the past two games with the Raiders being held scoreless through the first half of both games.
Hue was asked about what having Denarius Moore back means to this offense.
"I think it helps," said Jackson. "Because obviously he's a playmaker, and he knows how to make plays and can make plays. So it gives you another weapon that you haven't had at your disposal. He's very dynamic with what he does. It helps, but by no stretch of the imagination is he going to be the key to winning the game by himself."
Windows of opportunity
The two areas in which the Raiders have struggled in recent weeks have been the passing game and defending the run. Well, actually they have long struggled in defending the run. Those are the two areas in which the Lions are most vulnerable.
The Lions secondary lacked a lot of depth as it was and they are fielding backups. It is one of the main reason they have been giving up nearly 32 points per game.
Their running game is probably the most banged up in the league. They lost so many running backs this season, they called up Kevin Smith off the street. He had one good game and then he too went down with injury. Now they are starting veteran Maurice Morris.
Last week the Raiders gave up the first 20+ yard TD run by a Packer in two years. If they can't stop Maurice Morris from running all over them, there is no hope for this team. If Morris does have a big day, it would mean the Raiders lose this game, at which point they would have little to no hope of making the playoffs anyway.
This team MUST take advantage of the Lions' weak secondary and running game.
Throw it away, big man
Carson Palmer has been fantastic in his ability to deliver the ball where he wants this season and picking up huge plays in the process. But that confidence may also be his undoing. It has him forcing the ball into coverage a lot and the result is interceptions.
In this game he won't have a lot of time to throw. The Lions have a relentless pass rush. This will allow him a finite window to scan the field before making his decision. Hue Jackson and Al Saunders must design into the playbook an available check down receiver for those instances in which there is no one open downfield. But more importantly, Palmer needs to throw the ball away. As they say, "Live to fight another down."
Al Saunders touched on this after practice Friday:
"I think most quarterbacks that are aggressive in nature are that way. They believe in their abilities and believe that they can make a play, and there's just some times when you can't do that, and Carson knows that better than anybody. That's something that's worked on, on a daily basis. He'll find that true water level that will be even for him and we'll be able to move forward. He's a real bright guy, and he's a tremendously talented guy. He understands this game real well, and he understands what we need to do to prevent turnovers like we've had in the last couple of weeks."
Look for a lot of check down receivers in this game and a concerted effort by Palmer to just throw the ball where no one can get it when things break down. If not, it could get ugly. As Saunders pointed out, the Lions may have a banged up secondary but they are opportunistic. This is very much like the Packers secondary who intercepted Palmer four times last week.
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