Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hello old friend; it's really scary to see you once again - Game 4 at Oakland

The following is from one of my first SBS posts; a draft preview article discussing the need to draft a DE; and it seems worth repeating given the circumstances:
"The date was September 6th, 2009- the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. I was sitting at a diner in Hyannis with a group of friends recounting ridiculous stories of the past weekend (people falling off docks and into the harbor for a late night swim, girls kicking through glass doors to get into the hotel, etc) when my phone rang. It was Papa O. I assumed it was the standard call to make sure I was still alive after a weekend adventure with the idiots I call my friends. Nope.

'Did you hear the Pats traded Seymour' he asked. Whaaaaaaa? I shared the news with the table and started getting chewed out as if I was the one who traded him. So much for don’t shoot the messenger. How could they trade Big Rich? One of the unquestioned leaders of the team; a 5 time Pro Bowl selection (and 3x 1st team All-Pro); was gone? You know it’s bad when even the girls at the table are upset that a Defensive End was traded. I can’t even think of the male equivalent to that – being upset over what dress Jessica Biel wore to the Oscars? Outraged at which golddigger got voted off of The Bachelor? I don’t know, think of something funny and laugh."
This will be the first meeting between Big Rich and the Pats since the trade. While I love Seymour and everything he did for the Pats (and for punching Big Ben in the face; hence the picture above), I hope he remembers how much he enjoyed his years here and takes it easy on his old team. Stay away from Tom, Mr. Seymour. Please.

After a putrid week of sports throughout Boston, can the Pats put a historical loss behind them and move on against an up-and-coming Raiders team coming off a big win against the Jets? The secondary is thin once again (Bodden & Ras-I are out while Chung is coming back from surgery on his thumb), and the Raiders are leading the NFL in rushing. The freaks of the Black Hole celebrate Halloween year round, making Oakland a tough place to play. I enjoyed this quote from G Brian Waters (who traveled to Oakland many a time during his days with KC) about the weirdest thing he ever saw from the Black Hole: "I’ll say this, that's the first time I ever saw an old lady in a wheelchair shooting me the bird with both fingers. That’s crazy right there." So how will Brady and the Pats respond to the Raiders and their ill-mannered old women? Lets take a look at some key match ups.

New England Offense vs. Oakland Defense

Running Game:
While all the talk this week will be about the Raiders and their league leading Rushing attack, lets take a quick look at the other side of the ball. For all the success Oakland has had running the ball, they've been equally as bad at stopping the run. As talented as the Raiders D-line may be, opponents are averaging a league leading 5.8 yards per carry on the year. Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain made headlines this week by calling the Pats' a finesse team.The Patriots have a penchant for making anyone who runs their mouth eat their words (see ex-Steelers safety Anthony Smith), so perhaps the Pat's will make Mr. McClain realize that giving up 5.8ypc is just about as finesse as it gets. The Patriots struggled a bit at times to run the ball last week, but I see a focused effort on establishing the ground game to slow down the Raiders pass rush. Rookie Stevan Ridley was effective last week, so look for him to get a few more chances this week.
Advantage - Patriots

Passing Game:
As big of a disaster as last week was, consider this for a second: Tom Brady threw as many interceptions in one game last week, as he did in all 16 games in 2010 (45 attempts last week compared to 492 in 2010). While Brady's ridiculous stats in 2010 were an anomaly, so to was the game vs. Buffalo (plus, only one of those picks was his fault - well 1.5 if you want to give some of the blame on the one to Chad Johnson, which would be fair - but I hate Chad so I'm calling it one). Point being - last week is not going to happen again.

Now, onto this week. As banged up as the Pats' secondary may be, it's not all sunshine and rainbows in the Raiders defensive backfield. After losing their best player to free agency (Nnamdi Asomugha), the injury bug has hit Oakland's D-backs over the past couple weeks. As Tedy Bruschi points out:
"Free safety Michael Huff had a concussion. Left cornerback Chris Johnson injured his hamstring. So you have to monitor those two situations this week. Overall, this is a defense that has given it up against the pass -- 264 yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 2, and 369 to Mark Sanchez last week. I'm sure Tom Brady sees that, and if he gets time, I think he'll like what he sees in terms of matchups."
The key here today will be how the offensive line can hold up in pass protection against the four man rush of the Raiders. So far this year, Oakland has sent 4 or fewer pass rushers on 76.4% of pass plays. The strength of their defensive line allows them to do this, as they can consistently generate pressure while rushing only four (10 sacks in 3 games) - which is of course led by our old friend Rich. The reason the Jets were able to win the playoff game last year was because they were able to generate consistent pressure while using only 3 or 4 pass rushers. If the Patriots O-line can protect Brady against the Raiders standard 4 man rush, he should be able to pick apart a banged up Oakland secondary. Also of note: WR Taylor Price will be making his season debut today. He had a monster pre-season and should be in the mix to challenge The Struggling Chad Johnson (yes, that is now his official name) for the WR3 role. I'm very interested to see what kind of playing time he gets. Regardless - we have Tom, and he has a fresh haircut, so:
Advantage - Patriots

P.S. - This is always fun to watch

Oakland Offense vs. New England Defense

Running Game:
The Raiders l
ead the league in rushing, with 185 ypg behind solid play from a brutish offensive line. The Patriots are without Fat Albert. But they did re-sign Gerrard Warren - a move I was very happy to see considering he looked like the best defensive lineman on the team during the pre-season. Now I feel a bit better - Shaun Ellis, Vince, Gerard. That's a good start. Cycle through Andre Carter, Kyle Love and Anderson. Given Oakland's lack of talented WR's, perhaps they'll play more 2 receiver sets and allow the Pats to stay in their base defensive (and even mix in some of the old 3-4). Regardless, McFadden, fragile as he may be, is one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL.

Limiting Oakland's running game is going to be the most essential aspect of the game for the Patriots today. If the Patriots can hold Oakland to short gains on early downs, it will take away the play action pass and make Oakland's offense o
ne dimensional. Tackling by the cornerbacks will be of added importance in order to contain McFadden's big-play-ability on runs to the outside.
Advantage - Oakland

Passing Game:

Oooh where to begin? The Patriots pass defense is giving up 377 ypg, meaning, well, they basically could be as effectiv
e even if they weren't on the field. The pass rush has been generating decent pressure, but it seems like every play they have been just a split second late. McCourty is in the midst of a brutal sophomore slump - being targeted, and burnt, early and often - but I have confidence he'll return to form shortly. The inexperience of the safeties (sans Chung) shone through in a major way last week - and bears questioning the decision making of releasing both Merriweather (nope, he stinks, right move) and Sanders this offseason.

From Oakland'
s perspective: Jason Campbell is playing with the same offensive coordinator as the previous season for the first time in his career. Yes, he has been in the league for 7 years. Campbell has been thriving under the new found continuity, sporting a cool 93.8 passer rating through the first three games. Granted this is based off a small sample size, and is in no doubt benefited from the strength of the running game - but I have always felt Campbell was underrated as a quarterback. The Raiders don't have much in terms of talent at the Wide Receiver position, but Rookie 5th round draft choice out of Tennessee Denarius Moore has shown plenty of potential to date (leading the team with 9 catches for 181 yards and a TD). Add in the receiving threat that McFadden brings to the table (2nd on the team with 11 catches for 84 yards and a TD) and the acquisition of TE Kevin Boss; and the Raiders passing game seems to be heading in the right direction.

Until the Patriots prove that they can at least pretend to stop the pass, this match up will go against them no matter who the opponent (well save for Tavaris Jackson and Alex Smith). So:

Advantage - Oakland

Special Teams
As much as I like the Patriots' combination of Zoltan and Gostkowski; Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski are the best pair of kickers in the league.

Advantage - Oakland


I'm dying to pick the Pats in a blowout in this one. Brady coming off one of the worst games of his career and facing a beat up Raiders secondary. The Raiders, running their mouths coming off a big win. In years past, I would have chalked this one up as NE 44 - Oak 7. But this team isn't quite there yet. The defense is going to take time to come together, and while I believe they will be great by the end of the year, the won't be by the end of today. The once laughable Raiders have built a solid foundation and will give the Patriots a test. In the end, the Pats offense will be too explosive allowing N.E. to hold on for the W. September football - win and move on; no matter how ugly the wins may be. With the Jets traveling to Baltimore tonight and into Gillette next weekend; Belichick won't let the possibility of a two game lead over the loud-mouth boys in green slip away against a beatable opponent this afternoon.
Patriots 30 - Raiders 20

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