Coming off of what will be a key bye week, the Oakland Raiders travel to Atlanta to face off against one of the NFL’s two remaining unbeaten teams. On paper, this matchup is one of the worst that the Raiders can come up against. However, that is just why this game is played on the field, where anything is possible. If the Raiders are going to pull off what would be the upset of the week, there are several key things that will need to happen.
If the Raiders are going to limit the explosive Falcons offense on Sunday, they will have to dominate the time of possession battle. In doing so, that means the running game will need to finally have that breakout game that the Raider Nation has been waiting for. The potential for which is there, as the Atlanta defense is currently giving up 142.8 rushing yards per game, and a 31st ranked 5.4 yards per carry. Controlling the time of possession, and getting on a roll in the running game would allow the Raiders to wear down the Falcons defense, and make the game much closer than anyone would initially assume.
Find a Pass Rush
For all of the hype that the Raiders defensive line has gotten over the past few seasons, and especially heading into this season, the pass rush has been virtually non-existent thus far. This is the game for this unit to step up and start to perform the way that they have been expected to, as injuries in the secondary could easily make for a monstrous day for QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense. DE Andre Carter suiting up for his first game in Silver and Black should help matters, and we can expect to see extended playing time on obvious passing downs.However, it will need to be a complete effort to disrupt the timing of a passing attack that is no doubt among the league’s elite. Should they have some success in rushing the passer, the banged up Raiders secondary will get the help they need in this tough coverage matchup.
Now that WRs Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are back on the field together, the hope is that they can start to stretch the field through the air. QB Carson Palmer has averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt this season, despite averaging a quite impressive 8.4 yards per attempt in 2011 while learning the offense on the fly. Of course, much of the difference so far has had to do with the new scheme. However, at a certain point, play calling within said scheme needs to incorporate what the players do best. The Raiders stretched the field with the best of teams in 2011, and need to get back to doing it this year regardless of scheme. Doing so not only gives them the opportunity to create explosive plays, but also forces defenses to respect the possibility of which, giving the ground game an advantage as well. If the Raiders seem to be taking more shots down field this week, we will know that they took the bye week as an opportunity to get back to doing some of the things that best suit their offensive personnel.
If the Raiders have any hope of salvaging this season, and being the competitive team that they envisioned, it starts this week. A win would be a huge upset, and would likely be courtesy of success in these few areas, but in this matchup against the Falcons, the Raiders face the best team that they have so far this season. They will need to come out strong, and the hope is that the bye last week would have given the team some time to correct some of the finer schematic issues that have been affecting them to this point. If we instead see another effort similar to that of the Week 4 loss in Denver, it could make for a very long remainder of the season for the team and the Raider Nation. Either way, the result of this game should give us a good idea of what to expect from this team moving forward.
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