Nov 29, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper (89) runs after a reception during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Raiders won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Coming off a 35-38 loss to the Atlanta Falcons (1-1) in their first home game of the 2016 season, the Oakland Raiders (1-1) will go back on the road to take on the roaring Tennessee Titans (1-1).
With both teams looking to get above .500, here’s an in-depth look at what we can expect from the Raiders’ Week 3 contest against the Titans.
Coop and Crab Will Pick on the Titans’ Secondary
Raiders wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper have gotten off to a hot start to begin the 2016 season, as the dynamic duo have combined for 22 receptions for 326 yards and a touchdown through two weeks.
Now in his second year with Oakland, Crabtree has picked up right where he left off in 2015. Cooper, on the other hand, experienced some growing pains as a rookie, but he believes he has significantly improved both on and off the field going into year two.
“I am mentally better, smart,” Cooper said, via Vic Tafur of SFGate.com. “I learned from the mistakes I made last year, in my rookie year. … I wasn’t taking care of my body like I should have.”
“You learn as a rookie about the speed of the game and the length of the season. I was told that the best ability is availability, and getting stretched has really helped me hit practice every day like a brand new player.”
Cooper, the Raiders’ first-round selection in the 2015 NFL draft, leads the Silver and Black both in yards (208) and targets (20).
With the Falcons now behind them, Crabtree and Cooper will look forward to much easier matchups on the outside against the Titans.
Tennessee cornerback Perrish Cox, a former fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2010, has struggled significantly, as the former Oklahoma standout has graded out as the NFL’s worst corner through the first two weeks of the season, per ProFootballFocus.com.
In last week’s contest against the Detroit Lions, Cox did come away with what would be the game-ending interception, but prior to that feat, he seemingly couldn’t stay within five yards of any receiver Detroit put on his side.
Lions veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones were both heavily targeted when they lined up opposite of Cox, as the two often created separation out of their cuts and won a majority of the 50-50 balls thrown in their direction.
Opposite of Cox, veteran cornerback Jason McCourty has also struggled to make ends meet in 2016.
McCourty, a sixth-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft out of Rutgers, has earned a below average grade (54.5) on the season, per PFF.com.
Though Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will look to have a balanced, conservative offense for at least the start of the game, he will have no choice but to open up the passing attack when both Cooper and Crabtree are running wide open down the sidelines.
Nov 29, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) breaks up a pass intended for Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (82) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Oakland won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Delanie Walker to Walk All Over the Defense
Regardless of who ends up calling the plays or who starts on defense, the Raiders will struggle to contain Titans veteran tight end Delanie Walker.
Walker, now in his 11th season in the NFL, brought in six receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown against a stingy Lions defense. He’s likely licking his chops in preparation for Oakland’s porous defense.
In their loss to the Falcons, the Raiders allowed Atlanta’s top two tight ends (veteran Jacob Tamme and rookie Austin Hooper) to combine for eight receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown.
In response to their abysmal defensive performances in weeks one and two, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. have elected to make some personnel changes on the defensive side of the ball.
Rookie linebacker Cory James will replace second-year linebacker Ben Heeney on the inside, and 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph is expected to split reps with veteran safety Keith McGill alongside Reggie Nelson in the secondary.
Both rookies (James and Joseph) should provide a spark to an otherwise lifeless defense, but Walker still has the edge in this matchup if he suits up.
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (2) carries the ball on a 3-yard touchdown run during a NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to Create Matchup Nightmare
In addition to their inability to cover the tight end position, the Raiders have been unable to contain opposing running backs from making a significant impact both on the ground and through the air.
The Raiders have allowed opposing offenses to rush for 113.5 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry, according to NFL.com. Also, Oakland has allowed opposing ball carriers to bring in seven receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
With veteran running back DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry next on the schedule, we can expect a similar result.
Murray has carried the ball 25 times for 131 yards (5.2 YPC) and caught 12 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games with Tennessee.
Because Murray is such a threat on all three downs, Henry has become accustomed to a limited role within the Titans’ offense, but his downhill, aggressive style will wear down the Raiders’ young, inexperienced defense. Having to account for a bruising back like Henry will force Norton Jr. to bring in a heavier front seven to avoid letting the former Alabama back from falling for five to six yards on every carry.
On the other hand, Murray will call for a much more athletic linebacker or safety, for his ability to create early separation on his routes out of the backfield will tear the Raiders’ defense apart if they are unable to matchup accordingly.
If Tennessee’s running game gets going, it will only benefit second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota’s ability to work out of the play action and find Walker coming open in the flat or over the middle.
A one-dimensional Titans offense will keep Oakland in this game, but if Mariota and company can force Norton Jr. to respect both the run and the pass, the Raiders will be in trouble.
August 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey (99) rushes against Oakland Raiders tackle Donald Penn (72) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Both Offensive Lines Will Keep Quarterbacks Upright
Raiders third-year quarterback Derek Carr has had a great deal of success to start the season due in large part to the play of his front five in the trenches.
Heading into their Week 3 contest against Tennessee, the Raiders offensive line has allowed just one sack on the season, per NFL.com.
According to PFF.com, Raiders left tackle Donald Penn has earned the third-best grade (85.9) among all eligible tackles in the NFL, and former Baltimore Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele sits at No. 5 among all eligible guards.
Similarly to Oakland, Tennessee has some studs along their offensive line in second-year guard Quinton Spain and 2016 first-round pick Jack Conklin, as the two have also been highlighted as some of PFF’s top performers.
Coming off a four-sack performance against Lions, the Titans’ front four is riding some momentum into their game against Oakland, but it won’t be as easy to have parties in the backfield against the Raiders’ offensive line in comparison to the line they faced in Detroit.
On the other hand, the Raiders won’t even have momentum on their side as they prepare to take on the Titans’ offensive line, as All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack and company have had no luck rushing the quarterback, totaling just two sacks on the season.
With that being said, both defenses will face an uphill battle in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback, which in turn, should have both Carr and Mariota hitting on all cylinders in the passing game.
Nov 29, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) carries the ball against the Tennessee Titans during an NFL football game at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Tay Train and Company Should Get Things Going on the Ground
In addition to the Raiders’ dominant passing attack, lead running back Latavius Murray and backups DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have taken Oakland’s running game to new heights.
Murray, the Raiders leading rusher in 2015, is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the season with 22 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Also, he has seemingly improved significantly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, already pulling in all seven of his targets for 57 yards.
Murray highlighted how he has managed to improve as a runner in comparison to his performance in 2015 earlier this week.
“This year I’m just making sure I use my size to my advantage, breaking tackles, trying to run through guys,” Murray said, via Jerry McDonald of MercuryNews.com. “I guess who’s ever on the other side of the ball becomes the victim of `Angry Tay.”
In addition to ‘Angry Tay’, Richard and Washington, Oakland’s two primary backups, have also made the best of their limited roles, combining for 161 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts.
After having little to no help behind Murray in 2015, the Raiders’ backfield has developed into a lethal, three-headed monster, a monster that could only be outmatched by a beast of equal magnitude.
Meet Titans defensive tackle Jurell Casey.
Casey, a 6’1”, 305-pound behemoth, has wreaked havoc within the Titans’ interior defensive line in both of their games thus far this season, earning a top-ten grade (80.2) with PFF.com.
It will be up to the Raiders’ talented interior offensive line to dictate whether or not Casey is going to have a huge impact defending the run, but without much to worry about outside of Casey, Osemele, center Rodney Hudson, and third-year guard Gabe Jackson should have the edge.
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) and Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) meet after the game at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The Titans defeated the Raiders 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Both offenses will thrive. The Raiders’ offensive attack has proven to be elite with Carr under center, and Mariota and company will have no choice to perform well against a poor Raiders defense.
In an expected shootout, the defense that forces the most turnovers or puts together the most stops will walk off the field 2-1, and without much reason to be side with the Silver and Black, the Titans unfortunately earn the nod in this one.