The Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans will kickoff the playoffs with their Wild Card matchup.
This will be the fourth time this season that the Oakland Raiders will have a rematch. Last time the Raiders met the Texans was a Monday night matchup in Mexico City. I highlighted some matchups to watch for the game that will still be relevant on Saturday.
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Dec 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington (33) celebrates after scoring on a 22-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during a NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
DeAndre Washington vs. Benardrick McKinney
DeAndre Washington had a fire lit under him for the Colts game after being a healthy scratch in recent weeks. Since that time, he has looked like the player Raider fans imagined when he was drafted out of Texas Tech.
Washington is a dynamic athlete matches up well against LBs and Safeties, while also being a dynamo in the open field. He is averaging over 5 yards per carry this season and is a great compliment to Jalen Richard and Latavius Murray.
Benardrick McKinney is a great football player. He was just named a second team All-Pro. He is a key cog in the leagues best defense (yards). McKinney has 129 tackles this season along with 5 sacks. That is an impressive number, and he has the most tackles this season for a player with 5 or more sacks.
While McKinney is a great player, he has his deficits. He is a great run stuffer that is a force on the inside of the Texans LB core, but he is a stiff hipped pass defender. He struggles to stay one on one with most RBs and TEs in coverage.
Against the Raiders in Mexico City, Bill Musgrave exploited his weaknesses, splitting out athletes that are matched up with McKinney. On the outside, against Washington, McKinney will be left looking answers. Romeo Crennel may have an answer eventually, but until he does, the Raiders should exploit it.
Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) is hit out of bounds by Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph (42) setting up a Texans touchdown in the second quarter at Estadio Azteca. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
Karl Joseph vs. Lamar Miller
Karl Joseph had a huge game against the Texans earlier this season. He recorded 10 tackles but he was also a huge presence in the passing game and his big hits left an impression throughout the Texans offense.
ESPN.com recently noted that with Karl Joseph in the lineup the Raiders allowed opposing QBs to record an average QBR of 51.2, easily the lowest (good defense) grade in the league. With Joseph out of the lineup, opposing QBs had an average QBR of 76.2 which was far and away the highest of any team in the league (bad defense).
Lamar Miller was the Texan that reaped the benefited most from a porous Raider defense earlier this season. He had season highs in both yards (149) and yards per carry (6.2). He is a talented RB who was seemingly always underutilized in Miami, but wth below average QB play in Houston he is getting a chance to be the feature of the offense. The Raiders had no answers for Miller earlier this season and if the Texans are smart they will exploit that.
How can the Raiders hope to slow down Miller on Saturday? The real answer is that the defense will have to play up to their potential, something that we have rarely seen this season. A simpler answer is that the rookie phenom Joseph acts as a dominant presence at the line of scrimmage as much as he is in the secondary. A big hit from the torpedo that is Karl Joseph could echo in the ears of Miller all day. At the very least, Joseph needs to stop average runs from turning into big runs.
Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) reacts following a turnover in the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Texans 27-9. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Raiders Backup Tackles vs. Clowney and Co.
Raider Nation received crushing news on Friday — Pro Bowl LT Donald Penn will miss his first start. It is devastating news for everyone, particularly Penn himself who stated in a tweet that he was “in tears.”
I did everything I could 2 play tomorrow I mean everything in tears right now haven't missed a game my entire career lost 4 words????????????????????????
Penn is a Raider through and through, he gives his all to the organization and ultimately, his absence will certainly be felt. According to reports, he will be replaced in the lineup by RT Menelik Watson. Watson will be replaced by Austin Howard, who has started at RT most of the season.
The Texans have a number of athletes that can get to the quarterback even without J.J. Watt. Most notably, Jadeveon Clowney, who at one time was one of the most dominant defenders in college football.
The former #1 overall pick has 6 sacks this season, but his true disruptive ability is not easily quantified. The Texans’ leader in sacks Whitney Mercilus, who has also been named a second team All-Pro — he is perhaps the most underrated defender on the best defense in the league. John Simon, Joel Heath and Benardrick McKinney have multiple sacks as well.
The Raiders will need to be creative. Watson hasn’t yet played LT and Howard has played below average at RT. Look for slide protection help and chip blocks from TEs and RBs to slow down pass rushers as well as screens to the middle of the field and draws.
Connor Cook must be able to anticipate added pressure because even base pass rushers will give the Raiders fits. Cook has to communicate well with center Rodney Hudson who is by all accounts, akin to a coach on the field. While Hudson can alert Cook of most blitzes, it will really come down to the tackles giving Cook enough time to find his receivers and get the ball out of his hands. I believe that Musgrave will give Cook a lot of simple reads in hopes that the initial read will be open quickly.