With their 26-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs (3-2), the Oakland Raiders (4-2) are barely hanging onto their lead in the AFC West heading into their Week 7 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3).
In what should be a bounce-back game for Oakland’s offense, here’s a preview of how the Raiders will respond against the Jaguars on EverBank Field on Sunday.
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Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4), wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) and wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) warm up before the start of the game against the Tennessee Titans at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cooper and Crabtree to Jumpstart Carr on the Road
After crashing into the outside walls in front of his home crowd against Kansas City, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr will look to his two star receivers to put Oakland’s offense back on track in Jacksonville.
Raiders sophomore receiver Amari Cooper appears to be hitting his stride six weeks into the season, putting on a show in his most recent performance against Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters with 10 receptions for 129 yards.
Having seen the end zone just once this season, Cooper’s impact has sometimes been discredited because of his lack of touchdowns. However, the former Alabama product has thrived in critical downs outside of the red zone, tying with Dallas Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley and Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the most first down receptions on third down with 10, according to The Washington Post.
Veteran receiver Michael Crabtree, on the other hand, has positively impact the Raiders’ offense in the red zone, bringing in a team-high five touchdowns this season.
Crabtree was unable to add to his touchdown total against Kansas City, but his touchdown numbers could spike against the Jaguars’ secondary.
Former New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara and veteran Davon House should both see snaps against Crabtree on Sunday, two matchups in which Crabtree will have the edge.
Still battling a hamstring injury, Amukamara could struggle to keep up with Crabtree’s physicality, and House has yet to put together a strong performance this season, grading out as the 111th of 113 corners on 221 defensive snaps, per ProFootballFocus.com.
Jaguars rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a standout player for the Jaguars’ defense thus far, will have his hands full lining up against Cooper.
Ramsey’s physical, confident play could affect his performance early, but Cooper will get the best of Ramsey if they ask him to play man coverage for a majority of the contest. Cooper’s smooth route-running ability should push Ramsey off his high horse.
Oct 2, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (51) during game 15 of the NFL International Series against the Indianapolis Colts at Wembley Stadium. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jaguars Linebackers to Ruin Murray’s Return to the Backfield
Similarly to when they took on linebackers C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr in their Week 4 contest against the Baltimore Ravens, the Raiders’ rushing attack could fall victim to a almost equally talented linebacking corps against the Jaguars.
Veteran inside linebacker Paul Posluszny has obviously lost a step since entering the league as a second-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft, but his elite football IQ and high motor has kept him from having a drop in production.
Posluszny, a Penn State alumni selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft, leads the Jaguars with 46 combined tackles (35 solo), and third-year outside linebacker Telvin Smith falls second on that list with 40 combined tackles (35 solo).
Smith has also accumulated a team-high six tackles for loss.
Unlike Posluszny, Smith still possesses top-tier athleticism for his size (6’3”, 218 pounds), allowing him to fly to the ball in pursuit and hold his own in coverage.
Since entering the starting lineup, rookie outside linebacker Myles Jack has quickly assimilated to the speed of the NFL, leaving no weakness in Jacksonville’s starting three linebackers.
With starting defensive linemen Jared Odrick and Sen’Derrick Marks missing practice with injuries, Posluszny and company could see a drop in production from their front four, but even if the two aren’t able to suit up, they will still have the edge against the Raiders on the ground.
In five games, the Jaguars have held opposing ball carriers to just 3.8 yards per carry.
Raiders lead back Latavius Murray is expected to return to the field after missing the previous two games with turf toe, but the former Pro Bowl back will have to wait until he leaves Jacksonville if he is going to get back up to speed.
Sep 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas (80) catches a pass as San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Jatavis Brown (57) defends during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Julius Thomas to Cause Matchup Nightmare for Raiders’ Secondary
Former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas has fallen out of the national spotlight without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning tossing him the ball, but the sixth-year veteran still has enough tricks up his sleeve to fool the Raiders’ defense.
Frankly, most tight ends would get the best of Oakland’s defense regardless of what they have in their sleeves.
Thomas, a former fourth-round pick out of Portland State, has brought in 13 of 22 targets for 176 yards and a touchdown in four games this season.
Opposing offenses have had their way with the Raiders’ outside corners at times; however, they often target open tight ends both in the middle of the field and the flats, especially when running play action.
Raiders rookie inside linebacker Cory James and fellow rookie Karl Joseph have performed well when defending the pass after earning their first career starts in Week 3, earning above average grades in coverage, per PFF.com.
The same can’t be said for their veteran teammates.
After following his former linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. to Oakland, former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith has failed to meet expectations, often putting together underwhelming performances both in coverage and against the run.
Former Cincinnati Bengals safety Reggie Nelson has followed Smith’s lead, as the 2015 Pro Bowler ranks 75th among 83 safeties in coverage.
With that being said, Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olsen, the Raiders’ offensive coordinator during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, should look to get Bortles comfortable in the pocket early with Thomas as his security blanket.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is hit by Oakland Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) while Saints offensive guard Andrus Peat (75) tries to block in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Raiders won, 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Mack and Irvin Must Take Advantage of the Jaguars’ Banged-Up Offensive Line
Entering the 2016 season, the Raiders’ front four led by edge-rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin was expected to dominate opposing offensive lines in the trenches when defending the run and attacking the quarterback.
This has not been the case.
Mack and Irvin have combined for just four of the team’s eight sacks this season, and opposing offenses are averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 132.2 yards per game on the ground.
The finger has been pointed at both Norton Jr. and the Raiders’ inexperienced, underwhelming linebackers, but it’s time Mack and Irvin start pointing the finger back at themselves.
Opposing offenses will continue to game plan against both edge-rushers and call for double-teams early and often. Both Mack and Irvin must fight through the expected adversity if they are going to ascend as the top edge-rushing duo in the league.
The two could take a step in that direction against an unhealthy Jaguars offensive line.
Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum, a former Pittsburgh Steeler that has struggled with injuries over the course of his five-year NFL career, missed Thursday’s practice with a knee injury and is officially listed as questionable going into Sunday’s game.
Similarly, Jaguars right tackle Jeremy Parnell was limited in Thursday’s practice with a hip injury.
Even if both tackles are healthy enough to play on Sunday, Mack and Irvin should take advantage of their absence in practice and disrupt the Jaguars’ already struggling offense.
According to ESPN.com, Jacksonville has put together the 23rd ranked passing offense in terms of yards per attempt and ranks 31st in rushing yards per game.
Aug 28, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns (88) celebrates with wide receiver Allen Robinson (15) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Jaguars’ Outside Receivers Will Test Raiders’ Boundary Corners
Inconsistent play on the outside has cost the Raiders significantly, as top corners Sean Smith and David Amerson have often raised fans out of their seats with excitement just to cast them back down in disappointment on the following play.
Amerson, PFF’s sixth-ranked cornerback through six weeks of play, will face an uphill battle in terms of limiting Jacksonville’s top receiver Allen Robinson.
The former Penn State product hasn’t taken the expected leap in his third NFL season after bringing in 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015, but his still capable of the big play and will threaten opposing defenses in the red zone.
At 6’1”, 205 pounds, Amerson possesses above average size for the cornerback position and has performed well against bigger receivers in the past, but it will take an outstanding effort to cut down an athletic, physical tree like Robinson (6’3”, 218 pounds).
Opposite of Amerson, Smith has slowly clawed his way back into the limelight after an abysmal start to his Silver and Black career, accumulating two interceptions and five pass deflections since being benched in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints.
Smith’s position in the hearts of Raiders fans will be put back to the test regardless of which Jaguars receiver lines up opposite of Robinson.
Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns was held out of practice on Thursday after seeing limited action in Wednesday’s practice because of a shoulder injury, so if he is unable to suit up on Sunday, third-year wide receiver Marqise Lee will get the nod on the outside.
Though Hurns would be the tougher matchup, Lee’s elite quickness and burst could throw Smith through a similar loop that he fell through against Saints receiver Brandin Cooks.