Patriots want ball in Campbell's hands
Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how he would defend against Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington breaks down how New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez should attack the Ravens' defense.
There’s an old-school bully in our midst, and the rest of the NFL better take notice.
Yes, I’m well aware that the NFL, circa 2011, has become a pass-happy league, but the leader of this old-school league bully happens to be a running back. Remember those?
Darren McFadden of the 2-1 Oakland Raiders — yes, those Oakland Raiders — leads the NFL in rushing yards. And his career- and NFL season-high 171 yards in a victory Sunday at Oakland even had the Jets’ defense-minded head coach shaking his head.
"You’ve got to give them credit," Rex Ryan said. "They had 234 yards, 7.3 yards per carry. I’ve never had that happen in my life, but it just happened."
Although many might be amazed by the Raiders’ early success, I’m not surprised.
This is a good, talented football team. I did a game for FOX last year, and I saw it coming then. You could see they were making progress under Tom Cable, and Hue Jackson has done a terrific job taking them to the next step.
Speaking of next steps, it was definitely a big win against the Jets, but the season doesn’t get any easier. Next up for the Raiders on Sunday are the New England Patriots, who probably aren’t real happy about losing to the Bills last week.
My assignment: game plan for the Patriots' defense against the Raiders' offense.
Obviously, any game plan starts with stopping McFadden. But I want to backtrack. I was still playing with the Denver Broncos when McFadden came into the league. I loved playing against him. He would come through the line "high," exposing himself to big hits.
There’s an old adage in football — low man wins. When I met with Cable last year, he told me McFadden was finally running behind his pads. What makes McFadden so dangerous is that he has speed and power, but he was wasting it. He wasn’t using those to his advantage. Now, he’s running with more of a presence.
Speed and power equal force. And what running behind his shoulder pads means is that McFadden is learning to lower his shoulders when a tackler approaches and he’s using that a lot now to break tackles. Once he breaks that first line of defense, his speed takes over. A perfect example is last week: Against the Jets, he broke through that first line of defense and ended up scoring on a 70-yard run.
McFadden became only the third back to rush for 100 yards against the Jets (Maurice Jones-Drew, 123, and Matt Forte, 113) since Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. Ryan said afterward that to defend against backs like McFadden, you have to set the edge, and they didn’t do it. I’m not going to argue with him — on either point.
Setting the edge is a technique in defensive football pertaining to the "contain" or "force" players on the defense. This is typically the outside linebacker, a defensive end or a safety who executes this.
As a contain player, you are on the "edge" of the defense, and all of your help is to the inside, so you must force the ball back to your help — your teammates. If the ball does get outside, you have to provide enough resistance to make it bubble and give your teammates time to rally to the ball. You have to contain players like McFadden. His speed and power are usually too much for one person to handle.
And, now, getting back to my point about the pass-happy NFL: The Patriots are going to have to make the Raiders one-dimensional.
I think Jason Campbell is a good quarterback, but the Patriots must force him to beat them. I know everyone says it’s a passing league now, but I think a lot of those big passing yards are empty yards that teams haven’t been able to turn into points.
There’s nothing that demoralizes a defense more than getting the ball run down your throat. When an offense does this to a D, they impose their will on them, and, believe me, it's a bad feeling for a defense! The key for the Raiders and offenses is not what happens between the 20s, but scoring points, either by executing in the red zone or by explosive plays from long distance. McFadden and the Raiders are doing both, and, consequently, the Raiders are scoring points.
The Patriots are the worst-rated defense in the NFL, but I have always felt the total-defense category was misleading. It’s based on total yards and I don’t think that’s a true measure of a defense. Take the Patriots for example. They have Brady and that offense puts up a lot of points, so teams have to throw more to keep up. The Patriots are giving up 468.7 yards a game, which isn’t good. But I think a better yardstick is points allowed. They are allowing 26.3 points per game (27th), which isn’t good, either.
I actually thought the Patriots addressed some of their defensive problems in the offseason with the signing of free agents Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter. But that’s the fallacy of free agency, that you can fix all of your problems. I know they’ve had injuries, but it’s time for the newcomers to step up.
The past two weeks, I’ve had the Vikings for FOX. I was talking to Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch last week, and I asked him how he was going to stop one of league’s other great backs, Adrian Peterson. He told me it wasn’t just him against Peterson, that it was 11 against one. And that’s how the Patriots have to stop McFadden.
He will get his yards, but the big thing for New England is to not give up the breakout runs. You take your chances, and force Campbell to beat you.
The Raiders are almost an anomaly in today’s NFL. The Patriots better be ready for a brawl. Because the Raiders are bullies.