Patriots at Raiders
Today, 4:15 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 5)
When the Patriots runThe rushing game will always take a backseat in New England as long as No. 12 is healthy, but balance is the goal of any offensive coordinator, and the Patriots have lacked balance. While there’s no clear-cut No. 1 back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off a 1,000-yard season, and it is imperative to get him going. A good-sized back who runs with power and balance, Green-Ellis shows flashes but sometimes is a little too patient, waiting for the picture-perfect crease to dart through instead of using his strength to move the chains. Danny Woodhead uses vision, instincts, and quickness to move the ball. The slippery little fella has good burst and acceleration but lacks power, and despite running low and with good balance, he is susceptible to big hits. Rookie Stevan Ridley could provide a spark here. The 5-foot-11-inch, 225-pounder has excellent leg drive and seems to thrive on contact. He has decent speed (though is not a true burner) and power, and was impressive in the preseason. The offensive line struggled to create space against the Bills, and the unit’s job will only get tougher against the Raiders interior. Tackles Richard Seymour (powerful and quick, he still commands double-teams) and Tommy Kelly will force runners outside. Linebackers Quentin Groves (he hits hard), Rolando McClain (he hits harder), and Kamerion Wimbley (he hits hardest) are an impressive lot.
When the Patriots passTom Brady will never admit it, but it’s a safe bet he’s been licking his chops to return home and attack a battered and bruised Raiders secondary. Brady rarely locks onto one target, but this might be Chad Ochocinco’s breakout day (yeah, we know you’ve read that before). Ochocinco has the physical tools to beat any of the Oakland corners one on one. If he draws single coverage (and why wouldn’t he with Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski around?), Brady will deliver. It’s up to Ochocinco to do the same. Welker has been ridiculously productive. The slot receiver by which all future slot receivers will be judged, Welker has quick feet, strong hands, and an uncanny ability to get open. Deion Branch is among the game’s smoothest route runners, and he has good hands and excellent body control. Matthew Slater struggles to gain separation consistently. Gronkowski is an absolute beast. He may be the toughest matchup in the league as teams struggle to deal with his size, deceptive speed, and excellent hands. Why teams don’t mug this guy at the line is mind-boggling. Oakland corners Stanford Routt (he’s fast but can be shaken) and Chimdi Chekwa (rookie has speed but isn’t physical) will have a tough time. Safeties Tyvon Branch (speed demon is solid tackler) and Matt Giordano (instinctive but slow) will need to be at the top of their game.
When the Raiders runDarren McFadden has developed into one of the most complete backs in the NFL. The 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound fourth-year veteran has an ideal blend of size, strength, and speed. When completely healthy (and that’s been a rarity), McFadden can wear down defenses with his ability to bang inside or bounce outside, turn the corner, and hit home runs. Blessed with an explosive first step and exceptional vision, McFadden doesn’t need gaping holes to be productive. He has broad shoulders and uses his impressive upper-body strength to bust through tiny creases and power through defenders. He turns on the jets at the second level and is a threat to score every time. Michael Bush (6-1, 245) is a bulky back with deceptive speed. He has good vision and a nice stiff-arm. The Raiders love to use Bush in short-yardage situations because he rarely gets knocked backward and almost never fumbles. Rookie Taiwan Jones has a bevy of moves and electrifying open-field speed. Center Samson Satele (6-3, 300) sets the tone for the offensive line. A freakishly strong man, Satele plays with great balance and an ornery streak. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski is athletic and smart but lacks power. Right guard Cooper Carlisle is a solid veteran.
When the Raiders passQuarterback Jason Campbell has taken his share of shots - on and off the field - during a mostly disappointing career. Blessed with tremendous size, athleticism, and arm strength, the 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pounder has all the physical skills to be an elite quarterback. The biggest knock on him has been his decision-making. That hasn’t been a problem this season as tailback Darren McFadden has taken the lead role in Oakland’s offense. Campbell should continue to thrive as long as he plays a complementary role. He is very accurate on short and medium routes, and though he can chuck the ball a country mile, his accuracy suffers on deep balls. McFadden is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Rookie receiver Denarius Moore can flat-out fly. He has excellent body control and runs crisp, fluid routes. Former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey has elite speed, but a combination of small hands, lack of strength, and poor route-running has made him a nonfactor most Sundays. Derek Hagan and Chaz Schilens give Campbell two more reliable options. Tight end Kevin Boss (6-6, 255) is a big target known more for his blocking. New England’s secondary is still finding its way and will struggle again today. Safeties Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown lack coverage skills and haven’t been much help to struggling corners Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden.
Raiders' key playerRichard Seymour
You remember this 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound stud, right? He used to work in Foxborough. Wore No. 93, dominated as both an end and a tackle, and collected Super Bowl rings on a regular basis? Yup, you remember him.
How he beats you: With great size and quickness. Seymour sifts through traffic and gaps and locates the ball quickly. He’s a powerful tackler and can collapse the pocket.
How to shut him down: By double-teaming him. He just doesn’t lose one-on-one battles very often, so you must pay special attention. Running in the other direction works, too.
Raiders' keys to victory
1. Run, DMC: Darren McFadden must continue to spearhead the offense and keep the ball out of the quarterbacks’ hands - that means Jason Campbell and Tom Brady.
2. Turn up the heat: The Raiders must come at Brady with a variety of stunts and blitzes. If he’s given the time, he will make mincemeat out of this secondary.
3. Get a leg up: Sebastian Janikowski is the best kicker in the league. When in doubt, take the points, not the chances.
Patriots' keys to victory
1. Ball security: There’s almost zero chance Tom Brady throws four interceptions today, but losing the turnover battle can cost you dearly.
2. Lane closings: Darren McFadden ran roughshod over the vaunted Jets defense last week, so stack the box with the big uglies and force Jason Campbell to beat you.
3. Deep thoughts: Matthew Slater is a wonderful special teams performer. Time to give him some offensive snaps and see if he can be consistently productive there, too.