We turned to Steve Corkran, esteemed Raiders blogger for Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group, to give us the lowdown on the Raiders.
1. If the Patriots can slow down the Raiders’ running game, can the Raiders win?
Corkran: Based on the way quarterback Jason Campbell played in such situations in 2010, no. His passer rating was through the roof in games in which the Raiders ran the ball well. His passer rating was in JaMarcus Russell territory in games in which the Raiders were forced to rely upon the pass more than desired. In the one such game this season, though, Campbell fared well when the Raiders needed to rely upon the pass. He guided the Raiders to go-ahead touchdowns twice in the fourth quarter against the Bills. Also, he has been sacked only twice in three games. Still, the Raiders would be hard-pressed to beat the Patriots if they are forced into a pass-heavy offense.
2. Who is the one Raiders player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
Corkran: Without question, rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore. He was selected in the fifth round out of Tennessee and not given much notice until he arrived at training camp. From the first day, he has been, not only the team’s best rookie, but the best player, period. He makes the difficult look routine and does things few veteran receivers are able to incorporate into their games. By that, we’re talking about a player who is so talented and mature that he can break off a route, get position on the defender and make a play on the ball without hesitation. As a side note, he was the only player in major college football last season with two 200-yard games. The sense is, he fell in the draft because he averaged only 50 yards or so in the Vols’ 11 other games. He is spectacular.
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Raiders’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Corkran: The Raiders really haven’t showed any weaknesses yet offensively. Still, at some point, it would seem that the Raiders offensive line is going to hit a rough patch and experience some growing pains, especially against talented teams such as the Patriots. The Raiders have a second-year player, Jared Veldheer, at left tackle, rookie Stefen Wisniewski at left guard and Khalif Barnes starting at right tackle for the first time in his seven-year NFL career.
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Raiders’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Corkran: Pass coverage. The Raiders return 10 starters from last year’s defense. However, the lone non-returner, Nnamdi Asomugha, was their best all-around player. As a result, the Raiders no longer have the luxury of taking away the opposing team’s top receiving threat, and teams are able to attack the Raiders all over the field. Cornerback Stanford Routt has played really well so far — he has allowed 8 completions in 20 attempts for only 79 yards, and no touchdowns. Fellow cornerback Chris Johnson (UPDATE: ruled out) has struggled all season. Safety Tyvon Branch and middle linebacker Rolando McClain also are inconsisent in pass coverage and oftentimes get caught in mismatches in the opponents’ favor.
5. Finally, Raiders win on Sunday if….
Corkran: … their league-leading rushing attack is running at peak efficiency. If so, they can keep the ball for long stretches, thereby keeping Tom Brady and the Pats offense off the field for as much as possible, limiting the Pats’ offensive possessions and giving the Raiders defense plenty of time to rest between series.
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Thanks to Steve for his time. He teams with Jerry McDonald covering the Raiders, so make sure you check out the work from both here.