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(Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Beall)
Could Marcel Reece help open up the Redskins for Darren McFadden? Hopefully

by Jim Turvey

Monday Night wasn’t pretty for the Raiders as they lost pretty handily to the Broncos, and quite possibly lost their starting quarterback for this weekend. Even though there were a lot more negatives than positives, there a few positives to take out of the game. Pryor’s connection with Denarius Moore gave them their first real big pass play of the year. Even if it was the result of a minor gaffe on two defenders’ parts, it still was nice to see. Matt Flynn also looked solid in his very brief play at the end of the game, something we will touch on later. McFadden was able to punch it in from the 1 yard line for the second time this year, giving him more rushing touchdowns from the 1 yard line this year than he did from 2009-2012. He also proved himself the most valuable passing running back in the NFL yet again, completing a touchdown pass on an excellent play call from Greg Olson.

Not to pull a “Skip Bayless” and use shock journalism mixed with huge overreactions, but this week seems to be the turning point in the season for the Raiders. Week 1 was more about feeling out how Pryor would run the team than the result, although the result led to Raiders’ fans having some hope for the season. The next two weeks, the Raiders played arguably the worst team in football and arguably the best. These are not the type of teams that a team can judge itself on. The Raiders performed as expected, beating the Jags and losing to the Broncos.

This week, however, offers much more of a litmus test for the rest of the season. At 1-2, if the Raiders win they would be looking at a pretty good chance of having a respectable season, and maybe even finishing around .500. If they lose, however, the momentum from those first two weeks of the season is now even further away, and with the week-to-week nature of the modern NFL, momentum can be lost easily. With that being said, let’s take a look at how the Raiders can win this week’s match up against the Redskins.

When the Raiders have the ball

Without a doubt the Raiders best offensive weapon this year has been Terrelle Pryor. The NFL has yet to create a statistic like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) that baseball has to track a player’s total contributions to his team. If I were to guess, however, I would say that Pryor has been worth about as much as the rest of the offense combined. He has 822 of the teams’ 1,105 total yards , and has a quarterback rating of 86.7. Obviously if he can’t play (which seems likely at the time I write this) it is going to be a big obstacle on the road to victory. Luckily for the Raiders, however, they have a pretty decent back up in Matt Flynn, who was brought in to be the starter this off-season. With the offensive line looking at least a little better than the train wreck it was supposed to be (all the credit in the world to Tony Sparano on that one), along with the Redskins owning the second to last rated pass defense so far this season, I actually am relatively confident Flynn will have a solid game. The problem with Flynn was never that he would lose you a game; it was the question of whether or not he could really win you a game.

That’s why I think the key to this game is actually Darren McFadden, Marcel “The Shell” Reece, and the run game. With Flynn likely playing as the game manager he is, it will be up to the run game to really put some distance between the Raiders and the Redskins. The Redskins also own the second worst run defense in the NFL so far (these stats are only three weeks’ worth, so sample size has to be considered) meaning that McFadden should be able to get some room to run. McFadden has been maddeningly inconsistent so far. Week 1 he rushed for 48 yards on 2.8 yards per carry. Week 2 he rushed for 129 yards on 6.8 yards per carry. Finally, on Monday he rushed for 9 yards on 0.8 yards per carry. None of these results are even close to each other, so it’s really hard to figure out what to make of his play this year.

One key to springing him for yards on Sunday, I believe, will be to use Marcel Reece waaaay more. If Terrelle Pryor is indeed out, the onus will be much more on DMC to get the ground game going, and this is where Reece can help out. No Offensive Coordinator is going to hand the ball off to his fullback 20 times in a game, but if Reece got 10-15 carries Sunday to go along with 20-25 for McFadden, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with that.

When the Raiders are on defense

Before the season, many Raiders’ pundits – myself included – thought that the defense would be the stronger unit of the team, and their best chance to be respectable. Through three games, however, that has not been the case. While their defense ranks 16 th in opposing passing yards and 17 th in opposing rushing yards, there are some disturbing numbers that underlie those ranks. For one, the Raiders’ secondary has been completely incapable of creating incompletions. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 76.5% of their passes, by far the highest (meaning worst in the eyes of the Raiders and their fans) in the NFL . If Chad “the guy who backs up Blaine Gabbert” Henne is removed, that number jumps up to 83%, an incredibly high number. Granted, Luck and Manning are two if the best quarterbacks in the league, but RGIII is no slouch in this category, finishing fourth in the NFL with a 65.6 completion percentage last year, and that number has only dipped to 63.3 this season despite his struggles so far.

The Raiders’ secondary has also not yet intercepted a pass, a trend that has to change if they are going to continue to allow completions at such a high percent. Part of the reason that opposing quarterbacks have completed such a high number of their passes is that Raiders’ Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver often has the secondary blitzing to create chaos in the backfield. This is all well and good when it can create actual pressure like in parts of the Colts’ and Jags’ games, but against a quarterback as mobile as RGIII this may be a more difficult game plan. RG-Knee has certainly not looked his normal self this season, and this may be the best hope for the Raiders’ to slow him down. If they can hold his completion percentage around his season total, while bringing pressure with the secondary, the defense should have a pretty good day, and hopefully force Griffin into some bad throws. I think the key match up here will be the opposing coordinators, Jason Tarver and Kyle Shanahan, matching wits, and trying to stay one step ahead of the other.

Can our special teams create an edge?

Like our defense, our special teams started the year as a supposed strength, but has actually been a weakness so far this season. According to DVOA, the Raiders currently sport the 4 th worst special teams unit so far this season. I think this assessment is a little bit harsh, especially with Marquette King showing he was indeed the right choice at punter ( currently leading the league in punting average ), but they have certainly not been as strong as Raiders’ fans would hope for. In a game due to be pretty close, if our special teams can return to form they could definitely provide an edge.

Prediction

Even if Pryor sits out, this seems like an entirely winnable game. I am a bit concerned that Raiders’ fans almost seem too confident based on articles, and message boards I have read, but having faith in your team is never a bad thing. I see Flynn managing the game, allowing the running game, and one big turnover, to be the deciding factor.

Raiders 27 Redskins 24

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