In the spirit of Julian Assange, I am going to tell you that I am mailing this one in a bit. 'Tis the season to be busy as hell. I can't very well have a compelling game of this magnitude be only the second game I haven't previewed though. Or is it? The magnitude that is.
The most interesting thing about this contest is that the Raiders will know before, or very soon after, if they will be traveling to Kansas City to play the Chiefs for division supremacy. There is the tiny factor of the Chargers, but their fate will be decided as the same time as the Raiders. So, the team that kicked off the Raiders season, may be the team that helps end it. Go Titans--you owe us.
If the completely lucky, talentless, undeserving, steroid-enhanced and ugly Chiefs do win on Sunday, I think it is going to be fascinating to see how the Raiders respond. How could they not suffer from an intensity letdown? I'll be mightily impressed if they don't. Let's hope we don't have to find out.
This game is fascinating beyond the external circumstances. There are some really compelling matchups in this one and any time one of the top-5 QBs ever comes into to town, it's interesting. As I was thinking about Peyton Manning and his strengths, it led me to hunch that has been somewhat verified (small sample size) with research.
Over the course of his career, Manning has thrived while being blitzed. He may be the best ever at pre and post snap reads and he gets rid of the ball quickly. This allows him to not only pick apart blitzes, but zone defenses. It is what pushes him from a great QB to in the GOAT conversation.
Well, these are the very things that the Raiders do not do. Everyone knows it. The Raiders do not blitz often and they use almost exclusively man-to-man defense. By nature, the Raiders eliminate Manning's greatest strengths. I went back and reviewed Manning's career starts against the Raiders.
12/15/07 Week 15: Colts 21 @ Raiders 14
Manning: 22/39 276 yards 1 TD, 1 INT, QB Rating: 76.4
10/4/04 Week 4: Raiders 14 @ Colts 35
Manning: 16/26, 198 yards 3TDs, 1 INT, QB Rating: 107.5
10/14/01 Week 5 Raiders 23 @ Colts 18
Manning: 26/41, 241, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, QB Rating: 75.4
9/10/00 Week 2: Raiders 38 @ Colts 31
Manning 33/48, 341, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, QB Rating: 94.7
Those numbers add up to a QB Rating of 86.3. Manning's career QB Rating is 94.9. That's a pretty significant drop. Now, I realize that there are some holes in this comparison and I am not a big fan of QB Rating anyway. It places too much importance on TD/INT ratio with no bearing on situation or run/pass ratio in the redzone etc.
Let's put these performances in context of the season.
The 2000 meeting was really Manning's break out performance and that was about the best game of his season.
In 2001, Manning's 241 yards was his 6th lowest total of the season. More impressive is the fact that only two of the lower numbers came in losses. In the others, his passing numbers were limited because the Colts were relying on the run game. That year, the Raiders held the Colts to under 100 rushing yards and still kept Manning's number down, despite the fact he threw 41 passes.
In 2004, Manning and the Colts had their way. He didn't have to pass much and he was efficient when he did.
In 2007, The Raiders held Manning to his 4th lowest passing yards on the season. Like 2001, they did it while limiting the Colts ground game, too. The Raiders only allowed 58 rushing yards to the Colts. In 2 of the 3 lower passing totals, the Colts had big leads and ended with well over 100 yards rushing.
I think it is safe to make some conclusions from this. The Raiders defensive philosophy takes Manning from the best of the best to just really good. If you don't play solid defense, despite the system Manning is going to kill you. It's not like Manning can't tell who is open in man-to-man coverage, it just means he is not super human he is just a really impressive mortal.
Let's quickly get into some of the other interesting matchups.
Freeney and Mathis vs. Raiders' Tackles
Uh oh! The Colts are a pedestrian 17th in the league with a 6.2 sack percentage, but 17.5 of their 25 sacks are from their DE combo. The majority of the Raiders pass protection woes are a result of their Tackle play. Jared Veldheer has struggled, understandably, against all-world pass rushing OLBs Hali, Harrison and Wake in 3-4 systems. This will be his first full-game test against an elite DE in a 4-3.
On the other side, Langston Walker has yet been cleared to play following his concussion. So, Mario Henderson may be making his first start at RT and we know he gets burned by DE pass rushers at his natural position.
The Raiders are going to have to give both of their tackles help in passing situations. Situations, they may be able to avoid because:
Raiders' Run Game vs. Colts' Run D
The Colts are 32nd in yards allowed per rush. The Raiders are 2nd in yards gained per rush. The Colts are poor in almost every run D category. They are 30th in DVOA for example.
Raiders' Pass Rush vs. Colts' Pass Protection
The Colts lead the league with a 3.2 adjusted sacks allowed rate. The Raiders continue to lead the league with a 9.0 adjusted sack rate.
Zach and The Backs vs. Colts' Passing D
The Colts have done a decent job stopping WRs this year, but they have the 29th ranked DVOA against TEs and the 27th against backs.
The Path to Victory
Last week the Colts were able to shut down the Jaguars run game by stacking the box and forcing the Jags to try and beat them over the top. As we discussed leading up to the Jags game, their offense is very similar to the Raiders. The big difference is that the Raiders are much more likely to go up top.
If the Colts are going to sell-out to stuff the run, the Raiders are going to have to beat them over the top. To do this, they are going to have to give Jason Campbell time. They can assist him with play actions, screens and draws. All of which are an offense's best friend to slow down teams bringing heavy pressure on the edge. In the end though, Veldheer and Langrio Halker are gong to have bring their A games and they could use some help from Barnes, Miller, Stewart and the RBs.
When Freeney and Mathis do bring the heat Campbell needs to get the quick dump offs to the backs. The Colts have struggled to stop 'em and the Raiders backs are amazingly gifted in the passing game.
We discussed the Raiders defensive scheme, and players to fit it, in limiting Manning's greatness. In the end, it doesn't mean anything if their D sucks. They made Chad Henne look like a pro bowler for Al's sake. They will need their defensive line to get pressure and their DBs to play an aggressive and effective bump and run coverage. Pressure is going to be more key than sacks against the quick to release Manning.
The Raiders cannot employ a bend but don't break philosophy. The Colts lead the league in converting 67.5 percent of their redzone opportunities into TDs. This is also where the Raiders like to go into a zone non-coverage defense. The kind that Manning will kill.
The Colts run game has struggled all year. They are 15th in percentage of runs that have been stuffed and that is their best ranking. They are 29th in the second level and 31st in the open field. Both things that would play into the Raiders hands.
They will need to force the Colts into 3rd down passing situations and create some 3 and outs and then wear out the Colts D with their run game. Go Raiders. Go Titans. Go Bengals...ugh, that got more disheartening as it went.