NFL Schedule Preview, Week 14 Raiders-Jaguars: Into the Looking Glass

Check this out: 253 yards on 53 carries and 119 yards on 19 passes--251 yards on 52 carries and 117 yards and 16 passes. Those interchangeable stat lines were what the Raiders and Jaguars posted last week. Not since 1920, when Herb "Leather Helmet" Henderson and his Dayton Triangles invaded Columbus to take on Chuck "Punchy" Ponderson and the Columbus Panhandles, have two teams faced each other coming off of 50-plus carry games.

Okay, that may not be true, but it might be close. When does that ever happen? So, I think we all get it, running the football is both of these teams 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th options. The similarities don't stop there, though. The more I looked into the stats for these two, the more I found that these teams have more in common then in opposition. One thing also became quickly apparent when looking at the numbers--the Jaguars are not the same team they were during the first half of the season.

Over the last five games the Jags have gone 4-1 and they have done so by dominating the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars run defense is ranked around 20th in most rushing categories, but unfortunately those numbers do not appear to be indicative of the defense the Raiders will be facing. Sparked by the improving play of their Defensive Tackles, Terrance Knighton and rookie Tyson Vowels n' Ls, the Jags have been pretty stellar against the run. And they have done it against some quality rushing teams. Their last five games they have faced the Cowboys, Texans, Browns, Giants and Titans.

In that five game span, the Jags have allowed over 88 yards only one time and only one of those teams surpassed their season average in yards per carry. Combined, for those five games, the Jags held their opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. The average differential, for those five teams, in yards per carry against the Jaguars is 0.6 yards less than their season average.

They have been even more impressive on the offensive side of the run game. In each of those five games the Jags have gained at least 145 yards on the ground. Each game their yards per carry has been above what their opponents are allowing per carry on the season. In fact, that differential averages out to a full yard per carry more.

Most of these yards have come from Maurice Jones-Drew (see Sons highlight below). Drew is currently playing like an MVP. Last week, Drew had his highest carry total of the season with 31. We could hope that he'd be worn out for this game, but that would be like wondering if your bowling ball is worn out after three strikes in the tenth frame.

Okay, that's enough gushing about the Jags. Let's get into the matchups.

Jaguars' Rush Offense vs. Raiders' Rush Defense

51.6 percent of Jacksonville's plays are runs. This is second highest only to Kansas City. The Raiders opponents are running on them 45.8 percent of the time. This is the 5th most in the league. There may not be a pass in this game.

The Jaguars are doing the majority of their rushing damage right up the middle. 61 percent of their runs go straight up the gut and they are averaging  4.7 yards on those carry. That is the 4th highest average for up the middle carries in the league. The Raiders meanwhile are 15th in stopping runs up the middle.

The Jaguars are 3rd in adjusted line yards, 23rd in open filed yards and they have the second fewest percentage of run plays stuffed at the line. All of this means, that the Jaguars run game is built on lots of positive carries and not big gainers. 

This sets up an interesting matchup. The Raiders run defense stuffs the 3rd highest percentages of runs. It is the big plays in the run game that have held the run d back. The Raiders don't have to shut down the Jaguars in the run game, they just have to stop enough runs to force the offense into passing situations.

Jaguars' Pass Offense vs Raiders' Pass Defense

One of the many similarities in these two teams is the offensive line's success in run blocking, but not in pass blocking. The Jags 26th in the NFL with a 7.5 sacks allowed percentage. The Raiders remain first in the NFL with a sack percentage at 9. If the Raiders force the Jags into passing downs, Kamerion Wimbley should be able to feast on RT Jordan Black

The biggest differences between these two teams is that the Jaguars feature a shorter passing attack. They rank 27th in yards per completion. The Raiders corners are going to have to continue to display the same physical play they did last week to throw the WRs off of their timing and allow the lineman to get to Garrard.

More importantly, the Raiders will have to keep an eye on the TEs. The Jaguars have two good ones in Mercedes Lewis and the other Zach Miller. Combined they have 61 catches for 731 yards. The Raiders have raised their DVOA against TEs to a more respectable 22nd in the league.

Raiders' Running Attack vs Jaguars' Run Defense

The Raiders running attack thrives more on big runs than the Jaguars. The Raiders are 11th in adjusted line yards, 8th in runs stuffed and 6th in the open field. The Jaguars run D meanwhile is amazingly similar to the Raiders, in that it gets worse as they go back. They have the second highest percentage of runs stuffed at the line, but are 28th in the open field.

Teams have found the most success on the ground against the Jags by running between the Guard and Tackle. They are giving up five yards to the left and 5.1 to the right in those areas. However, this is where they face the lowest percentage of runs.

Raiders' Pass Offense vs Jaguars' Pass Defense

The Jaguars have faced the 13th highest percentage of pass plays, but I am surprised teams aren't passing on them more than they are. They have the 22nd highest sack percentage at 5.3, the worst yards per completion and attempt numbers at 8.1 and 12.6 respectively and the 31st ranked opponent QB rating at 101.6.

One area the Raiders pass offense is actually among the league leaders is in yards per completion. They are 6th at 11.5. They are pretty abysmal everywhere else. The Raiders could have the time and opportunity to hit for some big plays in the passing game. Especially if they get the run game going and Jason "Houdini" Campbell gets his play action on.

Things to Watch

Redzone: As much as the Jaguars run, they have actually passed for 65 percent of their TDs. The Raiders pass D seems to have at least one redzone meltdown per game. 

Penalties: Everyone knows that the Raiders get a lot of penalties, but what people don't talk about is that their opponents get a lot, too. I pointed this out in the Pitt preview, but it continues to fascinate me and it will be interesting to watch here. The Jaguars receive the 2nd fewest penalty yards per game. Meanwhile, the Raiders opponents are leading the league in penalty yards per game...by over 10 yards per game! This is twice the margin in which the Raiders lead the league in penalty yards per game.

Turnovers: The Jaguars are -11. That is not good. In fact it is horrible. They have had two games with 6 turnovers and they won one of them. They were -5 against Cleveland and still won. The Raiders are -2 on the year.

The 10 AM Start: The Raiders haven't been good on the road and even worse when the road means they start at 10 AM. They have lost their two early starts by a combined 1,122 points. Jason Campbell has started both of these games and been worse than bad. Hopefully it is just a coincidence. He and the Raiders have been similarly awful in the afternoon, too. Still, it is worth watching. Especially Jason--who, being a college and pro east coaster, has never had to start before his personal 1 PM.

The Keys To Victory

Neither of these teams are built to come from behind. A strong start is key. The Jaguars have scored on their first drive in each of their last 5 games. The Raiders need to end this streak and impose their will early. In a game like this, if you have a couple of three and outs to start the contest, the game may be over.

The Raiders run game is at its best when it gets into a rhythm and can start to wear the opposition down and then hit for some big runs. The numbers suggest that the Jaguars will stop a greater percentage of runs for no gain than the Raiders. This means Jason Campbell is going to have to make some plays to keep drives alive early. Either with his arm or feet. The Jaguars tend to play a lot of man D, another similarity, and as we know this can leave a D vulnerable to QB scrambles.

The Raiders don't need huge numbers in the passing game, but a few big 3rd down conversions will go a long way. With Zach Miller's aching arch and the fact that the Jaguar pass defense has been most vulnerable to WRs, the Raiders will have to look to the seldom used WRs. If they can't, this game could turn into Miami part 2 in a hurry. If they do keep the chains moving early, it could be San Diego part 2, part 2.

Defensively, the D-line has to lead this team to the promise land. Stuff enough runs that the Jaguars get into some obvious passing downs and then harass Garrad for sacks or turnovers. Also it will be a big game for the safeties. They will have to provide decent coverage on the TEs, but even more importantly they will have to lend good run support. Last week, the Raiders kept their safeties deep to guard the deep ball. The safeties will be free to move up to the line this week. This could be a great opportunity for Mike Mitchell to shine.

Finally, this is a huge game for Rolando McClain. He is coming off of a solid effort last week and the spotlight is going to be on him this week. The Raiders spent the #8 draft pick on an MLB and junked their old one, to improve the run D. I doubt Rolando has even thought twice about the personal matchup with Morrison, but I know I will be comparing the two and I am sure Morrison will too. If McClain comes up huge in this one, he'd have to have a run of Tiger Woods suck before he lost his #1 ranking in my world. Also, I have no ill-will towards Kirk, but in the name of Karmic justice, I'd like to see McFadden blow past him for a big gainer while he tries helplessly to get off of the "mighty" block of Marcel Reece.

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