From Ninja Goro's blog : [link]
The saving grace for the Raiders' 1-4 start is that the tough part of the schedule is over and that perhaps the weakest part of the schedule is set to begin. First up, a team that has started on the rebuilding road on year prior to the Raiders, but who might actually be behind the Raiders in their progress.
The Jaguars have trouble on both sides of the ball, have a top-10 pick invested in a QB that may have "David Carr II" written on him, a #5 pick in Can't-miss WR Justin Blackmon who appears to need more time to adjust to the NFL game, and a defense that has clearly regressed from last year. In 2011, they were a top defensive team but in 2012, they are among the worst and in particular, their run defense is shockingly poor. All the better for the Raiders who desperately need to get their running game established and facing a permeable defense could be exactly what the team needs.
So what can we expect from the upcoming matchup?
Jaguars Run Defense
The Jaguars typically play 2 deep safeties. #26 Dawan Landry and #25 Dwight Lowery form that tandem. They are very effective in the cover-2 zone, generally preventing big over-the-top passing plays, but that also leads directly into a reason why the run defense has not been productive: the box count.
There's always the count of the defenders in the "box". Common wisdom says if there are 7 in the box (ie., both safeties deep) then run the ball, if there are 8 in the box (ie., one safety has moved up), pass.
The Jaguars try to disguise their coverages a little bit, but much of the time, they give the exact same defensive look. Sometimes the safety will move up to the edge of the box to give an 8-count in the box, but he will bail quickly 15 yards deep to his deep-half safety position; sometimes his timing will be a little off and he will drop prior to the snap. This is even more problematic than simply lining up in the normal position, because the safety is in a backpedal to begin the play; to recover, he must stop and then reverse direction. That's like turning a player's 40 time from 4.4 to 5.0.
The Jaguars front 4 are very active; they will slant and penetrate and attack aggressively. If #96 Knighton is playing, he can be very disruptive and the edge defenders #94 Mincey and #90 Andre Branch can set the corner. If Brandon Myers is tasked with blocking them at the point of attack (or anywhere on the playside, really), it could be a problem. But the DL will crash and slant and attack and will often put themselves out of position; in a way, they are reminiscent of the Raiders run defense of the last couple of years where a DL like Seymour or Kelly would explode thru the line, but leave a huge opening because there was no one covering that area. A back then just cuts to the green and runs free. This is the Jaguars defensive line.
But that does not mean they are to be taken lightly. Just as they can get out of position, they are also a handful to deal with. Getting a hat on these guys is not the problem; maintaining that block is. And for the Raiders' offensive line, they must be well-coordinated and in sync and that's still an iffy proposition.
The LBs flow well and are fairly fast to the ball. But they suffer because of some of those discipline problems of the defensive line. None of the DL seem to take on the job of protecting the LBers. This lets blockers routinely release and engage the 2nd level and many times there is hat-on-hat on all 7. If the DL are all busy crashing and trying to make the play, there's no one taking up multiple blockers. A well coordinated combination block can take them off their leverage and eliminate them while freeing up a guard to go pick off a LB. This is the exact opposite of what the Raiders defense is working towards this year.
As a consequence, the LBs are overly aggressive in attacking the ball carrier, trying to get to the gaps or to the ball carrier before the releasing offensive linemen can get onto them. This can be effective, but there's a problem: cutback lanes and backside contain. That aggressiveness really is exactly what a zone blocking system is designed to take advantage of. That aggressive flow sets up beautiful lanes in the opposite direction and if the back can get past the 1st level, the flow of defenders is away from him. Again, reversing direction turns fast guys into average guys and average guys into slow guys.
The cutback lane is critical. Arian Foster and Ben Tate had some really nice runs into gigantic lanes, including a fantastic walk-in TD run by Foster. There are huge plays waiting for McFadden. But this is also the weakest part of McFadden's game so far; while he is effective at attacking a hole in front of him, he has yet to really use that backside or a strong hard cutback. In time, we should expect he would get a feel for it, but as of now, McFadden tends to miss the cutback. We should keep an eye on this because if he does find it, he could have a huge day and just one play could force the linebackers to honor it, thus making the playside open up even more.
The corners are very good in coverage, but as run support, they are not great. DHB should be effective blocking and the runners McFadden and Goodson can likely break tackles on outside.
The tackling has been poor. This is again, very similar to the Raiders of last year. Because there are multiple players being very aggressive, there is a bit of lack of coordination of the defense. Combine that with a lack of wrap-up and more "hits" than "tackles" and you have 5-8 yard runs turning into 10-15 yarders. Against the Falcons, McFadden showed he can take advantage of poor tackling and can give better than he's going to take.
But do not think that this is a "terrible defensive line"; they aren't. If the Raiders' offensive line lets up or does not execute, these guys are talented, powerful, and explosive enough to shut down the Raiders running attack. But if the Raiders DO execute, they can really exploit the weaknesses and make them look bad. If the Jaguars continue to break discipline and the Raiders can coordinate their blocking, this could be exactly what McFadden needs. Definitely look for a couple of chances for big runs by either McFadden or Goodson; hopefully there won't be the holding penalties to negate them.
Jaguars Pass Defense
They are a 2-Deep Shell team and often play zones that are intended to keep the play in front. There may be a few opportunities for Deep Shots, but for the most part, it is likely to be similar to the opening Week game against San Diego: the deeper patterns are going to be taken away, leaving mostly underneath and in-the-middle routes available. Screen game and running back receiving game should be available.
The two deep safeties have very nice range and seem very well-schooled in their reads. Combine that with a very good pair of starting corners (Ross and Mathis) and a quality 3rd corner (Cox) and it will be difficult to get quick shots. That's fine. The Raiders aren't a quick strike offense; they are built to run, throw to TE and FBs (who are mostly interchangeable), and work a deep shot off the play-action boot. If Palmer tries to force it to the receivers, it could be problematic. Mathis is definitely looking for the int and while he has 0 interceptions for the year, he had at least one (possibly 2) taken away due to penalty. He's dangerous.
Houston made a living throwing to the TEs and Backs underneath. 25 targets, 20 rec, 140 yards. 10 target to the WRs. There's room and so Myers and Reece should have their numbers called ALOT. Ausberry also. This may be the day that Reece finally gets to explode. McFadden and Goodson in the screen game are fantastic. Goodson's play in recent weeks is commanding additional touches; this might be a good time to give him a few more, especially in the screen game. To keep the WRs involved, Knapp may need to call more wide receiver screens. Those have been effective against the Jags.
It might be a nice time to start involving Criner more and to see how he's going to handle blocking downfield. DHB and Criner clearing downfield and then blocking on an underneath pattern should be able to get big yards.
There have been only a few deep passes completed against this defense:
1. Cincy had a 42 yarder to AJ Green down the sideline, good route combination to occupy the safety and a perfect throw-catch on the sideline. This was against Cover-1 when the Jaguars brought #26 Landry up to combine with Posluszny to bracket cover the TE Gresham.
2. Indy brought out 5 wides and the Jaguars shifted to Cover-1 and gave up a 40 yard TD pass to TY Hilton.
4. The Vikings hit a 29 yarder to TE Kyle Rudolph on a blitz when the Jaguars brought #26 Landry.
There were a couple of other long "receptions" like Donald Brown's 39 yarder and Andrew Hawkins 31 yarder, but both were short passes with lots of RAC yards. So, the opportunities for the deep shot is basically when the Jaguars shift to a single high safety. So in the game, keep an eye on the safety and if he drops, there's no deep play and if he blitzes or drop down to cover, there's a chance for a downfield shot, perhaps to Moore. Notice that even on these plays, the receivers are not "wide open", the teams had to convert very difficult plays anyway. That's a testament to the quality of their corners. This is no gimme, by any means, but Palmer is very capable of making these throws and Moore has made his early fame on these types of receptions. There won't be many chances, so they need to hit the one or two shots they get.
This brings us to the blitz. Jaguars' blitz packages are not great. In drastic contrast to the Falcons who were always shifting and giving different looks and moving around, the Jaguars defense is very static. They line up and that's basically where they are at. When the linebackers blitz, is painfully obvious and also very slow. Since they always (I really mean "mostly") line up 7 yards deep, when they blitz it takes a long time for them to get there. They don't creep and they don't "time it up." Mostly it's delayed blitzes and too often, they don't get there; the result is that all it does is take defenders out of coverage. Of course, part of this is that the QB (and WR) have to make a relatively quick decision, but the pressure is nowhere near as immediate as against other blitz pressure teams.
Expect Palmer to burn the Jaguars if they decide to blitz.
The Jaguars are in rebuild mode but that was supposed to be mainly the offense. The defense was apparently in good shape, but in 2012, the defense has taken a major step backwards and is appearing very vulnerable. Combine this with an erratic offense that is merely average even at their best, and the defense has little help. This sounds like the Raiders of 2011. There is talent on this defense at all levels, but the cohesion seems to be lacking.
What they can do is to keep the big plays at a minimum. They will force runs and force the Raiders to put together 10+ play drives to score, counting on a mistake, impatient forcing of a pass, or a penalty to kill the drives. They will count on being able to collapse their zone once in the red zone to force field goals instead of touchdowns and if they can do that, it may be effective.
But this matches well with what the Raiders want to do. The Raiders would prefer to go slowly down the field and consume 5-8 minutes per drive, taking a controlled shot here and there. No problem. The biggest question being how effective will the Raiders' offense be in the Red Zone and then up close, inside the 10 or 5 yardline. This has not been a great place for the Raiders to be. There are plays to be made (Myers and McFadden drops in previous games), but so far, they haven't been made.
This is a good matchup for the Raiders offense. The Jaguars defense sets up nicely to what the Raiders want to do. Palmer is content to look deep and throw shallow to Myers, Ausberry, Reece, McFadden, and Goodson. And with the shaky tackling (and WR downfield blocking), these underneath routes could result in big plays, a Goodson specialty. Watch for one of these players to have a big game; is it Reece's time?
If the Raiders offensive line can maintain their blocks and if McFadden can see his holes, there could be some huge runs to be had. This comes down (again) to the Raiders executing. Good execution and the offense could walkaway with this game. But if the offensive line continues to have confusion (still occurring, but fewer than before), continues to miss assignments (also fewer), and commits holds (more than earlier), then the offense could be maddeningly ineffective.
<strong>Note : </strong> FS #25 Dwight Lowery is out for the game. This is huge. Lowery and Landry as the 2 deep gave their backend the great structure it had. With Lowery gone, #42 Prosinksi may be in. That may open up the some gaps in the zones and there might be additional opportunities to take advantage of him. Note that the Indy TD (Luck to Hilton) was with Prosinski in. So early in the game, keep an eye out for the Jaguars' safeties and see who is playing and what they are doing.