TB will miss Carl Nicks. Obviously. It seems whenever Doug Martin breaks off a big run, it is thru Carl Nicks' hole (lol!). Against Minn, it was a 41 yarder. Against NO, it was a 36 yard TD run. Against KC, it was 23 yards. Carl Nicks crushes people; he takes defenders that shouldn't be easy to move and takes them 2 yards opposite of where they want to go. On stretch plays, he can combo and annihilate a guy and then peel off and then totally stone a guy on the other side. WTF?! Highest paid OG in football and worth every penny [link]. If the Raiders had this guy, DMC would run for 150 every game. The Center Zuttah is very good as well. The Nicks-Zuttah combo was lethal. Next year, when they get Davin Joseph and Nicks back, they are going to be brutal inside, but for this game, thank goodness they won't be there.
Richard Seymour v Carl Nicks would have been an interesting battle, but for the 2nd week, Seymour gets to man up against against a backup. This is what happened last week to Chiefs' rookie Jeff Allen [link]. At first blush, the Raiders seem to have the advantage on the inside and this should translate to an advantage against the Bucs' running game.
Doug Martin is a very nice back and after a few mediocre games (NYG, Dal, Wash), he's been on an upswing as of late. 13/76, 5.8 v KC, 16/85, 5.3 v NO, 29/135, 4.7 v MIN. And the Was game was really mediocre due to the few carries (8 carries, 33 yards, 4.1 avg). And by the way, in those 3 games, he also had 55, 37, and 79 yards receiving to give him 3 consecutive 120+ scrimmage yard games. Hmm, maybe "very nice" is an understatement, maybe "emerging star" is better.
A note though. New Orleans defense is terrible. Not just statistically, but when you watch the game and see how and why they give up big plays, you can just see that they are just out of sync at nearly every position. Martin had some big runs on pays in which he should have had solid or minimal runs. The Saints' LB turned 2 yard runs into 20 yarders by taking false steps, being slow to get out. Then when Doug Martin gets a little space, he embarrasses guys. Minnesota was similarly lacking discipline and on the Martin 41 yarder, EJ Henderson vacates his gap and gives Martin the big lane.
Martin is a very good back, but these statistics are a bit misleading when trying to assess how he will fare against the Raiders. The Raiders' run defense has been very discipline this year, especially with the front 4 playing gap discipline and the Linebackers being excellent at getting their run fits. Shaughnessy and Houston should be able to set hard edges against the Bucs' olline and Seymour, Kelly, Bryant have an advantage on the inside. If these men can win those 1on1s and they can stay disciplined, they have a good chance to shut down the Buccaneers' running game.
But if the Raiders' give even little creases to Martin, he's can easily explode for a big gain at any time and if the LBs get a little excited and overpursue, Martin has the vision and cutback ability to expose an evacuated space. McClain, in particular, has been guilty of doing this in the past. But my key would be to watch Seymour. How he goes should dictate the Raiders' run defense.
Martin has some nice receptions, many of them, and is deadly in space, but he also drops balls. Several times he's had passes bounce off his chest or go right thru his arms, with no pressure around him. This could be important depending on how much he's targetted. Wheeler or Burris or McClain on him in space is not a good matchup
Freeman is an inconsistent QB and is unfortunately paired with an inconsistent WR corps. Of those WRs, former Charger, Vincent Jackson is the most reliable and has been more of a holy terror and less of a "I hate AJ Smith"-malcontent in Tampa. He's happy and a 1on1 matchup nightmare. Of course, he should never see 1on1. On the other side, Mike Williams is improved from last year, but still a far cry from his breakthru season of 2010. The worst problem for this passing attack is that in blitz/pressure situations, they will often be out of sync. Williams running an in-breaking route and Freeman throwing it to the outside. These two have been together for 3 yrs (albeit 2 different offensive systems) and are still not quite seeing things the same. When things are going well, though, magic happens (eg., v KC, 4 rec, 113 yds, 28.3 avg, 62 long).
Huff has seemed more comfortable against the bigger WRs (Bowe, Baldwin) and less so against the smaller quicker guys (Antonio Brown), so expect to see Huff lined up opposite Jackson and Lee opposite Williams. Of course, they will often be playing either zone or 2-Man so it won't be really a "matchup" in the traditional Al Davis-sense of the word. There will be plenty of Branch/Gio/Mitchell/Wheeler/Burris help available. Tiquan Underwood is a pretty nice 3rd receiver for the Bucs, but the highlight play I noticed from Underwood was a TD rec against NO where 3 NO defenders all left him to cover VJax in a coverage breakdown. If the Raiders can avoid such mishaps, hopefully they can keep him under control. But, when defenses are too keyed on the 2 main receivers (and Martin) it can be guys like Underwood that make plays.
Freeman is inconsistent anyway. When he's on, he throws as beautiful a deep pass as you'd like to see. But the intermediate game has eluded him and under pressure, he can tends to leave the ball up. When he throws across the middle, that's a recipe for interceptions. The Raiders have been bringing new pressure packages each week since the Bye. Burris, Wheeler, Branch, Huff, McClain have all been blitzing and many have been getting in for sacks or at least a nice hit. Add in Seymour's recent increased effectiveness in crushing pockets and Freeman will have to make quick decisions and this seems to be opposite of his game; he doesn't seem like a quick, timing, rhythm passer, but rather he likes to hold a touch longer before making his throw. If there is blitzing pressure and there is middle pressure, this may lead to some of those high passes. The Raiders aren't quite "ballhawking" yet on defense, but the defenders are starting to get some interceptions.
The Raiders should be giving lots of different looks and forcing the Bucs' offense to make their adjustments. If they are on the same page and Freeman can stay calm and get solid throws out to his main weapons, they could have some big plays. But if the Raiders can confuse either Freeman or Williams/Jackson/Underwood a little bit they should have a chance at some interceptions. It's surprising at times that Freeman can make very elementary mistakes, not seeing LBs or throwing into coverage where there really is no window. it's likely that he will give the Raiders pass defense a couple of opportunities on big plays and it will be incumbent upon them to make good.
Expect the DL to play Freeman more for contain like they did against Brady Quinn and by mixing in blitzes to get some pressure on him. But Freeman is too talented to let sit back in a clean pocket; somehow the Raiders have to get pressure on him and hit him.
The Bucs' DLine has some DT talent. Gerald McCoy#93 is the biggest name and is starting mate is #90 Miller, but they go at least 4 deep with the two subs Gibson #95 and Johnson #97 also playing well. Wis, Carlisle, and Brisiel v these guys is a little scary. Wis is coming off an excellent outing against KC and this trio played well, but this will be a big test for them. The middle can get clogged up on inside runs, though they do seem fairly aggressive against the stretch and outside runs, allowing for cutback lanes. Will McFadden see/get to these lanes? Could be a factor this week.
The LB level is young and fast, particularly rookie Levonte David. Mason Foster and Quincy Black are also always around the ball on running plays. While active and quick, they are still young and the blocking matchup with Myers on a LB or Reece on a LB (BOB) seems to favor the Raiders. Last week, Knapp introduced some Myers in the backfield sets and having Myers as a lead blocker was much more successful than as an in-line blocker. Knapp may find ways to get Myers on David or Black, which appear to be favorable to Myers.
The Pass rush by the Buccaneers is ok, but not fantastic. They often show Cover-2 shell with man under or zone, switching to Single High at times. But for the most part, it's not an exotic, blitz happy defense. The will blitz, though, and will any/all of the linebackers as well as Barber. It seemed like they prefered to sit back, though, and get the pressure by the front 4/5 with fairly basic rush lanes. They didn't show near as many twists and stunts as (say) the Jaguars used against the Raiders. The weak spot will likely be Willie Smith v Mchael Bennet, though it should be noted that last week Knapp used more 6 and 7 man protections and had someone chipping on Tamba Hali several times. They also showed some slide protection to Veldheer to help him with Hali. They may need to do similar for Smith.
But last week, what helped the offensive line the most was Carson Palmer. Despite Palmer giving credit to the OL, the single thing that kept the Raiders' QB clean was getting the ball out quickly. Many times, Palmer was getting the ball out shortly after his back foot hit the ground on his last step, indicating that the timing patterns are starting to get in sync. This is also a credit to the WRs who may be starting to get the nature of the offense and getting into position. The next step is the consistency in catching the ball. They should have numerous chances this week against a depleted secondary who often shows press man and then bails to off coverage. Most of the plays made by the outside corners were by Eric Wright. His status is key for the Bucs' secondary. Biggers, the CB that filled in for Talib, seemed unremarkable (neither terrible nor good), though he did seem to be a very poor tackler.
Expect the Bucs to play more zone coverages and leave the short/intermediate areas open. Taking shots deep on Cover-2 means throwing into the strength of the secondary : Ronde Barber and Mark Barron. But Barber is their flex player and will often move around and may blitz or support the run or drop deep. Palmer will likely key many of his reads on where Barber is.
Overall, the Bucs seem like a prototypical, young, hungry, talented, aggressive defense and as such they are a bit unpredictable. What stands out is that they are a gifted bunch with lots of speed. When they are going well, 3 or 4 guys can be running around unblockable, and at other times they are strangely out of position or giving up big plays. The growth of the team is going to be their consistency and for the Raiders, it will be to take advantage of their aggression. This matchup sounds like the playside, initial gap will get stacked up often, but that cutback lanes may open up. Keep an eye out and see how much cutting back McFadden does. It also sounds like a good formula for screens and misdirection; Greg Knapp introduced a couple of new plays last week including that inside handoff counter play that was very successful. We will probably see that and perhaps a few new wrinkles.
Keep an eye out for the No Huddle, not just because it has been effective, but because last week, the Raiders introduced a new alignment in the No Huddle : lining Myers and McFadden in the backfield with 3 WRs (no Reece). Defenses respond with Nickel/Dime and gives superior run-game matchups (or at least they should be). One general weakness (or difficulty) of the No Huddle Shotgun is to have an effective and consistent running attack. This set may offer some solutions to that. If so, then the No Huddle packages may be expanded and we might see it for more extended periods than previously. Recall that last year, the Bucs had some problems against the No Huddle; the notable one being the Preseason game against Tom Brady with the Gerald McCoy being quoted that they couldn't even line up before the snap. The raiders' no Huddle is not the High Tempo Hurry Up like the Patriots, but it should still be effective.
The matchup sounds like it favors the Raiders. But the danger is that the Bucs will play at a high level with more consistency and discpline for the majority of the game. If that happens, it could easily be a Bucs win in Oakland. In this game, regardless of score, nothing will be decided in the first half. If the Bucs play really well or extremely poorly in the first half, it is just as likely that they will reverse that in the 2nd half or even the 4th quarter (eg., NYG). This means that the Raiders must play 4 quarters of meaningful, hard-fought football. It's definitely a winnable game, which means that it should be a dogfight.