In what many are predicting will be a shootout, the Raiders and Patriots meet up in Mexico City Sunday. The shootout prediction is due to the Patriots top ranked offense vs the Raiders porous defense and the Raiders sometimes potent offense against the Patriots’ suspect defense.
Best case scenario for the Raiders would be something on par with their 31-30 win over the Chiefs the last time they played in Oakland a month ago. This one is called a ‘home’ game on the schedule, but is actually a neutral field, which is great for the Patriots, not so much for the Raiders.
So, aside from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick obviously being the straws that stir the drink in New England, here are some other key match-ups in this game.
Reggie Nelson vs Brandin Cooks
One thing is for certain, the Raiders are going to keep Sean Smith far away from Cooks. The speedy Cooks roasted Smith in the 2016 season opener in New Orleans. The Patriots acquired Cooks in trade this offseason and he has been as advertised. He leads the team with 637 yards, which is currently tenth in the league.
TJ Carrie is the best cornerback the Raiders have to offer. Though he may have to keep an eye on Danny Amendola in the slot a good portion of the time. On the other side will be Dexter McDonald due to David Amerson again likely not playing with a foot injury. It doesn’t leave the Raiders with much in the way of dependable lockdown coverage.
Of receivers with at least 37 catches, no one in the league is better than Cooks’s 16.3 yards per catch. He’s 8th in the league in catches over 20 yards (10) and fourth in the league in catches over 40 yards (4). In short, he takes the top off the defense.
Charged with protecting from the deep ball is free safety Reggie Nelson. He has been among the worst in the league at his duties this season, but it duty in this game should be fairly straightforward — do NOT let Cooks get past you. Be ready to help out if/when he gets past the corner. And, hey, maybe as the Raiders’ interception leader (5) last season, try to get the team’s first interception of the season.
Obi Melifonwu vs Rob Gronkowski
Thinking of Nelson trying to keep Cooks from burning the Raiders’ secondary is frightening. This match-up may be equally frightening, but also intriguing. It’s the unknown. Melifonwu was drafted for a particular set of skills — cover the tight end. And he will be asked to cover arguably the best in the game in Gronk.
I spent some time on this match-up already this week, so if you want to read more about it, you can do that here. Suffice to say Melifonwu is unproven. He came off injured reserve prior to the Miami game before the bye, and played just 7 snaps. In those snaps, he showed he is a reliable tackler. Gronk is another animal entirely. He’s a bear to try and tackle and his height (6-6) and wingspan make him a reliable target. Melifonwu has his work cut out for him.
Marshawn Lynch vs Elandon Roberts
The last time Lynch took the field against the Patriots it was also a neutral field. It was the Super Bowl. And on a play in which he should have gotten the ball in 2nd goal at the one, the Seahawks threw it and it was picked off by Malcolm Butler.
I have no doubt he will be in super Beast Mode for this one. With Dont’a Hightower out for the season, Roberts is the team’s run stopping linebacker. Though lately he hasn’t been able to keep the Patriots defense from giving up rushing yards. They’ve given up over 100 yards rushing the past three weeks including 132 yards on 14 carries to Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. The Patriots give up the 7th most rushing yards per game (121.1) in the NFL.
Amari Cooper vs Malcolm Butler
Butler was that Super Bowl hero back in 2014, picking off that Russell Wilson pass over the middle at the goal line. He is the Patriots’ best cornerback, though that isn’t saying a whole lot considering how bad their secondary has been playing.
While the Pats have Cooks, the Raiders have Cooper to try and create match-up problems. After a rough start to the season, Coop has played well the past three weeks, starting with his career high 210-yard breakout game against the Chiefs in week 7. That’s when the team began moving him around more, playing him in the slot some. I expect that to continue and give Butler more than he can handle.
Khalil Mack vs LaAdrian Waddle
After starting the season with 4.0 sacks in four games, Mack has just a half sack the past five weeks. He will have his chance this week to get back on track with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon out. Starting at right tackle in his stead will be LaAdrian Waddle.
Tom Brady tends to get rid of the ball pretty quickly, so his ability to find an open receiver is usually plays more of a factor into whether pass rushers are able to get to him. That being said, Mack surging around the right side against a backup tackle will give Brady something to think about every time he takes the snap. And if Mack can get a couple hits on Brady, those alarms in his head get a lot louder.