They actually played the Titans twice last year in week 3 of both the regular and preseason, “losing” the preseason contest 27-14 but winning the regular season meeting 17-10. If they want to repeat that victory they will need to address these key areas.
Stopping the run
Shutting down the Titans offense begins with stopping their run game. In their regular season meeting last season the Raiders surrendered 181 rushing yards on 29 carries. Giving up 6.2 yards per carry could have cost them the game.
The defensive front will be bolstered with the return of defensive end Mario Edwards Jr and the addition of 3rd round pick defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. Having more athletic linemen should help in controlling the line of scrimmage. The best way to stop a zone rushing team is by getting penetration at the point of attack coupled with back side pursuit. The Raiders have the talent up front to make that happen.
Containing the tandem of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray will be a challenge. Even though the rushing stat line from last seasons game looks horrible, there were times that the defense contained the Titans rushing attack. The problem defenses have with talented running backs in a zone blocking system is it only takes one player to get caught out of position for a big run to break.
Tennessee’s coaching staff also shows incredible patience by continuing to run the ball even when they do not have early success doing so. They are counting on fatigue to allow them to impose their will. The Raiders defensive front will have their discipline tested and need to come up with run stuffs like this one consistently.
Defend the center of the field
Forcing the Titans to become one dimensional will be the defenses goal but the Titans passing attack has gotten a serious face lift this offseason. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is entering his third year and now has dangerous weapons at his disposal.
They added wide receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor in the first and third rounds of the NFL Draft. Their outside presence will make returning tight end Delanie Walker an even bigger threat over the middle. Raiders rookie safety Obi Melifonwu was placed on IR today eliminating the player the Raiders coaches were planning on matching up against opposing tight ends. The middle of the Raiders defense will be tested in this game.
On 3rd and 31 the Titans were able to hit a seam route for a first down on a play that can usually only be seen in a video game. Four verticals should not beat quarters coverage but a great touch pass from Mariota made it happen. Taylor also showed his ability to break tackles on this 48 yard gain.
Force outside throws
If the Raiders are able to defend the middle of the field, they will have a good shot at slowing down the Titan’s passing attack. Mariota is adept at attacking the center of a defense but seems to struggle with throws outside of the numbers. If first round pick cornerback Gareon Conely can play in this game it will free fellow cornerback Sean Smith to play the moneybacker role Obi was drafted to fill. Anything they can do to force Mariota to throw to the boundary will help slow this lethal offense.
Handling the blitz
The Raiders offensive line is considered one of the best in the NFL and they will have a chance to prove it this week. The Titans defensive philosophy is all about pressure. They added cornerback Adoree’ Jackson with their second first round pick (18th overall) along with free agent cornerback Logan Ryan to lock down the outside receivers. Their ability to handle Raiders receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could determine how effective the Raiders passing attack is in this game.
The Titans put their corners on an island in order to bring blitz pressure from anywhere on the field. They sent both linebackers as well as secondary players on blitzes in their 3rd preseason game. If the offensive line can recognize and pick up the blitz the offense will be in for a big game through the air. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr played very well against blitz packages in 2016 as PFF pointed out.
Of course it is actually recognizing the blitz that is the difficult part. Tennessee will send pressure from any part of their defense. Center Rodney Hudson is considered one of the most intelligent players in the league, he is going to be counted on to prevent Carr from taking hits.
There may not be any better news for the Raiders going into this game than the fact that David Amerson was cleared of the concussion protocol and looks like he will play. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota won’t be thrilled by this news.
Amerson set a franchise record with 6 pass deflections and an interception in the Raiders 24-21 victory during the 2015 season. He followed that up with 5 more pass deflections in the 2016 win with one of those deflections being intercepted by safety Reggie Nelson. If the Raiders have a secret weapon going into this game, it may be Amerson.
The Raiders face a tough challenge with the Titans improved offense and aggressive defense. Tennessee looks like they will be one of the top teams in the AFC this season and makes for a great measuring stick to start the season. The Raiders have a talented roster and if they can address these key areas, could beat the Titans for the third time in three years.
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