Enemy Intelligence: Oakland Raiders

Last week, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Texans in Houston, 28-23, to improve their record to 4-6 on the year and officially join the great muddled mediocrity that is competing for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. They went up 14-0 early thanks to a couple Houston turnovers that let them start in the red zone, then trailed 17-14 at halftime. They actually scored on long drives twice in the second half, albeit one of them a one-play "drive," and stopped the Texans inside the 10 in the final minute to hold on.
 
By Football Outsiders numbers, the Raiders are the second-worst team in the league, with a below-average defense and a pretty bad offense thanks to a league-worst non-Jacksonville passing offense. They're also about as bad as the Titans on special teams, an issue that came up last week when they allowed Keshawn Martin to run a punt back for a score.
 
After the jump, what I saw of the Raiders against the Texans and the other games of theirs I've seen.
 
1. The big news is that Matt McGloin will be the starting quarterback. Houston was his first start, and because he threw three touchdown passes and his team won, he's been drawing a lot of praise. I concur he had a nice first start and is a way better player than I thought he'd be when he was at Penn State, but I thought he had an effective game while playing only average. This is a pretty bad comparison in some ways, but he reminds me a bit of Chad Henne. He's willing to try to throw the ball down the field and over the middle, which more cautious passers are not. You can make plays that way, but when you miss a read the ball has a good chance of going to the other team. He's a rookie, so that's possible any given play. I'll get to the offensive line, but it's not that good and McGloin is more likely to maneuver himself into pressure than escape out of it. He could hurt the Titans the same way he did the Texans, or he could go 10-28 for 93 yards with three interceptions. He's only 6'1", so batted balls are not out of the question.
 
2. Terrelle Pryor won't start but could see the field. If healthy (and that's a big if, as his knee has him listed as questionable and he was clearly affected by it against the Giants and was out last week), he's the league's most athletic quarterback and maybe the most dynamic runner since a young Michael Vick. Think Vince Young at Texas stylistically, though, rather than Vick-big, fast, physical when he needs to be. He also has a strong arm. The downside? He's not very good at the "identifying and throwing the ball to receivers" part of the game. He'll miss wide open receivers and run himself out of the pocket. If he plays and drops back, contain rush him, especially to his right. Kansas City rushed from the offensive left, played contain to his right to take away his scramble lane, and he was almost helpless.
 
3. Darren McFadden is out, which means Rashad Jennings will get most of the work. He's a familiar face from his time in Jacksonville. He put up 22-150-1, which was 21-70 and 1-80 when he ran over safety D.J. Swearinger 8 yards downfield on a direct snap play.
 
4. Marcel Reece, a nominal fullback, is more a jack-of-all-trades type, like what James Casey was supposed to be in Houston. He'll carry the ball occasionally, including as the lone setback at times, split out wide, catch a few passes. They seem to forget about him in the offense at times, maybe because he's more solidly versatile and interesting than outstanding in any one facet of the game.
 
5. Denarius Moore is out, which means the Raiders will likely be starting two bigger receivers in 6'3" Rod Streater and 6'4" Andre Holmes. Streater is better, and McGloin will likely look for him (6-84-1 last week). He's okay. Jacoby Ford is the WR3 and is fast, but never became the player he looked like he might become as a rookie. This isn't a group that particularly scares you.
 
6. Left guard Lucas Nix is in an intense competition with Jaguars LG Will Rackley for the All-Keep Chopping Wood team of the worst players in the league. Sooner or later they'll bench him for Andre Gurode. Mike Brisiel is the right guard, and he's a solid zone-scheme guard stuck on a power team (McFadden's a bad zone runner, which is why the Raiders made the switch back). Ideally, Jared Veldheer will be the left tackle and Khalif Barnes the right tackle. Instead, Barnes is playing left tackle and Tony Pashos the right side. This was not an ideal tackle pairing in Jacksonville in 2008, and it's even worse now. J.J. Watt had two sacks and five quarterback hits last week. If I thought the Titans had a good edge pass rusher, I'd put that as a reasonable but optimistic stat projection. As is, I think Jurrell Casey can have another big game and will hope Derrick Morgan or Kam Wimbley or Akeem Ayers or somebody can take advantage on the edge.
 
7. We saw in the preseason and against the Eagles what happens when the Raiders defense has to line up and play-they're the league's worst unit. Credit Dennis Allen and DC Jason Tarver for bringing some fairly sound but creative blitzes and manufacturing a decent unit.
 
8. I wrote about this team for Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, and Lamarr Houston's basically the only guy left from the defense I watched with SS Tyvon Branch out. He's a solid pass rusher and leads the team with 5.0 sacks. Vance Walker's been solid at D-tackle. Pat Sims and Jason Hunter are solid, but just guys.
 
9. The cap space limitations make it hard to get a good read on GM Reggie McKenzie, but one thing he's shown the ability to do is find linebackers. Kelvin Burnett and Nick Roach have been great cheap veteran signings, and both have played very effectively. Rookie linebacker Sio Moore is second on the team and has also played very effectively.
 
10. The secondary is about like the defensive line, somewhere between meh and solid. Corners Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, formerly human targets in New Orleans and Denver and Dallas, know what they're doing and can play effectively in the right circumstances. I thought Charles Woodson was done in Green Bay, but he's a smart veteran and has been better than I expected at free safety. SS Brandian Ross is a guy.
 
Overall: meh defense, meh run game, pass game that tends to the abysmal. The Titans are better than the Raiders, but this is yet another Life on the Margins game. With no big mistakes, I think the Titans are slightly better. A big mistake, like the two short fields the Texans gave the Raiders, could easily prove the difference in the game. The best way to get that key mistake, and I think the biggest non-mistake-related key to the game, is pressuring McGloin effectively. If the Titans do that, they should win. I'm now seeing the Titans as a 1-point favorite, which feels like the right line to me.
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