The Oakland Raiders come out of their bye with one of their most critical games of the season, Sunday at Mexico City against the New England Patriots.
When the schedule was released this looked like a possible AFC Championship Game preview. That label must be looked as somewhat of a stretch now with Oakland being one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL in the first half of the season as it sits with a 4-5 record. New England, of course, is rolling with five straight victories and are 7-2.
Below are five keys for Oakland in this game:
5. Don’t get blown out
Harsh? Well, sure, but there’s no need to dance around the elephant in the room. If New England can score 41 on Denver, but it could easily duplicate (and surpass) that number against the Raiders. Consider this tweet from Monday morning:
It’s a frightening thought what Tom Brady and friends could do to the Raiders. The New England offense is so deep, so varied, so well led and so well coached, it will surely give the Raiders fits. The only thing the Raiders can hope for is for Brady (who has thrown 47 touchdowns and just four interceptions since the start of last year) has an unexpected stinker. If Brady is on, the Patriots are going to move the ball on this very beatable defense. Somehow the Raiders must limit the damage. In fact, if the Raiders can hold New England to 28-30 points, that may be workable.
4. Cover the tight ends
The Raiders’ ability to keep the Patriots in check may depend on this area. The Raiders have been awful covering the tight end during the three-season Jack Del Rio era. It doesn’t matter whether a team’s tight end is a Pro Bowl or an average starter, they usually have success against the Raiders. What could Rob Gronkowski AND Martellus Bennett accomplish in Mexico City? It’s scary, I tell you.
3. Win the turnover battle
The Raiders have played nine games and have not registered an interception. Go ahead and read that again. Yes, I know, it’s ludicrous. The combination of a team that can’t intercept the ball and a quarterback who never throws interceptions, is a what we in the business call a bad matchup. But the Raiders must end the interception streak and win the turnover battle in this game, if they think they are going to return to the United States with a .500 record.
2. Carr-to-Cooper needs to be a thing
We have reached the Raiders’ offensive portion of this situation. We all know Oakland is going to have to score in bunches in the high altitude of Mexico City. The best way for them to do that is for Derek Carr and Amari Cooper to have a big game. They haven’t gone that much together since the first half of last season. It happened last month against Kansas City when Cooper had 210 yards receiving, his only good game since last October. The result was the Raiders won a 31-30, shootout against the Chiefs. If the Raiders are going to win this game, a similar outing by Carr and Cooper may be necessary.
1. Run the ball
The Raiders haven’t run the ball well much this season. Establishing the run with Marshawn Lynch would go a long way to keeping the Raiders in charge of the tone of this game, and, most importantly, it would keep Brady and the fellas off the field. That certainly wouldn’t hurt the Raiders’ cause. It’s possible. The Patriots are ranked 26th in the NFL against the run, allowing 121.1 yards per game on the ground.