As the Oakland Raiders make their way to Mexico City to face the New England Patriots, questions abound. Facing yet another must-win, the Raiders need to win this game. With that said, the Raiders have a puncher’s chance. Under those circumstances, Oakland still has a mountain to climb against the Patriots.
How should the Raiders attempt to cover Patriots’ TE Rob Gronkowski?
Despite his frat boy, meathead demeanor, Rob Gronkowski will finish his career as the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL. Period. In 2017, Gronkowski leads the Patriots with five touchdowns. With this in mind, the Raiders cannot stop the tight end. This failing remains the biggest failings of Ken Norton’s tenure. Gronkowski represents the worst possible matchup.
Enter two possible contenders. First, David Amerson has the size and quickness to provide suitable distraction to keep up with Gronkowski. Amerson can stay hip to hip with Gronkowski on seam routes. While this seems odd, consider the alternatives. Imagine seeing Sean Smith trailing five yards behind Gronkowski, leading to another big day.
If Amerson doesn’t get the call, rookie Obi Melifonwu possesses the speed and range to stay with Gronkowski. Melifonwu can use his reach and length to deprive Tom Brady of wide throwing windows. In addition, Melifonwu’s height prevents Gronkowski from leaping over him to secure a cath.
Should the Raiders apply serious heat via blitzes on Brady?
Yes. The Patriots’ offensive line already surrendered 22 sacks versus various rushers. With playoff elimination lurking behind every loss, why not throw the kitchen sink at Brady. Blitzes from every possible angle will do the trick. Granted, outside of Khalil Mack, the Raiders pass rush serves little purpose. Yet, selling out on rushing could generate a turnover or two. If Oakland plays cautious, Brady will pick them apart. So, send an extra linebacker. At worse, Brady will absorb shots that weaken him later in the game. Playing it safe, dropping into zone is akin to waiting to lose. At least with blitzes, the extra rusher forces Brady to move.
Where will Oakland attack the Patriots’ defense?
If Todd Downing is smart, the Raiders will take the tact they used during the Chiefs game. During that game, Derek Carr used an aggressive, vertical attack to shred the Chiefs secondary. With a lesser pass rush, the Patriots are vulnerable to this strategy. Corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore can only do so much when Carr enjoys ample time to find his receivers.
In reality, no one thinks the Raiders will walk into Mexico, stomp New England and leave. This team does not have that type of mentality in 2017. Additionally, the Patriots defense, although improved, can be exposed deep. In turn, that will open up the running game. Sooner or later, the Patriots’ reign of dominance must end, why not start the decline in Mexico City?