ALAMEDA — The Tennessee Titans (4-6) travel to Oakland to face the 4-6 Raiders Sunday in what looks to be a high-scoring game.
The Titans present interesting matchups on both sides of the ball, but particularly for Oakland’s Jason Tarver-coached defense.
Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker has gutted defenses his entire career. After seven seasons in San Francisco as a second-string player, Walker has seen the most targets in his career from Jake Locker (out for the season) and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Corralling 39 of his 54 targets for five touchdowns, Walker will likely be lining up against rookie linebacker Sio Moore.
Moore has shown flashes of brilliance, but has been hit or miss. As any coach would hope, he has improved in coverage and will face his toughest test to date against a tight end.
The edge goes to Walker, though Moore can get a two-step advantage if he is able to bump him off his routes, whether inside or out.
The Titans have been pretty awful on the ground statistically, averaging only 112.5 yards per game. The Raiders have been very stingy, averaging less than 100 yards per game allowed on the ground.
Though Tennessee running back Chris Johnson hasn’t been the same guy he was a few years ago, coach Allen says he hasn’t lost it:
“If he’s lost it, I haven’t seen it. He’s still very explosive. You have to do a great job of getting him off his track, not let him hit things downhill, and get to the second level of the defense. … That’s when he’s most effective. … We have to do a great job of not only setting the edge and not letting him bounce the ball outside, but do a great job on the backside of our defense in pursuit, because he’s a cutback runner.”
The raw numbers create an argument against Allen, though the defenses Johnson has faced are elite run-stoppers: Kansas City, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, St Louis, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets.
Those are seven teams no running back wants to face.
This might be the most crucial matchup of the game, and there’s a good chance that it’s been the focal point of the Raiders’ game plan for the defense. The fact that Allen spoke so adamantly about Johnson is a hint.
Oakland’s best shot at stopping Johnson might come in sub packages — variations of the nickel defense, with extra defensive backs on the field. A 4-2-5 look might be a starting point for Tarver and Allen, with man coverage on the outside.
The two linebackers create some big bodies in the middle, while the extra cornerbacks will provide the speed necessary to chase down Johnson on the edge.
On offense, coordinator Greg Olson might consider loosening the leash on undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin, who will get his second NFL start.
McGloin still has a rookie’s touch on short and long passes, where the ball doesn’t quite have the best vertical apex to get over the defender and into the receiver’s hands. There’s little chance this will change before Sunday, and Tennessee should be looking to capitalize.
The way around it? Pump fakes.
If McGloin can get the defense on their heels and with their shoulders facing the wrong direction, this game could surely become a high scoring one. The question remains, though, will he be able to?
McGloin uncorked some shaky passes during Friday’s practice and looked a bit sore. If he ends up throwing wobbly passes early, it could be a signal of a long day for the offense.
Olson could utilize crossing patterns and inside slants with tight end Mychal Rivera and receiver Rod Streater, with running back Rashad Jennings running a wheel route.
This would increase the chance of blown coverage and ideally could free up someone.
Jennings could be the ultimate key for Raiders success come Sunday. He has exploded into a nice surprise for the team, though Allen says he wasn’t too surprised:
“He’s taken it as ‘you’re a big back and he needs to run like a big back.’ We’re going to keep feeding the rock and see if he can keep gaining yards for us.”
The Raiders offensive line is finally healthy, and Jennings could provide the same boost he has over the past few games.