The pendulum swings from the Derek Carr/Jon Gruden polarizing dynamic to Vontaze Burfict getting shelved for the rest of the season by the NFL … the 2019 season isn’t boring for RaiderNation, is it?
The Oakland Raiders marched onto Lucas Oil Field and took the fight to the Indianapolis Colts from the onset. Creative, varied and determined, Gruden’s offense waxed the depleted Indy defense. Then, the Silver & Black lost Burfict early via ejection for one of his patented headshot hits and — quite surprisingly — the defense held off the Colts surging offense in the fourth quarter for an impressive 31-24 road win.
“Well, it’s great coaching,” a smiling and amused Gruden said in the postgame press conference. “It’s a credit to our coaches and our players and our preparation,” he said. “We travel first class, we get to stay in great hotels, we can get plenty of rest and take a lot of pride in our performance.”
Gruden’s sentiments are exactly what Oakland needs across the pond against an equally uplifted Chicago Bears squad. Like the Raiders, the Bears overcame a loss of a starter and won this past Sunday. While it’s a “home” game for Oakland, it’s a neutral site (Tottenham Hotspur Stadium) so home field advantage is out the window. This Sunday’s international tilt will come down to coaching and execution.
The Raiders defense needs to operate without player-coach Burfict orchestrating things in the middle while the Bears offense will be conducted by a more decisive and accurate Chase Daniels at QB.
1. Feeding Josh Jacobs. The talented rookie running back has vision, ample speed and impressive power when given totes. He’s also shown soft hands and wiggle when (rarely) targeted in the passing game. If the Raiders want to slow down Khalil Mack and the rest of the Bears domineering defense, Gruden needs to make JJ a bell cow back that delivers the same punishment the Chicago defenders want to impart on Oakland.
2. Gadget plays going. The reverse to Trevor Davis exploited both the wide receiver/returns speed and the Colts zone-based defense. If Gruden can keep opposing defensive coordinators guessing, the Raiders have an opportunity to keep Chicago on its heels defensively instead of pinning their ears back and attacking. These type of plays also allow left tackle Kolton Miller to use his athleticism and get out in space for blocks — something he does well.
3. Solid opening scripts. The Raiders started the game in high fashion and the second half with a lengthy clock-consuming drive that netted three points. That set the tone against a Colts team backed by a boisterous home crowd. While the Raiders did have lull’s on offense in between, the strong beginnings made a big difference. As Gruden said: “I learned from Bobby Knight way back when I was a ballboy at Indiana: The first five minutes of each half usually set the tone for the entire game. So I thought we did a good job the first five minutes of each half today, and that’s a big reason we were able to win.”
1. Body catching. Now, to get rid of this completely isn’t going to happen. In bang-bang plays and with defenders bearing down on you, you have to catch it anyway you can. But watching Raiders No. 1 wide receiver Tyrell Williams drop two passes via body catch was disconcerting. Especially since one of those throws as a seal-the-game touchdown pass.
2. Curtis Riley snaps. Erik Harris got the nod and there was no dropoff in play, in fact, one could surmise there was a boost in safety play with the former CFL and potato chip factory cat back there. Harris’ pick 6 was the Raiders first INT of the year and Paul Guenther’s defense put points on the board. Enough said.
3. Sack-less pressure. The Raiders pass rush disrupted the Colts passing game despite not getting home for a QB takedown. Even when the Raiders got a free rusher, the team failed to sack the QB. That needs to change — especially against the Bears. Pressure is nice, but driving a team backwards for long-down situations as more valuable. A defense with its ears pinned back is something even the best QBs in the league struggles with.