As the Bay Area’s other team flies North to take part in a top-of-the-rankings matchup, the Oakland Raiders stay home to host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a battle of two teams representing the other end of the league’s power spectrum.
Both teams will be fielding a quarterback who less than a month ago was not expected to play a leading role, but may be on his way to taking over for good. With many new parts on both sides still working to settle together, there are a lot of unknowns in what promises to be a game worth watching — if only out of morbid curiosity. How could you not be at least a little interested when there’s even a Scobee-Janikowski kicker beef brewing?
Here are some of the keys to deciding this Week 2 matchup.
Jaguars Passing vs. Raiders Corners
As Justin Blackmon serves his suspension, wide receiver Cecil Shorts played every snap for the Jags in Week 1 and, though he was targeted 10 times, managed to bring in only three catches for 40 yards. With no drops on his books and one interception thrown on a pass coming his way, the theme was more of off-target attempts from Blaine Gabbert than Shorts’ lack of plays made on the ball. Waterbug rookie Ace Sanders also notched three catches and paced Jacksonville receivers with 21 routes run from the slot, but his 14 yards were even less inspiring.
Perhaps with Chad Henne taking over, the Jag passing game will find more rhythm. If the first game’s performance by Oakland’s cornerbacks is to be taken with as much weight, opportunity could be there. The primary trio of Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter and first-round pick D.J. Hayden all graded negatively in coverage to open the year and allowed a total of nine catches on 11 targets their way. Porter (-1.5 in coverage), in particular, found the going rough and as Oakland’s designated slot man he’ll move from tracking wily vet Reggie Wayne last week to the spry youngster Sanders, and could see a day filled with just as much trouble.
To ease the minds of those Oakland defenders, there may not be much threat of Henne challenging them with deep routes to either side as, over the past four seasons, he’s gone just 19-of-90 (21%) on passes outside the numbers and 20+ yards downfield.
Coming off a day in which he breathed life into a team and a fanbase, Oakland quarterback Terrell Pryor — who held onto the ball longer than all QBs outside of Michael Vick and Geno Smith in Week 1 — can be expected to once again use his legs as a spark. Whether keeping it on read-options or scrambling away from pocket troubles, Pryor piled up 112 rushing yards in an eye-opening, though one-dimensional, performance. That ability to create and escape helped the Raiders’ offense move the chains against the Colts in Week 1 — a key when operating behind their O-line in its current state — and could become a central tenant in their plans from here on, especially given Pryor’s relative deficiency as a passer (a point supported by his Week 1 grades: +2.7 rushing, -2.2 passing).
When he is off and running, Pryor will most often be found at the edges, challenging to turn the corner and putting pressure on the contain defenders charged with limiting his field. Against Kansas City last week, the Jaguars gave up 75 of the 120 yards they allowed on the ground to runs outside of the tackles and scrambles… and while Jamaal Charles certainly does, Alex Smith doesn’t quite pose the same threat as Pryor. With it being possible that Jacksonville’s two starting corners are out of action, reserves Mike Harris and Will Blackmon may find their suddenly assumed jobs on the outside come with the added factor of keeping mindful of the force game when Pryor gets wide.
Joeckel vs. Houston
After spending the majority of his first three seasons coming from the defense’s left, Lamarr Houston has taken over right defensive end duties for Oakland. In his debut there in Week 1, Houston produced eight total pressures (a sack, a hit and six hurries) and he avoided conceding his standing as a run defender, continuing on his career path with another positive day in that regard (+1.4).
That success came against 2011 first-rounder Anthony Castonzo, and this week he’ll get a look at one of 2013’s top picks, Luke Joeckel. In Joeckel’s inaugural effort (-1.3), he was often pitted against another Houston (Justin, of the Chiefs) on a day that resulted in a negative overall grade – one based largely on his showing as a pass protector. Surrendering a sack and four hurries on 51 pass-blocking snaps (for a Pass Blocking Efficiency score of 92.2), the pressures came as he was beaten by a variety of methods — Houston produced hurries with an outside rush, an inside rush, and a bull rush, and the sack came to Joeckel’s outside.
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