3TFO: Eagles @ Raiders, Week 9
As the calendar turns to November and the NFL season passes the mid-year mark, it becomes time for teams to display their true identity as contenders or pretenders. Both Philadelphia and Oakland enter their Week 9 game with three victories on the season and if either is going to push for a playoff berth, they will need to put together a winning streak very soon. Each has had some impressive performances combined with some lousy games to get to where they are.
The Eagles have struggled mightily in their last two games to generate points on offense and will be without quarterback Michael Vick for the foreseeable future. Returning to the helm will be Nick Foles, who got off to a great start before an absolute clunker of a performance against the Cowboys in Week 7. In most years, a 3-5 record would be a cause for panic and long-term planning, but in 2013 it has Philadelphia just a game out of first place hoping to turn things around in Oakland. The “Black Hole” might be dreaded and feared by most visitors, but anywhere is better than home for the Eagles right now, after suffering their 10th consecutive home loss last week.
Oakland returned from their bye week and defeated Pittsburgh last week behind the big play running ability of Terrelle Pryor and sound defense. At 3-4, the Raiders are virtually out of contention for the AFC West title, but are right in the middle of the pack for the final AFC wild card spot. While the Raiders have plenty of flaws, their next six games come against teams without winning records, so there is potential to rattle off a few victories and stay relevant in playoff discussions. At some point, this young team will need to win two in a row and their first opportunity is against the struggling Eagles.
LeSean McCoy vs. Raiders Front Seven
All of the attention in recent weeks has gone to the quarterback situation in Philadelphia, but the more glaring problem is the lack of production coming from running back LeSean McCoy. When the Eagles’ offense is running efficiently, McCoy has lanes to run through and he is a factor in the passing game as well. In the last two weeks he is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry and the Philadelphia offense hasn’t scored a touchdown. For the Eagles to regain the swagger they displayed on offense earlier in the season they will need to get McCoy back on track this week against a Raiders’ defense that is average against the run, ranked 16th in run defense grade. McCoy’s biggest asset is his ability to make defenders miss and create plays out of nothing. As a team, Oakland has missed 62 tackles, nearly nine a game, and they will be tested big time chasing McCoy, who is ranked sixth in our Elusive Rating for running backs this year. He has forced 29 missed tackles on 156 rushing attempts, fourth-most in the NFL.
The Raiders do have some players that excel against the run that will need strong performances in this game. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has the highest Run Stop Percentage among 4-3 ends in the league, making a stop on 10.6% of his run defense snaps. Outside linebacker Kevin Burnett ranks seventh among 4-3 outside linebackers in that same statistic, making a stop on 8.8% of his run defense snaps. The bad news is that a lot of the responsibility to contain McCoy will fall on middle linebacker Nick Roach who ranks 31st among all inside linebackers, making a stop on just 7.1% of his run defense snaps. He also possesses a -8.7 run defense grade, which makes him the second-worst run defending inside linebacker in the NFL. Philadelphia’s ability to consistently run McCoy against the Oakland defensive front will dictate the success of their offense and determine if they can cross the goal line for the first time in more than two weeks.
It wasn’t the distance or the suddenness of Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard touchdown run on the first play last week against Pittsburgh that was so impressive, it was how easily he separated from the pack and comfortably glided into the end zone. Plays like that make Pryor a scary opponent and one that defenses must plan for. Pryor leads all quarterbacks with 395 rushing yards and a 7.6 average yards per run. With numbers like that, it is no surprise that Pryor is the highest-graded quarterback with a run grade of +7.4, a full point higher than Cam Newton, who is second. As dynamic as Pryor is as a runner, he is equally unpolished as a passer. While being more than capable of ripping off a long run at any moment, he has completed just six passes that were targeted more than 20 yards down the field on 21 attempts. His adjusted Accuracy Percentage of 70.9 ranks him 22nd in the league and his PFF QB rating places him 30th in the NFL. In the time it takes for him to grow as a passer, he will continue to lean on his legs to generate points.
Usually in the NFL having a below-average pass rush and lacking the ability to consistently pressure the quarterback is a bad thing, but against Pryor that may be Philadelphia’s best game plan. The Eagles have the lowest team pass rush grade at -24.6 and have struggled to get a consistent pass rush from anyone as they convert to a 3-4 defensive front. Against Pryor, the Eagles will need to stay in their rushing lanes and not allow him to break free. A candidate to play the role of “spy” on Pryor will be inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks who has struggled in coverage this year anyway, so keeping him assigned to Pryor won’t hurt the pass defense much. The issue with Kendricks is that he also leads the team with 12 missed tackles and he will have to secure any tackling opportunity he has against Pryor or it could lead to another big gain by Pryor.
Jason Peters vs. Lamarr Houston
We already mentioned how great Raiders’ defensive end Lamarr Houston has been against the run and how important that will be in limiting the Eagles’ running game, but the man he will oppose is no slouch either. Eagles left tackle Jason Peters hasn’t been his dominating self that made him the highest-graded offensive tackle in 2011 since returning from an Achilles injury that kept him out all of 2012. Despite the team’s offensive woes he has posted back-to-back positively graded games for the first time all year. Peters appears to be regaining his form and will need to be a much better than his current -0.6 run blocking grade to slow down Houston on Sunday.
The Eagles will be turning to Nick Foles to make his third start of the season and protecting him will be paramount in the success of the passing game. He ranks 31st in the NFL with a completion percentage of 41.4 when under pressure and his QB rating drops from 116.2 with no pressure to 69.8 when pressured. Houston has been a force rushing the passer most of the season and is the ninth-most productive pass rushing 4-3 defensive end, tallying 38 total pressures including four sacks. He will hope to continue that success against Peters this week. Peters has been average protecting the passer this year, ranking 36th among offensive tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency. He has allowed a lot of pressures (25), but just one sack on 312 pass blocking snaps. Foles’ accuracy and success is largely dependent on having time to throw, which makes the Peters vs. Houston battle even more important.
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