3TFO: Raiders @ Giants, Week 10
The New York Giants not only put the brakes on their six-game, season-opening slide, but managed to pick up consecutive victories before heading into their bye. They emerge this week with that 2-6 record and looking up at the rest of the NFC East, but hope that some positive results and a bit of rest will carry them to a third straight win.
The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, have been unable to string together wins and the good vibes they had built up were demolished last week as the Eagles and Nick Foles came to town and throttled their defense. With four of their next five on the road, and a progressively tougher schedule coming up, a win in New York will be crucial to avoiding a flat-lined second half of the season like they put up in 2012.
There will be many areas to focus on in this matchup, but here are three to get you started.
Forcing Pryor to the Air
It’s pretty clear for any team facing this season’s version of the Oakland Raiders that if you are to stymie their offense, you have to take Terrelle Pryor’s legs out of the equation. With no other ground game to speak of, and a passing game that, put kindly, is underdeveloped, the sole focus is to corral the lone threat. Easier said than done, as he’s averaged more than 7.5 yards per carry and is a Top 15 rusher in the league on only 63 attempts, but the prize for cutting off his running option? You send the quarterback with the league’s lowest passing grade to the air.
Pryor’s -15.4 mark is on pace for a 2012-Weeden or 2011-Sanchez kind of final grade, but to be fair, much of that is borne of his numbers when facing pressure. That’s not to say he’s been golden when in a clean pocket, but get a rush on him and his passing output falls off a cliff (from a +5.5 grade to -14.8). Unfortunately for Pryor and the Raiders, that’s been the case all too often this season behind a makeshift offensive line — he’s faced pressure on a higher percentage of his drop-backs than all QBs save for Seattle’s Russell Wilson. The line issues considered, Pryor has flatly struggled in these spots, and though he has connected on a scramble drill comeback here and there, his Accuracy Percentage on pressured throws (58.6%) ranks him 25th of 37 QBs with at least 100 drop-backs this season.
Ground Games in Low Gear
For Oakland, Darren McFadden will be missing this game with an injury (I know, stop the presses) and will be replaced by Rashad Jennings, with, possibly, some attempts for Marcel Reece sprinkled in. For New York, David Wilson has gone on I.R., Brandon Jacobs is not back from his hamstring problem, Andre Brown is just returning this week, and, after all that, it appears Peyton Hillis will be featured.
Jennings and Hillis have combined for 89 carries this season, each putting up their top yardage total against Philadelphia — Jennings during the mop-up effort last week and Hillis in the Giants’ Week 8 win. While Jennings is in his second stint as a fill-in for McFadden (he also got work in Weeks 4 and 5), Hillis is looking at his third straight game of significant action after being called in off the street just before Week 7. In front of them will be lines boasting questionable run-blocking track records, each featuring a guard with a Bottom-10 grade in that area “anchoring” the effort — Oakland’s Lucas Nix (-14.8 run blocking) on the left and New York’s David Diehl (-10.0) on the right.
If there’s an advantage one way or the other in what they’ll be facing, perhaps it’s simplest to note that the Giants can line up four defensive linemen with run defense grade of +4.0 or better (Justin Tuck, Mike Patterson, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Linval Joseph), while the Raiders show only Lamarr Houston qualifying in that area and, in fact, have a cornerback (Tracy Porter) as one of their three defenders with such a grade against the run.
Creating With Cruz
New York’s most targeted receiver, Victor Cruz, could hold a key to the outcome. Cruz, who spends the majority of his time operating out of the slot (297 of his 484 snaps, 61%) carries a 1.64 Yards per Route Run figure when lined up as the inside guy (24th of 54 receivers with at least 65 snaps from the slot). When there, he’ll face Oakland’s Tracy Porter who is giving up just 1.01 Yards per Cover Snap, a number that ranks him eighth among slot corners.
If Cruz lines up out wide, though, his YPRR jumps to 3.33 and waiting on the defense’s right side in nickel situations is Raider rookie D.J. Hayden with his eighth-worst YPCS of 1.60. Could the Giants contemplate creating a matchup by shifting Cruz from his typical deployment?
Now, it’s not unusual for a YPRR to be higher on the outside than in the slot due to the nature of routes run from the positions, but knowing that Hayden will be planted on the right (he’s played only 17 of his 353 snaps anywhere but right RCB), the temptation to test it could be too much to resist. It may be a lot to ask to force Nicks or Randle into a larger slot role in order to swap Cruz to the outside, but pitting their favorite target — who produces on the outside — against a rattled rookie coming off a benching against the Eagles might be the kind of strategy bit that earns them an important edge.
Update: Hayden has been ruled out of the game with a groin injury, so Phillip Adams will assume his role. Adams has seen a total of 42 snaps this year with the lone target his way completed for a 9-yard gain. He was, though, named our Secret Superstar for the Raiders back in June.
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