3TFO: Raiders @ Panthers, Week 16
We’ve reached that point in the season where teams that have struggled all year suddenly pick up form just in time to avoid the benefit of a high draft pick and, with wins last week, that’s exactly what the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers did.
Both teams have made big investments at quarterback in recent years, but that hasn’t been enough to see them challenge for a place in the postseason and they head into next season with plenty of questions that don’t look to have easy answers.
Still, in a game that features last season’s No. 1 overall draft pick, and one of the best pass rushing duo’s in the league, there’s plenty of matchups to talk about. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the three key areas to focus on in this one.
Panthers Defensive Ends vs. Raiders Offensive Tackles
In a season that has seen more downs than ups for the Panthers, they can at least boast one of the best pass rushing tandems in the league. Working mainly from the left, Charles Johnson has registered a total of 12 sacks, 10 hits and 41 hurries from 423 pass rushes, giving him a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) rating of 11.9. Opposite him, Greg Hardy has only been slightly less productive, with a PRP rating of 11.1 coming from 13 sacks, 12 hits and 31 hurries from 409 pass rushing snaps. Both rank in the top four at their position in terms of PRP Rating, the only team to have two players in the Top 10.
Allowing just one hurry in the past two weeks, left tackle Jared Veldheer has been one of the few positives this season for the Raiders. Through Week 15 he has allowed five sacks, three hits and 24 pressures from 597 pass blocking snaps, giving him a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) rating of 95.8, which ranks 17th among starting offensive tackles. The good news for Raiders fans is that Khalif Barnes has performed better than Willie Smith since returning at right tackle, however his struggles against Von Miller in Week 14, where he allowed four pressures and committed three penalties, show that he is still vulnerable against top pass rushers.
Panthers Wide Receivers vs. Raiders Cornerbacks
While not quite putting up the numbers he did in quarterback Cam Newton’s rookie season, Steve Smith is clearly still his favorite target with 111 passes thrown his way this season. Dropping just five of the 71 catchable passes thrown to him, Smith boasts a Drop Rate of 7.04 while racking up 1,056 yards through the air. Both Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy have provided similarly safe pairs of hands, with Drop Rates of 8.11 and 8.70 respectively, but with 851 receiving yards combined between the two of them, they obviously don’t pose anywhere near the same threat as Smith.
In an ever changing Raiders defensive backfield, Michael Huff has started every game, with the past 12 starts coming at cornerback. Yielding six touchdowns and 615 yards from 418 snaps in coverage, he has given up a reception, on average, once every 11 coverage snaps. Of the collection of Raiders to see time at cornerback, Joselio Hanson has seen the most play, next to Huff, with 306 snaps in coverage. Giving up 43 receptions from 53 targets, he allows a reception once every 7.1 snaps in coverage. Brandian Ross, who didn’t see his first meaningful snaps on the season until Week 13, performed well last week, allowing just 12 receiving yards on three receptions from the six passes thrown into his coverage after replacing the concussed (and likely out) Philip Adams.
Oakland’s Talented Backfield
While Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden may be our lowest graded player at his position through Week 15, the Raiders still boast plenty of talent in their backfield. McFadden’s problem is that he just doesn’t do much beyond the work of his blockers, with just 13 missed tackles forced from 180 carries and a disappointing Yards After Contact average of just 1.9. Grading negatively as a rusher, a receiver and as a pass blocker, McFadden just doesn’t look like the player the Raiders thought they were getting when they used the No. 4 overall draft pick on him back in 2008.
Now might be a good time to lean more on the talents of Mike Goodson and the versatile Marcel Reece. As a rusher, Reece has forced 12 missed tackles from just 59 attempts in 2012 and, with an impressive Yards After Contact average of 3.4 yards, always seems to be dragging defenders with him. Add in seven missed tackles forced, and 478 yards as a receiver, and it’s hard to see why the Raiders have limited him to just 107 touches on offense. Goodson has seen even less work, with just 30 carries, but has made the most of the opportunities he has gotten, forcing seven missed tackles and boasting a Yards After Contact average of 5.2. Surely it’s time the Raiders turned to the more talented members of their backfield to give them a better chance of winning.
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