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Eagles-Raiders Preview: Just Win Baby
Normally, a trip across the country to play a game is a bad thing for an NFL team, but getting away from home might actually be a good thing for the Philadelphia Eagles as they travel to Oakland to face the Raiders on Sunday. After losing their 10th straight home game last week, the Eagles could use a change of scenery. They could also use a win to stop their two-game losing streak.
Eagles Offense Versus Raiders Defense
It remains to be seen whether or not the return of Nick Foles will help or hurt the team's offense. Foles followed up his NFC Player of the Week award for his play against Tampa Bay in Week 6 with an inexplicably bad 11-for-29, 80 yard performance against Dallas, before he got concussed. He missed the Giants game last week, but was named the starter against Oakland after he was medically cleared. That's good news, since Michael Vick will be out for a few weeks after re-injuring his hamstring against the Giants and the fact that rookie QB Matt Barkley has turned the ball over on 5 of his 10 drives while playing in relief the last two weeks.
In case you don't know, the Raiders have a good defense. That's not good news for an Eagles offense that couldn't score a touchdown in the last two games against bad defenses. Oakland's defense ranks 10th in yards allowed per game (330.9) and 12th in points allowed (21.4). While the Eagles offense is ranked 5th in yardage (397.1), they are a disappointing 18th in scoring (22.0). Foles said he doesn't know what happened in the game against the Cowboys. Well somebody better figure it out or else it's going to be a long day for the Eagles.
In spite of some marquee names, such as first-ballot Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, who is playing free safety, the way to attack the Raiders is through the air. Oakland is stout against the run, but is ranked a middling 17th against the pass. Cornerbacks Tracey Porter, Mike Jenkins and rookie D.J. Hayden will concentrate on keeping DeSean Jackson under wraps. They will take turns bumping him at the line of scrimmage and he is sure to see a safety over the top on most plays. That strategy has limited Jackson to only 84 yards total in the last two games. Slot receiver Jason Avant is having a terrible year, but maybe Riley Cooper has a decent game with Foles back at quarterback. The tight ends, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, have been a complete disappointment so far this season. Also, keep an eye on how RT Jason Peters handles Oakland DE Lamarr Houston, who has 30 tackles and leads the Raiders with 4 sacks. The Eagles don't want to risk another head shot on Foles from his blind side.
Normally a team starting their No.2 quarterback, who is coming back from a concussion sustained in the worst game of his career, would run the football. And since the Eagles have the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL (150.4 ypg) and the No. 1 running back in the NFL, LeSean McCoy, you would assume lots of hand offs. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Raiders are ranked 6th against the run (89.9 ypg). And there is also the fact that McCoy has been held to 55 yards rushing or fewer in three of the Eagles last four games. MLB Nick Roach anchors the middle of the Oakland defense and the interior of the Eagles line will need to play better. As a matter of fact, except for LG Evan Mathis, the entire offensive line for the Eagles needs to play better if the team has any chance of getting a win.
Who Rushes for More Yards on Sunday?
Raiders Offense Versus Eagles Defense
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will be facing a running quarterback for the first time this season. RGIII doesn't count because he was still hurt and couldn't move in Week 1. Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor showed off his athleticism on the first play against the Steelers last week when he ran for a 93-yard touchdown, which is the longest ever for a quarterback. The problem for Oakland is that Pryor isn't much of a passer. Oakland is ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards per game (176.0) and they are an equally dreadful 26th in points scored, with only 18 points per game. Pryor is completing 63.1 percent of his passes, but he's thrown only five touchdowns to seven interceptions. That's not good. What is good, however, are his 391 yards rushing on 53 attempts. That's really going to test the Eagles defense.
The Eagles defense is playing much better lately, but they didn't have anywhere to go but up earlier in the season. Over the first four games, the Eagles defense allowed 34.5 points per game, but over the last four, they have only allowed 18.25 per game. They still rank 31st in the NFL in yardage allowed (401.8 ypg), but they are improving. However, Pryor represents something completely different.
The Eagles may employ a spy on Pryor and the best player to do that may be LB Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks isn't having the best season, with all of the mistakes he's making, but he has the speed to keep up with Pryor and hopefully minimize the damage. It will also be incumbent on DEs Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox to set the edge so Pryor doesn't get loose.
While Pryor is a big reason why the raiders are No. 5 in the NFL in rushing (138.9 ypg), he isn't the only reason. Darren McFadden has 340 yards on 93 carries and four touchdowns. LB DeMeco Ryans will have to have another big game in the middle if the Eagles are to slow down the Raiders running attack. Also, fullback Marcel Reece is dangerous as both a runner and a receiver.
Speaking of receiving, the Raiders are sure to test the Eagles 31st ranked pass defense (302.3 ypg). Patrick Chung is hurting again, but he has been a free agent bust anyway. That probably leaves Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff as the starting safeties. Although they have played better lately, that's still a scary proposition. Luckily for them and CB Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin, the Raiders don't have much in the way of receiving threats. Denarius Moore leads the team in receptions (27), yards (431) and touchdowns (4). That's basically a great game for Calvin Johnson. Ex-Temple Owl Rod Streater is the other receiver and Mychal Rivera is the tight end. Like I said, Oakland doesn't have much of a threat to burn a vulnerable pass defense. And to make matters even worse for Pryor, Oakland's offensive line has allowed the second most sacks in the NFL, with 29. Heck, even Trent Cole might get his first sack of the season against that group. Or not. Probably not.
The Eagles special teams are actually playing better these days in coverage, but they still haven't shown anything in the return game. Even DeSean Jackson muffed a punt last week. The Eagles chose to let Barkley go for it on 4th-and-9 last week instead of trying for a 50-yard field goal, so that tells you all you need to know about kicker Alex Henery. And sooner or later, punter Donnie Jones' leg will fall of due to overuse. Oakland's special teams coordinator is Bobby April, who oversaw some of the worst special teams in the NFL the last few years with the Eagles. You all know about kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who has a big leg, but iffy accuracy. Jacoby Ford is the kick returner and Philip Adams is the punt returner, but neither is a big threat.
Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard TD run
Eagles coach Chip Kelly continues to learn on the job and cost his team wins. Last week's curious decision to call a rollout on the 2-yard line with a rookie quarterback, instead of giving the ball to the NFL's leading rusher, was a complete mind-fart. There also is the little fact that this offensive "genius" leads an offense that hasn't scored a touchdown in the last two games. Oakland head coach Dennis Allen's claim to fame is that he is the NFL's youngest coach. He's in his second year with the Raiders, which normally is about the time an Oakland coach's seat starts to get warm, but he's actually led them to two wins in their last three games, so maybe they'll give him a longer look. At least he's not Lane Kiffin.
The Eagles offense has been missing in action the last two games and now they have to fly across the country and face a good Oakland defense. The only good news there is that at least they aren't at home, where they have lost 10 in a row. The Raiders offense has been stuck in neutral all season, with the exception of Terrell Pryor's running. However, that may change this week as he faces the second worst pass defense in the NFL. The Raiders will also look to complete the AFC West sweep over the Eagles. I never was a big fan of sweeps.
Eagles 24 - Raiders 20