A weekly examination of what the Tennessee Titans can expect from their next opponent. This week, the Oakland Raiders and their high-powered offense come to Music City.
The Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders share many similarities. Both teams experienced years of ineptitude before finding their franchise quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr). And both of their playoff hopes were dashed in 2016 when their QBs suffered season-ending leg injuries in Week 16. Each team is led by a former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach (Mike Mularkey and Jack Del Rio) who is making the most of his second (or third) chance as a head coach. And both have experienced being the media darlings of the offseason (Oakland in 2016, the Titans this year). Oakland made good on the hype, advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Raiders will be a good first test for the Titans as they begin their own quest to end their own playoff drought.
The Tennessee defense should have their hands full with the Raiders attack. Oakland’s offense was eighth in total yards, seventh in points per game, and eighth in offensive DVOA in 2016. Derek Carr looks to pick up where he left off pre-injury with another Pro Bowl caliber season. And he gets the privilege of throwing to one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. With LeShaun Sims banged up, we could see rookie Adoree’ Jackson getting thrown into the fire against the NFL’s best. Crabtree was especially effective against the Titans last season (eight receptions, 102 yards), and Jackson very well may be matched up on the bigger and stronger veteran. New WR Cordarrelle Patterson also could provide some interesting wrinkles to their offense.
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The Raiders may have been sixth in rush yards per game in 2016, but that result was more of a testament to their stalwart offensive line than it was the starting running back, Latavius Murray. Despite scoring 12 TDs, Murray averaged an uninspiring 4.0 yards per carry and finished the year with a 73.1 PFF rating. The football world rejoiced when the Raiders brought back cult hero and Oakland native Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. The former Pro Bowler may have been out of football for a year, but perhaps a year of relaxation and running behind a great offensive line will have him looking like his old self.
The Raiders defense was not nearly as effective as the offense in 2016. They finished 22nd in DVOA, 26th in yards allowed, and 20th in points allowed per game. Their defense is a mixed bag, with some solid talent paired with big question marks. Khalil Mack is arguably a top 5 defensive player in the league, and you can bet Dick LeBeau has a gameplan to neutralize him. Their plan was effective last year, as Jack Conklin & Co. held him to zero sacks. Getting defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. back from injury will be a big help, as their pass rush and run defense suffered mightily with him out. Veteran linebcacker Bruce Irvin is another solid piece, but he surprisingly has never topped eight sacks in his career (seven last season).
The Raiders rely a lot on young players that the Titans should look to exploit. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and middle linebacker Marquel Lee are both rookies and making their first career starts, and second-year outside linebacker Cory James has only a handful of starts under his belt. The Titans should look to challenge them in pass coverage with their talented tight ends, Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith. Starting corners T.J. Carrie and David Amerson also leave a lot to be desired, so this could potentially be a big day for Marcus Mariota if the pass protection holds up.
The first big question is what version of Lynch will we see? Will we see vintage Beast Mode or a rusty, 32-year-old RB who hasn’t played since 2015. If Lynch can be even 80% of his former self, then this offense could be lethal. Defending the aerial attack will be enough work for the Tennessee defense, but worrying about a vintage Lynch would be a difficult task for Week 1. But if the Titans run defense can limit him, they may have a chance of slowing Oakland’s offense down.
Fresh off a contract negotiation that involved him taking a pay cut, it looks like Sebastian Janikowski will be the kicker this weekend. But even though the contract issue has been resolved, Janikowski is still dealing with a back strain that has kept him out of the last two preseason games. Just this week, the Raiders were working out kickers, and Janikowski supposedly looked “awful” in practice. If his back is still an issue, that will probably limit his normally long kicking range. This game looks to be a shootout, so a missed extra point or field goal by Sea Bass could be the difference maker.