Patriots quarterback Mack Jones said he was looking forward to the challenge against Josh McDaniels, his former mentor.
At this point in the season, with the Patriots clinging to a postseason berth, Jones must face that challenge head on. He does not understand who is on the opposing side.
He needs to have good play and run offense while continuing to create positive momentum for the unit. He can’t afford to let McDaniels get to know him and “a little bit of our system” set the Patriots offense back further than they are.
While McDaniels and many of his lieutenants know how Jones works, the Raiders’ defense hasn’t been great this season.
They allow 24.1 points per game, which is at the bottom of the NFL. The Raiders also field the worst defense in the league, according to DVOA. They are 18th against the run.
So Matt Patricia needs to take the anchor pass out of play and let it fly to give the offense a chance to score more points.
It should be noted that Patrick Graham, who joined the Patriots, is very similar to his former team’s defense, so Jones should have a handle on what he sees.
That said, here’s how Jones & Co. can handle the Raiders defense
1. Attack the corners
In this game, Patricia needs to release a screen pass, or at least open the playbook.
The Raiders pass defense has been the Achilles heel for McDaniels, allowing 254.5 yards per game. Their corners, Nate Hobbs and Rock Ya-Sin, had trouble covering almost everyone. And Ya-Sin is injured and won’t play. Backup Sam Webb should be there.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hobbs ranks 52nd in the league in coverage. He has allowed 107.2 assists in seven games this season.
Hobbs missed six games with a broken bone in his hand and moved to the perimeter after a full first season as a slot defender. So far, he’s been a liability on the outside, with Patriots running back Tyquan Thornton.
While the Patriots may still be shorthanded with Devante Parker out, Jacoby Meyers is expected to return, and pass catcher Ramondre Stevenson, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, could also play. So the Pats will still be able to attack with the weapons they have.
2. Release Henry
Patricia hasn’t taken advantage of Hunter Henry this season. It’s understandable that Henry had to stay to block and help a struggling offensive line, but as we saw against the Cardinals, he can be really effective on seam routes.
It can be a weapon against any defense. He had three catches for 70 yards against the Cardinals, with his long gainers setting up scores.
Again, the Raiders are not good against the pass. Safety Tre-Von Moehrig, for one, has been exposed in coverage against tight ends. He gave up four touchdowns, 15 yards per completion and a 148.4 passer rating when targeted in coverage.
3. Hold the castle
The offensive line needs to step up in this game. With Max Crosby and Chandler Jones, one of the best pass rush tandems in the NFL, staying out of Jones’ face is a must.
With 11.5 sacks, Crosby is tied for fifth behind the NFL’s sack leader, Matthew Judon (14.5) of the Patriots. According to Pro Football Focus, Crosby has the most quarterback pressures (59).
Meanwhile, former Patriot Jones, who signed a mega-contract in the offseason, has started playing out his contract over the last few weeks with four sacks and 11 quarterback pressures in the last three games.
Either Connor McDermott or Yodney Cajust will likely land for Crosby, while Trent Brown will line up against Jones.
Jones said: “I think they have a great defensive line. They have great players everywhere, great schemes … they have great rushers. This will be a big challenge for us at the next stage.”