The struggling Raiders, behind the 8-ball all season because so much of their salary cap is tied up in dead money, head to the East Coast for an early game against their fellow strugglers the New York Jets. That's historically tough for West Coast teams, but the Raiders do have the benefit of a long week to prepare and get adjusted to the early start, following their loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Rookie Matt McGloin has far exceeded expectations since becoming the Raiders' starter three games ago, following an injury to Terrelle Pryor. McGloin had looked pretty good in training camp, but fell down the depth chart after an underwhelming preseason. However, he's made the most of his opportunities since getting a chance during the regular season. McGloin doesn't have good measurables, but he's put up pretty solid numbers so far. One thing that has really helped the Raiders is that he gets rid of the ball quickly and, as a result, has only been sacked twice in his four appearances (both by JJ Watt). That's behind a line that had given up the most sacks in the league for much of the season.
Pryor is now healthy and head coach Dennis Allen has been dropping some hints that perhaps he will start to see some action soon, maybe even in this game. Presumably that would be in some kind of read-option package. Pryor had struggled as a passer, but did rush for over 500 yards at 7.4 yards per carry before McGloin replaced him. As a general rule, he looks pretty good when rolling to his right, but when he rolls left, his technique is poor.
The Raiders have had a bunch of injuries on their offensive line all season and offensive line coach Tony Sparano has struggled to get any kind of consistent lineup on the field. That doesn't change this week as right guard Mike Briesel, a steady veteran presence, has been ruled out. That means the Raiders are seriously weak at the guard spots. Lucas Nix, an undrafted free agent, grades out as the worst guard in the NFL per PFF, but Allen has confirmed during the week that he's likely to get the starting nod at right guard over another veteran, Andre Gurode. The other guard spot is filled by Khalif Barnes, who had been playing left tackle until being kicked inside last week. Barnes is tied with Willie Colon for having committed the most penalties in the NFL this season (11).
Barnes' move was a by-product of Jared Veldheer's return. He had been injured all season, but made his return last week at left tackle. Veldheer is probably the Raiders' most talented linemen. In his absence, center Stefan Wiesniewski has led the unit, grading out as the second best run blocking center in the NFL per PFF. Veteran Tony Pashos rounds out the line and has actually been a solid cheap pickup for them this year.
The Raiders have sometimes been rotating their linemen, so don't be surprised to see Gurode or British rookie Menelik Watson out there for a series or two. Watson also sees plenty of action as an extra tight end in jumbo packages.
The Raiders have major injury concerns at the running back position. It's no surprise to see Darren McFadden on the injured list, but he's joined by backup Rashad Jennings and third stringer (and, briefly, former Jet) Jeremy Stewart. McFadden and Stewart are both out with ankle injuries and Jennings - the former Jaguar having a career year in 2013 - is questionable following a grisly-looking concussion suffered last Thursday.
In their absence, the Raiders have two options. Marcel Reece, who is listed as a fullback, but is actually a converted receiver who plays multiple roles, is option number one. He's been in that role before with McFadden injured so often. Last year, when McFadden and backup Mike Goodson both went down, he carried 47 times over three games and averaged 4.7 yards per carry, with a 100-yard game against the Saints in week 11. The other option is cornerback Taiwan Jones. Jones hasn't seen any action on defense so far, but plays a key role on special teams. He converted to cornerback last season, but did used to be a running back and has carried 22 times for 94 yards in his NFL career.
If Reece plays more as the tailback, the Raiders have another option at fullback - Jamize Ozawale, who was an undrafted free agent last year and has seen action on over 10 snaps per game so far this season.
One other outside the box thought - could they perhaps use Pryor as a running back in certain packages?
The Raiders do boast some serious big-play potential in their receiving corps, which is worrisome for the Jets, given their struggles in terms of defending the deep ball and tackling in the open field. Denarius Moore, who averages 15.4 yards per catch on 37 receptions and is the only Raider with more than two touchdown catches (five), has been ruled out, but Andre Holmes has really started to emerge over the last month. The 6-4 27-year old, who entered the season with two catches for 11 yards in his NFL career, had seven catches for 136 yards on Thanksgiving.
The Raiders' leading receiver is actually Rod Streater, who has 43 catches and only two drops. Diminutive speedster Jacoby Ford has only 99 receiving yards all year, but is dangerous on screens and reverses. Streater was playing in the slot a lot, but with Moore out, perhaps he will move outside and Ford will play the slot.
At tight end, former Dolphin Jeron Mastrud is listed as the starter, but he's mostly a blocker. Mychal Rivera is more of a receiving threat.
On defense, the Raiders play mostly 3-4 when in base, even though their depth chart displays them as a 4-3 team. On the inside, two veterans - Vance Walker and Pat Sims - are solid but unspectacular. Sixth round pick Stacy McGee has been doing reasonably well as a backup and the Raiders may look to increase his reps over the last month of the season. Ex-Jet Daniel Muir is solid against the run and pass off the bench too.
Off the edge, their most dangerous player is Lamarr Houston, who plays the majority of the snaps and has developed into a productive pass rusher. During the week, he vowed to improve upon what he considered to be a poor performance against the Cowboys. On the other edge, Jason Hunter has been less impressive than Houston. He has two sacks. Off the bench, they've been giving a few pass rushing reps per game to another Brit, Jack Crawford, who was a 5th round pick last year.
Although Houston is their best pass rusher, linebacker Nick Roach actually leads the Raiders with 5.5 sacks. He's been very poor against the run though. Veteran Kevin Burnett has been very good against the run, but has missed 15 tackles on the season to lead the team. Third round pick Sio Moore has also been starting and has played well on the whole, but is inconsistent.
The Raiders aren't afraid to blitz their linebackers. Roach, Burnett and Moore have rushed the passer over 100 times each and combined for 11.5 sacks and over 50 total pressures.
With backup Kaluka Maiava out, the Raiders are thin at the position.
The Raiders secondary is thin, especially at the safety position. The team has intercepted just seven passes all year (the same as the Jets).
Usama Young was just placed on injured reserve and, despite being listed as a starter, Tyvon Branch remains out having not played since week two. That leaves veteran Charles Woodson, who has battled gamely all year but isn't close to the player he once was, paired with yet another former undrafted player Brandian Ross, who has struggled badly against the run and pass all year. If they use any three-safety looks, they'll be forced to use another inexperienced player or play one of their cornerbacks out of position.
Their starting cornerbacks are two former high 2008 draft picks - first rounder Mike Jenkins and former Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter. In nickel packages, Porter moves into the slot and Phillip Adams plays on the outside. He's struggled over the last few weeks.
The Raiders finally broke up perhaps the most dominant kicking tandem the league has ever seen when they let punter Shane Lechler leave for Houston in the offseason. However, rookie Marquette King gets terrific distance and hang time on some of his kicks. He does need to work on his consistency though - and does give up a lot of return yardage (389, third in the league).
Sebastian Janikowski is still there. He has arguably the biggest leg the NFL has ever seen, but sometimes can be inconsistent on shorter kicks. Two of his six misses this year were from within 40 yards.
With so many athletes on the roster, the Raiders have a ton of options to return kicks. At the moment, it's Jones on kickoffs and undrafted rookie receiver Greg Jenkins on punts. However, if the Raiders want to keep Jones fresh to use him at running back, then Ford is another option they've used this year. Jones is also their leading tackler in coverage and Allen has said he is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game.