Raiders-Eagles: What to watch for

The Philadelphia Eagles enter the O.co Coliseum Sunday ranked fifth in the NFL in total offense and second in rushing yards.

The Raiders will counter with their sixth-ranked run defense, with Oakland’s top-five rushing attack serving up their own ground and pound with a full head of steam.

The game should be full of excitement, as the Eagles defense has proven porous and forgiving, especially against the pass.

Opponents have turned to the air often in order to keep up with Chip Kelly’s “blur” offense. In the last two games without quarterback Michael Vick — who will again be inactive — Philly has been outscored 32-10. Nick Foles will start Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Raiders’ defense has been more than solid of late. Linebacker Sio Moore was recently voted the NFL rookie of the week after sacking Ben Roethlisberger twice, and his hard-hitting comrades have taken Raider-doubters aback.

This game will be about clamping down on weaknesses and for both individual players and entire units to prove that they belong, for both teams.

Passing

In the Week 8 pillaging of the Steelers defensive front, running back Darren McFadden ran for two scores and Terrelle Pryor broke off the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history, a 93 yard scamper that should have impressed even Usain Bolt.

But the passing game has been non-existent for five of Pryor’s six starts under center. Making matters more worrisome, Pryor has thrown only five touchdowns — against seven interceptions.

Sure, Pryor makes plays with his legs, but he plays quarterback and will have opportune time to show off his arm.

If the passing game can reach two levels above where it has been, the Raiders will have a much better shot at their second straight victory. If not, the Eagles offense will wear down the Oakland secondary, just like it has with nearly every opponent faced.

Stopping the run

The Chip Kelly offense relies heavily on the run game. It’s not a very complex system by any standard, though the team says there are a number of plays that have not yet been run during games.

While some of that noise might be just that — noise — the basis of any successful defense must be to stymie the run.

Though Oakland has shown great success thus far in that particular element, they’ve only faced one back with the talent of LeSean McCoy.

When the Raiders faced Kansas City, Jamaal Charles gained 78 yards on 22 rushing attempts and added another 50 yards on five receptions.

The Raiders allowed two rushing touchdowns against the Chiefs, which might be too much considering the sheer number of plays that the Eagles tend to run while on offense.

Special teams

Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen said this week that Taiwan Jones, who was converted from running back to cornerback earlier this season, will be returning kickoffs instead of Jacoby Ford.

After muffing two kicks last week, it seems the coaching staff has lost confidence in Ford. Jones has already returned a few kicks this year.

Jones isn’t a terrible returner, netting 233 yards on 13 career returns. But he lacks the explosiveness to potentially break off a long run against a substandard Eagles coverage unit, and the instincts to know exactly what to do and when. He could potentially be just as ineffective as he could be effective.

The Raiders’ kick coverage, on the other hand, has been terrific. The team hasn’t sustained any substantial defensive injuries, either, thus far and shouldn’t have many issues with Philadelphia.

The X Factor

The biggest question mark is how the team will defend DeSean Jackson, the former Cal Bears standout who is widely regarded as one of the quickest veteran receivers in the league.

Foles will be looking for Jackson early in the game and often, but not many teams have been able to slow him down. If the Raiders do, they shut down the Philly passing attack. If they don’t, the Eagles may tire down the Raiders secondary to the point that it might be two weeks before they can recover.


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