Five keys for the Raiders at home against Titans

What else Raiders must do besides contain Derrick Henry to prevail over Tennessee Sunday

OAKLAND, CA – NOVEMBER 17: Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, center, celebrates with fans after their 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
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OAKLAND — Are the Raiders in the throes of an inevitable big fade? Or is fixing some correctable errors and getting a boost from the home crowd enough for them to get off the deck and back in to the playoff picture?

We’ll find out Sunday when the Raiders (6-6) host the Tennessee Titans (7-5), one of the hottest teams in the AFC.

The Titans, winners of five of their last six, are one of this week’s flavors of the month. That’s where the Raiders were a few weeks ago after three straight wins and a 6-4 record. But then came back-to-back 31-point road losses against the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.

They’re still in pretty good shape, trailing only the Titans among the top six. But the one-sided nature of the two losses have basically removed the Raiders as a national item.

“Two weeks ago we were the greatest story in the NFL and now we suck again,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said.

Carr wasn’t being serious as much as he was pointing out the week to week fluctuations in perception when it comes to the NFL.

The Titans, led by 6-foot-3, 247-pound battering ram Derrick Henry, will be more of a challenge than any of the opponents the Raiders beat during their three-game win streak. It’s made even harder with the absence of injured starting right tackle Trent Brown, who will be replaced by Brandon Parker.

Running back Josh Jacobs is questionable with a right shoulder injury which the rookie said on Snapchat was fractured, something he’s been playing with since Week 7 in Green Bay.

Whether the Raiders’ confidence has been fractured after the two road beatings will be evident on Sunday.

“I’m not going to answer that for everybody, but I think we’ve got a confident group of guys,” Gruden said. “We realize what we’re up against. The Titans are a great team. They can do a lot of things. They present a lot of problems. But we know what we’re doing if we play good football and we play complementary football. That’s the key.”

Five keys to beating the Titans and restoring some faith in their abilities to a local fan base which has only two games left on the home schedule and close a 25-year-run at the Coliseum:

Derrick Henry steps out of a Cory James tackle as Bruce Irvin (51) looks on in 2016 game.

1. Gang tackle Henry

Henry is third in the NFL in rushing with 1,140 yards and is the latest power back in a franchise that had Earl Campbell in Houston and then Eddie George in Tennessee. In his last three games, Henry has 68 carries, 496 yards and five touchdowns.

“He does not get tired,” Gruden said. “You’ve got to gang tackle him. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets.”

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther talked about getting as many “hats” to the ball as possible and linebacker Nicholas Morrow said the strategy is to “hit him, then get help.”

If Henry is getting steady yardage on the Raiders, it sets up everything else in their offense — especially the rollouts and bootlegs by quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Raiders are are a respectable 11th in run defense at 103.6 yards per game and ninth at 4.0 yards per carry. Those figures against Henry would probably keep them in the game.

It’s also the key to putting the Titans in third-and-long situations that could get Maxx Crosby and Co. some pass rushing reps against Tannehill.

Derek Carr (4) has had two poor games on the road following a 3-0 homestand.

2. Re-start the Carr

Carr acknowledged it’s been a rough two weeks, as evidenced by having more interceptions returned for touchdowns (two) than touchdown passes (one). It’s reignited the debate among the fan base about whether Gruden should find a new quarterback in 2020.

In truth, Carr was hurt early on in the Jets games by drops, and as for the Chiefs and Arrowhead Stadium, well, who knows if that will ever be solved.

But Carr has been solid at home, and the Titans can be had in the secondary, ranking 27th in the NFL in pass defense. Carr will look to do what he usually does — spread the ball around, pile up the completions, maybe once in awhile throw a bone to his critics and let loose with a deep pass a few times.

Mostly, Carr needs to correctly diagnose where the Titans are coming from as coach Mike Vrabel is from the Bill Belichick school of disguising defenses. And if Jacobs is hurting and either ineffective or can’t play, Carr will need to carry the offense. That can only be accomplished by involving wide outs more often, Tyrell Williams in particular. He had five touchdown receptions in his first five games and none since.

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3. Be creative if Jacobs is out

Maybe Jacobs is his usual 4.9 yards per carry self and matches Henry yard for yard in battle of Alabama running backs. But the tone changed a little this week regarding his injury when he 1) didn’t practice and 2) disappeared from view during media availability. Players who aren’t sure if they’re going to play often have little or nothing to say.

If that’s the case, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard can’t run the same plays Jacobs does and get the same result. Gruden no doubt has an alternate plan tailored to their strengths. In Richard’s case, it means getting into the passing game. With Hunter Renfrow out, Richard probably ranks only behind Darren Waller as Carr’s most trusted receiver.

Gruden hinted fullback Alec Ingold may even get some work running the ball.

Creativity will also be required because of the absence of Brown at right tackle, with players such as Ingold and tight end Foster Moreau potentially called upon to aid Brandon Parker.

The creativity goal extends to special teams as well. A well-timed fake punt or field goal attempt, a reverse on a return. A bold strike will help get a rabid crowd involved.

OAKLAND, CA – SEPTEMBER 9: Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden shows his challenge flag during their game against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter of their NFL game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

4. Turnovers and penalties

The Raiders are plus-4 at home in turnovers. The goal should be to get to plus-6 or better by the time the Titans leave town.

Against Kansas City, the Raiders held Patrick Mahomes to under 200 yards passing and were able to run the ball effectively until forced to abandon it because of the score. You’d think that combination would mean success, but those factors were obliterated by Carr’s two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 12 penalties for 99 yards.

The Raiders are going to have penalties, but erasing those before before the snap (false starts, offsides, neutral zone) and those after the whistle (roughing the passer, personal fouls) would go a long way toward being able to go toe-to-toe with Tennessee.

Players have been talking about penalties all week, so it’s been addressed. We’ll see if they’re good listeners.

Fans get primed in the parking lot before the Lions-Raiders game on Nov. 3.

5. Play to the crowd

That means getting a lead and letting a local home fan base with only eight quarters of Raiders football left a chance to be involved in the game.

The Raiders need to play with enough enthusiasm and fire so the fans feed off it, and then they in turn that energy into something positive on the field.

As crazy as that sounds, try and find a Raiders player who doesn’t believe it to be so. In a close game, it matters. And at home, the Raiders are 4-1 but have played nothing but close games.

“Knowing that maybe these are the final football games to ever be played in Oakland, I would think would bring out an energetic crowd to say the least,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “They’re looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it as a coaching staff and certainly looking forward to the advantage that gives us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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