“Can the Run Defense Bounce Back and Who Will Win; The Minnesota Vikings v.s. Oakland Raiders”

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Week 10 Preview Minnesota Vikings (6-2) v.s. Oakland Raiders (4-4):

11/15/15, 1:15 PM (PST) @ O.Co Coliseum, Oakland, California

Fox TV

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Thoughts and prayers to Fred McNeill and his family and friends.  A former UCLA and Minnesota Viking great at linebacker, who later became an attorney.  He had suffered several severe concussions as a player which were documented on television and video interviews.  The book, “League of Denial” was greatly inspired by his story.

He got ALS; Lou Gehrig’s disease; which destroys the body and he also had dementia which destroys the mind. He eventually died yesterday from complications of it.  He was the first to ever block a Ray Guy punt.  It was in the Super Bowl loss to the Raiders. A big loss to the NFL community and the people of Minnesota. 

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14052644/minnesota-vikings-long-linebacker-fred-mcneill-dies-63

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The name Minnesota Vikings is like sweet music to most Raider fans ears.  Thoughts of Ken Stabler floating passes through the Purple People eaters. Bill King in classic form using words the rest of the country had never heard of.   Jack Tatum’s demolishing hit on Vikings WR Sammy White while bringing home a Super Bowl trophy are sweet memories indeed.

Now its 2015 and the Vikings come into Oakland for a key game for both teams.  In an interesting match-up, the Minnesota Vikings come in with an impressive 6-2 record.  But let’s look at it closer and see who the upcoming opponent of the Raiders really is.

As Good as Their Record?: 

Friends and followers in Minnesota have beaten on me pretty good on twitter for not getting on the Viking band wagon and believing they are a really good team.  Let’s look at the reasons why I haven’t.

Schedule:

As time marches on, the number of quality teams in the NFL gets smaller.  For 2015, you see it especially in the AFC.  The NFL is getting what they want with the salary cap; parity; or mediocrity if you want to be honest.  The Raiders have had a fairly easy schedule so far, but the Vikings have had an easier one.  Minnesota has two wins over a terrible Detroit Lions team, and have also played Chicago, San Diego, Kansas City, and the 49ers.

In reality they have faced only 2 teams this year with a winning record; Denver and St. Louis; and they are 1-1 with a victory at home in OT over the Rams last week.  The Raiders have played 4 teams with a winning record and are 1-3.

Offense:

To be fair, no team in the NFL has been beaten up by injuries like the Vikings.  They have a lot of young talent but they are hurting.  They have lost 3 of their starting offensive linemen for the year including stud tackle Phil Loadholt, and fellow tackle Carter Bykowski.  Quality center John Sullivan was supposed to return this week after spinal surgery to begin the year but he has undergone another procedure and he probably is out for the season.  Few teams could overcome this.

To their credit a patchwork offensive line has held their own but they have struggled in the passing game at times.  Teddy Bridgewater had a nice rookie campaign but I’m not impressed by him like others are.  His delivery is painfully slow and he needs a lot of time in the pocket to be successful.  If you rush him and decrease his time, he struggles.

At times he looks like he’s playing chess when going through his progressions.  He just takes too long, a lot like 49er QB Colin Kaepernick.  In the Denver game he struggled a lot by not getting rid of the ball faster.  He is just too slow in the pocket for my taste.  Adrian Peterson off the field may not be man of the year but on the field he remains one of the great running backs of this era.

The surprise of the year in the NFL may be fifth round draft choice Stefon Diggs.  He’s been a breakout player at wide receiver who has shown game breaking speed and the ability to make big plays.

Defense:

Again, it’s hard to measure how good this defense is because they have played such an easy schedule.  The Vikings are known as a good group of tacklers though with athletic linebackers.  Noseguard/Tackle Linval Joseph is playing great football this year and is coming off an amazing 10 tackle 1/2 sack effort against the Rams earning him defensive player of the week honors.

Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are expected to play but both are coming off injuries.  They are athletic, physical and good tacklers when healthy.  DT Sharrif Floyd comes back from missing 3 games and he said he’s ready to go.  Their defensive front seven is good when healthy.

The Vikings CB’s are healthy and they have good depth there but no one that wows you.  They have their own Charles Woodsen in highly decorated 37 y/o Terence Newman who has had another solid season.

Run Defense Struggles Against the Steelers; Will They Continue Against Minnesota?:

The Raiders run defense was shredded for 195 yards last week against the Pittsburgh Steeler’s and there was a partial reason to it that is easily seen.

First, give them credit; the Pittsburgh Steeler offensive line is a top OL in the NFL.  Other things are important to note though.

Nate Allen coming back at safety is huge.  Some didn’t like the signing but I thought he played pretty well.  Now the Raiders can move TJ Carrie to cornerback.  The Raiders cornerbacks have been shredded for big chunks of yardage for most of the year and struggled even with TJ Carrie playing; but he was an upgrade.

People no longer use Pro Football Focus stats to prove why DJ Hayden is really not that bad because EVEN THEY now get that he isn’t good.  Oakland is now last in passing yards given up per game, and 23rd in sacks, and 30th in total yards per game.

With the CB’s struggles, the Raiders safeties are having to be supermen and stay back to help the corners against the deep ball.  Hopefully with better play from TJ Carrie at corner, the Raiders safeties wont have to help out as much and can make some tackles in the run game.  Against Pittsburgh, if they’d run up to stop the run and it was a play action pass, the corners would now be in a one on one situation and they could not guard the Steelers quality pass catchers.

Ben Roethlesberger missed Pittsburgh WR Antonio Bryant on a long ball by 5 yards where he beat DJ Hayden, and Martavis Bryant just flat out dropped a long ball against David Amerson.  If you add those 2 plays the Steelers would have had over 700 yards total offense; IN ONE GAME; and would have won going away!

Minnesota’s line is relying on backups and rookie TJ Cummings at tackle and I see the Raiders playing well against them.  Cummings will have to block Khalil Mack who has had his struggles.  He was completely shut out against the Steelers and he’s had games against Baltimore and San Diego where he had 1 and 2 tackles with no sacks respectively.  A total of 3 tackles in 12 quarters of football isn’t getting it done.  If he struggles against this rookie, then something isn’t right.  I see him having a big day though.

The Raiders will win if:

DEFENSE:  PASS RUSH PASS RUSH PASS RUSH.  The Raiders cornerbacks are not going to all of a sudden be good.  They are who they are.   TJ Carrie helps this struggling unit but he’s not a world beater.  They still need a pass rush.

I watch every Raiders game twice (thank you DVR) and metric sites kept saying the Raiders had several pressures against Ben Roethlesberger and I’m kind of wondering what game they watched.  I mean was it peer pressure or atmospheric pressure, because it sure wasn’t quarterback pressure.  Roethlesberger was off at times and still threw for over 300 yards in 3 quarters and the Raiders gave up almost 400 yards passing.  If they had so many pressures, I’d hate to see when the pass rush struggles.  Roethlesberger had good time to throw all game and so did Landry Jones.  Aldon Smith had the only sack and knocked Ben out of the game.

Nate Allen coming back is a great help.  The Raiders are going to need at least the free safety to stay back at times though to protect against Stefon Diggs and the long ball.

I personally think they will do much better against the run with Peterson struggling at times during the game.  Even if he does get 100 yards, I think it’s going to take a whole lot of carries.

OFFENSE:  Derek Carr is having a great year and it’s fun to watch such a quality person do so well.  Let’s also look at other things though.  Put an average NFL QB behind a good offensive line and he will be good.  Put a good NFL QB behind a good offensive line and he will be really good.  Derek Carr is having a great year but the Raiders offensive line in my mind is the second best in the NFL behind the Patriots OL and possibly the Steelers. They are a nice part of that success.

Derek Carr has gone through games WHERE HE WAS NOT TOUCHED and the Raiders have given up only 10 sacks in 8 games which is 2nd in the NFL.  The Steelers threw some complex blitzes at the Raiders and they did a great job against them.  Lee Smith is the best blocking TE in the NFL and he’s also helped out at times in the passing game as well as the running game.  Add an occasional pass catch and he’s been very underrated.  When you watch the game, sometimes just watch the offensive line and see how they do.  You will be pleasantly surprised.

Add the fact that even with his ups and downs, Latavius Murray is the 2nd leading rusher in the AFC.  Derek Carr isn’t blocking for Murray, so you see what kind of year the Raiders offensive line is having.  Friends laughed at me at our annual draft party a while back when I was so happy that guard Gabe Jackson was drafted by the Raiders in the 3rd round.  They don’t laugh anymore.  This Raiders OL is young (except for Donald Penn) and physical and I love watching them play.  (I need to get over it but I still can’t believe how far Jackson dropped in the draft.)

The Vikings are banged up and I see the Raiders playing well against them.  I don’t like their DB’s as much as other people do but I do like their front 7 when healthy; they aren’t healthy though.  Unfortunately the Raiders may be without center Rodney Hudson who hasn’t practiced this week and that could be a big factor.  People are now leaning on him missing this game.  Tony Bergstrom would get the call and Joseph; a key former Giants Super Bowl winning defensive lineman; is a bear to block.

Running the ball wont be easy against the Vikings interior line but they will be vulnerable to the pass with their LB’s hobbling and I see another good day for Carr and the Raiders.  Look for the Raider running backs and tight ends to do well.

Conclusion:

You have to give it up for the Vikings.  Raider backers are biting their nails about center Rodney Hudson missing time due to injury, but the Vikings have lost 3 OL starters for the year and have still done well.  They also have struggled with injuries on the other side of the ball but have managed to get a 6-2 record.  With them playing a weak schedule and their division being a mess, I think they are a little overrated but the Vikings could make the playoffs.

My take on them is that they are an up and coming team with good talent but a lot of injuries.  They are also playing mostly against bad teams.  I think they are a little overrated and their year will be next year.  I don’t like Bridgewater that much and his painfully slow release either.  He has to have a lot of time in the pocket to succeed and in today’s NFL, that is a lot of pressure to put on your offensive line.  Healthy, their OL could pull it off possibly but not with 3 starters out.

Some on the east coast are asking why the Vikings are the underdog but I’m not.  I see the Raiders winning this one pulling away.   P.S. For amusement only, yes I like the over (44 points).

Final Score:  Raiders 31

                      Vikings 20

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