In Week 4, the Patriots will head to the Black Hole in Oakland for the first time since a 49-26 Patriots win in Week 15 of 2008.
The Patriots gained 277 rushing yards while Matt Cassel threw for four touchdowns in that game. Then again, Oakland also started JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, and this Raiders team looks a lot different from the last time these teams met.
Oakland is rushing as well as any team in football, and Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has posted a 67.5 Total Quarterback Rating, ninth-best in the NFL. Oakland also boasts a strong defensive line anchored by familiar face Richard Seymour, and is riding high off a 34-24 victory over the Jets. Oakland’s 234 rushing yards in that game was the most allowed by a Rex Ryan-coached defense in 16 years.
Here are three areas to watch for from the Raiders:
* The Raiders are one of the league’s elite at running the football, and it starts at running back. Darren McFadden has an NFL-best 393 rushing yards through three games. His 6.4 yards per rush is second only to Fred Jackson among rushers with 25 rushes, and McFadden is tied with Jackson for the league lead with five rushes of 20-plus yards. One of the most telling stats about Oakland’s rushing success is how far McFadden’s gone without being touched. He’s averaged 5.0 yards per rush before being contacted by defenders this year, the highest number among qualified running backs in the NFL. That’s a credit to McFadden’s speed and elusive running style, but also to Oakland’s offensive line. The Patriots have experience against center Samson Satele, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, but the rest of the offensive line has been dominant in the rushing game so far. Given this has been a Patriots weakness through three games (4.3 yards/rush allowed, 21st in NFL), Oakland will look to establish the run first and open up Jason Campbell’s passing game. McFadden did tweak his groin against the Jets, but is expected to play on Sunday.
* When the Raiders have been able to establish the run, that has opened up the passing game for Jason Campbell. Oakland has employed a balanced offensive attack, with Campbell thriving on short, high-efficiency throws to minimize turnover risk. Campbell is one of only five quarterbacks to have completed over three-quarters of his throws 10 yards or less. Also, 37.9 percent of Campbell’s short attempts have been first downs, fourth in the NFL. The Patriots' defense ranks in the bottom seven in the league in yards per attempt, completion percentage, first downs, touchdowns and completions allowed on throws of 10 yards or fewer. However, only 24 of Campbell’s 82 throws have been 11 yards or more downfield, and his 41.7 completion percentage on those throws is tied with Tarvaris Jackson for 25th among NFL quarterbacks.
* The Raiders are conservative with their defensive play calling, sending four or fewer pass rushers on 76.4 percent of opposing dropbacks (8th-highest in NFL). However, their results on defense haven’t been bad, even with the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason. In fact, the Raiders are allowing fewer yards per pass attempt when sending four or fewer rushers this season (6.8) than a year ago (7.0). One matchup to watch on Sunday will be the Raiders' defensive line against New England’s offensive line in pass protection. The Raiders' defensive line has recorded five sacks in three games, and Oakland has sacks on 7.1 percent of dropbacks sending four or fewer rushers. The Patriots' offensive line has allowed sacks on only 2.9 percent of dropbacks against four or fewer pass rushers (ninth in NFL). If the Patriots' offensive line can keep Brady upright, he should be primed for another big day.