LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles face a Raiders defense that hasn’t allowed a rush of more than 20 yards this season. (USA Today Images)
To get his languishing offense back on track, Chip Kelly needs to get LeSean McCoy going again.
McCoy, still the NFL’s leading rusher despite two consecutive weeks of sub-60-yard games, is finding fewer holes to run through lately (see story), the result of a quarterback carousel that enables defenses to key in on run defense and of some surprisingly poor blocking up front.
It would help McCoy’s case if Nick Foles bounces back from his worst outing as a pro and makes the quick, accurate passes that kept the up-tempo offense going against Tampa. But even with a better passing attack, McCoy might struggle to break off those big runs that he piled up earlier in the season.
Oakland’s fast, athletic defense hasn’t been kind to running backs this year. The Raiders have the league’s sixth-best rushing defense (89.9 yards per game). They’re one of nine teams, a list that includes the Eagles, to hold opponents to an average of less than 100 rushing yards per game at the midway point of the season.
The Raiders are the NFL’s only team that hasn’t allowed a rush of more than 20 yards. Opponents are averaging just 3.6 yards per rush against them, tied for fourth.
If the Eagles are going to emerge from the raucous, intimidating Black Hole on Sunday with a win, they can’t have the Dallas version of Foles. They need the Tampa Bay version to come back and attack the Raiders’ pass defense, which is ranked 17th.
You can’t compare the Raiders' defense to Kansas City’s because Oakland doesn’t have pass rushers on the outsides like the Chiefs do, but the teams are similarly big and mobile on the front line. The run defense starts with 310-pound defensive tackle Pat Sims and 300-pound end Lamarr Houston. Inside linebackers Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett swarm quickly against the run, but aren’t anything to brag about in coverage.
Left tackle Jason Peters will have his hands full with Houston, who leads Oakland with four sacks. Peters is nursing a bum shoulder and a finger dislocation that’s impacting his ability to get his hands on the opposing ends. This should be an easier game for rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, who struggled against Justin Tuck last Sunday but won’t face the same type of pass rusher in Jason Hunter.
Peters struggled in run blocking last Sunday against Jason Pierre-Paul, allowing inside penetration that slowed down and redirected several of McCoy’s zone runs. The key to reviving the running game is getting center Jason Kelce and right guard Todd Herremans into the second level against linebackers, where they can clear a path for McCoy.
The Raiders, under defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen, play a lot of man-press with one safety deep. Against the Steelers, safety Charles Woodson frequently lined up about 15 yards behind scrimmage, somewhere in Berkeley. As a result, they’re one of six NFL teams that’s allowed two or fewer passes of more than 40 yards.
But that style of defense has also left Oakland vulnerable across the middle. Opposing quarterbacks are registering a 93.6 passer rating against them, 10th-highest in the NFL, and completing 68 percent of their passes against them, third-highest in the league. Look for Kelly to get DeSean Jackson lined up in the slot as much as possible and to get the crossing routes going with his tight ends and interior receivers.
This kind of game sets up well for Zach Ertz and Jason Avant to have some big numbers, along with McCoy catching some passes out of the backfield. Kelly has used more wheel routes lately to isolate McCoy on a linebacker in the passing game.
Oakland’s starting corners, Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, are just OK. Jenkins, a former Cowboys corner, has faced Jackson plenty of times. Rookie corner D.J, Hayden looks good as a nickelback, although he has up-and-down moments. Hayden is aggressive, which has helped him at times and hurt him other occasions.
There isn’t a playmaker in the secondary. Porter, Jenkins and Hayden each have one interception but have combined for one return yard.
To read the Eagles' defensive scouting report, click here.