The Patriots present a challenge for every team, but for the beat up Raiders, the task of covering Rob Gronkowski and company could be impossible.
The good news is the Raiders have gotten slightly healthier with the return of Obi Melifonwu from injured reserve. Melifonwu was drafted in the second round and viewed as a potential tight end stopper. He’ll face the harshest test in the league in Gronkowski.
“(Melifonwu is) kind of a long, fast, and has the ability to matchup with the bigger, longer tight ends,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton said. “He hasn’t been able to be available for us, but we’re expecting him to step up. This is the world champions, the guys who have been doing it really well for a long time. Obi is going to get introduced at a high level, but he’s very confident. He’s been pretty good at what he’s been able to do for a long time. We’re expecting him to play at a high level and accept the challenge.”
That’s where the Raiders defense stands. The best chance at stopping the NFL’s best tight end is a rookie safety in his second career game.
But Oakland did slow down Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, who had just four catches for 33 yards in the Raiders win. The key was Bruce Irvin, who gave Kelce a shove every single time he ran a route. That threw off the route and timing of Kansas City’s offense enough to make Kelce a limited factor.
Even if Gronkowski is slowed down, the Patriots can make the Raiders pay with running backs in the passing game. The Raiders have allowed the seventh most receiving yards to running backs this season.
The Patriots can throw James White or Rex Burkhead into the passing game. White leads the team with 46 receptions on the season. Burkhead has 10 catches in the last two games he’s played.
The Raiders linebackers have not matched up well with running backs all season, and the Patriots have the pieces to burn Oakland.
The real key to stopping the Patriots will be pressuring Tom Brady.
“You have to make plays,” Norton said. “You have to get him off the spot sometimes. You have to make him think sometimes. You have to make plays. You have to knock the ball away from the receivers. You have to tackle really well. You have to put together a really solid game because they’re going to test everything that you’re doing. They have a certain formula that works well for them. You have to understand that formula and find ways to try and make them get off rhythm.”
But the Raiders have put any offense out of rhythm this season. Oakland has the 5th worst sack rate in the NFL, and they have no interceptions. The Raiders are the only team in the NFL without an interception.
There is not much reason to expect that to change against Tom Brady, who has thrown just two interceptions this season.
Tyler Bischoff hosts Coaches Corner on AM 720 KDWN Monday through Friday at 6:00 pm.