Commentary

Facing the bully mentality

Pats must match Raiders' toughness, stop power running game

Updated: September 29, 2011, 2:15 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Every week during the season, Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week's breakdown is on Sunday's road contest against the Oakland Raiders:

Mike: One of the things that's hard to miss over the last few days is how a loss stokes an intense surge of passion among Patriots followers. And the biggest question since Sunday's loss to the Bills is how to fix the defense. The Patriots have given up more yards than any team in the NFL and rank 27th in points allowed (which includes the pick-6 thrown by Tom Brady). Your thoughts?

Tedy: Right now they are the worst defense in the NFL. Statistics prove that. I think the first thing you do is look at the mistakes, the penalties, and you start cleaning up those things. I think a lot of it is coachable. Also, when you look at the fast-break football that is played in today's NFL, offenses are going to be able to move the ball. So I think you want to focus on the red area and the turnover battle. As long as the Patriots are in the top half of the league in those categories, they will be fine. But they've got a long way to go to get there.

Mike: Through three games, the Patriots have surrendered eight touchdown in 14 opponent trips inside the 20-yard line, which ranks them tied for 23rd in the NFL. They're tied for eighth in turnover differential at plus-2. As for how it relates to this week, the Raiders are plus-3 in the turnover differential, and they've been excellent in the red zone, with eight touchdowns in 10 trips, ranking them second best in the NFL. So those will be two areas to watch, as always.

Tedy: The Raiders aren't a team regularly on the schedule, which makes this matchup a bit different. On weeks like this, sometimes Bill Belichick would give players a pop quiz on the opponents' personnel. You had to be ready to answer his questions. To me, there is so much tradition when it comes to the Raiders. You think about Al Davis and the commitment to excellence. The NFL is a better place when the Oakland Raiders are successful. They're one of the trademark franchises, right there with the Giants, Steelers, Patriots, those type of marquee franchises. When they're doing well, the NFL seems to thrive and it captures that entire area. I know, because I grew up near there.

Patriots defense vs. Raiders offense

Mike: You've mentioned it a few times this week, the idea that the Patriots have to shift gears in this game. Explain that further.

Tedy: Last week, you go up against a Buffalo Bills offense that spreads it out with four-wides and five-wides. Now this week, you're looking at a power running team, and that's who they want to be. Raiders head coach Hue Jackson has talked to his team about being the "bully on the block," which is the mentality he wants his team to have. It sets up with Darren McFadden. I think we all respect the New York Jets as a defensive football team, but they gave up 234 rushing yards to the Raiders on Sunday. That's impressive. McFadden is one of the best in the game -- he can hit it inside between the tackles, he can take it outside. They run the toss. They run the zone scheme, one cut and take it downhill. They're going to come at you and run the ball.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden has become one of the NFL's most dynamic RBs. But can the Raiders star stay healthy?

Mike: McFadden's health will be a big story this week. Jackson, the Raiders' coach, said he believes McFadden will play after hurting his groin in Sunday's win over the Jets. Michael Bush is a very good fallback option as well at running back. I believe the Patriots liked Bush quite a bit when he was coming out of the 2007 draft (fourth-round pick of Raiders).

Tedy: While it starts with the running game, this being the Raiders, you also know they'll take some shots down the field. It only took until the third play against the Jets on Sunday. You know Al Davis loves the deep ball and threatening the deep part of the defense.

Mike: That's where impressive rookie Denarius Moore, a fifth-round draft choice out of Tennessee, comes into play. He's been making a quick impact (9 catches, 180 yards, touchdown). Then you have Darrius Heyward-Bey, the 2009 first-round pick, who the Jets respected to the point that they matched Darrelle Revis up against him (a bit curious).

The onus is on quarterback Jason Campbell to get them all the ball, and he's been doing it pretty well this season.

Tedy: He's completing just shy of 66 percent of his passes, and they've done a great job protecting him. They've allowed only two sacks all year and that helps, because when you get pressure on Campbell, that's when he's shown vulnerability to fall apart. When he can rely on that run game, which sets up the play-action pass, that's been huge.

Mike: It's an unheralded offensive line, with Jared Veldheer starting at left tackle. I'll be honest, I don't know much about him. Samson Satele starts at center and Vince Wilfork has handled him in the past. Rookie Stefen Wisniewski starts at left guard. They also have tight end Kevin Boss, who has hurt the Patriots in the past when he played with the Giants. What do you see that Boss has added to the Raiders?

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Patriots need to pressure QB Jason Campbell, who's completing just shy of 66 percent of his passes,

Tedy: He's added a little bit in the passing game. You saw him hurt the Jets going down the seam early in the game. He also has good size (6-6, 255), which helps in the running game. I think his departure from New York has contributed to the Giants' struggling to run the ball at times. He provides that bully mentality as well.

Mike: I'm wondering if we might see the old 3-4 alignment back again, especially after reports surfaced that the Patriots are bringing back veteran defensive lineman Gerard Warren. I could envision a three-man front with Shaun Ellis, Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. Then you have Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes at inside linebacker, with Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker. Let's see if they go that route to combat this running game.

Patriots offense vs. Raiders defense

Mike: One of the unique things the Raiders do on defense is activate eight defensive linemen on game day and rotate them all into the game to keep them fresh. As the line goes, so goes the defense. Richard Seymour, who wore No. 93 in New England but dons 92 in Oakland, is the leader of the charge. He wears the "C" on his jersey as he's a captain. He has 2.5 sacks this season and one figures this one might mean more to him than any other regular-season game on the schedule.

Tedy: I think he's going to come out with an attitude that he has something to prove. We talked about the "bully mentality" that Hue Jackson wants, and that's the mentality that Seymour was born with. Seymour and Tommy Kelly can push the pocket inside and bring the heat. That's where the Patriots have some questions with Dan Koppen going down at center. With Dan Connolly and Brian Waters at right guard, I think this will be the biggest test so far. If Solder goes at right tackle, I can see it being a potential problem. When I look at the front four of the Raiders, I see shades of some of the Patriots' more painful losses, like to the Giants in the Super Bowl. They can rush four and create havoc. These guys are tall and disrupt the passing lanes.

Mike: They also get big contributions from ends Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston, and I know you like linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, the former Cleveland Browns first-round pick who can bring some pressure. They'll have to account for him. Then there's middle linebacker Rolando McClain, the 2010 first-round pick who referred to the Patriots as a finesse team this week.

Tedy: In terms of playing style, I like this kid. Coming out of Alabama, he was highly touted and the Raiders selected him in the first round. Usually the Raiders go for the athletic player, the speed player, but in getting McClain they got a good football player. He's got good size (6-3, 255), he plays physical, he can play every down. He had 12 tackles last week against the Jets and he's holding things together for that defense. I'm impressed with him early in his career.

Mike: When you consider how the Patriots might attempt to attack the Raiders, the banged-up secondary might provide some clues. They look thin there and so this could be another spread-it-out type attack, with the pressure on the offensive line to protect against a good front.

Tedy: Free safety Michael Huff had a concussion. Left cornerback Chris Johnson injured his hamstring. So you have to monitor those two situations this week. Overall, this is a defense that has given it up against the pass -- 264 yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 2, and 369 to Mark Sanchez last week. I'm sure Tom Brady sees that, and if he gets time, I think he'll like what he sees in terms of matchups. I think he can have success against this secondary.

Mike: So it sets it up for another pass-first approach, although you wonder if the Patriots might be a little more committed to the run at certain times. The Raiders have given it up there, too. Opponents are averaging 5.8 yards per carry against them, the highest mark in the NFL.

Tedy: I just don't know if that's who the Patriots are. We talked this week about fast-break football and I think that's who the Patriots are. They tried to establish BenJarvus Green-Ellis early last game, giving him four carries on the first drive, but that didn't work out to their liking so you throw it around the yard. Their bread and butter is the passing game.

Mike: On special teams, the Raiders have had a decade of real solid specialists. Both punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski entered the league in 2000 -- Lechler as a fifth-round pick and Janikowski as a first-rounder -- and they're still going strong.

Tedy: They're the best team of specialists in the NFL, hands down. Cross the 50-yard line offensively and you're in Janikowski's range. They have confidence in him.

Mike: Let's finish it up with our predictions. I entered last week thinking that the Patriots would lose one of the next two games -- at Buffalo or at Oakland. Had they beaten Buffalo, I would have picked the Raiders in this one. But I don't see the Patriots dropping a second game in a row. I expect Tom Brady to come out with a purpose, as some of his best work has been after a four-interception game, and I like the Patriots' defense against a run-heavy offense. So I'm picking them to win: Patriots 30, Raiders 20.

Tedy: I'm picking the Raiders in this game and let me tell you why. Until the Patriots show they can stop an opposing offense on a consistent basis, there will continue to be cause for concern. Four-hundred-and-sixty-eight yards a game is nothing to be proud of. The Oakland Raiders are the best team in the NFL at running the ball and they have one of the best front fours in the game. That formula sounds familiar to me. The Raiders win this game on a last-second Sebastian Janikowski 50-yard-plus field goal. Raiders 27 Patriots 24

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th-anniversary team. Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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