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NFL Preview - New England (2-1) at Oakland (2-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Oakland Raiders rookie guard Stefen Wisniewski is getting the hang of blocking for the NFL's top rushing attack.
The second round draft pick out of Penn State is also enjoying shifting defenders out of the way for running back Darren McFadden. When asked about blocking for McFadden, the NFL's leading rusher at 131.0 yards per game, Wisniewski couldn't hold back his fondness for doing so.
"Yeah, it's fun," Wisniewski said. "Shoot, you block a guy for two seconds and you look, and [McFadden's] 50 yards downfield. It makes our job easy. Sometimes we make him look good, we open a big hole, and other times we miss a couple of people but he makes us look good anyway. So it works out well for everybody."
It remains to be seen if Wisniewski and the rest of his offensive line mates will feel the same way when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots invade the Coliseum Sunday in a matchup between a pair of 2-1 clubs.
Oakland is tied with San Diego atop the AFC West standings, while the Patriots and New York Jets are even for second behind unbeaten Buffalo in the AFC East.
The Raiders are coming off last Sunday's 34-24 dismantling of the Jets, a team that has reached the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back campaigns, and were able to shove aside the haunting memories of a second-half collapse against the Bills in Week 2 by sticking to their game plan of running the football versus a tough Jets defense. McFadden helped the Raiders, who lead the NFL with an average of 185.0 rushing yards a game, by recording a career-best 171 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, including a 70-yard touchdown scamper.
McFadden has been playing well enough for the Silver and Black to draw comparisons to Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. It has only been three weeks of the season for the fourth-year pro, who became just the third running back to rush for at least 100 yards on the Jets since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. McFadden left the game in the fourth quarter with what was described as "tightness" in his groin, but is not expected to miss any time for an Oakland squad in the midst of playing five of six games by the Bay.
A second-half collapse at Buffalo this past Sunday ruined New England's chances of starting the season 3-0 for the first time since 2007, with Brady matching his career worst with four interceptions. His turnovers overshadowed his 387 yards passing and four touchdown strikes
"They're a good coverage team. They made some good plays in the pass game," Brady said in reference to Buffalo's second-half adjustments. "They took advantage of some opportunities that they got. We fought to the end, but it just wasn't enough."
New England's defense blew a 21-0 lead and allowed the Bills to rack up 448 yards, including 369 through the air. It did manage to hold Buffalo to 79 yards rushing, but will be in for a larger task this week against McFadden and the league's top ground attack.
Several missed tackles, poor coverage assignments and wrong reads cost the Patriots last weekend, and taking a flight across the country won't make this week any easier.
The Patriots continue their challenging schedule and now try to bounce back from a loss that was decided by a field goal with no time on the clock. They'll need to have a short memory as well as some resolve to come out on top this week, and the team is hoping it can put defensive back Kyle Arrington's words into effect.
"We want to be a resilient group of guys," said Arrington. "To lose a game in that type of fashion, you definitely can't wait to put the pads on again next Sunday. But it's definitely going to be a long, hard week of practice. We'll be up for the challenge."
If the Pats are not ready for a healthy dose of McFadden, they'll likely be staring at their first 2-2 start since alternating wins and losses over the first nine games of the 2005 campaign. They extended their franchise-record streak to 11 games of scoring 30-plus points, just three shy of tying the NFL record set by the high-powered St. Louis Rams from 1999-2000, in last week's defeat.
The overall regular season series between the Raiders and Patriots is tied at 14-14-1, with New England pulling even with a 49-26 rout of Oakland at the Coliseum during the 2008 season. The Patriots also posted a 30-20 home win over the Raiders back in 2005, but had dropped three consecutive non-playoff tilts on the road in this set prior to their victory in the most recent meeting.
These teams have also faced one another three times in postseason play, with New England's 16-13 home triumph over Oakland in a 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff -- best known as the "Tuck Rule Game" -- the most famous and memorable of those matchups. The Patriots also topped the then-Los Angeles Raiders on the road in a 1985 AFC Divisional Playoff and lost at Oakland in the Divisional Round in 1976.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is 5-1 all-time against the Raiders, including a 2-0 record while with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95. Oakland head coach Hue Jackson will be opposing both New England and Belichick for the first time.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Brady (1,327 passing yards, 11 TD, 5 INT) established a new NFL record for passing yards in any three-week span in league history with last Sunday's performance. He had 940 yards passing through the first two weeks and looks to shake off a four-interception afternoon against the Bills. It's rare to see someone of Brady's stature have such a rough game, but this is the NFL. Brady is first in the NFL with an average of 442.3 passing yards per game and 11 touchdown passes and stands second overall with a 113.8 quarterback rating and a 69.9 completion percentage. He is on pace to throw for more than 50 touchdowns and will try to take advantage of an injured Oakland secondary. Tight end Rob Gronkowski (17 receptions, 281 yards) leads the team with five touchdown catches and wide receiver Wes Welker (458 yards, 4 TD) has a team- high 31 catches and exploded for 217 yards and two scores on 16 receptions last Sunday. Wide receiver Deion Branch has gotten involved as well, as evidenced by his 222 yards on 15 receptions. The New England ground attack has struggled so far this season, with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (120 rushing yards) has carrying the ball 33 times for two touchdowns through three games. The offensive line has allowed just three sacks.
The Raiders figured out how to finish games with last Sunday's big win over the Jets. Much of that may have been ignited by Hue Jackson, who brought a shovel to a team meeting to signify that the team needs to keep digging. Linebacker Rolando McClain (23 tackles, sack) said the Buffalo loss was still in the back of his mind and wanted to make sure his teammates were on board for a big second half versus New York. He and the defense responded in a big way by shutting down the Jets' usually strong running game. Oakland was forced to play zone after injuries to starters Michael Huff and Chris Johnson, with safety Huff (10 tackles) suffering a concussion that has left his status for Sunday unknown and cornerback Johnson (11 tackles) bothered by a hamstring injury. Cornerbacks Stanford Routt, Joe Porter and Chimdi Chekwa and safeties Jerome Boyd and Matt Giordano all saw action last week and will be put to an extreme test by Brady. Defensive tackles Richard Seymour (10 tackles) and Tommy Kelly (9 tackles) have combined for five sacks in three games, while strong safety Tyvon Branch (24 tackles) halted a New York drive with his first interception of the season last week.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
The Raiders must take advantage of New England's weak pass defense that was scorched by former Ivy League star Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday. Quarterback Jason Campbell (584 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) has attempted only 82 passes in three games, but the offense is predicated on the running the football for an NFL-best 185.0 yards per game. Campbell, however, is the reason why McFadden (393 rushing yards, 3 TD) also leads the team with 11 catches for 84 yards and a score. Lesser-known wide receiver Denarius Moore (180 yards, 1 TD) is second with nine catches. Tight end Kevin Boss made his Raiders debut in the win over the Jets and produced two catches for 36 yards, and he's also a blocking threat for McFadden. Boss had been bothered by a knee injury the first two weeks. Wide receiver Jacoby Ford has not played since he injured his hamstring against the Denver Broncos in the regular-season opener, but is expected to return on Sunday. Oakland will try to establish the ground game early, since it's only 26th in passing offense, though there are six players on the roster with at least five catches. Oakland's offensive line has been run-blocking more often and has only allowed two sacks this season.
New England would probably like to set fire to last week's game film, but watching their mistakes is the only way they'll be able to build from it. Fitzpatrick passed for 369 yards -- numbers the Patriots should not anticipate coming from Campbell this week. Arrington (14 tackles) kept his team in the game with a pair of interceptions last week and leads the way with three picks through three games. New England's pass defense could be hurting without safety Patrick Chung (14 tackles), who missed the game after undergoing surgery on his right thumb and is questionable to return this week. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling (3 tackles) also did not play due to a hip ailment for the Pats. who are 32nd against the pass this season. Cornerbacks Devin McCourty (24 tackles) and Leigh Bodden (13 tackles) are healthy, while increased playing time could be in store for safeties Sergio Brown (16 tackles, 1 INT) and Josh Barrett (11 tackles). Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth did not play as well last week with a bad back, leaving the Patriots thin up front. Linebacker Jerod Mayo (21 tackles) leads a front seven that will be in charge of containing McFadden.
KEYS TO THE GAME
How will the Raiders adjust to Brady with a banged-up secondary? With Huff and Johnson unlikely to play this week, head coach Jackson will have to again rely on his younger players to step it up in one of the week's biggest games.
McFadden has been running like a man possessed, leaving many to wonder how long the former Arkansas star and former high school quarterback can keep it up. McFadden likes to get to the outside to utilize his speed, and the coaches have been working all week determining which plays suit him best. It seems all of them do.
If Oakland can apply pressure up front against New England's thick line, Brady will not get the proper amount of time to shred the defense. It's been a struggle for the opposition to contain Brady and his targets, and the Raiders will do anything to prevent that. However, New England could throw a wrench in the plans by establishing a formidable ground attack early on.
Two of the NFL's hottest offensive players will take center stage at the Coliseum on Sunday, with Brady looking to put a four-interception performance in the rear-view mirror. He won't have to worry about being upstaged by hometown hero McFadden, who will find tough sledding against an energized Patriots defense set to save face from its outing a week before. McFadden, however, is too talented to go into submissive mode against New England, and he and the Raiders will keep the score respectable. Welker showed no respect to the Buffalo secondary last week, though, and the Pats will give him every opportunity to showcase his talents against a much worse and banged-up Raiders defensive backfield.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 27, Raiders 17
09/29 18:56:22 ET