The Oakland Raiders travel to New York to play at MetLife Stadium for the second time this season, this time to face the Jets. The Raiders head into the match-up with a 4-8 record. The Jets have a 5-7 record and have lost their last three.
These two squads have a storied history, having faced each other 38 times in the regular season. The Silver and Black leads the season series 21-15-2. The Raiders have also played the Jets in the playoffs, winning the 2001 AFC Wild Card Playoff and the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff and Oakland has put together epic comebacks against the Jets throughout the years.
The Raiders and Jets meet for a winter game in the Meadowlands, both teams fighting to finish the season strong. "I think we understand the challenge that's set forth in front of us," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "We have to go travel to the Eastern Time zone and try to win a football game. Our guys understand that and they're prepared for that and ready for that. It'll be a tough football game."
The Jets will take the field with the top-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. However, New York has struggled offensively. Their takeaway differential through Week 13 is -18.
"This is a team that that's obviously played really well on defense," explained Coach Allen. "Their catalyst for their defense is really their front seven. They do a great job of stopping the run. They're able to get after the passer. They have a multitude of looks that they have on defense that create some challenges for us offensively. Offensively, it's a football that they're 10th in the league in rushing the football, so obviously it'll start there. We're going to have to be able to stop the run defensively and be able to get off the field on 3rd down. That'll be crucial for us. We have to do some things in the kicking game to try to win the field position. They've got a good football team and it'll be a challenge for us."
QB Geno Smith, a rookie out of West Virginia, has thrown 19 interceptions. While the Raiders defense is aware of that stat, they also understand that Smith is capable of getting the ball to his receivers and handing the ball off to one of the experienced running backs.
"I see a guy with tremendous athletic ability. He has a strong arm. He's like a lot of young quarterbacks in that there are times where the game moves really slowly for him, and there are times when it moves fast," said Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver. "I hope we can make it move fast, but he can make all the throws. He moves well enough. He's got the skills and things to be a good player."
The Raiders defensive line wants to put pressure on Smith and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. "As with any quarterback, the biggest thing is to get pressure in his face, whether from the edge or from the middle, can't let him sit back there comfortably and make plays and make throws," said DT Vance Walker. "Containing as well – he's a fast guy so you obviously have to contain that quarterback."
While Walker and his line affect the quarterback, the defensive backs want to be ready for the pass plays. "He's a guy that's a good thrower. He can throw the ball well. All in all he's a young quarterback and we've got an experienced defense so it means it gives us a chance to go after him and try to make something happen," said CB Chimdi Chekwa.
The Jets also have running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory who have totaled over 1,000 yards in rushing offense. "They're a good group of running backs," said Walker. "One of them [Ivory] I played against at New Orleans. He's a really strong and powerful runner. Everybody has to come and be involved in that tackle. He's a tough guy to bring down; you have to gang tackle him. They're both good backs."
LB Miles Burris, who recently returned to the Raiders active roster, recognizes the Jets success in the run game. "They love to run the ball and they've got a lot of talented players and we're going to have our hands full," said Burris. "They're really powerful and really dynamic. They're big and fast. They've got guys that can block for them too."
The Jets run game is driven by their offensive line. "They're a pretty big, physical group. Obviously, we want to stop the run in any game that we play and they do a good job of getting on their blocks and giving the running backs good lanes to choose from," said Walker. "For the most part, they do a good job of run blocking and pass protection as well. They're just a big group of guys. You have to be really physical with them."
Jets Head Coach Rob Ryan knows his offense will be challenged by the Raiders aggressive defense. "They blitz a lot, they're blitzing everybody, they're blitzing corners, safeties, you name it," said Coach Ryan. "Some overloads and things like that, it seems to be a very aggressive defense."
Coach Ryan has also been impressed with the Raiders offense, particularly the play of QB Matt McGloin. "I see a guy that makes a lot of quick decisions with the football," said Coach Ryan on McGloin. "He's accurate and he's very poised. I see a guy that has outstanding fundamentals and plays smart. It seems like it's coming out quick and he knows where to go with the football."
McGloin and his offense will take on the No. 1 rushing defense in the league this Sunday. The Raiders run game is pivotal to their success. With RBs Darren McFadden and Jeremy Stewart hurt, and RB Rashad Jennings recovering from a concussion, CB (and former RB) Taiwan Jones has converted back to the offensive side of the ball.
The offense is working throughout the week to prepare for the Jets talented defense. "They've been playing well all year," said Jennings. "They've got a good front seven and scramble around in the secondary. They pride themselves on being physical so it's a great challenge. It's going to be a fun one. But how you attack it, it's just like every week – you have to key in on your job."
The Jets playmaker on defense, DE Muhammad Wilkerson, attended college at Temple with Raiders WR Rod Streater. "I knew Streater was a great athlete," said Wilkerson. "Whoever gave him a shot, I knew he would do what he had to do to make sure he made a name for himself and he's doing that."
The Raiders will have their hands full with Wilkerson. T Jared Veldheer, who saw his first action of the season in Dallas, is preparing for the match-up. "He's a really good player," said Veldheer. "He's really athletic and a very long guy. He can close space really quick, good at getting up and batting balls and good at closing to the quarterback. A guy like that, you really have to be sound on your technique because he can hurt you in so many different ways."
Coach Allen watched Wilkerson coming out of college. "He's strong. When you watch him, they play him at a multitude of positions," said Coach Allen. "They'll play him at end; they'll play him inside at nose. They change up where they put him so it's hard to really identify exactly where he's going to be on every play. He was a big, physical athlete that had some pass rush ability but also had the ability to anchor against the run. We thought he was a talented player when he came out and obviously he's proving that right."
The Jets have a mix of veteran and young players on their defense. Two of their veteran players, Ed Reed and Antonio Cromartie, roam the secondary. "They're a very experienced group with Ed Reed and Cromartie and they're pretty physical," said WR Greg Jenkins, who scored his first NFL touchdown on the first play against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. "They play a lot of man coverage, so we just have to bring our 'A' game and be ready to battle."
"They're going to play a lot of coverages, a lot of different fronts," said McGloin. "They have a great blitz package. We definitely have our work cut out for us. It'll be a challenge for us, especially on the road."
The Raiders have kept games close over the last few weeks, but have not been able to finish games. This week they want to come out with a "W." The keys, according to Jennings, are, "you have to make sure you understand your playbook, know where your fit's going to be, know the personnel, know the match-ups, know the down and distance and those elements of the game, run physical and keep playing four quarters."
According to the weather forecast, the game will be played in near freezing temperatures. The players won't let the cold affect them. "It will be cold. I think the concern is usually with the quarterbacks and wide receivers," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson. "We have a quarterback right now who has, both quarterbacks really, have played in inclement weather and played in the Big 10. They get a lot of that kind of weather there so you don't really allow that to be an excuse or a distraction. It is what it is and they know right now going into it that it's going to be cold and there is going to be a chance of snow flurries, you just keep playing."
The players are focused on bringing home a win from the East Coast. "Just got to go out there and have fun," said Walker. "You have to know your assignment. You can't let the cold or anything interfere with what you've got to do. We've all got a goal and we just have to collectively come together. It can't be one person breaking from that and you can't let the cold or anything hinder it."