Quarterback Terrelle Pryor leads the Oakland Raiders against the Pittsburgh Steelers at O.com Coliseum this afternoon.Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders vs Philadelphia Eagles: Things To Watch For

The Oakland Raiders (3-4) and the Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) meet in the regular season for only the 11th time with the series tied 5-5. Were the Eagles to win, they would become one of only nine teams to have a winning record against the Raiders. Considering four of the eight teams that currently have a winning record against the Raiders are expansion teams,  it’s safe to say the Raiders are a storied franchise.

The most significant matchup between the two teams happened in Super Bowl XV, when the silver and black completely outclassed the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10, behind terrible quarterback play by one Ron Jaworski. You might know Jaworski as the Raiders-hating quarterback expert on ESPN.

This year’s matchup is highlighted by the absence of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who had considerable success in new head coach Chip Kelly’s fast paced offense before he incurred a hamstring injury. The Eagles announced earlier this week that backup quarterback Nick Foles has cleared the concussion protocol and been approved to play Sunday. If Foles struggles in this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if rookie Matt Barkley replaces him again as he did in their game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7.

The Eagles offense relied heavily on the run game and the read-option run by Vick, but his injury has altered their play-calling. In Week 6, Foles started his first game of the season against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and looked the part of a starting NFL quarterback with three passing scores and one rushing TD. The passing attack of the Eagles relied on setting up the run with LeSean McCoy first and then going deep with play-action passes to DeSean Jackson. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Vick’s absence is the average rush yards of McCoy with (6.0 yards) and without (3.5 yards) him on the field. The scrambling ability of Vick certainly opens up the Eagles offense.

The Eagles defense has played rather well the past two weeks, only allowing 32 points to the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants combined. Linebackers Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans have played outstanding games the past two weeks and will look to stop the Raiders’ run game. The Eagles secondary has also played well, but are definitely the weak link as they are 31st in the league in pass defense. The Eagles front seven will play closer to the line of scrimmage and try to take away the running lanes for the Raiders’ ground game. The defensive line will try to put a lot of pressure on inexperienced Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor and exploit the banged up Raider offensive line. A weakness of Philly is definitely their inability to generate pass rush organically with their defensive lineman. This should help the Raiders exploit the secondary and also bounce runs to the perimeters, where Darren McFadden’s speed could come in handy.

The Raiders in turn, will have to start the game taking some deep shots down the field to vertically stretch the field. Failure to do so will bring the safeties closer to the ball and slow the run game. I expect the Eagles to put a “spy” on Pryor as the Pittsburgh Steelers did in Week 8 with Troy Polamalu. Tight end Mychal Rivera has the potential for a big game down the middle with the threat of Pryor. This could be the game when the Raiders offensive play book finally opens up and allows Pryor to exploit the Eagles secondary with Denarius Moore. Fullback Marcel Reece should be involved in the passing game more since he won’t be held back as much in protection. Reece has been a non-factor all season in the passing game because he has had to help out the tackles in pass protection.

The Raiders need to keep running the ball to keep the Eagles offense off the field. While they have played poorly the past two weeks, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they crank up their passing attack. Stopping the run is essential in stopping this offense. The Raiders head into this game boasting the fourth ranked rush defense and that should be a good matchup for the Silver and Black.

Rookie tackle Manelik Watson has practiced all week and could make his NFL regular season debut. Receiver Andre Holmes has a hamstring injury so look for Brice Butler and Juron Criner to get more play time.

The Eagles are a surprising 3-1 on the road this season, meaning a letdown by the Raiders offense could lead to an Eagles victory. I expect this to be a launching point for the Raiders on offense, their chance to break out different formations and personnel packages, and get back to .500. On paper this game should be an easy one for the Silver and Black, but Raider fans know how brutal the NFL can be.

Tags: NFL Oakland Raiders Philadelphia Eagles

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