The Raiders make their second cross-country trip in three weeks to play a very different New England Patriots team from seasons past.
No longer led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, the Patriots feature former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and a defense that lost several key players who opted out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns.
Nevertheless, the Patriots (1-1) are still coached by Bill Belichick, and as they showed last Sunday in Seattle, they are still a formidable opponent. New England came up just short against the Seahawks, but Newton’s performance as a passer (397 yards on 30 of 44 passes) and runner (43 yards, 4.3 yard average) gives them reason to be optimistic.
The Raiders have their work cut out for them in a number of areas. Here are three matchups:
Newton vs. Abram
At 6 foot 5 inches, 245 pounds, Newton is bigger than any Raiders linebacker and only a little smaller than some of their defensive linemen. His physicality is an element the Raiders must confront every down.
While defending Newton will be a teamwide challenge, safety Johnathan Abram’s versatility and physical toughness should lead to numerous confrontations with the Patriots’ QB.
Abram plays a big role in controlling the middle in Paul Guenther’s schemes, which puts him in position to help take away a part of the field Newton hopes to exploit as a passer.
Abram is also a capable and aggressive run defender. With Newton still a willing runner, expect some big and loud collisions between the massive Newton and a young safety who never shies away from contact.
Abram is also a blitz weapon. The Raiders would be wise to unleash him on Newton. Abram is one of the few players capable of getting Newton to the ground in one-on-one situations.
Joyner vs. Edelman
Julian Edelman led the NFL last year with 102 targets lined up as a slot receiver and made 70 receptions.
He’s already shown through two games this season he hasn’t lost a step at 34 years old while playing with Newton rather than Brady. He has 13 receptions for 236 yards.
Lamarcus Joyner has been shaky at best since being moved from safety to slot cornerback upon arriving from the Rams last season. His 56.4 coverage ranking on a scale of 100 on 72 coverage snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus, reveals a vulnerability the Patriots are likely to try to exploit.
It would be too much to expect Joyner to shut down Edelman. But he has to at least slow him down to prevent the Patriots’ veteran from destroying the Raiders much like he did the Seahawks last week.
It is a formidable task. Joyner needs to be physical at the line of scrimmage, fundamentally sound in coverage and get Edelman to the ground as quickly as possible whenever he makes a reception.
Edwards vs. Gilmore
As the Seahawks’ DK Metcalf showed last week by reeling in four catches for 92 yards, mostly against Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots’ star cornerback can be vulnerable at times against big, physical receivers.
Bryan Edwards is not as big as Metcalf, but at 6-3, 220 pounds, he has a physical advantage over the 6-1, 185-pound Gilmore.
Gilmore is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but the Raiders would be wise to probe an Edwards-Gilmore matchup.
The Raiders began implementing Edwards into the pass game plan a little more on Monday against the Saints (two catches, 42 yards). His his role will continue to expand as the season goes on.
Gilmore and the Patriots present an intriguing opportunity for him to shine.