By Sam McPherson
The Oakland Raiders, projected to finish last in the AFC West division this year by pretty much everyone, open the 2014 regular season next Sunday against the New York Jets on the road, and it could be the beginning of a long season for the Silver & Black.
The Jets posted an 8-8 record last season, surprisingly, considering the team had been 6-10 in 2012 and went with a rookie quarterback in 2013. Even so, New York hasn’t been in the postseason since 2010. On their way to a .500 record last fall, the Jets were outscored by a whopping 97 points.
Jets on Offense
New York has revamped its offense at the skill position: Geno Smith, the aforementioned rookie QB from 2013, is back as the starter, but former Philadelphia signal caller Michael Vick is on hand in case Smith falters. That’s solid depth for the Jets that didn’t exist last season. And at running back, for 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson comes over from the Tennessee Titans to lead the New York backfield. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell return for great depth at the position.
Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker is the new No. 1 target for Smith, while David Nelson comes over from the Buffalo Bills—where he caught 130 passes in four seasons—to man the No. 2 WR spot.
With all the new faces on offense, expect New York to take some time Sunday to find its rhythm against the Raiders.
Jets on Defense
The strength of the New York defense is in its 3-4 alignment: nose tackle Sheldon Richardson might be the best in the game, and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is just as good. It’ll be hard for the Raiders to fight off the pressure the Jets will apply at the line of scrimmage.
The linebacking corps also are strong with DeMario Davis, David Harris and Calvin Pace ably leading the charge.
The Jets could be weak in the secondary in Week 1, with top corner Dee Milliner nursing an injury (ankle). Perhaps Raiders starting QB Derek Carr can take advantage of that weak spot in the defense—if he can get the ball off consistently enough the pressure he’s likely to see from the front seven.
And that could be Head Coach Rex Ryan’s plan: blitz, blitz, blitz, and take your chances.
Jets Player to Watch
Quarterback Geno Smith: he has the potential to be a good QB, but last year, he was overwhelmed. Smith threw 21 interceptions in 2013 and fumbled the ball eight times. With a full offseason under his belt, you’d expect Smith to be better this year, but you never know until he takes the field and proves it in his second NFL season.
He did throw 12 touchdowns last year, while running for six more. The additions of CJ2K and Decker give Smith more weapons than he had last year, as well. The running backs go three deep now, and Decker’s sure hands will certainly improve the young QB’s completion percentage (55.8 percent last year).
If Smith completes more than 60 percent against the Raiders on Sunday, it could be a long day for Oakland.
Last year, the Raiders lost by 10 points against the Jets in New Jersey. Both teams should be better in 2014, but it’s hard to give the struggling Oakland offense a chance against the tough front seven of the New York defense. Ryan will send blitz after blitz and force the Raiders rookie QB to make plays in order to win.
That’s the smart strategy, either way.
Defensively, the Raiders still have a lot of problems. Look for the Jets to run the ball a lot early to set up Smith for easy completions. If he can make the plays, Oakland’s offense will be forced to play catch up—and that could get ugly.
Look for New York to win by double digits again this year.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.