Oakland Raiders' Randy Moss (18) gestures after scoring a touchdown against the
Arizona Cardinals Aug 26, 2005, in Oakland (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Raiders Return to Foxboro
By Dave Fletcher
And so it begins
Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots will take the field
in a meaningful game for the first time since departing Jacksonvilles Alltel
Stadium as Super Bowl champions for the third time in four years.
are no strangers to being the hunted so far this decade. In fact, this is the
first time New England begins a title defense without facing the team they beat
in the previous years conference championship game. The Pats dont
have to worry about fending off the vengeful Steelers or Colts, as they did in
2002 and 2004, respectively. This season begins with a game against the Raiders,
who are looking to get back on track after a disappointing 5-11 campaign last
But as always, the Patriots dont care to dwell on what happened
last season. Theyve been in this position too many times now to think anything
positive will come from that.
"Coach Belichick always makes a point
that we're not defending anything, Tom Brady said on Monday. Because
when you defend something, that means it can be taken away. And you can't take
that championship away from us.
Brady is much more worried about what
the Raiders may be able to take away from them when he and his offense take the
field Thursday. Theyre challenging on all fronts. They have active
linebackers, a very strong secondary and their defensive line really rushes the
quarterback, Brady said.
With three wide receivers listed as questionable
on New Englands injury report -- David Givens, Bethel Johnson and Andre
Davis -- the Pats may need to contain some familiar faces in order to be successful.
Former Patriots Bobby Hamilton and Ted Washington make up half of Oaklands
4-3 defensive front, which ranked 22nd in the league last year in rushing defense.
The Raiders hope to take advantage of their bulk up front and use less 3-4 alignments
this season in an attempt to improve that ranking.
Head coach Norv Turner
sees similarities in the development of his defense when he looks back at New
Englands defensive rise. He hopes defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can bring
a similar improvement to Oaklands defense that he helped cultivate in New
England during his time as a linebackers coach.
Rob and I talk a lot,
and the first year in New England when that system was first being installed,
there were things Im sure they wish they could have over or things they
know they needed to do better based on being in the system, Turner said.
We have more team speed and we have better pass rush ability in a system
(in its) second year.
The pass rush will be key against the Patriots
if the Raiders hope to force mistakes and, ultimately, turnovers -- something
Bradys offense isnt prone to at home. Oakland had a negative-17 turnover
differential last season. That number would spell doom if duplicated in Foxboro.
for one, isnt expecting to see an Oakland defense that mirrors New Englands
simply because Ryan is on the opposing sideline.
Ultimately, it always
revolves around the players you have. The things that we ran here (when Ryan was
here) and were successful with, maybe sometimes you try to implement those but
it doesnt end up being the same, said Brady. Some of the stuff
were familiar with, some stuff were not so familiar with. The tough
part about opening game is they can really run whatever they want.
of course, also applies to New Englands defense, which will have its hands
full with the Raiders revamped offense. Newcomers Randy Moss and Lamont
Jordan will present a worthy challenge to the Patriots.
The Patriots dont
have any one cornerback who can contain Moss for an entire game and Belichick
remains tight-lipped as to who he envisions lining up across from the star wideout.
Asante Samuel and Randall Gay are listed as starters on the depth chart, with
Tyrone Poole not far behind. Duane Starks is listed as questionable on the injury
report and didnt practice Tuesday. Its likely that all the corners
will get a crack at shadowing Moss at some point in the game, especially if Eric Mangini employs a zone defense.
If you're playing man-to-man coverage
and you want to double a player in man-to-man coverage, you commit two people
to him. You can play him a number of different ways, Belichick said. If
you don't play man-to-man coverage, if you play zone coverage, then it's sort
of hard to double him because everybody is playing a zone.
cant zero in man-to-man on Moss because of his counterparts, Jerry Porter
and Ronald Curry, who will keep the safeties honest in coverage downfield.
key to derailing Oaklands offensive attack will come down to how well they
confuse quarterback Kerry Collins. Belichick hinted that New England will show
multiple defensive fronts to Collins.
You'd like for the quarterback
to have to identify (the defensive set) after the snap and as he's coming up to
the line of scrimmage and calling the signals and setting the formation up,
Belichick said. If he goes up there and he's thinking, It could be
this. It could be that. They might be blitzing over here. Okay, now the
ball is snapped, now he has to identify where all of those players are going,
those seven or eight players -- whatever it is
.You're taxing him a little
bit more and maybe he'll make a mistake.
Collins threw 13 of his 20
interceptions and had a 66.4 QB rating in road games last year. If the Patriots
can rattle him into a miscue or two, theyll be well on their way to beginning
their quest for a three-peat on the right foot.
Its a formula that
has worked well for them in the past: Force mistakes on defense and play efficiently
on offense. The Patriots may not want to dwell on what happened last season, but
the manner in which theyll go about winning games won't change.
to look for: Where is Rodney Harrison? Keep an eye on where New Englands
hard-hitting safety is when Oakland snaps the ball. Harrison will probably need
to stay back in coverage so he can roll to Moss side on deep patterns. But
the Patriots also like bringing him up to the line of scrimmage to disrupt rushing
plays and blitz the quarterback. Harrisons ability to make the big play,
whether it be a sack, a forced fumble or an interception will go a long way in
fulfilling Belichicks plan to coax Collins out of his comfort zone.
Notes: The Patriots enter the game with a 20-game home winning streak,
dating back to 2002 .
New England is 8-2 in their last 10 home openers
The Raiders ranked last in time of possession on offense in 2004 .
has kept an eye on the weather forecast for Foxboro on Thursday night. Its
a little like Northern California weather right now, he said. (No snow is
.. Ryan joined the Patriots staff in 2000 as a linebackers coach.
He served as outside linebackers coach from 2001-2003
. Walt Coleman, the
official who overturned Bradys fumble in the 2001 Snow Bowl
playoff game, told reporters that he would have been surprised if his crew had
been assigned to work Thursdays game. I think the people on the west
coast are still not convinced of the call yet
I have not had an assignment
for the Raiders since that game.
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