Titans-Raiders inactives, gameday thoughts

The inactives are out for today’s game at Nissan Stadium as the Tennessee Titans host the Oakland Raiders, and here they are:

OAKLAND RAIDERS: LB Neiron Ball, OL Khalif Barnes, TE Gabe Holmes, C Rodney Hudson, RB Taiwan Jones, CB Keith McGill, WR Rod Streater

TENNESSEE TITANS: DE Mike Martin, RB Dexter McCluster, OLB Derrick Morgan, G/T Jeremiah Poutasi, CB Cody Riggs, WR Andrew Turzilli, NT Al Woods

For the Titans, Kendall Wright returns to the lineup as expected. Derrick Morgan was listed as questionable with his shoulder injury. After the Titans elevated Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil off the practice squad yesterday, I thought it was more likely than not Morgan would not play today, and he is down. We’ll see whether Cudjoe-Virgil or Justin Staples gets the few snaps in relief of Brian Orakpo and David Bass. WR Rico Richardson was the player released to make room for YCV; in the overall pecking order, I’d guess he still ranks ahead of Turzilli, but Turzilli was signed off an opposing team’s practice squad and needed to stay on the roster.

For the Raiders, Hudson is the most notable inactive; he was a big free agent acquisition from Kansas City and has played well in the middle of the line. Former third-round pick Tony Bergstrom is the backup, and when I watched Oakland a couple years ago, what I saw of him as a guard didn’t impress me. Sammie Hill and company will have an opportunity to control the line of scrimmage. That’s especially important this game, because Oakland likes to run between the tackles more than most teams; this isn’t quite Jack Del Rio’s Jaguars, who seemingly only ran up between the tackles, but they do it more than most teams (2009 Jaguars had 75% of runs marked left guard, up the middle, or right guard in the play by play; this year’s Raiders are at 61% compared to a league average of 53%). Latavius Murray is a good power back, but not everybody likes his lateral movement.

Derek Carr does a great job of getting the ball out quickly and is extremely hard to sack. He’s only gone down 13 times to day, and the Raiders are first in the league in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate by a decent margin (I write for FO perma-disclaimer). You all saw Amari Cooper play in college, and he’s been good in the NFL. Michael Crabtree is also having a nice season. Overall, Oakland is 5th in passing DVOA. What did Detroit do last week to limit the Raiders to 13 points? First, they shut down Murray (13-28). Second, the good passing game didn’t do much; Amari Cooper dropped a couple passes, Crabtree had a couple others I would’ve liked to see him hold onto, and Darius Slay did a nice job on Cooper. Though they only brought down Carr once, they forced a couple holding penalties that put Oakland back, including one for a safety.

Defensively, Oakland is more blah. Khalil Mack is their best player; think Brian Orakpo, playing the other side of the line of scrimmage (not an exact comparison, but I think it gets the point across). The cornerbacks aren’t impressive, but like the run game,the Titans’ wide receivers largely render matchup thoughts irrelevant. The place I’d look them to try to exploit is Kendall Wright lined up in the slot against D.J. Hayden. The Raiders have a reputation as being bad at covering tight ends, having given up 10 touchdowns to them this year. FO numbers say they’re not that bad, 11th, but face more tight end targets per game than any other team. Their real weakness may be against running backs, where they’re 30th in DVOA. If Dexter McCluster were up, this could be a game where he was a real matchup threat, but he’s not.

The current line is the Raiders by a point. That sounds about right, even taking into account that West Coast teams often struggle playing in 10 AM PT games. I expect Oakland to put up some points today, probably in the 20’s. The Titans will need to play well to match that, but this is definitely a game they have a shot to win. How much will the rain matter? Depends on just how bad it and the field are. If it’s a real mess, then the line of scrimmage battle becomes all-important on both sides. If it’s not bad, then I don’t think it particularly hurts or helps either team.