1. One of the Colts’ biggest weaknesses is at outside linebacker where they have a lot of rotational players but not many complete linebackers. Look for the Raiders to take advantage of the deficiencies, here.
On one side, Robert Mathis is still transitioning from playing DE in a 4-3 for most of his career. He is a solid pass rusher but isn’t great in coverage.
On the other side, Erik Walden is two down run-thumper but is a liability in pass coverage.
Walden rotates out with the Colts first round pick Bjoern Werner, who looks to be struggling to make the transition from a pass rushing DE in college to an OLB in a 3-4 in the NFL.
The Raiders can exploit the OLB of the Colts using their tight ends and fullbacks. One of the Raiders best weapons is fullback Marcel Reece and it would make sense to come out in an I formation, especially on 1st downs, which are typically running downs, and then send him down field against the OLB assigned to him.
I would also expect to see heavy tight end involvement. The Raiders will likely use tight end motion to determine when the Colts are in a man-coverage scheme. They would like to get a matchup they can exploit like rookie TE Mychal Rivera against OLB Erik Walden.
2. The Colts struggled with rushing the passer last year almost as much as the Raiders did, part of the reason the Colts drafted Werner high in the first round of the 2013 Draft.
Robert Mathis had 8 of the Colts’ 32 sacks, the most on the team. For his career, he has over 90 sacks. The rest of the linebackers have less than 10, combined, over their career.
The Raiders need to roll some blocking coverage Mathis’ way on pass rush downs. He is by far the biggest threat on the team as the Colts defense has struggled to show a consistent pass rush throughout the pre-season.
If Werner lines up at DE, which he has done at times throughout the preseason, the Raiders will want to make sure he is well-accounted for in the blocking scheme as well as he is substantially better rushing from a hands down position off the line than as a standup linebacker, at this time.
3. The Colts front 7 showed major issues with gap discipline preseason week 1 when they played EJ Manuel, CJ Spiller and the Bills.
Pryor is very similar to Manuel in that both are large, athletic quarterbacks, who are very fast and able to take advantage of gaps in a defense’s pass rush if they are overaggressive and don’t maintain control of their gaps.
I expect the Raiders to get some good yardage on these breaks. Pryor will, at times, be able to run for the first down but at other times will be able to simply extend the play using his legs to break out of the pocket and float along the line of scrimmage to allow the receivers time to get open, much as he did versus the Seahawks.
4. The likely loss of Menelik Watson the first week leaves the Raiders with an incredibly weak offensive line, especially at tackle where Khalif Barnes and Tony Pashos will be the LT and RT, respectively. The Raiders should use screens liberally to help adjust for what will likely be a frenzied pass rush against sub-par tackles.
The Raiders also will use run-option looks to try to get the ground game going early. If they can succeed in getting the run game working well, play action will be a valuable and necessary tactic in this game to buy Pryor a few extra seconds to set his feet and concentrate on accurately delivering to his receivers.
1. The Colts LT, Anthony Castonzo hasn’t practiced this week but head coach Chuck Pagano said that he still expects Castonzo to start on Sunday. Castonzo is returning from an MCL strain and hasn’t been practicing so his lateral movement likely won’t be ideal.
The Raiders are starting Lamarr Houston at RDE and he should be able to get some pressure on Andrew Luck from that position. The Raiders could also have some good luck with either a cornerback blitz or safety blitz from the right side as that would provide a quicker player trying to get downfield and could push Castonzo’s lateral burst past the point he can make the stop.
2. The Colts are starting cagey veteran Reggie Wayne and former Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at receiver but the biggest home-run threat on the roster is slot receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton is explosively fast and the Raiders will need to play a lot of cover 2 or single-high to make sure the nickel corner has help over the top.
The best way the Raiders can counter the passing attack of the Colts is to get to Andrew Luck so expect Tarver to have installed a number of blitzes. Aside from the CB/S blitz described above, I would expect a number of LB blitzes from the Raiders mid-level, trying to throw Luck’s timing off with his receivers.
3. The Raiders are playing the Colts at a good time for the run defense. Expected starter Ahmad Bradshaw is still recovering from surgery and has been practicing with the second team this week. He’ll get some carries but isn’t likely in the game-ready shape that he will be later in the season.
Expected starter Vick Ballard is not nearly as good as a healthy Bradshaw. The Raiders will rely on DT Pat Sims to provide the nose tackle stuff and penetration in the running game, which will open up holes to allow the LBs to swarm through.
MLB Nick Roach is more of a coverage linebacker than a run stuffer so the primary run responsibilities will fall to Sio Moore and Kevin Burnett, as long as Moore is healthy enough to play.
Moore, who has been nursing a toe injury and has been limited in practice over this week, will likely play on rushing downs, if at all, but may be the first LB off the field in the nickel and dime packages to give his foot some rest.
4. The Raiders would do well to double Reggie Wayne on 3rd downs that are likely passing downs – 3rd and 4 or longer – as he is Luck’s favorite target to move the chains. In large part due to Wayne’s solid hands, the Colts were one of the best at converting on 3rd down in 2012 and the Raiders defense was one of the worst at preventing 3rd down conversions.
Expect Luck to look for Wayne frequently this Sunday when he needs a receiver to make a catch for a first down. The Raiders can roll coverage to Wayne’s side at the expense of coverage on Darrius Heyward-Bey, who consistently struggled to make difficult catches in traffic when with the Raiders.
I will be in attendance at the game on Sunday and will be tweeting out observations. Follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews