Last weekend, NFL on CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf brought to light a very relevant point. Dierdorf was discussing the NY Giants/Cleveland Browns game, a matchup that clearly favored the defending champs. But Dierdorf was on to something. The more feeble the win/loss record, (Cleveland was 0-4 at the time) the more desperate the football team. It isn’t always desirable to play the bottom feeders.
Dierdorf will be in the broadcast booth tomorrow when the Falcons get their chance to do just that tomorrow against the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders aren’t a team with a misrepresentative record. They’re 1-3 mark isn’t deceiving. Carson Palmer has had all sorts of problems, and, troublingly, none of them appear to be a result of his play. An already-feeble wide receiving corps was dealt a major blow when number one option Darrius Heyward-Bey went down with a concussion in week 3. He hasn’t played since, but is expected to return against the Falcons. In the meantime the Raiders have struggled to find a number two pass catching option, and it shows in their team stats. None of their top three receivers (Brandon Myers, Marcel Reece and Darren McFadden) actually play wide receiver, and nobody on the roster has yet to register 20 receptions. The run game hasn’t been much of an aid either, with McFadden rushing for over 35 yards just once this year. His backup, Mike Goodson (13 touches from scrimmage in 4 games,) has 50% of the scores put up by Oakland running backs this year.
So the Raider offense will be hungry, with nobody more deprived of sustenance than McFadden. That could be a recipe for disaster, as the Falcons, boast the league’s fifth-worst rush defense. McFadden’s a contact runner, and the defensive line could be without starter Jonathan Babineaux tomorrow afternoon. Babineaux has been limited in practice all week as he continues to nurse a sore groin. If McFadden busts loose, the Falcons have to scramble to find a solution, possibly without a key piece of the D-line puzzle.
Atlanta would also be wise to monitor the speedsters (and as always there are a few) on the Oakland roster. Hybrid linebacker Philip Wheeler has excelled in rookie Head coach and former Broncos’ defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s system, leading the Raiders with 34 tackles (over 9 a game on average) and taking responsibility for two fumbles and half a sack. He’ll play all over the field and do his best to track Tony Gonzalez tomorrow. Other quick-footed players to keep an eye on are corner Pat Lee, who is already zoning in on doubling his tackle output from last season after coming over from Green Bay, and defensive end Dave Tollefson, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants.
Heyward-Bey and converted wide receiver-turned tight end David Ausberry are both also listed as probable for tomorrow, and bring a quickness element to parts of the field the Falcons have yet to see this year. Should McFadden stumble out of the gate again tomorrow, expect those two to see frequent targets from whomever the Raiders elect to put under center.
Should-win games can be haunting for teams verging on greatness. They hurt to lose, especially at home and especially with a bye week on the horizon. The Falcons will look to minimize the blow tomorrow against their lowly visitors.