ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) – Playing against the Oakland Raiders defense has made some run-of-the-mill quarterbacks look like Tom Brady this season.
Now a defense on pace for one of the worst seasons in NFL history when it comes to pass defense gets to face Brady himself when the Raiders (4-5) take on the New England Patriots (7-2) on Sunday in Mexico City.
“We can play with anybody in the league, but we got to play better or you’re going to have a rough day against a guy like Tom Brady,” coach Jack Del Rio said Wednesday. “So, that’s the challenge. We’ve got to do enough as a football team to win this game.”
From Jay Cutler to Kirk Cousins, from Alex Smith to Tyrod Taylor, all but one quarterback who has faced the Raiders this season has fared better against Oakland than the average for the rest of the season.
It has added up to the Raiders becoming the first team in NFL history to fail to record a single interception the first nine games of the year. It’s been more than just a lack of takeaways. Oakland has been giving up way too much as well.
The Raiders are allowing opponents to complete 71.2 percent of their passes for a 110.5 passer rating, both of which would be the third worst performances ever over a full season.
Those numbers even top what Brady has done this season as the league’s top quarterback. Brady leads the league with 2,807 yards passing, and ranks second in passer rating (108.3), interception rate (two in 343 attempts), while completing 67.3 percent of his passes.
“Brady is Brady,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “That’s what he’s been doing all along. It’s amazing he’s been doing it at such a high level. It’s just greatness. … He’s the best. He’s the best at what he does.”
The Raiders have been among the worst this season as they have somehow regressed from a year ago when they allowed a league-worst 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards.
Oakland hoped the addition of first-round pick Gareon Conley would provide a boost but the cornerback played only two games because of an injured shin and was placed on injured reserve this week.
Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu, who was expected to match up with tight ends, made his debut at Miami after being sidelined by a leg injury. He played only seven snaps on defense that game and now must deal with New England’s Rob Gronkowski.
The Raiders also could be without starting cornerback David Amerson once again. Amerson has missed the past two games with a foot injury and did not practice Wednesday.
The Patriots are also much more adept at going deep this season with the addition of Brandin Cooks as Brady is on pace to gain more yards on long passes this year than he has any other year than the 16-0 2007 regular season.
But the Raiders say they can’t be intimidated by the tough task.
“We all put our shoes on the same way,” cornerback TJ Carrie said. “If you put someone on a bigger pedestal than what it may seem, than you’re already losing that battle. Of course we respect the Patriots, but they suit up like we suit up.”
The Raiders have put themselves in a big hole heading into the stretch run thanks to a four-game losing streak earlier in the season. Oakland can probably only afford one or two more losses in the final seven games.
It’s a difficult stretch with matchups against three first-place teams (New England, Kansas City and Philadelphia), division rivals Denver and the Chargers, as well as home games against Dallas and the New York Giants.
“We know what position we’re in,” Nelson said. “We just have to come out and do our job and not try to do too much. Just do the little things right and everything else will take care of itself. We’re well aware of what’s going on. The playoffs have started for us.”
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