In Week 16, our Indianapolis Colts will host the Las Vegas Raiders. Knowing the party was coming to town this weekend I sat down with Matt Holder of Silver and Black Pride. You can find him on Twitter @MHolder95. We swapped questions about the Colts and Raiders and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
You can find my answers to his questions here.
Chris Shepherd: Rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell is 4-4 in his 8 starts this season. What positives has the young signal caller shown this season, what does he need to improve and do Raiders fans have any belief that O’Connell could be a long term starter at the position?
Matt Holder: As his record suggests, consistency is the biggest issue with O’Connell right now as he’ll have games where he looks like a long-term starter and then turn around and play like a career backup the next week. When he’s at his best, he takes what the defense is giving him and is a dart-thrower in the short to intermediate areas of the field.
However, exotic blitzes can sometimes confuse O’Connell and he is a bit of a statue in the pocket. So a creative defensive coordinator who can scheme up some free rushers will be able to get sacks. Also, he has a habit forcing throws down the field, especially to Davante Adams, and doesn’t have the arm strength to get away with that.
Overall, O’Connell is a young quarterback who is working through the rookie struggles and just isn’t consistent. Right now, it’s hard to make a call on if he’s going to be the long-term solution. He’s played well enough to keep the Raiders out of range for drafting a quarterback but also hasn’t been good enough for them to explore trading up.
CS: Since firing Josh McDaniels the Raiders have gone 4-3, what has been the biggest difference on the field since Antonio Pierce took over and like the question with O’Connell, do you believe the Raiders have found their next head coach?
MH: The biggest difference between McDaniels and Pierce is the players actually want to play for Pierce. They’ve outwardly admitted that and AP is a great leader who has gotten them to buy-in. I think it helps that he’s a former player and can relate to the guys more.
The arrow is certainly swinging up for Pierce after last week’s huge win in Kansas City. I think if he wins out, and maybe even just one of these next two games, he’ll get the full-time job. Part of what could work in his favor is that Mark Davis clearly made a mistake by not retaining Rich Bisaccia and eventually hiring McDaniels a couple of years ago, and I don’t think Davis will want to make the same mistake twice.
CS: If you were an offensive coordinator charged with designing a game plan to move the ball and score points against the Raiders defense, what would your plan look like? What strengths would you avoid? What weaknesses would you try to exploit?
MH: Lean on a lot of quick and play-action passes. The Raiders have a couple of really good edge-rushers in Maxx Crosby and Malcolm Koonce. Pretty much everyone knows about Crosby by now and Koonce has come on the scene over the last couple of months and has actually out-performed Crosby recently with five sacks in the last two games, including two strip-sacks against the Chargers. Also, Las Vegas’ linebackers have gotten caught being over-aggressive against the run by a few play-actions passes this season.
Running the ball inside and away from Crosby is a good idea, too. The Raiders defensive tackles are solid and have their moments, but they can be worn down and the rest of the defensive line isn’t great against the run.
CS: At this point a lot of NFL fans are starting to think about the off-season and the Colts and Raiders find themselves with similar records but in very different situations. How are Raiders fans hoping the off-season goes? What moves do the Vegas faithful hope to see made?
MH: The quarterback situation is a hot topic of debate right now and Russell Wilson presumptively hitting the open market this spring doesn’t help matters. The Raiders will definitely need some help at cornerback, defensive tackle and offensive line this offseason as those positions will be their top needs, besides quarterback.
However, it’s kind of hard to predict what they’re going to do in the offseason since they have an interim general manager right now, too.
CS: DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Colts as 3.5 point favorites. Is that line fair, how do you see this game going and what is the final score?
MH: These two teams are fairly evenly matched on paper and the Colts will obviously have homefield advantage, so the field-goal spread makes sense. Maybe I’m being a homer and riding the high of the big win last week, but I think the Raiders win 24-21.
I want to thank Matt for taking the time to answer these questions before Sunday’s game. I will say that I disagree with his assessment of the final score of the game. I wasn’t that surprised by what happened against the Falcons last week, the Colts have struggled against teams that can stop the run and nobody does it better than Atlanta. Indy matched up terribly a week ago. This week the matchup is much more favorable for the good guys, go back and re-read what Matt said about how he would beat the Raiders defense. Minshew can and should RPO them to death. The Indy defense has been bad since the bye so the game will end up being closer than it should be, but I do see this one going the Colts way. That said, this is the NFL, anything could happen.
As always, go Colts.