After watching the Oakland Raiders offense race up and down the field against the Jets in their Wild Card playoff game over the weekend, the Patriots coaching staff began working on ways to slow down the potent attack.
Former New York Giants quarterback and current CBS color analyst Phil Simms watched as well and is looking forward to the matchup most people expect will decide the game: the Raiders offense against the Patriots defense.
"They do a lot of things very well offensively," Simms said of the Raiders. "People talked about how badly they struggled down the stretch, but really it was just the last game. Rich Gannon threw the ball exceptionally well in every game except the last one and the Patriots defense is playing very well."
In fact, the Patriots defense allowed just one touchdown in its last 19 quarters of play dating back to the first quarter of the Jets game on Dec. 2. Oakland, on the other hand, struggled a bit offensively down the stretch but Simms believes Gannon has been on target.
"Rich is the quickest and best decision-maker in the league," Simms said. "I'm looking forward to seeing him go up against a tough, scheming defense like Bill Belichick's. I don't expect Belichick to change anything he was going to do based on what the Raiders and Jerry Rice did Saturday night. It's almost impossible to double team both receivers anyway because of the formations and movement the Raiders use on offense."
Simms will be in town alongside play-by-play man Greg Gumbel on Saturday night calling the Divisional Round playoff game for CBS. Contrary to popular opinion, he does not believe the weather will play a major factor. He calls Gannon one of the best bad-weather passers in the game and expects the experience of Tim Brown and Rice to produce for Oakland regardless of the conditions.
He does feel the first-round bye will benefit the Patriots, calling it a huge physical edge. Simms also sited the Foxboro Stadium crowd as "a significant home-field edge." One thing Simms does not expect the Patriots to do is blitz Gannon extensively.
"I haven't seen a lot of people blitz him because he makes such good, quick decisions," Simms said. "Belichick will probably have to do some because they really don't apply enough pressure without it. But look at how much Rich struggled against Denver (late in the season) when the Broncos tried to come after him. What did he complete his first 18 or something?"
As much respect as Simms has for Oakland's offense, he doesn't believe they possess the same toughness on the other side of the ball. "The Patriots will move it on them. They're going to have chances to make plays, most likely with short passes and runs."
Simms doesn't believe either defense will effectively shut down the opponent, but he isn't sure how many points that will lead to. While he feels the potential for another high-scoring game like the Raiders 38-24 win over the Jets is a possibility, he admitted the more likely scenario would be for a lower-scoring, tight contest.
"This game should have an entirely different look," Simms said. "The Raiders execute more plays on offense the way they're drawn up than any other team in football – including the Rams. The Patriots defense is more creative than the Jets and definitely mentally tougher than the Jets. They have a lot of salty veterans over there. You can punch them in the mouth but you can't make them quit."
The bottom line in this matchup will likely be which team's strength wins out in the end. The Patriots lead the AFC in red zone defense while Oakland is tops in the conference in red zone offense. Whichever team's strength gains the upper hand should advance to the AFC Championship Game.