Four Downs: Veldheer a spark for red-hot Raiders

I’ve emerged from a couple of days in the film room, and wanted to share four items that caught my attention as I went back and watched each of the games from Week 10. Let’s roll …

1. The Raiders are on a three-game winning streak since rookie Jared Veldheer has been the starting left tackle, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. He’s the best LT the Raiders have had since Barry Sims, and he might be even better. He’s 6-foot-8, which is really too tall to play tackle, but has great knee bend, is very athletic, stays on his feet and has a great jam. He was very good against Kansas City’s Tamba Hali two weeks ago and a big reason why Jason Campbell was able to complete the 47-yard pass to Jacoby Ford in overtime of that game.

If you’re watching the Raiders-Steelers this week, one of those classic throwback rivalry games, watch Veldheer and James Harrison go at it. The Raiders don’t give Veldheer a lot of help, and Harrison is as good as there is in this league at coming off the edge. I want to see how Veldheer does, because I think it will be a great test. It will help determine the outcome of the game if he can give Campbell time to throw.

2. I thought this one was fascinating. One of the biggest plays between the Giants and Cowboys last week was the 101-yard interception return by rookie Bryan McCann off Eli Manning. McCann, a rookie free agent out of SMU, was only on the field in the first place due to Mike Jenkins being injured. McCann was lined up against Giants WR Hakeem Nicks, who entered the game with a league-high nine TDs. Nicks, however, has a “tell” in his game that the Cowboys diagnosed. Against press man-to-man coverage, when Nicks goes outside he splits his feet first and then releases. If he’s going inside, he pumps his feet first. McCann watched this on tape. So when Nicks pumped his feet on the play, McCann trusted his eyes and his tape work — he knew Nicks was going inside — and jumped the route. What a huge spot in a huge game for an undrafted rookie. It’s not just about film study, though, it’s about attention to detail.

3. The Chiefs made a subtle change last week that went largely unnoticed when they started Jamaal Charles over Thomas Jones. Over the last two weeks, teams have been stacking the line of scrimmage against the Chiefs in order to force Matt Cassel to beat them. Even though he threw the ball for 469 yards last week against the Broncos, Cassel couldn’t complete a third-down pass to keep the Chiefs on the field when the game was still close. So the strategy worked. Still, there are certain runs that work against eight- and nine-man fronts, and the Chiefs have them. The Power-O can cut the defense in half  and really attack where there are fewer defenders. Charles is very good at running the play behind a pulling guard, and I suspect that’s what the Chiefs will do this week. I predict he’ll have a great game and the Chiefs will be successful running the football.

4. The Think Tank for the NFL is college football. What you see in college football right now will eventually make its way to the NFL. The league is evolving and changing at a pace faster than it ever has before, and the Pistol formation is the latest example. Jason Garrett implemented the Pistol twice last week, where the QB is in a short-shotgun snap about four yards behind center, and the running back is two yards behind him. Nevada started it on the college level and now many teams use it.

The advantage is there are no keys between run and pass. The Cowboys ran it on back-to-back plays, running the exact same play each time. Felix Jones ran for 9 yards, and then 3 yards. You’re going to see this formation often, and you’re going to see options and option-passes off of it. It’s going to take off subtly, a little like the Wildcat did. When quarterbacks like Vince Young and Michael Vick are involved, teams will have to defend two or three runners on every play, and they won’t know if it’s a run or pass.

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