This weekend the Oakland Raiders will be without their top two running backs (according to the depth chart) Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, both of whom missed practice this week with their respective injuries. Compounding the issue is an injured Taiwan Jones, who is dealing with an ankle and currently listed as questionable.
That leaves fullback Marcel Reece, who has put together a nice handful of games this month. Last week against the New Orleans Saints, Reece posted his first 100-yard performance, averaging 5.4 yards per rush on 19 carries. Yet he's a duel-threat with hands of a wide receiver. For the month of November alone, Reece has posted two games of 90 yards receiving or more, generating 19 receptions and 241 yards receiving in the past three games.
"Reece played wide receiver in college," says Levi Damien of SB Nation's Silver and Black Pride. "He has tremendous hands."
But who is this Reece character; a player that we figure Cincinnati's defense will focus on, especially in the passing game.
"He went undrafted because he isn’t an NFL level wide receiver," said Damien. "They signed him to play tight end but that didn’t really fit him either. Eventually, they had some injuries at fullback and moved him there. They discovered a real gem at the fullback position. He plays an H-back type role for the Raiders typically. He never performed well in the traditional power blocking scheme when asked to carry the ball. But in the zone blocking scheme, he has played quite well. We had all already seen what a mismatch he is as a fullback with receiver hands and speed. The mismatch is against linebackers who can’t keep up and corners who can’t tackle him. Also, if they put a corner on him, it frees up one of his teammates. Teams have to make a decision on who they want to beat them."
Cincinnati typically uses their linebackers in zone coverage, but a cover two will bring Leon Hall and Terence Newman ten yards off the line of scrimmage, focused on potential routes out of the backfield once the receivers depart into their respective zones. In man coverage, we expect any combination of Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict to cover, or a safety depending on the blitzing scheme.
It's possible depending on how the Bengals react to Reece this weekend, how limited Oakland's passing game is contained. But they won't be neutralized. According to Damien, the Raiders have a unique set of skill players that Carson Palmer could use this Sunday.
"Each receiver has a unique set of skills. If you are going for a deep pass, it is Denarius Moore. But he is not the fastest guy and if he is caught, he goes down easily. Marcel Reece has made the biggest plays as far as picking up big yards on the shortest passes. Get him in open space and he will make you pay. But for intermediate passes, Darrius Heyward-Bey has shown a great ability to bounce off tackles and then use his speed to take it long distance. His issue has always been catching the ball but once he gets the ball in his hands, he is a big, fast playmaker."