Prior to the Raiders' Week 3 clash with the Minnesota Vikings, the defense was allowing a mere 63 rushing yards per game, but following Dalvin Cook's 110-yard day – with an additional 111 from his teammates – the Silver and Black are now allowing 112.3 yards per game, and things won't get any easier in Week 4.
Friday, the Raiders will travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts, who boast a dominant offensive line, as well as an electric rushing attack featuring Marlon Mack. The 23-year-old is currently the NFL's third-leading rusher with 299 yards, and is averaging 4.9 yards per attempt.
Entering the matchup, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and the defensive line know they need to perform better as a group and limit Mack on Sunday.
"They got some similar concepts, but really Minnesota is more of a zone scheme," Guenther said when asked whether Cook is comparable to Mack. "These guys will do some zone, some gap runs, different things like that. Their line is very good and very effective, they have a lot of high draft picks up there, so it'll be a real challenge for our run game again this week."
"[Marlon] Mack's a good back all around," defensive end Josh Mauro added. "He's got all the tools, they have a good scheme, they're good up front, so we've just really been honing in, focusing on the little things. Picking up the intensity a notch here throughout the week and just trying to find ways to get better preparing. So, I feel like we're doing that so far. The hay's never really in the barn until there's zeroes on the clock on Sunday, so we're going to keep preparing, trying to stay focused, and have a little more intensity in our preparation all around."
Couldn't have said it better myself, Josh. I guess the hay never really is in the barn until the clock hits zeroes.
Through two days of practice, Colts' star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton hasn't participated this week, and if he's unable to play Sunday, one could expect them to lean even more heavily on the running game. Mack is the feature back, but Nyheim Hines can make some big plays with his pass catching ability. I asked Moreau Thursday if you must tow a fine line of being conservative versus aggressive when a pass catching back comes on the field.
"You don't play the screen, you react to them," he said. "They're different keys and tips that will kind of help you prepare, or read those plays faster, but we're going full tilt and we're just reacting to all that. We're conscious to the fact he's a good pass catcher out of the backfield, but we just want to play hair on fire and full speed ahead."
The Raiders defensive line will face a tough test undoubtedly against the run this week, and part of that is in addition to the bruisers the Colts' have on the offensive line. Led by second-year guard Quenton Nelson, this unit is stout across the board, and it's a major reason Mack has been able to get free for big runs this year.
Mauro and Co., will need to make sure they're in their proper gaps on every play, but with several of the team's linebackers banged up, including Vontaze Burfict, the level of communication needs to be flawless. Because of the injuries at the linebacker spot, the Raiders were forced to make some in-game adjustments against the Vikings, and Guenther attributes that to some of the team's costly mistakes.
"We weren't staying up front, we weren't staying square enough," Guenther explained. "We knew that they were going to be a fast flowing line, and we had a couple linebackers that went out, which kind of put us in a bind. I give [Tahir] Whitehead credit, it's the first time that I can remember he played all five linebacker spots. SAM, MIKE, WILL, BASE, backer in the dime, and the nickel. We had to adjust some of our game plan because of injuries, but that was mainly the reasons."
The Raiders are facing an offensive line and running back that operate as a cohesive unit, and the defense will need to do the same in order to continually get off the field.