Running Back Latavius Murray and Quarterback Derek Carr
Heading into the Oakland Raiders primetime matchup with the Denver Broncos, we took a look at five questions that we had heading into the Sunday Night Football showdown at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Well, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's squad certainly made a statement in its 2016 primetime debut, handily beating the Broncos 30-20 to secure sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
The Raiders will practice Wednesday and Thursday this week before officially getting some well-deserved rest during the bye week, so in the wake of the big win over the Broncos, let's see if our five questions were indeed answered.
1. Will Sean Smith see the field?
After missing Wednesday's practice due to a shoulder injury suffered last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith made a somewhat surprising return to the practice field Thursday, and was also a limited participant in Friday's practice as well.
However, No. 21 was held out of the Week 9 game against the Broncos, and was announced as one of the team's seven inactive players 90 minutes before kickoff.
In his stead, DJ Hayden shifted out of the nickel and into the base defense with David Amerson, with TJ Carrie seeing an uptick in his playing time, moving to Hayden's old spot in the slot.
In general, the Raiders secondary performed well, and while Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian did throw for 283 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a losing effort, defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s group did a good job of limiting the effectiveness of the Denver offense for most of the day.
2. Does Khalil Mack keep rolling?
Yes, he did, in a big way too.
Mack filled up the stat sheet Sunday night, taking down Siemian twice behind the line of scrimmage to up his sack total to seven for the season, and more impressively, six in the last four games.
The All-Pro defensive end was not just a problem for Siemian, he was also stout in the run game as well, finishing the primetime win with three tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery – oh, and the two aforementioned sacks as well.
Much was made earlier in the season about Mack's perceived slow start, but over the past month, he's really rounded into form, and shown why he ended the 2015 season as the first player in league history to be named a First-Team All-Pro player at not one, but two, positions.
"Khalil is a top five pick for a reason," quarterback Derek Carr said postgame. "He's the franchise for a reason. He'll get mad at me for saying that, we fight about that. He made a big play for us."
3. Will the run game hit the century mark?
The Raiders didn't just hit the century mark, they eclipsed it in the first half of Sunday's win over the Broncos.
From the first whistle, it was evident that the Silver and Black wanted to establish dominance in the trenches, and as the teams returned to the locker room at the end of the first half, the Raiders had already tallied 124 yards on the ground.
Latavius Murray enjoyed a career day against the vaunted Broncos defense, finding the end zone three times, but the run game as a whole was really firing on all cylinders under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football.
"He did a nice job," Del Rio said of Murray's performance. "He got the hat trick, scoring three touchdowns. We narrowly missed on the one that was called back on the passing touchdown, but I know he had three running touchdowns. I thought he ran hard. I thought the line gave the backs room to run. I thought the backs ran hard."
The running backs certainly did just that, as the Raiders dominated the line of scrimmage, finishing the game with 218 total rushing yards, their best performance of 2016 thus far.
4. Can the offensive line limit Von Miller?
Look, stopping Von Miller is no easy task.
The Super Bowl 50 MVP is one of the premier talents in the NFL, but for the most part, the Raiders offensive line – Austin Howard in particular – did a good job of limiting the All-Pro outside linebacker.
Miller did get loose once early in the first quarter, taking down Carr for a loss of five yards, but outside that early flash, No. 58 was kept largely in check by the Raiders offensive line.
"Obviously we were very physical upfront," Del Rio said postgame. "We had one time we let Von [Miller] run around the edge on us. I think that was the only time that maybe we didn't give him the kind of attention that we have to give him."
The Raiders offense certainly put a premium on limiting Miller throughout Sunday's affair, and for the most part, the big fellas up front were able to do just that, holding Miller to just two total tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, and the previously mentioned sack.
Through nine games, the Raiders have now just allowed 11 sacks, which is tied for first in the NFL.
5. Can the Silver and Black handle business at home?
Heading into the Week 9 matchup against the Broncos, the narrative surrounding the 2016 Raiders had been hammered ad nauseum – the Silver and Black were an impressive 5-0 on the road, but an uninspiring 1-2 at home.
However, Derek Carr and Co., convincingly bucked that trend Sunday night, delivering arguably their most complete effort of the season in an impressive primetime win over the Denver Broncos.
From the first whistle, the Silver and Black dominated in the trenches on both sides of the football, amassing over 200 yards on the ground, while surrendering just 33 to the Broncos.
In their 2016 primetime debut, the Raiders were outstanding, dominating the time of possession, and eventually earning their seventh win of the regular season.
The lights were shining Sunday night at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and the Raiders didn't lurk in the shadows; instead they put together a signature performance that has vaulted them back into the national conversation.