Defensive End Khalil Mack and Running Back Latavius Murray
You don't see this every day; Sunday afternoon the Oakland Raiders will head to the airport to travel to Mexico City for their Week 11 "home" matchup against the Houston Texans.
The Monday Night Football game will serve as a battle between two teams atop their divisions, both with postseason aspirations, so here are five questions we have heading into the primetime clash at Estadio Azteca.
1. How do the Raiders deal with all the outside fanfare surrounding the game?
From Head Coach Jack Del Rio to quarterback Derek Carr, and seemingly everyone in between, the message this week coming from the team's Alameda, Calif., facility has been a consistent one; Monday night's game is just the next game on the schedule, and the focus and approach is the same as any other week.
And while I appreciate the team's consistency in going about its business, the fact remains, this isn't a normal game.
Not only are the Silver and Black giving up a home game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum this week, but they'll also be traveling abroad – which while exciting – does present some interesting challenges for the group as a whole.
Once the game kicks off – in front of what is expected to be a strong contingency of Raider Nation – things will in some sense return to normal, but I'll be keeping a close eye to see how the players respond to all the outside factors that occur when playing a game abroad, a game played at 7,300 feet above sea level no less.
2. Will Sean Smith make his return to action?
Smith injured his shoulder in the early goings of the Raiders Week 8 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and after making a somewhat surprising return to practice in the days prior to the bout with the Denver Broncos, the imposing cornerback was held out of action during the Week 9 win; ruled inactive 90 minutes before kickoff.
However, Smith was back at practice this week, and while Head Coach Del Rio doesn't like discussing injuries, No. 21 looks to be moving around well, and able to go through practice sessions with his teammates.
Granted, being able to practice and being game ready are two, very different things, but I'll be interested to see if the veteran cornerback does indeed make a return to the gridiron Monday night.
While the Texans are 6-3, they have struggled to find any type of consistent success in the passing game, as they're currently ranked dead last in the NFL, averaging just over 187 yards per game through the air.
The numbers might not jump off the stat sheet, but the Texans can put points up when need be, and having Smith roaming the secondary would pay dividends for the Raiders defense as a whole.
3. Can the running backs take advantage of their opportunities?
The Raiders have won their last three games, rushing for 144, 128, and 218 yards respectively in each of those wins.
Latavius Murray and friends are playing at a high level, averaging 127.8 yards per game on the ground this season, but they'll have their work cut out for them Monday night against an incredibly stout Texans defense front.
What Houston may lack offensively, they more than make up for on the defensive side of the football, but if they've shown to have one weakness through the first half of the regular season, it's been stopping the run.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's group has been at their most effective this season when they're balanced in their attack, and keeping the run game rolling typically spells good news for Derek Carr and the team's wideouts too.
The Raiders running backs are on a roll right now, let's see if they can keep it up south of the border.
4. Does Stacy McGee get back on the gridiron?
Before missing the past two games with an ankle injury, defensive tackle Stacy McGee was quietly putting together a nice 2016 for the Silver and Black.
The fourth-year pro had started all seven games he was active for, and had provided some quality push along the interior of the Raiders defensive line, totaling 2.5 sacks in the process as well.
However, he hasn't appeared in a game in nearly a month, but after getting back to practice right before the team left for the bye, there is hope that McGee can get back on the field sooner than later.
The former Oklahoma Sooner had been a revelation in his fourth season in Silver and Black, so be sure to keep a close eye on No. 92, and see if he's able to get back to work against the Texans.
5. Will Khalil Mack once again make life difficult for Brock Osweiler?
I'm fairly certain that Brock Osweiler hasn't forgotten what happened the last time he squared off against Mr. Khalil Mack.
In Week 14 of last season – while Osweiler was still calling plays for the Denver Broncos – Mack enjoyed the most impressive game of his young career, taking down Osweiler an incredible five times behind the line of scrimmage.
Mack's five sacks in a game tied a franchise record, and permanently imprinted a No. 52 on the chest of Osweiler, and the Raiders All-Pro defensive end will certainly like to make his presence felt again Monday night at Estadio Azteca.
Mack is also certainly getting hot at the right time – he has six sacks in the last four games – which is good news for him, but likely sounds like nails on the chalkboard for Osweiler and the Texans offensive line.