Defensive End Khalil Mack
The Oakland Raiders head to Nashville this weekend to take on the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon at Nissan Stadium.
After dropping their home opener last weekend to the Atlanta Falcons, the Raiders will try to re-discover the winning recipe against Marcus Mariota and the Titans, and improve their record to 2-1.
Before the Silver and Black officially head to Music City and square off with the Titans, here are five questions I would like to see answered during the Week 3 bout.
1. Can the defense respond?
Look, the struggles of the defense to start the season have been well-documented and discussed ad nauseam, so there's no reason to keep harping on them.
Plain and simple; they have to be better.
"We have to practice better," said defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. "I think it's important for us to really pay close attention to the details, make sure that in practice, because in practice is the only place that makes us better, gets us ready for the games and our meetings have to be tighter, our practice has to be tighter. Again, we have to certainly take care of the details and we feel like we've tightened up things at the vest here.
To their credit, from top to bottom, nobody on the defense has made any excuses for their play, and they know that the defensive effectiveness will have to elevate if the team wants to right the ship and return to the win column.
The defense has a big challenge ahead of them this Sunday at Nissan Stadium, let's see how they respond.
2. How does Menelik Watson hold up at right tackle?
After missing last week's game with a groin injury, Watson has been able to go through practice this week, and is expected to return to his usual starting spot along the offensive line.
If Watson does indeed return to right tackle, the Raiders will boast the same offensive line they originally started the season with in New Orleans, prior to Watson leaving the game early with the aforementioned groin injury.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice has done an outstanding job through two weeks, juggling the offensive line, and making any necessary adjustments because of injury, as the Silver and Black have allowed just one sack through the first two games of the season.
Quarterback Derek Carr has routinely had ample time to operate, and making sure he has that time once again Sunday afternoon at Nissan Stadium will go a long way in the Raiders bid to improve their record to 2-1.
3. Can the Raiders limit Marcus Mariota's productivity on the ground?
In their first two games of 2016, the Raiders defense was tasked with shutting down quarterbacks that primarily liked to operate from the pocket.
Well, Marcus Mariota does not fit that mold.
The second-year quarterback is the epitome of a mobile quarterback, and is just as likely to take off and create a play with his feet as he is to drop back and throw the ball to one of his weapons out wide.
The Raiders defense, particularly the defensive line, will have its hands full with Mariota, and his penchant for creating with his feet.
"We just have to try to keep him [Mariota] in the pocket as much as we can," defensive lineman Denico Autry said. "That's our job to keep him inside, keep him in the pocket. That's what we're trying to work on."
The Raiders haven't faced a mobile quarterback like Mariota in the early stages of the regular season, and I'm interested to see how they handle the challenge.
4. How does Karl Joseph look?
After playing primarily on special teams for the first two games of his career, it sure looks like rookie safety Karl Joseph will get his first extended run in Silver and Black Sunday against the Titans.
It's no secret that the defense struggled last Sunday against Atlanta, particularly in shutting down the Falcons aerial attack, which led some, even Head Coach Jack Del Rio, to ask why Joseph was not inserted into the lineup at any point.
"I think that's a fair question to ask," said Head Coach Del Rio earlier this week. "I asked that question myself. I really believed that he should have got in the game yesterday. We'll make sure that he gets in the game going forward. I think it's time to see Karl. Yeah, I think that's a fair question to ask. I think you can anticipate him getting some action this week."
After an impressive career at West Virginia, the Raiders selected Joseph with the No. 14 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, but have yet to unleash him during a regular season game.
Well, it's Joseph's time to get his first taste of regular season action, and his performance will definitely be a storyline to follow when the Raiders clash with the Titans.
5. Can Khalil Mack make his presence felt?
Through two games, the All-Pro defensive end hasn't yet registered a sack.
Now, there's no reason to panic, Mack didn't register his first sack until Week 3 last season too, but with the defense's slow start, Mack's lack's lack of production has been under a microscope.
Last season, No. 52 proved that he's one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, and I fully expect him to hit double digits sacks when all is said and done, but a big game from Mack in Music City would be a welcome sight for Raider Nation.
Like the Raiders, the Titans have invested heavily in its offensive line, so getting to Mariota won't be an easy task, but if Mack can put together a dominant performance in Tennessee, it would go a long way in securing a second win for the Silver and Black.