Running Back Jalen Richard
Heading into Sunday's matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders sit alone at the top of the AFC West.
Boasting a 4-1 record, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's squad owns the statistical advantage over the 4-2 Denver Broncos after the team was defeated by the San Diego Chargers 21-13 on Thursday Night Football.
If the Silver and Black want to stay as the lead horse in the AFC West they'll have to take care of Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, so heading into the matchup here are five questions we have about the division bout.
1. Can the Raiders make Marcus Peters a nonfactor?
The last time Marcus Peters played at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Oakland-native certainly gave his friends and family something to smile about, as the then-rookie made a critical interception in the fourth quarter, and returned it deep inside Raiders territory.
Combined with his six total tackles, the former McClymonds High School star enjoyed a banner day back home, en route to what would turn into a Pro Bowl selection at the end of the season.
Peters has continued that hot streak during his sophomore campaign, totaling four interceptions in the first four games the Chiefs have played. The dynamic cornerback has established himself as one of the top-tier defensive backs in the NFL, and I'll be interested to see how the Raiders offense attacks him.
Through the early portion of his career, Peters has shown he has the ability to be a game changer, and keeping the ballhawk's hands off the football will be crucial if the Silver and Black want to notch a fourth-consecutive win.
2. How does the offensive line respond?
Stop me if you've heard this before – it looks like the Raiders offensive line will once again be shifting personnel in Sunday's matchup with the Chiefs.
Rookie lineman Vadal Alexander started last week against the Chargers, and played 61 offensive snaps against the Bolts, but has been unable to practice this week dealing with an ankle injury. If the former LSU Tiger isn't able to go, veteran tackle Austin Howard will likely step in and fill the void, as the carousel at right tackle continues spinning.
While the personnel has changed from week to week, give offensive line coach Mike Tice credit, he's done an outstanding job of making sure the group is ready to rock, and remain stout in protection regardless of who is lined up along the offensive front.
Howard is a veteran lineman who has made 30 starts for the Raiders, so there certainly won't be anything that the Chiefs will show that will catch him off guard. Regardless, seeing how the line responds to yet another change in personnel will be a storyline to follow Sunday afternoon.
3. Will the rookie tandem of running backs be called on once again?
Latavius Murray didn't play last weekend against the Chargers as he recovered from a toe injury, but even after the week's rest, the Pro Bowl running back has yet to return to the practice field, once again casting his availability in doubt for the Week 6 clash with the Chiefs.
In his stead against the Chargers, the rookie tandem of Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington carried the bulk of the rushing duties on their shoulders, combining for 54 yards on 17 carries in the win over San Diego.
If Murray isn't able to go Sunday, conventional wisdom would suggest that the rookies would once again be tasked with sparking the run game.
Sunday's forecast calls for showers, and with inclement weather on the horizon, controlling the line of scrimmage, and establishing dominance on the ground will be crucial.
Richard and Washington will certainly have their chances for explosive plays against the Chiefs, as the Kansas City defense is currently allowing 129.5 rushing yards per game.
4. What will we see from Jamaal Charles?
The All-Pro running back made his 2016 debut Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, carrying the ball twice for seven yards.
While Charles' debut was less than inspiring, the dynamic runner now claims to be "110 percent" after the bye week, heading into the Week 6 matchup with the Silver and Black.
When he's healthy, Charles is no doubt one of the more electric players in the NFL, and he has certainly seen his fair share of success throughout his career against the Raiders.
I still anticipate seeing a heavy dose of Spencer Ware Sunday afternoon, but I'll be interested to see how much Charles gets in the game, and in what ways he is used.
5. How does Sean Smith respond to facing his old team?
Before signing with the Raiders this offseason, Sean Smith spent the past three seasons as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The physical cornerback has downplayed his first matchup against his old team, but there almost certainly will be a little extra adrenaline flowing before, and in the first few series, of the game.
"You try to say every game is the same, but it's not," said defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. "You have a lot of friends on the other teams and sometimes there's good blood and sometimes there's bad blood with the management. So, you always want to let them know what they're missing. I'm not on your team and this is what you're missing. You always try to take it to another level when you play your former team."
Emotion aside, Smith will have his hands full trying to contain Jeremy Maclin and the rest of Chiefs receivers, so seeing how the veteran cornerback handles his emotions, and locks in, will be something I'll be watching all afternoon.