Running Back Latavius Murray
The Oakland Raiders will look to get back in the win column Sunday afternoon when they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.
The Jaguars are coming off back-to-back wins, and similarly to the Silver and Black, the team is led by a young, franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles.
While Jacksonville may boast just a 2-4 record, they do have an impressive pass defense, and also have the weapons out wide to put points up in a hurry. The Raiders will no doubt have their hands full this weekend, so let's take a look five questions we have heading into the Week 7 matchup in the Sunshine State.
1. Will Latavius Murray suit up and be available Sunday?
The biggest question surrounding the Raiders as they prepare for their matchup with the Jaguars revolves around No. 28 and his availability for Sunday's game.
After missing the past two weeks recovering from a toe injury, Murray returned to the practice field this week, which is good news for his possible return to the gridiron Sunday afternoon at EverBank Field.
However, toe injuries are known to be fickle, so the Raiders training staff will want to ensure that the Pro Bowl running back is ready to roll, and not rush his return if he's not.
Last week it certainly looked like the Silver and Black's rushing attack missed the physical back in the wind and the rain, so I'll be waiting to see if Murray is indeed able to play Sunday, or if the rookie tandem of Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington will once again be carry the bulk of the load.
2. Can the third down efficiency improve?
In last week's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders offense looked uncharacteristically out of sync.
While Amari Cooper enjoyed a banner day at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, he was one of the few bright spots on the offensive side of the football, and Head Coach Jack Del Rio believes that a big reason why the team wasn't able to find any rhythm was because of its struggles on third down.
The Silver and Black were just 4-of-10 on third down last week, and through six games, their third down efficiency (36.1 percent) statistically ranks towards the bottom of the league.
Being able to convert on third down is critical for myriad reasons, mainly it keeps the chains moving, and helps establish some offensive rhythm for Derek Carr and Co.
The Raiders have all the tools to be a top-flight offense in the NFL – they've shown that through the majority of their games thus far – and while last week's effort was admittedly not up to their standards, an increase in their third down efficiency would go a long way to ensuring that the group returns to its previously-dominant ways.
3. How does the situation at right tackle play out?
While Latavius Murray's return to the field earned much of the limelight and conversation, tackle Menelik Watson was also able to get back to work this week, returning to practice for the first time since leaving the team's Week 3 win over the Tennessee Titans early due to injury.
While Watson's return is great news for the offensive line – a unit that has seemingly been bitten by the injury bug all season – I'll be interested to see if he's immediately inserted back into the starting lineup.
Let's remember that the English national did earn the starting job coming out of training camp, beating out veteran tackle Austin Howard after a strong showing in the preseason.
Even with the constant personnel changes, the offensive line's play has remained consistent this season, so keep an eye on Watson and how much time he sees on the field against the Jaguars.
4. Can the defense put together a complete effort?
It's been talked about time and time again; through the first six games of the regular season, the Raiders defense has struggled.
Yes, the team is 4-2 and tied for the lead in the AFC West, but if the Raiders want to make as serious bid to make the postseason for the first time since 2002, defensively, the team must improve.
There's really no way around it.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., has remained confident in the group, stating that the team is just a few, minor adjustments away from seeing a dramatic improvement.
The fact remains that the Silver and Black's defense has yet to put together a complete performance thus far, but they have a great opportunity in front of them this weekend as they square off against a Jaguars offense that ranks No. 29 in the NFL in yards per game (320).
The group is hungry – there's no doubt about that – so seeing how Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and the rest of the Raiders defense performs Sunday will certainly be something to be keyed in on.
5. Will the Raiders win the quarterback battle?
Sunday's game at EverBank Field is set to feature two of the more exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL.
On one sideline, Derek Carr, the Raiders quarterback who after earning his first Pro Bowl selection last season, has picked up right where he left off, and is having arguably an even better season than he did in 2015.
And on the other, Blake Bortles, a former No. 3 overall draft pick, who has the prototypical size and arm strength that NFL teams covet.
Both Carr and Bortles are undoubtedly the leaders of their respective teams, and whichever quarterback can put together the more impressive day at the office Sunday, will likely see their team go home with a win in tow.