Defensive End Khalil Mack
The Silver and Black are going primetime.
Just over halfway through the regular season schedule, the Oakland Raiders are set to make their 2016 primetime debut this weekend, appearing on Sunday Night Football as they play host to the Denver Broncos.
Entering the Week 9 showdown at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, both teams possess overall records of 6-2, with the winner of the matchup earning sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
The lights will be bright, and all eyes will be on Head Coach Jack Del Rio's group as they play the marquee game of the weekend, so let's take a look at five questions we have heading into the divisional bout with the Broncos.
1. Will Sean Smith see the field?
Cornerback Sean Smith played just two defensive snaps before leaving last week's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early with a shoulder injury, and then proceeded to miss Wednesday's practice as well.
However, the physical cornerback somewhat surprisingly returned to practice Thursday afternoon – albeit it in a limited capacity – giving hope to the notion that he could strap the pads on Sunday night against the Broncos.
While we likely won't know for certain if No. 21 can go until game time, if he is able to hit the field against the Broncos, it will serve as a huge boost for the Raiders secondary as they attempt to contain the Broncos tandem of wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas in particular, who stands at 6'3", has the pure size to be problematic for a smaller cornerback, so I'll be watching closely to see if, and how much, Smith is able to play Sunday night.
2. Does Khalil Mack keep rolling?
After a sluggish start to the regular season, No. 52 has been on a roll the past couple weeks.
Not only does Mack now have four sacks in his past three games, but he's filling the stat sheet up across the board as well, and making his presence all across the defensive front. Over the past month, Mack has begun to look like the All-Pro defensive end that secured 15 sacks last year, and he's getting hot at the right time.
"He's a great player," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said of Mack. "He's a great effort player. They're very balanced on their edges now, getting [Bruce] Irvin on the other side, so very, very difficult to deal with. He played extremely well last week."
Let's not forget either, the last time the Silver and Black took on the Broncos, Mack had a pretty decent day, finishing the Week 13 win with five, yes five, sacks.
3. Will the run game hit the century mark?
The past two games – both wins for the Raiders – the team has managed to amass at least 100 yards on the ground.
Yes, they'll certainly have their hands full going against the vaunted Denver defense, but if there is one chink in the armor of the Broncos defensive attack, it's stopping the run.
While defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' group is the No. 3 ranked defense in the NFL, they're only ranked No. 24 in stopping the run, as they're currently allowing 117.4 yards per game on the ground.
The Silver and Black's offense has shown that they're most dynamic when boasting a balanced attack, and with the recent success of the ground – which unsurprisingly coincides with the return of Latavius Murray – I'll be looking to see if that trend can continue against the Broncos.
4. Can the offensive line limit Von Miller?
Now, this is a battle I can't wait to watch play out Sunday night at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Statistically speaking, the Raiders have had one of the best offensive lines in football – the group has allowed just nine sacks on the season – but they'll face their toughest test thus far Sunday night when Von Miller lines up against them.
Miller is unquestionably one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Not only is he a four-time Pro Bowler, but he's also earned First-Team All-Pro honors twice, and was named the Super Bowl 50 MVP to boot. Like Khalil Mack, Miller is an elite pass rusher, and through eight games in 2016, he's already tallied 8.5 sacks, in addition to two passes defensed, and one forced fumble.
The game-within-the- game of Miller against the offensive line will be an exciting to matchup to watch, and I, for one, can't wait to see how it plays out.
5. Can the Silver and Black handle business at home?
Through eight games, the Raiders have looked like two different teams depending on whether or not they're playing at home or on the road.
Away from home, the Silver and Black have been impeccable, boasting a 5-0 record; however, back at the friendly combines of the OACC, it's been a different story, as the team has struggled to get rolling, earning just a 1-2 record at home.
Derek Carr and Co., will certainly have a big stage to attempt to right the ship Sunday night, and while Head Coach Del Rio hasn't been able to give a reason for the difference in the team's play at home, he'll certainly be looking for a quality effort from the team on a national stage.
Yes, the matchup against the Broncos is just the next game on the schedule, but as they say, the lights always seem to shine a little bit brighter on Sunday night.