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Key Matchups: Tall task ahead for the Raiders of containing Jonathan Taylor


The Raiders defense vs. Jonathan Taylor

Who's the league leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, carries and first-down runs? You guessed it, Jonathan Taylor.

There's not much else that can be said about Taylor, who is in the midst of a borderline MVP season in his second year in the NFL. He's been a problem for a lot of defenses in the league this year, and a thorn in the side of the Raiders previously. In the Raiders' 44-27 loss to the Colts last season, Taylor ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns. This year, Taylor has surpassed the 100 rushing yard mark in nine games, with at least one rushing touchdown in 11 games.

With the injuries and COVID-related issues the Raiders are dealing with, it will have to be an alright team effort to stop Taylor. The Raiders run defense is trending upward, allowing less than 100 rushing yards in three of their last five games. Against the Broncos, they allowed only 18 rushing yards.

"I just think credit goes to [defensive coordinator] Gus [Bradley] and credit goes to the defense," Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia said Wednesday. "Certainly a lot of our identity is up front on our defensive front and what they've been able to do this year. It's really been all year and I know Gus talks about it, we seem to just keep improving week-in and week-out and we've been fortunate for the most part to hang on to those guys. ... So, it starts up front for us.

"It's a tall task. Again, it's a team that really concentrates on running the football, time of possession, those things. And we've seen this now. This will be the third week in a row we are playing against a really well-coached and really physical run game, and we'll show up and we'll be expected to perform and play well."

Gus Bradley vs. the Colts quarterback situation

At the moment, the Raiders are still unsure which quarterback they'll see in action Sunday. And honestly – it doesn't matter to Gus Bradley and his defense.

The Indianapolis Colts have a predicament on their hands as their starting quarterback Carson Wentz was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. Wentz has taken full control of the Colts offense in his first season with the team – throwing for over 3,200 passing yards with a 25:6 touchdown to interception ratio. Despite currently being out with COVID, there's still a chance that he could be activated in time for kickoff Sunday due to new league rules.

If the Colts can't get Wentz back in time for kickoff, they'll have to put their trust in rookie quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The sixth-round pick out of Texas has stepped into Wentz's role for practice this week, but has yet to throw a pass in a regular season NFL game, and has only received a handful of snaps in garbage time.

"We've watched them both, but obviously a guy like Carson – he's a bigger type quarterback. 240 pounds, runs, you'll see him and if he's asked to block, you'll see him block out there in some of the things we've seen," said Bradley. "So he's a guy who's has a real strong competitive mindset.

"Now with Sam, he comes in at times," continued Bradley. "They'll bring two quarterbacks in at the same time. When he comes in, he'll run the ball. He's got great job on the perimeter, some of the read-option comes a little bit more alive with him."

Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Colts, Bradley will have his team ready. The Raiders have fielded an 11th-ranked passing defense this season, and haven't allowed over 250 passing yards in a game since Week 12.

Hunter Renfrow vs. Kenny Moore II

One of the best slot receivers in the league is about to go toe-to-toe with one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league. You love to see it.

Both of these players are having their best NFL season to date, with both of their teams still in the fight for a playoff spot. Kenny Moore II has fought through great adversity as an undrafted free agent from Valdosta State to get where he is now. Currently in his fifth season with the Colts, he leads the team in interceptions (four) and pass deflections (13), and was selected to his first Pro Bowl this year.

Hunter Renfrow has been "invaluable" for the Raiders this season, according to Coach Bisaccia. The third-year receiver leads the team in catches (92), receiving yards (949) and receiving touchdowns (six). He's also on the verge of joining Tim Brown as the only receivers in Raiders history with over 100 catches in a season.

"He's really playing chess in the minds of some of these defensive backs," said Derek Carr. "It's really fun to watch him not only evolve as a football player, but mentally as a football player. If you are in the NFL, physically, you are probably able to do it. The thing that separates the guys that get to play for a while and the guys that maybe don't is the mental side of things, and sometimes injuries. So, you just pray that a guy like Hunter can stay healthy because the mental side of things is where he's starting to separate himself.

"And whenever your name is up there with Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, with Raider wide receivers, you know you are doing something right. The kind of year he's having, the names that he's around – Tim Brown and Jerry Rice are Hall of Famers. They are pretty darn good football players and for Hunter's name to be involved in that is pretty cool and it should speak volumes of the kind of football player that he could be someday."

With these two great players battling at the line of scrimmage, this matchup could potentially be a huge deciding factor in the results of the game.

On this date in 2006, Raiders legend John Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Take a look back at photos of Madden's career with the Raiders as we celebrate his induction.

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