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Key Matchups To Watch: Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans


Get ready Mexico City; the Oakland Raiders are coming.

After a much-needed bye last weekend, the Silver and Black will return to the gridiron on Monday Night Football for a Week 11 "home" game at Estadio Azteca where they'll face off against the 6-3 Houston Texans.

Back in primetime, Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his squad will look to keep pace in the ultra-competitive AFC West with a win over the Texans, so here are three matchups to keep an eye on when the Silver and Black take the field in Mexico City.

Wide Receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree vs. Cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph

If you take a look at what the Houston Texans do offensively, the stats don't necessarily blow you away.

Offensive coordinator George Godsey's group ranks 30th in total offense (308.8 yards per game), and dead last in the league in passing offense (187.3 yards per game), so how have Texans run up an AFC South-leading 6-3 record through nine games?

Well, they've taken advantage of their opportunities on offense, and relied heavily on a stout defense, a defense that is particularly stingy against the pass.

At just over the halfway point in the 2016 regular season, the Texans rank No. 3 in pass defense, allowing just 196.8 yards per game through the air.

The team's base cornerbacks for a majority of the season have been Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph, and both have been very sticky in coverage (they have 10 passes defensed between them), but the Texans duo will certainly have their hands full trying to slow down Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

It's no secret that Derek Carr and the Raiders offense has been humming for most of the season, so seeing how they square up against one of the top-ranked defensive units in the league will be a lot of fun to watch.

Defensive End Khalil Mack vs. Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney

As the first two defensive players taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney will likely always be connected in some sense.

The Texans owned the first overall pick in the draft and elected to select Clowney, the athletic specimen from the University of South Carolina who had one of the most famous hits in college football history on his highlight reel. Then, four spots later, General Manager Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders selected Mack, the soft-spoken then-linebacker from the University of Buffalo.

While both players are still in the early stages of their careers, you'd have to say that Mack has enjoyed a little more success thus far; he has been named to a Pro Bowl, a First-Team All-Pro, and has tallied 26 sacks, while Clowney has just 7.5 sacks and no postseason accolades to his name as of yet.

However, although the numbers haven't really been there for the young defensive end, he's still a premier talent, and that's something that the Raiders on both sides of the ball are aware of.

"I think he's a good player," said defensive end Jihad Ward. "I like his hunger, he's a hungry type of player. He gives his all on the field. He's a good player – he's a great player."

While Mack and Clowney won't necessarily be going toe-to-toe Monday night at Estadio Azteca, they both certainly have the ability to impact the game, so be sure to keep an eye on the defensive ends and see who makes their presence felt more.

Also, keep in mind that the last time No. 52 lined up across the line from Brock Osweiler, he finished the game with not one, not two, not, three, but five sacks.

Running Back Latavius Murray vs. Middle Linebacker Brian Cushing

Looking at the Texans defense, if there's one area that the group has struggled in 2016, it's been their run defense.

While Houston boasts one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, they rank No. 26 in the league in stopping the run, allowing nearly 121 yards per game on the ground.

Conversely, since the return of running back Latavius Murray after a two-game injury hiatus, the Raiders have been a dominant group on the ground – they've averaged 163 yards on the ground during their three-game winning streak.

The Silver and Black have done a tremendous job as of late controlling the line of scrimmage, and they'll look to keep that trend going Sunday night against the Texans.

Offensively, when the Raiders have been balanced in their attack, it has typically spelled positive results for the team as a whole, and with a vulnerable defensive front, I'll be keeping a close eye on Murray, in particular, to see if he can exert his will throughout the matchup against the Texans.

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