The Oakland Raiders took care of the first part of their business trip last weekend, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 33-16 at EverBank Field, and they will now look to finish off their Florida swing with a second win, as they square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
While the Silver and Black are coming off a convincing win, so are the Bucs, as they beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-17 at Levi's Stadium in Week 7 action.
The Raiders own a 5-2 record and remain tied for the AFC West lead as they approach the halfway point of the 2016 campaign, and will look to remain there or take the outright lead with a win over the Buccaneers.
Fueled by a talented, young quarterback and a resurgent run game, Tampa Bay poses a big test for Head Coach Jack Del Rio's team. Here are three matchups that will be critical in determining the final outcome of the Week 8 rumble.
Linebacker Perry Riley, Jr. vs. Running Back Jacquizz Rodgers
The first day he arrived in Oakland, Perry Riley, Jr. was asked what he does well, and the veteran linebacker didn't hesitate – he thrives at stopping the run.
He'll have a big challenge in front of him Sunday afternoon, ironically in the form of 5'7" running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who has handled the bulk of the running duties since Doug Martin went down with a hamstring injury.
Now in his sixth season in the NFL – and his first in Tampa Bay – Rodgers has served almost exclusively as a third down, or complementary back since entering the league, but for the past two weeks, he's been the primary back in Martin's stead, and he's been impressive in the role.
Over the past two games – both wins for Tampa Bay – Rodgers has rushed for a combined 255 yards, averaging over four-and-a-half yards per carry in the process. They say a strong running game is a young quarterback's best friend, so if Riley and the Raiders defense can limit Rodgers offensively, it would put all the more pressure on the Buccaneers second-year signal-caller Jameis Winston.
Cornerback Sean Smith vs. Wide Receiver Mike Evans
The battle between Smith and Evans has all the makings for a physical battle out wide.
Evans is listed at 6'5" and 231 pounds, and the physically-imposing wideout can typically enforce his will on opposing cornerbacks, but that won't be the case against Smith.
Standing at 6'3" and tipping the scales at nearly 220 pounds himself, Smith is one of the biggest cornerbacks in the NFL, and won't be pushed around by Evans at the line of scrimmage, something that the Buccaneers wide receiver knows heading into the Week 8 clash.
"He's really good at the line of scrimmage, obviously, he's better when he presses," said Evans of Smith. "He can run, so I'm just going to have to battle at the line, and hopefully the refs let us play, and it will be a physical matchup."
Unsurprisingly, Evans leads the Bucs with 545 receiving yards, and six touchdowns, and without a clear No. 2 receiver behind him on the roster, if Smith and the Raiders are able to limit the third-year receiver, it would go a long way in helping to make the Tampa Bay offense one dimensional.
Guard Gabe Jackson vs. Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy
Seldom do you see a defensive tackle lead in a team in sacks, but Gerald McCoy is not your average, run-of-the-mill defensive tackle.
Since entering the league in 2010, the former Oklahoma Sooner has been a one-man wrecking crew, and he has the hardware to prove it. McCoy is a four-time Pro Bowler and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2013, and the Raiders are not taking the big man lightly in the least.
"They [Tampa Bay] have probably the best defensive tackle in the league," Head Coach Del Rio said earlier this week. "[They're] certainly in that conversation with [Gerald] McCoy. We'll have to know where he is at all times. He's a good football player."
Through six games, McCoy leads the Buccaneers with 2.5 sacks, but getting to Derek Carr behind the Raiders stout offensive line will prove to be no easy task for the 300-pound defensive tackle.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith likes to move McCoy around the defensive front, but Gabe Jackson will likely be tasked with neutralizing No. 93 for a majority of the game.
The Silver and Black have allowed just seven sacks all season, and the battle between Jackson and McCoy is one that I can't wait to see play out.