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Raiders Mailbag: How're Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow looking heading into Week 8?

Scott Boe asks:

"While I am happy that we seem to have found our offensive identity over the last few weeks, what are we to make of this defense so far, Levi?"

You have every reason to be happy about the offense, Scott. They're currently ranked near the top of the league in points scored per game and scoring percentage on drives.

As for the defense, they're still forging their identity. They've been able to prosper against the run, allowing the third-fewest total rushing yards this season, and are also getting the most out of edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who's among the league leaders in sacks (6.0) and tackles for loss (11).

Patrick Graham and his unit are still working to improve their pass defense, as the Silver and Black have allowed the sixth-most passing touchdowns and allowed the seventh-highest third-down conversion rating this season. If these two categories – along with red zone defense – continue to improve, the Raiders will be in good shape, according to Head Coach Josh McDaniels.

"I thought we made some progress in the red zone last week," McDaniels said following the win against the Houston Texans. "Stiffened up a little bit in the defensive end when they got down there inside the 25-yard line, and that's always going to be an area that we discuss a lot because there's nothing more important than those two things: turnovers and points.

"Really our focus is going to be on those two areas primarily. How can we limit explosive plays, how can we limit points in the red zone and how can we take the football away, I would say, much like most defenses are. So, a few areas where we're going to try to see if we can make some progress."

John Hayes Sr. asks:

"What is up with Waller and Renfrow?"

Both Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow have been a bit banged up this season, however the health of both is trending upward.

Renfrow missed two games earlier in the season with a concussion and is still nursing a hip injury that kept him questionable ahead of last week's game. However, he was able to suit up against the Texans and caught three passes for 55 yards.

Waller missed the game against the Texans with a hamstring injury suffered Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Pro Bowl tight end returned to practice this week and could potentially see a return against the New Orleans Saints this Sunday if both he and the coaching staff feel he's ready to go.

"I felt good today," Waller said Wednesday. "Good day at practice, no issues running around. Just grateful to be back out there."

The health of the two pass catchers, alongside Davante Adams and Mack Hollins, will be key moving forward for the Raiders.

Bill Barry says:

"Run the ball, use play-action and bootleg plays."

Yes, yes and yes again.

The Raiders' ground game has been dominant with Josh Jacobs leading the way. The fourth-year running back has rushed for over 140 yards and at least one touchdown in his past three games. And with the way the offensive line and receivers are blocking for him, it doesn't look like his production is taking a dip anytime soon.

With Jacobs' efforts on the ground, it's done wonders for Derek Carr in play-action calls. This season, Carr has completed 76.9 percent of passes and averaging 10.2 yards per attempt in play-action, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I think it all starts with how we run the football," said Carr. "When I turn my back and stick the ball out to Josh's stomach, people have to believe it. And so we were able to hit some good play-action passes, but that all stems from the offensive line and Josh going to work. So, if we want to keep doing that, we've got to keep running the ball well and be able to have both phases. A lot of execution and all that kind of stuff comes into play."

So yes Bill, Derek Carr agrees with you – keep running the rock and that will open everything else up.

View the best photos from practice at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center as the Raiders prepare for their Week 8 away game against the New Orleans Saints.

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