Even with a few setbacks along the way, the Las Vegas Raiders are on their way to hitting full stride this season.
The Silver and Black are returning to Allegiant Stadium on Sunday to play their division rival Denver Broncos in the first of two matchups this season. The Raiders are currently 5-3 and alive and well in the playoff hunt as they currently stand at the No. 6 seed spot in the AFC. A win against Denver will further push them into contention, however the Broncos are not planning on handing anything over to the Raiders.
The Denver Broncos will be led by their quarterback of the future Drew Lock, who has produced a few comebacks this season with the help of his weapons Melvin Gordon, Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant. On the defensive side of the ball they are lead by linebacker Bradley Chubb, who leads the team in sacks (5.5), and safety Justin Simmons who leads the team in interceptions (3) and pass deflections (5).
Here are six things to watch out for in the AFC West showdown Sunday.
Alec Freakin' Ingold
Alec Ingold went down in Los Angeles with a rib injury last Sunday and was hospitalized. It was later reported by NFL media outlets that he suffered two broken ribs.
Three days later he was back at practice.
The strength and will of the Silver and Black fullback has been something that has been marveled at by his coaches and his teammates as he prepares to play Sunday against the Broncos without any limitations.
"Alec Ingold, to Raider fans, he's going to be one of their favorites," said Coach Gruden. "When they see him play live and when they meet him, he's like [Mark] van Eeghen and Marv Hubbard. He's like the old guys, he's like the throwback guys. He will not come off the field. He insists on playing.
"I'd be shocked if he's not ready to play great on Sunday."
DC for MVP?
Derek Carr has mentioned countless of times this season that he doesn't care for the individual accolades as much anymore, but he truly does deserve some for his play so far this season.
Derek Carr will be looking to continue the most successful season of his career so far against a subpar Broncos pass defense that's ranked 11th fewest passing yards allowed. Carr has currently thrown for over 2,000 yards with a 16:2 touchdown to interception ratio. He's done it while completing nearly 70 percent of his throws.
Carr has showed no signs of slowing down so far this season, and it's not likely he will in Allegiant Stadium on Sunday.
Next men up for Cory Littleton
The Raiders' leading tackler Cory Littleton was placed on the COVID reserve list Thursday, therefore he will not be able to play Sunday against the Broncos.
While Littleton's presence will be missed at the outside linebacker position, the Raiders will be getting key production from his backups Nicholas Morrow and Raekwon McMillan, who they acquired from the Miami Dolphins via trade during training camp. Jon Gruden is confident that these two will be able to step up and successfully fill the void of Littleton on Sunday.
"I think Nick is one of the best linebackers we have. I think he's a heck of a player," said Coach Gruden. "We're excited for him and his opportunity. We didn't trade for Raekwon because of any other reason: We think he's a good linebacker that can play in a lot of situations. We hate to see Cory not here; he's a big part of our team, but Nick Morrow has played a lot of football for us in this system, and he's more than capable of stepping up."
Big-time rookie returns
One of the more overlooked storylines going into Sunday's game are the returns of two rookie standouts for the Silver and Black who has missed time due to injuries.
Damon Arnette (thumb) and Bryan Edwards (knee) are set to return to the field against the Broncos after missing several weeks due to injuries, Arnette and Edwards were both full participants in practice this week and are expected to play barring any setbacks.
Coach Gruden said that Arnette "looked good" in practice Friday and that he will be worked into the game plan for Sunday barring any setbacks. The return of Edwards will also be great for the Silver and Black, as the rookie out of South Carolina was averaging nearly 20 yards per catch before his knee injury put him on the shelf.
Containing No. 10
Speaking of Damon Arnette's return, it could not come at a better time as the Raiders will have all hands on deck against the Broncos star rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy.
Jerry Jeudy has established himself as the No. 1 receiver in a Broncos offense spearheaded by Vic Fangio and Drew Lock. Lock has connected with Jeudy for the most yards of any of his receivers this season with 484. They have also connected for two touchdowns.
The Raiders coaching staff has acknowledged how dangerous the rookie out of Alabama can be due to his superb route running. Coach Gruden said that Jeudy was a "smooth" receiver and Coach Guenther described him as "really precise." Henry Ruggs, Jeudy's former teammate at Alabama, is prepared to do whatever it takes to get the win against his friend turned divisional foe.
"It's always exciting to play against guys that you know, especially guys you've played alongside with," said Henry Ruggs. "It will be an exciting game, but of course we want to come out and do what we got to do to get our win."
Raiders looking for home cooking
Despite the Raiders returning to Allegiant Stadium, their home-field advantage hasn't truly kicked into gear so far this season.
The Raiders home record so far this season has been 1-2 with a Monday Night victory over the Saints. However, they boast a 4-1 record on the road, including a win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. The home-field advantage in Allegiant Stadium has mostly been minimized by no fan attendance inside the new stadium due to the COVID pandemic and safety precautions.
"Well, it's disappointing. That's really disappointing," said Coach Gruden Wednesday regarding their home record. "We only got one fan that comes to the game, so we blame Bob Stiriti, our security man, he's our only fan. We have to get Bob Stiriti fired up to make some noise. That's been a real problem. We love playing in our stadium. We have tremendous respect for who we represent. It sickens us that we can't play in front of our fans, but we have to do better.
"To have a little fun during these tough times, we blame Bob for all of our lapses at home."
The Silver and Black get one last practice in at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center before their Week 10 matchup against the Denver Broncos.