And we’re off!
Following a few precious days at home, the Oakland Raiders are back on the road, flying to Indianapolis Friday in advance of their Week 4 clash against the Colts Sunday afternoon.
After the game wraps up, the Silver and Black will then head overseas to England where they’ll spend the week before taking on the Chicago Bears at Tottenham Stadium in London the week following.
While the trip abroad is obviously heavy on the mind, let’s first look ahead to a very good Colts team that is coming off back-to-back wins in their own respect.
Kickoff is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PST; here are six things you need to watch once action gets underway.
1. The state of the linebackers
After the Silver and Black’s linebacking corps got beat up pretty badly last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Head Coach Jon Gruden said that because of the injuries the group sustained, he and General Manager Mike Mayock would be looking at feasible options going forward.
Well, the duo certainly did just that, signing Dakota Allen from the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad, then elevating Justin Phillips from their own practice squad headed into the week of practice leading up to Week 4.
With Marquel Lee now on the reserve/injured list, the starting trio of linebackers figures to be Tahir Whitehead, Vontaze Burfict and Nicholas Morrow, with the two new guys and Kyle Wilber adding depth.
How does the group fare Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium? Well, that’ll be a major storyline to watch unfold once action gets underway.
2. Can the Silver and Black stop the run?
Speaking of the challenge that Sunday presents for the Raiders’ linebackers – I’m curious to see how the entirety of Pau Guenther’s defense does at stopping the Indianapolis rushing attack.
Through three weeks, stopping the run has provided mixed results for the Raiders.
The first two weeks were stellar – excellent even – but unfortunately, the group couldn’t make it three weeks in a row last week at U.S. Bank Stadium as the Vikings racked up north of 200 rushing yards en route to a 20-point loss.
Now, Dalvin Cook is among the “elite” backs in the NFL, make no mistake about it, but with 299 rushing yards, Marlon Mack ranks No. 3 on the rushing list thus far among all running backs.
Similarly to the Vikings, the Colts hang their hat on running the football – they’re averaging nearly 150 yards per game on the ground in 2019 – and if the Raiders want to head to London with a “W” in tow, they’re going to have to find a way to return to their stout ways up front.
3. Chapter IV of the Josh Jacobs Experience
Man, it sure seems like we’re talking a lot about “the run” a lot in the first half of the six pack, but I feel like its pertinent headed into Sunday.
While keeping Marlon Mack and the Colts’ running backs at bay will be a huge priority Sunday afternoon, equally as important will be getting Josh Jacobs rolling as well.
After a really solid start to his pro career, the Vikings did a good job of taking the dynamic rookie out of the game last week – and truthfully, being down 21 points early didn’t help – but if the Silver and Black’s offense wants to get back to cooking like they know they can, No. 28 has to get his touches.
Even though the University of Alabama product only got 11 touches at U.S. Bank Stadium, he still averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry, and with 228 rushing yards through three weeks, Jacobs is a Top 10 rusher in his own right, and it would behoove the Raiders to get him going against the Colts.
4. Fast like a Nas-Carr?
I’d like to shout myself out for sneaking a Keak Da Sneak reference into the Pick Six this week.
Anyways, after essentially perfect starts in the first two games of the regular season, last week – for whatever reason – the Raiders’ offense couldn’t get fired up on their first possession, and really couldn’t find their footing at all until later in the first half.
Well, if the Silver and Black want to secure their first road win of 2019, Derek Carr and the offense are going to have to return to form in front of a very raucous Lucas Oil Stadium crowd.
If you want to win on the road, you have to take the crowd out of the game. The best way to do that? Score some points in a hurry.
Let’s see if the Raiders do just that.
5. How does Darren Waller build on his career day?
I’m not sure to suggest that Darren Waller will have another 13-catch, 134-yard performance in Indy – as dope as that would be – but I am genuinely curious to see how he responds to what I assume will be an increase in defensive attention.
Through the first few weeks of the season, the Raiders’ athletic tight end kind of flew under the radar, but after what he did to the Minnesota defense last week, I don’t think he’s going to be able to hide anymore.
Waller is a matchup nightmare for any defensive coordinator, so Matt Eberflus is going to have his hands full Sunday afternoon, but I imagine that shutting down No. 83 is paramount for the Indianapolis defense.
Headed into Sunday, Waller is currently the team’s leading receiver, both in receptions and in receiving yards, so keep an eye on him to see if he can keep ahold of that top spot.
6. Return of the pass rush?
There weren’t many position groups that had big days last weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium, and the Raiders’ defensive line was no different.
In addition to the struggles the group had stopping the run, Kirk Cousins also had ample time to operate, and wasn’t sacked once en route to the 20-point Minnesota win.
Sacks aren’t the be all, end all, stat to determine the health of a defensive line, but getting some pressure on Jacoby Brissett would help the Raiders’ defense as a whole in Indy.
The Colts offensive line is one of the better units in the NFL, so Brentson Buckner’s group will have a big challenge in front of them in Week 4, but if they can make life difficult for Brissett, I like the Silver and Black’s chances.
Kickoff is scheduled for 10:00 AM PST.
Check out photos from Alameda, Calif. as the Raiders hit the field for another day of practice before their matchup against the Colts.