Guess what, Raider Nation? We’re on the road… again.
After five consecutive games away from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Head Coach Jon Gruden’s team will finally wrap up the road trip of your nightmares Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
Both teams are coming off losses in Week 7, so the sense of urgency will no doubt be there for all parties involved; kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. PT, here six things to watch once the action gets underway.
1. Does The Greatest Underdog get back to work?
The Silver and Black were without the services of Trent Brown last week in Green Bay, and even though No. 77 wasn’t able to go, the big fellas up front were still able to put together a very nice day at the office.
That said, Brown is an elite tackle – and likely the best right tackle in the NFL – and it’s nearly impossible to replicate the type of production he brings to the line.
While Brown is still likely not 100 percent, he was able to go through practice – albeit it in a limited capacity Wednesday and Thursday – and conventional wisdom would suggest that Brown would be able to give it a go Sunday against the Texans.
And with J.J. Watt still roaming the Houston defensive line, the Raiders will need all the healthy bodies they have at their disposal.
2. The next man up
General Manager Mike Mayock and Coach Gruden were greasing deals this week as they sent Gareon Conley to the Houston Texans in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The former Ohio State Buckeye started every game of 2019 for the Raiders, so his departure means that another defensive back – or two – will have a chance to step up and earn some reps out wide in tandem with Daryl Worley.
From everything we’ve heard this week, the first shot at that job will go to rookie cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who we haven’t seen play any type of extended run since the season opener against the Denver Broncos, but confidence in the former Clemson Tiger is high headed into what would be his first NFL start.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said that we’ll likely see Nevin Lawson and Kiesean Nixon worked in some capacity, but it sure sounds like the majority of the reps come game time will belong to Mr. Mullen.
Welcome to the big show, rook; let’s see what you got.
3. While all eyes will be on the rookie…
Don’t forget about Daryl Worley, who I would expect will get a good amount of time lined up directly across from DeAndre Hopkins.
While Will Fuller won’t hit the gridiron Sunday afternoon, Deshaun Watson still has Hopkins out wide, and coming off one of his best performances of 2019, stopping No. 10 will be paramount for the Raiders if they want to fly back to Northern California with a W.
Throughout the entirety of 2019, Gruden and Guenther have lauded Worley for his versatility, but I think that his main goal come Sunday will be keeping Hopkins out of the end zone, and that’s no easy task.
Everyone on the Silver and Black’s defense will now have to step up, and that’s going to have to begin with No. 20.
4. Let those horses gallop
The run game has been the strength of the 2019 Oakland Raiders all season, but over the past three weeks in particular, the Silver and Black have really hit their stride, totaling at least 150 yards in each of those contests.
Now, the Texans have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, so things won’t be easy for the Raiders’ backs, but keep an eye on the group to see if they can once again set the tone at the line of scrimmage.
Josh Jacobs didn’t in full all week, and while we still think he’s going to be good to go come Sunday afternoon, I expect we’ll likely get a healthy dose of DeAndré Washington and Jalen Richard as well.
We’ve seen the formula for a Raiders victory play out in the team’s three wins this year, and getting things rolling on the ground is a key pillar of said formula; keep an eye on Jacobs and the running backs to see if they’re able to get that done.
5. Who lines up out wide?
It’s a question we ask each week, but until the Silver and Black’s wide receiving corps returns to full capacity, it’s one we’ll continue to ask.
So, with a (hopefully) healthy Tyrell Williams back in the fold, who else will step up out wide for Derek Carr and the offense?
Last week, Keelan Doss, Hunter Renfrow and Trevor Davis handled most of the heavy lifting at wideout, but I wonder if we’ll get our first look at Zay Jones this week at NRG Stadium.
Even if Williams isn’t 100 percent against the Texans, merely having him back on the field will give the group some stability, and immensely help out the tight end corps as well.
Darren Waller and the dudes in Frank Smith’s group have been stellar all year, but I think a little help from the wide receivers would go a long way.
6. Maestro Carr
Derek Carr’s stats in 2019 might not blow you away, but make no mistake about it, No. 4 has been an integral cog in getting the Raiders’ offense in positive positions all season.
DC has by and large been smart with the football, and while the running game is getting a ton of shine right now – deservedly so – the Silver and Black’s starting quarterback deserves his fair share of credit for assisting with that as well.
At the end of the day, Carr still has the ability to make any throw on the football field, and I’m excited to see how he leads the Raider offense against a really dynamic Texans defense.
Head out to Alameda, Calif. and check out photos from the Raiders' practice as they prepare for their Week 8 game against the Houston Texans.