We're going to learn a lot about the players on the Oakland Raiders over the next seven weeks.
Sitting at 1-8, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the likelihood of the Silver and Black finding themselves in the postseason tournament is admittedly slim, but regardless of the how the next seven weeks unfold, we will find out a ton about the individual players on the roster.
After staying in the Bay Area for essentially a month, Head Coach Jon Gruden and his team will hit the road this weekend, heading to the desert to take on the 2-7 Arizona Cardinals.
Kickoff at State Farm Stadium is scheduled for 1:05 PM; here are six things to keep an eye on.
1. How do the young receivers fare?
Marcell Ateman – come on down!
Without the services of Martavis Bryant for at least a couple of weeks, combined with uncertainty surrounding Jordy Nelson's health – at least for the time being – Coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders will now rely on the rookie from Oklahoma State to pick up some of the slack.
Originally elevated to the active roster on October 23, Ateman has been inactive each gameday, but it sure sounds like No. 88 is going to get his first chance to see live action this Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
The athletic rookie was productive during the preseason, and while there's a big difference between making plays in August, and making plays in November, I'm excited to see what Ateman does with his chance.
Fellow rookie wide receiver Saeed Blacknall was also pulled up to the active roster this week as well; might we see him make his debut too?
2. Don't let Chandler Jones change the game
I'll get this out of the way straight off the top – Chandler Jones is a beast.
With eight-and-a-half sacks so far in 2018, Jones ranks eighth in the league, and when given the chance, he has the ability to be a one-man wrecking crew.
Over the past two games, the Silver and Black have surrendered 12 sacks, and when your quarterback is under that much pressure, it's hard to find any type of offensive cohesion.
Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker have been thrown into the fire this season, and while that type of experience will ultimately end up helping them in the long run, it's no secret they've taken their lumps as rookies.
In the early stages of his Raiders career, Miller has squared off against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL – I'm looking at you Von Miller and Aaron Donald – but I think it's about time we start putting Chandler Jones in that echelon of guys as well.
If the Raiders want to get the offense back on track, they'll need a multitude of things to happen against the Cardinals; limiting Jones is a great place to start.
3. Get the run game rolling
Very quietly, Doug Martin has gone about his business, and ran the ball very effectively when he's gotten the chance the past several weeks.
Just to put some data behind that assertion – remember to always show your work – since Martin has taken over the starting role Week 8, the veteran running back has averaged 4.7 yards per carry, a noble number to be sure.
Now, I'm sure that Coach Gruden and his staff would like if Martin got a few more chances to actually carry the rock, but the fact remains, that when No. 28 has had his number called, he's delivered.
The Arizona Cardinals have struggled to stop the run all year – they currently surrender 140 rushing yards per game – so I have a feeling that's a weakness the Raiders will try to exploit this weekend.
4. One game at a time
Kyle Martin and I recently sat down for an episode of Upon Further Review and discussed how we would define "success" over the final seven games, and I said that for me, it would be seeing tangible improvement across the board from week to week.
Well, even though the Raiders took an "L" last weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers, I think it's fair to say that we did see an improved brand of football from Paul Guenther's group.
Yes, there were a few big plays that ultimately cost the Silver and Black against the Bolts, but by and large, I thought the Raiders defense got back on the right track.
Headed into Week 11, the Cardinals rank in the NFL cellar of nearly every offensive metric, so I'm looking forward to seeing if make life miserable for Josh Rosen and an offense with some noticeable shortcomings.
5. Johnny Townsend's second act
If you're looking for an MVP from last week's game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, look no further than Johnny Townsend.
Not only did the man successfully execute a 42-yard fake punt, but all three of his actual kicks traveled at least 50 yards.
After an admittedly up and down first half of his rookie season, it was great to see the Raiders rookie punter put it all together, and really have the type of impact we've been waiting to see.
Playing inside a dome this weekend, Townsend will likely have near-perfect kicking conditions; let's see how he follows up his big game last week.
It's no secret, the Silver and Black have to find a way to put up points in recent weeks.
The last time the Raiders scored a touchdown was Week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts, and simply put, that has to be better.
The Cardinals rank 20th in total defense headed into Sunday's clash in the desert, so Derek Carr and the boys should have their chances to find paydirt in Arizona.
Currently looking to buck a five-game skid, if the Raiders want to return home victorious, putting up points – touchdowns in particular – will be key.