No. 83 is a marked man
If Darren Waller has taught me anything this season, it's that you can't cover him one-on-one.
Waller is coming off the best game of his career with 13 receptions, 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Jets. I feel terrible for the fantasy football owners that had to go against this man last Sunday.
Exposing defenses has become routine for Waller this season, as he leads the Raiders in receiving yards (742), catches (77) and touchdowns (seven). He's also second in the NFL in all of those same categories for tight ends.
The Indianapolis Colts will undoubtedly have a plan to try to stop the star tight end, and their defense has proven they can this season. The Colts currently boast the eighth-best pass defense in the league, lead by All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin. If the Colts find a way to zone-in on Waller and other receivers such as Henry Ruggs, Nelson Agholor and Hunter Renfrow will need to step up and play elite football.
"I would think when you target a guy 17 or 18 times they probably have a great plan, as most teams do, but you look at our statistics," said Coach Gruden. "I think we have 11 players that have caught 10 passes or more, so we're going to throw it to somebody that's open, and hopefully we can get someone open."
Who's going to stop the run?
Both of these teams are going into Sunday's game with some subpar performances in defending the run their past couple of games.
The Silver and Black has allowed an average of 146 rushing yards their past three games, giving up 206 rushing yards to the Jets in MetLife Stadium. The Colts have also had difficulty stopping the run recently, allowing 128 yards over the span of their past three games. With both teams having talented run stoppers upfront with Clelin Ferrell and DeForest Buckner, stopping the run will be critical for both teams going into Sunday.
"We didn't play blocks very well; we misfit a few runs, which is really unusual for us," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "We've been pretty good throughout the course of the year of understanding where our fits are. It was really a combination of the front, the linebackers, the secondary support; all those things kind of unraveled a little bit in one game for us.
"We got to get that cleaned up and that's what we are concentrating on this week."
Getting the band back together
Put some respect on that man Tom Cable's name.
The Silver and Black has seen it all when it comes to the offensive line this season. Coming into the season ranked as the best that football has to offer by PFF, multiple injuries and miscues has prevented us from seeing the unit at full force. However, even with the Raiders seeing ten different offensive linemen start throughout the duration of this season, they have been able to maintain a top-tier offense. The Raiders have been a top-12 offense in rushing yards and points per game and have helped protect Derek Carr, who's thrown for over 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.
"Our offensive line, I think, is the best in the NFL. I love those guys," said Derek Carr. "I think all of them should be Pro Bowlers, I think all of them should go get every accolade ever because of what they've been doing and how many positions they've played."
Trent Brown is currently questionable and has been at practice with the active roster this week. If Brown is ready to play Sunday in Allegiant Stadium, it will be the first game that 4 out of 5 of the original starting offensive linemen have been together since the Raiders' Week 5 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"We're talking about Trent, one of the premiere tackles in all of the National Football League," said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. "Anytime you lose a guy of that talent and capability, it's a blow to your offense. So again, the sight of him being out there and watching him move and seeing him do the types of things he can do, it really adds value to what we're trying to do offensively.
"We certainly would love to have him. With Richie [Incognito] going on IR, to have four of the five would be huge down the stretch."
If the Silver and Black want to defeat the Colts, they'll need a lot from their Clemson University alumni.
There are currently six former Clemson Tigers on the Raiders roster, with several of them being integral parts of the team.
Hunter Renfrow is second on the team in receiving yards (556) and receptions (42) and is a key receiver Carr has come to look for in third-down situations. Clelin Ferrell is coming off a phenomenal performance against the Jets with two strip sacks that led to points on the board for the Raiders. Trayvon Mullen also has been the backbone of the banged-up Raiders secondary, showcasing shutdown cornerback skills over the past several weeks with 12 passes defended and two interceptions this season.
"I don't know if that's a coincidence or not," said Coach Gruden. "Obviously we like good players like everybody else, and there's a lot of good ones at Clemson, and I know Dabo Sweeney and some of those coaches there, they do a great job of mentoring these players to come in here with a good work ethic, big upside and the ability to learn. And they can take criticism, they are mentally tough kids, and we'll keep our doors open for more Tigers in the future."
The Silver and Black also recently added former All-Pro defensive lineman Vic Beasley to their lineup. The former Clemson Tiger is poised to see more production for the Raiders defense down the last stretch of this season.
Arnette, Heath out with concussions
The Raiders' injury woes in the secondary continue as the team's hard-nosed rookie and interception leader will both be out against the Colts.
Jon Gruden confirmed to the media Friday afternoon that both cornerback Damon Arnette and safety Jeff Heath have been ruled out for Sunday's game with concussions. Both suffered their concussions in last Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
With the absence of the two players, the Raiders must use all of the assets they have remaining against the Colts including second-year standout Trayvon Mullen, Nevin Lawson, Isaiah Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner.
Down to the wire on Abram and Jacobs
In classic Temptations fashion, I ain't too proud to beg: It's extremely vital that Josh Jacobs and Johnathan Abram are able to play on Sunday.
Both players were out of action last Sunday against the Jets, and it showed. Not only do their skills and playmaking abilities add a lot to the Raiders, but their intensity and passion to the game add another level that's just not seen when they haven't played.
Fortunately, both Jacobs and Abram have practiced in a limited capacity this week Coach Gruden has confirmed they are questionable for Sunday's game and that they'll have to "see how they feel on Saturday." Jacobs currently has rushed for 782 yards and nine touchdowns this season and has arguably become the best all-around player in the Raiders offense with his uptick in production in the passing game. Abram is second on the team in tackles (63) and interceptions (two).
This may be the most important game of the Raiders' season, as they are facing a team directly in their way of making the playoffs for the first time since 2016. While the status of the two players are still up in the air, their presence would definitely be needed Sunday if they're able to suit up.
The Silver and Black go through final preparations for their Week 14 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts during practice at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center.