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Pick Six: Will The Defense Improve Under John Pagano?

Finally, finally, finally, the Oakland Raiders are back home.

Yes, the Silver and Black, technically played a "home" game last weekend in Mexico City, but as Head Coach Jack Del Rio said, it's kind of hard to consider it a home game when you fly four hours to get to the stadium.

Sunday afternoon, in front of what will assuredly be a packed house at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Raiders will play host to the Denver Broncos, in a game that both teams need to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture.

There are an abundance of storylines headed into Sunday's game, so here are six things you should watch once the Week 12 tilt kicks off.

1. The John Pagano Effect

The Silver and Black parted ways with Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. Tuesday afternoon, electing to have to Assistant Head Coach – Defense John Pagano handle the play calling duties for the rest of the season.

Before he joined Head Coach Del Rio's staff, Pagano served as the Defensive Coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, so calling plays on game day will be nothing new for the veteran coach.

"We just have to go out and we have to play better," said Pagano Thursday. "We have to coach better. We have to do a lot of things different. We have to create turnovers. I think that's the biggest thing missing from any defense. You have to get off the field on third down. We have to go out there, we have to affect the quarterback and make him uncomfortable. I think when those things happen, that gives you that confidence to keep doing the things that you want to do differently."

Come Sunday, I'm excited to see if there are any wrinkles inserted into the Silver and Black's defense, or if nothing else, the group plays with a little more fire in their collective bellies.

2. What will we see from Paxton Lynch?

And the Denver Broncos quarterback carousel just keeps on going round and round…

After starting the season with Trevor Siemian under center, then pivoting to Brock Osweiler for a few weeks, the Broncos offense will now be led by second-year signal-caller Paxton Lynch.

John Elway and Co., selected Lynch in the first round (No. 26 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft, and the then-rookie made two starts last year, going 1-1 in those outings. Sunday's game at the OACC will be Lynch's first start of 2017 – and his first appearance in nearly a calendar year – so all eyes will be on No. 12 as he attempts to lead the Broncos to a much-needed win.

In another interesting twist, his new Offensive Coordinator is Bill Musgrave, who spent last season as the man calling plays for the Raiders. Lynch is a big, athletic quarterback, so keep an eye on how Pagano's defense tries to neutralize him.

3. Will The Beast keep rolling?

Marshawn Lynch is arguably playing his best football as a member of the Oakland Raiders.

Over the past two games, the veteran running back has found the end zone twice, and while his total yardage might not blow you away, over his past eight quarters, Lynch is averaging just north of five yards per carry.

"Beast Mode" carried the ball 11 times in last week's loss to the Patriots, and while the score forced Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing to go away from the run, make no mistake about it, Lynch was a man on a mission at Estadio Azteca.

The Broncos defensive front is stout against the run – they currently rank No. 4 in the league in that metric – so Lynch will have his hands full come Sunday, but if No. 24 can get rolling, it'll spell good things for the Raiders offense as a whole.

4. Which elite pass rusher makes their presence felt more?

When you're talking about Raiders/Broncos, you have to talk about Khalil Mack and Von Miller.

Both teams employ elite pass rushers, guys who have the ability to singlehandedly wreck an offensive game plan, and when either of those players finds a groove, they're nearly impossible to stop.

Entering Week 12, Mack has 5.5 sacks, while Miller has eight, and while neither player currently finds themselves atop the NFL sack leaders, make no mistake about it; both Mack and Miller can get going in a hurry.

Pressuring the quarterback is oftentimes paramount to defensive success, and both No. 52 and No. 58 have made a career at doing just that.

Which player will make their impact felt more? We'll just have to wait until kickoff to find out.

5. Where does Obi Melifonwu line up?

While he may be a safety by trade, Obi Melifonwu has some experience playing cornerback, and he actually earned his first NFL start at cornerback in last weekend's loss to the New England Patriots.

To be fair, Head Coach Del Rio did admit that Melifonwu's start outside was a move made out of desperation perhaps more than want, but either way, the rookie defensive back spent time both out wide, and at his natural position.

Come Sunday, where will No. 20 get a bulk of his work? Well, the Raiders secondary certainly isn't healthier than it was just a week ago, but we'll have to wait and see how John Pagano sees it best to use the versatile rookie.

6. Home sweet home

Man, it's been a while, hasn't it?

The last time the Raiders played a true home game – like I said above, we can't really count last week at Estadio Azteca – was the team's Thursday night tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 19.

Since that point, the Raiders have lost two of their past three, but even though they're two games under .500, the Silver and Black are still in the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture. To stay there though, they're going to have to take down the Broncos, and a little home cooking never hurt.

I'm sure Raider Nation has been waiting patiently to cheer on the Silver and Black at the OACC, so make some noise Sunday afternoon.

It's going to be a fun day.

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