Your Oakland Raiders are currently a half game out of first place in the AFC West.
Yes, you read that correctly, after nine games – and a very nicely timed Kansas City Chiefs loss last weekend – the Silver and Black are now all even in the loss column with Patrick Mahomes and Co., who still technically sit atop the division.
There’s still a lot of football to be played before we start talking about the playoffs, but at the very least, I think it’s worth keeping an eye on much of the action in the AFC going forward.
Before we get to all that, the Silver and Black have a date with the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and although first-year head coach Zac Taylor’s squad has yet to taste victory in 2019, they’re still a talented group the Raiders need to take seriously.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 PM; here are six things to watch for once the game kicks off.
1. How much do the new guys play?
The Silver and Black – as is the case for this time of the season – made a few roster additions this week, signing both Dion Jordan and D.J. Swearinger.
Defensively, Paul Guenther’s group has been visited by the injury bug in a big way the past several weeks, and adding two guys to the mix that are no stranger to the NFL game could benefit the group immensely.
Especially with Lamarcus Joyner out against the Bengals, Swearinger could find himself thrust into meaningful action less than a week after he joined the Silver and Black.
Guenther said earlier this week that he expects all hands to be on deck Sunday afternoon, but keep an eye on Jordan and Swearinger in particular to see how their debuts as Raiders go.
2. Own the first 15 minutes
Head Coach Jon Gruden and his entire team have spoken all week about the importance of not overlooking the currently winless Bengals, and he’s right, regardless of record, every team in the NFL is capable of putting together a complete afternoon any given Sunday, and all 32 teams are deserving of respect.
That said, 2019 has not been kind to the new-look Bengals squad. Not only have they taken nine “Ls” to start off the season, but they haven’t been overly competitive in many of those games.
Consider this; the Bengals haven’t been within a touchdown of the opposition when the final whistle blew in over a month, and over the past three weeks, they’ve been outscored 100-40.
Look, I’m not saying that the Silver and Black are going to absolutely bulldoze the Bengals, but what I am saying, is that sitting at 0-9, if the Raiders are able to jump out and put some pressure on Cincinnati, I’m not quite sure they’re built to withstand a blow like that.
When Derek Carr and Co., have been at their best this year, they’ve come out of the gates hot, and they’d be well served to do that again on Sunday afternoon.
3. The quarterback must go down
Not only are the Bengals currently in the midst of an 11-game skid dating back to last year, they’re also trying to figure out what the future holds for them at the quarterback position.
After eight years as “the guy” in Cincy, Andy Dalton is now the backup, and rookie Ryan Finley is the man who presumably will lead the Bengals for the rest of 2019.
A talented rookie out of NC State, Finley will make his second career start Sunday afternoon, and I have a feeling that Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby and their pals are going to want to make life as difficult as possible for the rookie signal-caller.
The Raiders’ defensive line is coming off its best outing of 2019, and combine that with the fact that the Bengals have surrendered 31 sacks through nine games, and I think the guys in Brentson Buckner’s room are going to feast at the OACC.
Pressure is key every week, but I’m looking forward to watching the Silver and Black’s defensive line pin their ears back and go after the young quarterback.
4. Get Josh Jacobs his touches
Thursday night’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers represented a deviation from the normal recipe for success for the 2019 Raiders – and that’s a good thing.
After hitting the 120 yard mark in rushing in three of his past four games, Jacobs was limited to just 71 yards, and while he still averaged over four yards per carry against the Bolts, it wasn’t the kind of vintage Josh Jacobs performance we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the early stages of his career.
Well, in a bit of positive news for all of us who love to watch No. 28 gallop through the secondary, the Bengals currently rank dead last in the NFL in stopping the run, allowing on average 173 rushing yards per game.
You read that correctly, 173 yards.
The all-world rookie has put up big numbers against some of the best run defenses in the league; let’s see what he can do against the Bengals.
5. Make Ryan Finley beat you
We mentioned getting pressure on the rookie quarterback a little bit ago, but in addition to doing that, taking one of the Bengals’ top offensive weapons out of the flow of the game would help a lot too.
While Joe Mixon was an absolute beast last year, the former Oklahoma Sooner hasn’t enjoyed a repeat performance of that output this year.
Headed into Sunday, Mixon has totaled just 434 rushing yards, and is averaging under 50 yards per game.
Now, I think it’s important to note that these struggles in the ground attack don’t fall squarely on Mixon – the team’s offensive line hasn’t done him any favors – but the fact remains that the athletic running back hasn’t really gotten going much this season.
If the Raiders can hold serve, and make Mixon a non-factor, I like the Silver and Black’s chances Week 11.
6. How does Daniel Carlson bounce back?
By and large, Daniel Carlson has been straight cash for the Silver and Black since he arrived in Northern California in 2018.
That said, nobody is perfect, and the Raiders’ placekicker has had an uncharacteristically shaky 10 days, missing two field goals and an extra point over the course of the team’s last two ballgames.
Even with his misses as of late, Carlson has put together a pretty quality 2019 campaign, and it’s way too early to be worried about No. 8.
Keep an eye on Carlson Sunday afternoon, I have a feeling he’s going to return to form in a big way.
As the Silver and Black prepare for their Week 11 matchup with the Bengals, take a look back at their past matchups through the years.