And we’re off!
After a week back home in Northern California, the Silver and Black are hitting the road once again, this time to Cincinnati for a Week 15 date with the Bengals.
While the Raiders have played .500 football over the past month, after a hot start, Marvin Lewis’ squad has lost seven of their last eight games, and haven’t tasted victory since late-October.
Sunday’s kickoff is an early one – 10:00 am – so don’t forget to wake up early with us to watch DC and the boys do their thing. Here are six things to watch for once the action gets underway.
1. The interior line
We’ve talked about it a lot this week, and for good reason – headed into Week 15, we still don’t know how the Raiders interior offensive is going to look.
Kelechi Osmele and Gabe Jackson didn’t practice this week, and combined with versatile swing lineman Jon Feliciano now on the Reserve/Injured List, all of a sudden, there’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding the two guard positions.
Thankfully for all involved, center Rodney Hudson will be good to go Sunday afternoon, but against a team that has as much interior talent along the defensive line as the Bengals, dominating at the line of scrimmage will be paramount.
Which two lineman get the nod in Cincinnati on either side of Hudson? We’ll just have to wait and find out.
2. Will Derek Carr keep the good times rolling?
I think it’s fair to say that over the last two weeks – in games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively – we’ve seen the best version of Derek Carr in 2018, maybe even longer.
The Raiders signal-caller has looked poised and polished in the pocket, confident in leading the team’s offense, and on the final drive of regulation – when the Silver and Black needed him at his best – DC was a beast, and his play last week is a big reason why the team earned a huge win in very dramatic fashion.
And if you throw in the fact that the Bengals have struggled – to put it nicely – defensively this year, it sure looks like Carr will get his chances to work Sunday afternoon.
Like I said, statistically speaking, the Bengals rank dead last in total defense, and 29th against the pass, so I’ll be very, very interested to see how Head Coach Jon Gruden attacks the Cincinnati defense.
When No. 4 has had time to work, he’s been stellar, and I’m fired up to see if he builds on the positive momentum of the last two weeks.
3. One more on Derek…
Keep an eye on DC to see if he goes yet another game without throwing a pick.
Even when the offense was struggling earlier in the year, Carr remained diligent with the football, so much so in fact, that his last interception came Week 5 in the Raiders loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Let me just repeat that for the people in the back – Derek’s last interception came on October 7.
The Bengals are in the middle of the pack as far as forcing interceptions is concerned – they have 11 this year – so keep an eye on Derek to see if he can incredibly go yet another game without throwing an interception.
4. Can the Raiders make the Cincinnati offense one-dimensional?
As I said earlier, after a spicy start to 2018, the Bengals have cooled off dramatically, but one dude who has consistently put up numbers this year is Joe Mixon.
The second-year running back is on pace for a 1,000-yard season, and while he no doubt makes his hay running the football, he’s also proven to be a valuable asset in the passing game as well.
Stopping Mixon would be crucial each week, but considering that the Bengals offense doesn’t have Andy Dalton or A.J. Green in the mix, a lot will understandably fall on the shoulders of the former Oklahoma Sooner.
While the season-long stats might tell a different story, the Raiders defensive front has actually been really good against opposing running backs the past two weeks, and if they can keep it up Sunday afternoon, it could be problematic for the Cincinnati offense.
5. Once again, keep an eye on the defensive backs
Two weeks ago, the Raiders DBs held Tyreek Hill to one catch.
Sunday, the group limited Antonio Brown to 35 receiving yards – his lowest output of 2018 – and while Tyler Boyd isn’t necessarily in the same echelon as either Brown or Hill, he’s had a very nice year in Cincinnati, and is without question the team’s most dynamic option out wide.
Boyd’s six receiving touchdowns are tied for the team lead, and his 990 receiving yards are nearly 300 more than the next closest Bengal.
For a team that has struggled to find dynamic options out wide this year, Boyd has certainly taken up that mantel, but the Raiders secondary is playing the best football that they likely have all year.
This’ll be a battle you won’t want to miss.
6. Guenther returns to Ohio
Thirteen years is a long time to spend anywhere, especially in the world of the NFL where longevity in any place is the exception, not the rule.
Well, after spending 13 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals organization, Paul Guenther is now set to return to Ohio, this time as the defensive coordinator for the Silver and Black.
Guenther understandably downplayed his return to his old stomping grounds, but it’s only human to assume that there will likely be some extra emotions running through him pregame.
Once the game kicks off, all the warm and fuzzy feelings will fall by the wayside, but nevertheless, Sunday’s game will likely be a memorable one for Guenther.
Raiders defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and his Light Into Darkness Foundation partner with the nonprofit First Book to host a reading party to promote literacy.