Raiders.com Mailbag: Breaking Down The Running Backs, Will Cooper Find The End Zone?

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You have questions, and we have answers.

Check out this week's Raiders.com Mailbag presented by BART.

Paul H: Are there any sleepers to keep an eye on this week? What scares you most about the Ravens?

EP:One guy who really impressed me last week who I'm looking forward to seeing more of Sunday is rookie linebacker Shilque Calhoun. Calhoun played 30 snaps against the Titans, and while his numbers might not jump off the stat sheet, he's a player I've enjoyed watching since he arrived in Silver and Black. Standing at 6'4", Calhoun is a rangy athlete, who has the ability to get low, and get around the edge to bring down the opposing quarterback, but is also athletic enough to drop back in coverage if need be. The Raiders obviously thought highly of the former Michigan State Spartan, as they selected him in the third round of the draft, and now that he's broken into the defensive rotation, I'm excited to see what he does with his playing time. As far as what scares me about the Ravens, I think the main thing would be their ability to attack the opposing defense in a variety of ways – particularly through the air. With Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, and Dennis Pitta at tight end, Joe Flacco has myriad options that all excel at different things. The group will no doubt present a challenge to the Raiders secondary, and I'm interested to see how it will respond.

Vincent M: With the pass game struggling a little in Tennessee can Derek Carr and the receiving corps get back on track? Also, will we see Amari Cooper get in the end zone this week?

EP:As far as "Coop" is concerned, I'm just like you Vincent, and I hope we see the dynamic wideout find the end zone. However, even if he doesn't end up with a touchdown, there's no reason to fret, Cooper has been explosive through three games, and looks to be well on his way eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark again. Granted, the Week 3 performance in Tennessee wasn't the most dynamic of the season – I don't think there's anyone that would tell you otherwise – saying that the unit struggled might be a bit of an exaggeration. Carr threw for nearly 250 yards, and found the end zone, and had it not been for a few drops here and there, his stats would have been much more impressive. Look, Carr and the aerial attack have the ability to be one of the best in the NFL, and I fully expect them to look the part once again Sunday in Baltimore.

Zach S: Is the Raiders defense now on the same page after last week's game, and what were the keys of getting there in the first place?

EP:I think that going forward, each week we're going to see a Raiders defense that is more comfortable with not only of what is being asked of them by defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., but will also grow more familiar and comfortable with each other on the field. Earlier this week cornerback Sean Smith said that it was just a matter of playing in a game situation more for the defense to get on the same page schematically, noting that both Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson missed nearly all the Offseason Workout Program. This offseason the Raiders made numerous key additions to the defense, and adding so many new pieces to the group all but insured there would be some growing pains. I don't think the defense is quite where they want to be just yet, but they're certainly getting closer each time they hit the field.

Alex M: What position groups do you think need the most help at this point in the season?

EP:The offensive line, and I say that not because of the performance of the group – top to bottom they've been outstanding thus far – I say it because each week it seems like another player on the line gets bitten by the injury bug. Heading into Week 4, the Silver and Black have lined up five players at right tackle, and while the group hasn't seemed to miss a beat regardless of who's lining up, I'm sure Head Coach Jack Del Rio and offensive line coach Mike Tice would like to have a little consistency across the line.  Like I said earlier, the offensive line has arguably been the best group for the Raiders on the roster, but I think it would do wonders if a few of the big guys up front could get, and stay, healthy.

Carmen S: Why have the Raiders been better on the road than at home to start the season?

EP:In fairness, the team has played just one game at home so far, and while it certainly wasn't their most complete effort of the season, they had a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter.  As far as the team's performances on the road, I do know that since he took over, Head Coach Del Rio has stressed the importance of traveling well, and with a purpose. The Raiders approach each road trip like a business trip, and so far they've been rewarded with back-to-back wins. Winning on the road is never easy in the NFL, but with a positive result in Baltimore, the team would be 3-0 on the road, which would be an impressive feat for sure.

Kayvon V: Are you worried about having a rookie in Vadal Alexander starting on the offensive line? What will be done to help him out?

EP:Am I worried about Vadal Alexander starting on the side of the offensive line? Nope. Alexander played a majority of the snaps in last week's win over the Titans, and was solid, both in pass protection and run blocking. Alexander has played along the offensive line since he was a teenager, and in talking with him earlier this week, he's more than comfortable stepping into the fold, and going the distance at right tackle. He was a four-year starter during his career at LSU, so there won't be much schematically that the Ravens can do to throw him off his game. Alexander also has the benefit of being one of the younger players in a veteran room, and I'm certain that offensive line coach Mike Tice and the rest of the linemen will have him ready to rock Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

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Terry C: Can we expect the running backs to split carries almost evenly moving forward, or do you think that will someone will establish themselves as the workhorse back?**

EP:At least for the time being, I expect to see much of the same as far as the running backs are concerned, with Latavius Murray earning the start, and DeAndré Washington and Jalen Richard coming in and providing a potent complement to the bruising back. Look, whatever offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been doing is working, as the Raiders have tallied over 100 yards on the ground each time they have taken the field this season. Head Coach Del Rio has consistently said that the coaching staff will ride the hot hand in-game, so whoever gets rolling will likely see the most touches on any given day. The Raiders have three backs that are capable of carrying the ball effectively, so making sure that each member of the trio gets their respective touches is a good problem to have.

Tim R: What is the big key to success this week?

EP:I think the big key this weekend is to start fast. If there has been any knock on the offense through three weeks, it's that the group hasn't come out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and if the Raiders want to take down an undefeated Ravens team, putting some points up in a hurry, and taking the raucous Baltimore crowd out of the game will be crucial. The other key to success this week I think would have to be the performance of the secondary. Like I said earlier, the Ravens aerial attack is a dynamic one that can pick apart a secondary in a variety of ways, so Sean Smith, David Amerson and Co. will have their hands full Sunday afternoon. If the group can limit Flacco and the Ravens offense, it would go a long way in securing a statement win early in the season for the Raiders. We'll have to wait and see; kickoff is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PT at M&T Bank Stadium.

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