Raiders.com Mailbag: Talking Obi Melifonwu And The AFC Playoff Picture

The Oakland Raiders could use a little home cooking.

After falling to the New England Patriots 33-8 in what was technically a “home” game for the Silver and Black, Head Coach Jack Del Rio’s home will play an *actual *home game Sunday afternoon at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

The Raiders are set to welcome the Denver Broncos in Week 12 action, but before kickoff – in a game that has become vitally important to both squads – you had questions, and now, we have answers.

Here is this week’s version of the Raiders.com Mailbag.

From Charlie G: Will the defense look a lot different under John Pagano?

*EP: *Well, let’s just start out with the question that’s at the forefront of everyone in Raider Nation’s mind right now. After parting ways with Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., Tuesday afternoon, the team announced that Assistant Head Coach – Defense John Pagano would be handling the play calling duties for the rest of 2017. He now takes the helm of a unit that ranks 26th in total defense entering Week 12, but while the group has had a hard time making big, impactful plays in 2017, Pagano thinks that’s not because of a lack of opportunities. Now, will the Raiders defense be a little bit better at capitalizing on said opportunities down the final stretch of the regular season? Well, we’ll just have to wait and find out. To get back to your original question though, will the defense look drastically different under Pagano? Honestly, I don’t think so. While there will assuredly be a few new wrinkles with Pagano calling plays, I don’t know if it’s feasible to completely change defensive schemes headed into Week 12. That being said, if all goes to plan, a wholesale change won’t be necessary.

From @THEUKRAIDER: What will Obi Melifonwu eventually bring to the Raiders after being injured for so long?

*EP: *In a word, versatility. Although he’s a safety by trade, Melifonwu can also play cornerback – something we saw firsthand last weekend in Mexico City – and while his first extended run outside certainly had its ups and down, playing cornerback is something that No. 20 has in his bag of tricks. When the Silver and Black drafted Melifonwu in the second round of this year’s draft, the former UConn Husky was heralded as a player who could shut down the opposing tight end, and with the recent rise of athletic tight ends, there’s more of a need for a player like that than ever before. Melifonwu has just two NFL games under his belt right now, so it’s silly to try and project what he’s going to be like as a pro based off those eight quarters, but when No. 20 is healthy, and filling the role the Raiders expected him to, he’s going to be a valuable piece to this defense, hopefully for many years to come.

From Ric F: Defensively, what’s the key to stopping the Broncos?

*EP: *Getting pressure on the quarterback is always key, but I think that this week, that becomes even more important. Paxton Lynch hasn’t played a meaningful game of football in nearly a calendar year, and because of that, there’s going to be a bit of an on-field learning curve that the second-year quarterback will go through Sunday afternoon at the OACC. If Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and the rest of the Raiders defensive front can get after Lynch, and make life difficult for him, that would go a long way in throwing the young quarterback off his rhythm. The Broncos have already allowed 31 sacks this season, so at least on paper it appears as though the Raiders will have their shots at Lynch, so I’ll watching closely to see if they can take advantage of those opportunities. Mack was able to take down Tom Brady last weekend in Mexico City; let’s see if he can get sacks in back-to-back games for the first time since Week 3 and Week 4.

**From MrM_7: With the Raiders offensive struggles, why not run more no huddle to establish a tempo and control of the game?

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*EP: *An excellent question. I’ll say this; the Raiders have run some no huddle at points this season, just perhaps not as much as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in years past. Look, it’s no secret that the Silver and Black’s offense hasn’t performed as well as we expected them to in 2017 – heck, Head Coach Del Rio said as much – but it’s hard to pin that fact on the team running, or not running, no huddle. Now, that being said, Derek Carr and Co., are certainly built to operate at tempo, what with the athletic offensive line, and dynamic playmakers out wide, but using the no huddle isn’t the solution to all the team’s offensive woes. Do I think that we might see more no huddle from the Raiders over the stretch run? Possibly, but only time will tell.

From Ryan L: If Cordarrelle Patterson can’t go, who will return kickoffs?

*EP: *My guess would be that Jalen Richard would be the next man up and handle the kickoff duties if Patterson is unable to give it a go Sunday afternoon against the Broncos. The explosive return man was able to practice Thursday, but held out of work Friday, casting a cloud of uncertainty over his availability for the AFC West clash with the Broncos. As I said earlier though, if No. 84 doesn’t play, my expectation would be that Richard slots in and shoulders the burden. In his short career, Richard already has 24 kick returns under his belt, so he seems like the logical choice if Patterson is sidelined.

From Dwayne J: We’re two games under .500; is there still hope?

*EP: *Until the Silver and Black are mathematically eliminated, there’s always hope. It’s been a funky year in the NFL – the AFC in particular – so even though the Raiders are indeed two games under .500, as crazy as it sounds, they’re still right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture. Now, if Head Coach Del Rio’s group wants to stay there, they’re certainly going to have to take care of business Sunday afternoon against the Broncos, but if the team can rattle off a few wins in a row, the final month of the season could be very, very interesting. It does nobody any good to look *too *far down the road, but just know this, with a win Sunday, the Raiders will remain squarely in the mix in the AFC.

From Rob V: What’s your favorite food at Thanksgiving?

*EP: *It starts with the stuffing; always has, always will. From there, pumpkin pie is a close second, but I must admit, I’m a big stuffing guy.

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