Raider Nation, it's playoff time.
After a 14-year absence, the Oakland Raiders will begin their march to Super Bowl LI Saturday afternoon when they take on the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in the Wild Card round of the AFC playoffs.
Heading into the matchup with the Texans you had some questions, and now, we have answers. Here is this week's Raiders.com Mailbag.
From Daniel G: What can we expect out of the offense this week? Does Murray get the majority of the carries? Thank you! Go Raiders!
EP:Daniel, I love the enthusiasm, pal. To answer your question though, I think the offense will return to form a little bit more Saturday afternoon against the Texans. Yes, I know that Houston boasts the top-ranked defense in the NFL, but after what the Raiders put on film last weekend in Denver, I know that they have collectively want to get rid of the bad taste in their mouth. For whatever reason, the offense looked characteristically out of sync, and while the Raiders certainly didn't put together their best effort of the season, give credit to the Broncos defense for effectively making life difficult for the Silver and Black. As far as Latavius Murray's carries are concerned, while the Raiders have typically rode with the hot hand as far as who gets the bulk of the carries, I'd expect to see Murray get more than the five touches he did in last week's loss to the Broncos. From top to bottom on the roster, the Raiders players know what's on the line come Saturday, and I fully anticipate seeing the team's playmakers show up in a big way.
From Linda T: How will Connor Cook handle his first career start on such a big stage?
EP:Connor Cook is not only going to make his first start Saturday afternoon, but he's also going to make a little NFL history in the process, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in the postseason. It's wild to think that just a little over two weeks ago, Cook was the third quarterback on the Raiders depth chart, and now he's going to be under center for the team's first playoff game since 2002. While Saturday's game is probably the most-important game Cook has ever played in, the rookie signal-caller is no stranger to the big stage. Let's not forget that during his time at Michigan State, Cook played in myriad big games including the Rose Bowl and the Big 10 Championship Game. Now I know that an NFL playoff game is a completely different animal, but in talking with Brad Salem – Cook's quarterbacks coach at Michigan State – I feel confident that the moment won't be too daunting for No. 8. Cook handled his media oblations this weekend with poise and confidence of a veteran QB, so hopefully when he hits the field at NRG stadium, he'll remain cool, and focused on the task at hand.
From James P: Brynden Trawick recorded an interception last week, will he see more snaps on defense?
EP: **I think that depends entirely on the health of both Nate Allen and Karl Joseph. While Joseph was able to practice last week, he wasn't physically able to go against the Broncos, and it was only after Nate Allen was ruled out with a concussion that Trawick entered the mix defensively. The former Troy Trojan played well in his first defensive run as a Raider, but if Joseph or Allen are ready to go, I expect that they'll get the defensive snaps on the back end of the Raiders defense with Reggie Nelson. Trawick was signed to be a mainstay on the Raiders special teams unit, and it's a role he's filled nearly to perfection this season, and having another player that has the ability to step in and play is no doubt a luxury for defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. To make a long story short, the only way I think we see Trawick continue to get a lot of run defensively is if Joseph and Allen are unable to go.
From Onimiah Y: Will Raider Nation travel well to Houston?
EP:It seems like each time we hit the road, from sea to shining sea, one constant I see in the stadium come day is a slew of Silver and Black jerseys. It's no secret that Raider Nation travels extremely well, and this season's effort has just reinforced that point. Saturday's game will be the first time that Raiders fans have had the chance to see their team in the postseason since 2002, and I can't imagine that many folks who have the ability to get to Houston are going to miss out on the opportunity to see the Silver and Black. For those fans that do make it to NRG Stadium, make some noise, and let the Houston Texans knows that Raider Nation has come to support their favorite team.
From Kate H: Who is the biggest threat on Houston's offense?
EP:Well, let's take a look at two, shall we. The first guy that comes to mind is understandably DeAndre Hopkins. The electric wide receiver leads the Texans in both receptions (78) and receiving yards (954), and is the type of guy who can the change the course of a game all on his own. The other Texan the Raiders defense will have to be keyed in on is tight end C.J. Fiedorwicz. When these two teams met in Mexico City earlier this season, Fiedorowicz enjoyed a strong day against the Silver and Black, hauling in six catches for a team-leading 82 yards. The Raiders defense has been playing an improved brand of football in week's past, but shutting down those two guys in particular would go a long ways in helping the Raiders secure a playoff victory.
**Aside from the Slash Brothers, who will we see step up and make a big impact play on defense?
EP:The first guy that comes to mind defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Saturday's game will be Edwards' third game back this season, and he'll hopefully have his game legs back under him a little bit more. No. 97 played just 17 snaps in last week's loss to the Broncos, but I think that was more a result of him being under the weather, than not being back in football shape. The second-year defensive end is healthy once again this week, and with all the attention that Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack will understandably command, there should be ample opportunities for Edwards to get after Brock Osweiler and make some plays. It's easy to forget because it was now about a year ago, but some of Mack's most-productive games came when Edwards was involved in the defense, making things happen on the interior defensive line. Ken Norton, Jr.'s group is going to have to enjoy a strong effort against the Texans if the Raiders want to fly home victorious, and I think a big day from Edwards could do a ton to bolster that effort.
From Bill C: Wild Card matchup. It's win or go home. What's the biggest x-factor for a Raiders win?**
EP:Plain and simple; can the run game get rolling? Prior to last weekend's effort in Denver, the Raiders ground attack had been firing on all cylinders, seemingly eclipsing the 100-yard mark every time they hit the field. However, the Broncos were able to stonewall the Raiders trio of running backs, effectively making the Silver and Black's offense one dimensional in the process. If the Raiders want to fly home from Houston with a win, and keep their playoff hopes alive, that simply can't be the case come Saturday. Particularly with a rookie quarterback under center making his first career start, Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, and DeAndré Washington are going to have to return to the form they boasted earlier this season. Successfully moving the chains and controlling the clock will be huge in the clash with the Texans, and I will watching the Raiders backs very intently to see if they're able to get going. If they are, it could spell disaster for the Texans, but if they're not, it could be a challenging day for Head Coach Jack Del Rio's squad.
From Ric F: Is Brock Osweiler going to get a heavy dose of Khalil Mack?
EP:At this point, I can only imagine that a shudder runs through Brock Osweiler's spine when you mention the name Khalil Mack. The last two times Mack has squared off against Mr. Osweiler, No. 52 has totaled six total sacks. Six. That's more than some defensive ends get in a season. Yes, five of those sacks came in one game last season when Osweiler was still at the helm of the Denver Broncos, but the point remains, Mack has a been a nightmare come to life for the now-Houston Texans quarterback. The Raiders will need their All-Pro defensive end to come alive in a big way Saturday afternoon as well; with a rookie quarterback under center, the rest of the team will have to step up across the board, with a lot of that burden falling to Mack, the Raiders defensive leader.