It's finally time.
Sunday afternoon, the Oakland Raiders officially kick off the 2017 regular season at Nissan Stadium against the Tennessee Titans. We've made it through the dark months of the preseason, so rejoice, the games actually mean something now.
With that in mind, you had some questions heading into Week 1; now, we have answers.
From Dani B: Will Donald Penn be the starting left tackle?
EP:From everything we've seen and heard this week, I fully expect big No. 72 to be lined up protecting Derek Carr's blindside come Sunday afternoon. After missing all of Training Camp 2017, Penn has slid in seamlessly to his usual spot on the left edge of the Raiders offensive line. Granted, he's only played 19 snaps since his return – he unsurprisingly didn't suit up in the preseason finale – but in that brief sample size, he looked very much like his Pro Bowl self. Penn has shown year in and year out that he's one of the top left tackles in the NFL, and I anticipate that he won't miss a beat come Sunday. Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice's group is one of the best in the NFL, and make no mistake about it, they're at their best when Penn is residing on the left side.
From Armando S: How much will we see BEAST MODE in Tennessee?
EP:Great question Armando, this is actually something I'm looking forward to seeing Sunday afternoon too. Lynch is currently listed as the top running back on the depth chart, and will most likely see the lion share of the work on the ground. However, where the real intrigue lies – for me anyway – is how Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing splits up the carries behind Lynch. Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington both enjoyed strong training camps and preseasons this year, and the pair of shifty, second-year backs provide a different skillset than the big, physical Lynch. By all accounts, No. 24 is back in playing shape, and I expect that if Downing asked him to carry the ball 25 times he'd be more than able to do it physically. However, the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, and I have a feeling that we'll see Marshawn's real value rear its head closer to December than September. To get back to your question though, if I were to posit a guess, I'd think we see Lynch handle about 65% of the carries.
From Will S: How can we stop Delanie Walker?
EP:There's no need to rehash the narrative we've been hearing since last year, so I won't waste either of our time doing it; to make a long story short, the Silver and Black have had their fair share of challenges in shutting down the opposing tight end. Delanie Walker is one of the better tight ends in the NFL, so your question certainly has some merit. So, how does Ken Norton, Jr.'s group try to limit one of Marcus Mariota's go-to receivers? Well, first things first, throwing the big tight end's rhythm off at the line of scrimmage will be paramount in the attempt to slow him down Sunday afternoon at Nissan Stadium. Safety Karl Joseph – who has enjoyed a solid start to his sophomore campaign – will be one of several players asked to help assist with Walker, and I think the hard-hitting safety is more than up for the challenge. Now in his second NFL season, Joseph looks more comfortable, and has said several times that newfound comfort has allowed him to play at a higher, faster level. Also, let's not forget that No. 42 is now healthy too, something that elluded him at times in 2016. Walker is one of Mariota's favorite targets, and a good tight end is a young quarterback's best friend, so if Joseph can make life difficult for Walker, it would be a big boost for the Raiders defense as a whole.
From Philip P: Who will score the first touchdown of the season?
EP:Oh man, that's a good one. Derek Carr sure has enough options to choose from, doesn't he? Well, I think I'm going to have to go with wide receiver Amari Cooper. With LeShaun Sims – one of the Titans best defensive backs – out for Sunday's game, Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is really put in a tough spot for who he wants to focus his attention on. Both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are legit No. 1 receivers, and are no doubt worthy of the attention of any team's top corner. That being said, Amari Cooper has looked really impressive since training camp, and I just have a feeling he's going to find the end zone somehow against the Titans.
**From jbanks_fb: What's the most exciting improvement you guys have made over the offseason? And when will you guys come to Ohio soon?!?
EP:That's a really good question. My answer probably won't surprise anyone, but I think with the addition of Marshawn Lynch, the Raiders running game – which was good in 2016 – becomes that much better in 2017. Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington are both exciting, talented backs in their own right, but I don't think either would say they're the bruiser that Marshawn Lynch is. I really believe that with Lynch, Richard, and Washington, along with Jamize Olawale, the Silver and Black have the deepest, most dynamic group of running backs in the NFL.
From Matt W: Do you like country music?
EP:Matt, I actually do. I'm a big Zac Brown Band fan, and I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't enjoy some Luke Bryan on a sunny, California afternoon. I also like Darius Rucker, Thomas Rhett, as well as some Miranda Lambert from time to time. There's no place better for live country music than Nashville, so hopefully the Raiders will be singing a happy song when they fly back to the Bay Area Sunday evening.
Kickoff against the Titans is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PT.