In The Know is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, Eddie Paskal, Senior Insider with Raiders.com gives insight on the Texans AFC Wild Card opponent.*
The Raiders will be making their first postseason appearance since 2002, the Texans inaugural season. Having to do so without Derek Carr must be bittersweet for the city, but what's the mood in Oakland been like?
Paskal: Well I think bittersweet is a great way to describe it, emphasis on the sweet though. This team, this organization hasn't been in the postseason since 2002, and so I think there's a lot of excitement and a lot of anticipation being in that postseason tournament. But like you said, heading into the game without your leader, your emotional leader in Derek Carr, but Jack Del Rio and the rest of the guys really bought into that next-man-up mentality even with the quarterback and I think everybody is geared up, ready to go and excited to wash the bad taste from Denver out of their mouths from last weekend and get ahead in the postseason now.
Aside from Carr, the Raiders had 7 Pro Bowlers, first 12-win season since 2000. What has Jack del Rio done well this season to turn things around?**
Paskal: You know, I think it started the first day that Jack came in here. Everyone talked about changing the culture when a new head coach comes in, but Jack really has done that. I mean you look at the things he's done both on and off the field. We have a brand new state-of-the-art performance center that the guys are able to work out in. He's really instilled that mentality, hard-work mentality, and that these Raiders are not going to be pushed around. There's expectations attached to this team and that's a good thing.
I think he's done a very good job of kind of instilling that in his guys and getting them to rally around him, rally around Derek and everyone else and buying into what he's selling and saying, 'We are a playoff-caliber team.' With the 12 wins this year, and obviously a trip back to the postseason, he's improved just that.
Connor Cook will get his first NFL start and it's going to be in the postseason. How much progress has he made over the course of the year in learning the system and will they have to scale back the offense for him being his first start?
Paskal: You look at him, he's got the physical attributes to be a quarterback in the NFL. I think getting that experience last week against the Broncos, thrust in there when Matt McGloin went down with a shoulder injury. It's super beneficial for a guy like that who, in practice two weeks ago, was the third quarterback in the depth chart, and there's not a lot of reps going around for the No. 3 guy during practice. I think having him get in there and see some live action against a top defense like the Broncos, it can only be beneficial for him now going into Saturday.
Matt McGloin says he plans to be healthy for Saturday's game. Is there a chance of him being active?**
Paskal: We did sign Garrett Gilbert to the practice squad kind of as an emergency-quarterback-type situation earlier in this week, and as far as Matt's health goes, I mean that's going to be determined. Knowing Matt, that is a hardworking guy. A chip on his shoulder kind of guy, and I'm very confident that he will do everything he can to get himself back to 100% if possible.
The Raiders have some notable weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. How good have they been at establishing chemistry with young QBs like Cook and McGloin and giving them confidence to make those big throws?
Paskal: Well, I think the one thing that's been really great from both Cooper and Crabtree is that they've given resounding reviews and they are both confident in both Connor and Matt. Obviously, you look at both of them and what they were able to do with Derek, two 1,000-yard seasons and Cooper heading back to the Pro Bowl.
They've both been really vocal in sharing their support and saying, 'It's the next man up so whether it's Connor or it's Matt, we have complete confidence in them and complete faith in them to put us in situations to go out and do what we do and make plays.' So, I think the on-the-field stuff will come and, like I said earlier, there's not a ton of practice reps for the two guys behind Derek. Now they get those reps and they're able to grow that comfort with Amari and Michael. I think that's the big thing. It's just for Connor and Matt to hear, 'Hey - If these guys trust us, if these guys believe in us and they're going to go out and play for us come Saturday.'
The Raiders run game is led by Latavius Murray, but struggled last week at Denver. How do the Raiders turn that around this week?**
Paskal: Jack was asked about that very same thing on Monday about how you can spark this run game. You look what his run game was able to do this past month. They've been averaging somewhere north of 100 yards every time they step on the field. Obviously, not the case last week in Denver and I think that kind of showed in the team not being able to attain that ever-coveted balance that they've talked about offensively.
I think especially with a young quarterback back there on Saturday, I think sparking the run game is going to be crucial if the team wants to find success. Obviously, yeah, Latavius is the guy that gets the notoriety, the Pro Bowl nod last year, but I think that complement of him and DeAndre (Washington) and Jalen Richard as well. When all three of those guys are going, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better running back group and a more dynamic running back group in the NFL. So yeah, like you said, I think getting the three of those guys and even Jamize Olawale as well – the fullback – get him going. It's going to be very crucial to control the clock and move the chain against a very tough Texans defense.
Oakland has an impressive defense that led the NFL with Plus-16 turnover differential, forcing 30 takeaways this year. What's been the secret to forcing all those turnovers?
Paskal: (Defensive Coordinator) Ken Norton Jr. says it all the time, 'Turnovers come in bunches, right? You get one and one leads to two and two leads to four and so on.' I think it definitely helps when you have a guy like (DE) Khalil Mack coming off one end and (OLB) Bruce Irvin coming off the other, but I just think it's putting pressure on the quarterback, being sound in your coverage on the backend and letting your playmakers go out and make plays. Khalil has put together an All-Pro kind year together, and I think Bruce has really come off the second part of the season here. They're two dynamic guys, two Pro-Bowl caliber guys that can both individually be game-changers and when they both get rolling, they're hard to stop and fun to watch.
What are the big stories for the Raiders heading into Saturday's playoff game?
Paskal: Going into this, looking at what happened last week in Denver and I think the run game is really one thing that kind of stood out as something that the team would have liked to get going. We've been talking about a trio of backs and how do you really get the run game going against a very stout Texans defense that has kind of made their hay on being difficult in the run game. We've been talking to a lot of guys about that.
Obviously, the quarterback situation as well. We've been looking a lot at that and kind of looking at how far this team has come in the past couple years since 2002, the last time the Raiders were in the playoffs. They were a lot different than this team and a lot different the last time they were in the playoffs too. It's been kind of fun for me to dive back a little bit and see what this team was like in 2002, the last time they were in the playoffs. It's been a fun week, a busy week, a hectic week, but I think it's an exciting time to be a Raiders fan, I'm sure.
The Texans faced the Raiders on Monday Night Football in Mexico City.