The most improved team in the NFL comes to Houston on Sunday to tangle with the Texans. Head coach Jon Gruden may not see his Oakland Raiders in that light, but a long, frustrating, yet fruitful offseason bolstered this Raiders roster in all areas and the results have been obvious. As a result, this is a completely different team than the one that won just four games in 2018.
The additions of free agent tackle Trent Brown and guard Richie Incognito helped shape the identity of the Oakland offensive line as a nasty, face-mashing quintet. These five up front will hit a defense square in the face. Drafting running back Josh Jacobs in the first round was one of the best moves for any team in the 2019 NFL Draft. All the rookie from Alabama has done is average 92.3 yards per game on the ground, 5th in the NFL, and just 10 yards per game from the overall league lead. In his second year in Gruden's system, quarterback Derek Carr has a strong grasp on the offensive scheme and is throwing the rock to a solid, yet unknown posse of pass catchers. He currently has a 100.2 passer rating on the season, which would be the best season of his career if he continues at that clip. The last time the Texans faced Carr, he was 21-of-31 for 295 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders 27-20 win in Mexico City.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has an aggressive, physical bunch that does have some holes in the secondary. They are stout against the run, giving up less than 90 yards per game on the ground, but they are getting shredded through the air. Last week, the Packers' future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers lit up the Raiders secondary to the tune of a perfect passer rating (158.3) and five touchdowns. Only one projected starter has been in Oakland longer than two years (safety Karl Joseph), so this is a unit still getting accustomed to playing alongside one another.
The Raiders are near the end of the ultimate road trip that started in Week 3. They haven't played a game back in Oakland since September 15th and won't play another one until next Sunday against Detroit in the Black Hole (the Raiders will have gone SEVEN weeks without playing a game in Oakland). That fatigue may have started to show last week in Green Bay and it would be great if it extends to this week in Houston. That's just hoping, though, because I'd expect Gruden to have his squad ready to notch another AFC South road win (Oakland beat Indy in Week 4) on his belt one week after losing to Green Bay.
Without further ado, for the last time (unless there's a playoff meeting this year - they move to Las Vegas in 2020), let's get to know the OAKLAND Raiders.
2019 Schedule - Record 3-3
W, Denver Broncos 24-16
L, Kansas City Chiefs 28-10
L, @ Minnesota Vikings 34-14
W, @ Indianapolis Colts 31-24
W, Chicago Bears (London) 24-21
L, @ Green Bay Packers 42-24
Raiders offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 137.8 ypg (9th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 233.0 ypg (15th)
Total offense per game - 370.8 ypg (13th)
Turnovers lost - 8 (4 INT, 4 fumbles lost)
Projected Raiders starting offense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
QB - Derek Carr
RB - JOSH JACOBS (rookie)
FB - ALEC INGOLD (rookie)
WR - TYRELL WILLIAMS
WR - ZAY JONES (traded to Raiders during bye week - Week 6)
TE - Darren Waller
LT - Kolton Miller
LG - RICHIE INCOGNITO
C - Rodney Hudson
RG - Gabe Jackson
RT - TRENT BROWN (missed GB game - David Sharpe in his place)
Other key offensive pieces:
RB - Jalen Richard
RB - DeAndre Washington
WR (slot) - HUNTER RENFROW (rookie)
WR - KEELAN DOSS (rookie)
WR/Returner - TREVOR DAVIS (trade earlier this season)
TE - FOSTER MOREAU (rookie)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Raiders offense:
1. Texans defensive interior must win from guard to guard. Richie Incognito, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson are as good a G-C-G trio as there is in the league and the Texans interior defenders must win that matchup. If not…
2. ...containing Jacobs is going to be a nightmare. Jacobs ran for 123 and 124 yards in his last two games, averaging well over five yards a carry. As Jacobs goes, for the most part, so does this offense.
3. Be ready. Be quick. Carr isn't going to sit in the pocket long. When he stays in the pocket, he gets the ball out of his hand quickly. Take a chance this week to jump some short stuff and see if he doesn't throw you one, defensive backs.
4. What is Waller? Darren Waller is listed as a tight end, but he's a big wide receiver with versatility. Where he's aligned in the offensive formation will dictate which defender earns the right to slow him down. But, when he's unattached, he must be treated like a wide receiver. He's not as thick as Eric Ebron or as strong as Travis Kelce, but he can be as dangerous if he's not accounted for properly on Sunday.
5. Win on third down. This is an every week sort of thing, but this week it becomes imperative given how good the Raiders are on third down conversions. Heading into Week 8, the Raiders are converting on third down at a 50.0 percent clip, second in the entire NFL (the Texans are fourth at 48.8 percent).
Raiders defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 86.7 ypg (5th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 289.8 ypg (31st)
Total offense allowed per game - 376.5 ypg (24th)
Turnovers generated - 5 (3 INT, 2 fumble recoveries - Raiders are -3 in TO margin)
Projected Raiders starting defense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
DE - CLELIN FERRELL (rookie)
DT - P.J. Hall
DT - Johnathan Hankins
DE - JOSH MAURO
LB - Tahir Whitehead
LB - Nicholas Morrow
Nickel - LAMARCUS JOYNER
CB - Daryl Worley
S - Karl Joseph
S - Erik Harris
CB - TRAYVON MULLEN (rookie - could be replacement for Gareon Conley, traded to Texans)
Other key defensive pieces:
DE - MAXX CROSBY (rookie)
CB - NEVIN LAWSON
DT - Maurice Hurst
LB - JUSTIN PHILLIPS (rookie)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Raiders defense:
1. Test the new cornerback early. With Gareon Conley now a Texan, a new starter will step into the starting role opposite Daryl Worley. Put him to work early and often until he leaves the game (Texans have so much success that he has to be taken out) or proves that it's pointless (because he's shutting that side down consistently).
2. Find the right tempo early and often. Play fast. Play efficiently. Play clean.
3. Can the offensive line handle pass protection business five on four or five on five, such that tight ends can get out on pass routes? Darren Fells and Jordan Akins combined for just four catches and no touchdowns in Indianapolis and part of the reason was that they had to help protect against the Colts pass rush.
4. Texans interior linemen must prevent Raiders interior defenders Johnathan Hankins and P.J. Hall from getting under their pads and driving them into the offensive backfield. One major issue for the Colts in their loss to the Raiders was the power/leverage of Hall, in particular, defending the run.
5. Mix up the shotgun run looks. The Raiders often sell out, slanting hard opposite the running back, when the quarterback is in shotgun. The defensive front slants where the running back is headed which lets the Raiders linebackers play cutback lanes behind that active front. In general, it seemed as if teams are more effective running directly AT the Raiders as opposed to going wide with tosses, outside zone and the sort.
Check out the best Week 7 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.