The 2016 AFC playoffs bring the 12-4 Oakland Raiders into NRG Stadium on Saturday afternoon. As with three of the four Texans home playoff games, it'll be a rematch from earlier this season. In 2011, the Texans beat the Bengals in Cincinnati and did the same on Wild Card weekend. In 2015, the Chiefs knocked off the Texans to start the year and then to end the season at NRG Stadium. Back in November in Mexico City, the Raiders knocked off the Texans 27-20 on Monday Night Football on one of the wildest nights of football the Texans have seen or experienced in quite some time.
Much has changed since that night, especially for the Raiders, so let's get to Know Your Foe on Saturday, the Oakland Raiders.
Rushing offense - 120.1 ypg (6th in the NFL)
Passing offense - 253.2 ypg (13th)
Total offense - 373.3 ypg (6th)
Scoring offense - 26.0 ppg (7th)
Turnovers committed - 14 (4th fewest)
3rd down conversion percentage - 38.1% (17th)The Raiders offensive starting lineup was as followed in the last matchup with the Texans
QB - Derek Carr
WR - Andre Holmes
WR - Seth Roberts
WR - Michael Crabtree
WR - Amari Cooper
TE - Mychal Rivera
LT - Donald Penn
LG - Kelechi Osemele
C - Rodney Hudson
RG - Gabe Jackson
RT - Austin Howard
**RB - Latavius Murray (didn't start due to 4-WR scheme on first play but typically starts)
TE - Clive Walford
FB - Jamize Olawale
RB - DeAndre Washington
RB/KR - Jalen Richard
QB Connor Cook will more than likely start for injured Derek Carr and injured backup Matt McGloin
What concerns do the Texans have facing the Oakland offense?
There are so many electric weapons in silver and black. In that first matchup, the Texans did a tremendous job slowing down Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, minus Cooper's catch and run game winning touchdown. However, Olawale was a killer in the passing game, especially in the fourth quarter. Crabtree and Cooper won't have Carr throwing them the ball, though.
As such, the biggest concern in the first matchup was Richard in the passing game and this time it could also be Washington in either pass or run game. Washington lit up the Colts a few weeks ago in the running game, but he's a tremendous pass receiver as a rookie. Richard made two plays in the passing game that will resonate with the Texans defensive coaches throughout the week. In the first half, he circled out of the backfield, matched up on a Texans linebacker and won easily for a Raiders first half touchdown. Then, late in the game, Richard was matched with Benardrick McKinney in man coverage down the far sideline and the undrafted rookie made the catch for the game ending first down.
The Raiders offensive line is huge and if they can just lean on the defensive front of the Texans, it can be a problem if the Texans offense doesn't have success, staying on the field for extended periods at a time. Murray didn't get much done, though, in the running game in the first matchup, but with Carr out of this one, he may get a significant number of carries to take the load off the rookie starter Connor Cook.
Furthermore, the Raiders turn the ball over less than once a game and that has been a huge driver for success, with or without Carr at quarterback.
What concerns do the Raiders have against the Texans defense?
Let's be clear, Cook is no Derek Carr, but he has played in some huge football games.
The NFL playoffs are a completely different animal to say the least and Cook's going to find that out early in this one. The key for the Texans defense against Cook is to make him uncomfortable as early as possible and force him into predictable throws. Then, turn him over and put big points on the board.
Outside of the fourth quarter with Carr at the helm, the Texans defense more than held the Raiders offense in check. In fact, there was significant frustration on that side of the ball with the way the Texans had them locked up for most of the third quarter, in particular.
Rushing defense - 117.6 ypg (23rd in the NFL)
Passing defense - 257.5 ypg (24th)
Total defense - 375.1 ypg (26th)
Scoring defense - 24.1 ppg (20th)
Turnovers forced - 30 (2nd most)
3rd down conversion allowed percentage - 39.4% (16th)The Raiders defensive starting lineup was as followed in the last matchup with the Texans
DE - Khalil Mack
NT - Dan Williams
DT - Jihad Ward
DE - Stacy McGee
SLB - Bruce Irvin
ILB - Perry Riley
WLB - Malcolm Smith
CB - Sean Smith
S - Karl Joseph
S - Reggie Nelson
CB - David Amerson
DT - Justin Ellis
DE - Denico Autry
DE - Mario Edwards Jr (injured and missed first matchup)
Nickel - D.J. Hayden
Not expected to be many now that Joseph is expected to be back in the starting lineup
What concerns do the Texans have facing the Oakland defense?
Khalil Mack. Period, end of story. It's that simple. When the Texans were getting ready for the Raiders in round one in Mexico, Bill O'Brien told us that the Texans couldn't allow Mack to wreck the game. The Texans did a great job limiting Mack's impact in that game, giving up a relatively meaningless sack at the end of the first half to the potential NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But, repeating that a second time is a HUGE hurdle to get beyond.
The last time Texans starting quarterback Brock Osweiler faced Khalil Mack in the United States, Mack sacked him five times and the Raiders star took over the game, nearly winning it by himself. Texans tackles Duane Brown and Chris Clark will need some 'chip' help and even double team help from their running backs and tight ends to slow him down.
But, let's not forget that Bruce Irvin was a true menace in that first matchup down in Mexico, too. He was all over the place, creating pressure in the passing game and making impact plays against the run. His speed was a major factor and the Texans must find a way to not let either Mack or Irvin impact the passing game.
When Osweiler had time to throw, he had success against the Raiders, but without Derek Carr under center, I could see defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. taking some risks (additional games/stunts/6-man blitzes??) to get to Osweiler. If the Raiders defense can force turnovers as it has all year - nearly two a game - it'll certainly help out Oakland's rookie starting quarterback Cook.
What concerns do the Raiders have against the Texans offense?
The Raiders secondary had a ton of issues with Texans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, especially when he moved around the formation. Furthermore, when the Raiders didn't put Sean Smith on Hopkins, he had a distinct advantage in the passing game. Rookie safety Karl Joseph will return, as he said because his team needs him with all of the injuries in the secondary. But, he'll be far from 100%.
The Texans found balance early and often against this defense, one that feasts on turnovers, and the Texans only committed one in that first matchup. If the Texans limit turnover opportunities and move the sticks a bit early on, they'll have a chance at offensive success.