For months, I’ve circled this as a trap game on the Raiders schedule. The Titans are trending in the same direction that the Raiders were a year ago. Tennessee is a young team on the rise and their looking for a statement win early. Meanwhile, the Raiders have a ton of pressure on them from an offseason filled with hype.
As a matter of fact, I actually picked against my favorite team. It should come as a surprise given that Oakland barely beat the TItans in 2015 and 2016. Not to mention, the Raiders still have the same questions, at all levels of their defense, as they did in each of those seasons. Obi Melifonwu was expected to help with some of the liability in the secondary but he is headed to IR. Gareon Conley could make his debut but it is unclear how effective he will be after missing most of the offseason.
All that pessimism aside, let’s see how Raider Nation can come home with a win. Here are the Raiders keys to a victory in Tennessee.
Defensive Tackle Play
Once again, the Raiders defense will be determined by their inside interior linemen. Especially for this game, the Raiders DTs, NTs, and DEs will need to push the pocket to create pressure on Marcus Mariota. If they can do this, Mariota will be forced to the outside which will allow Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin to finish the young stud QB. This also keeps the Raiders from having to blitz every play. Oakland will need extra help in coverage as the Titans employ Delanie Walker as one of the best TEs in the league. The Raiders are notoriously bad at covering the tight end so hopefully you have Walker in your DFS this week.
Otherwise, Mariota can step into the pocket and create himself running and passing lanes. Added time means the Raiders secondaries and corners could get beat by the likes of Corey Davis.
Moreover, the Raiders DTs will also be critical for protecting the inside backers. Derrick Henry and DeMarcco Murray might combine for the scariest backfield in the NFL. Their offensive line is just as scary and dominate as any other group in the league. Thus, the defensive line is in for a physical battle.
Depending who you ask, this defensive tackle group is either young or unproven. Between Jihad Ward, Mario Edwards Jr. Denico Autry, Treyvon Hester, Jihad Ward, Jelly Ellis, Darius Latham and Eddie Vanderdoes it is unclear if any player is ready to dominate. It remains to be seen if any of those players will ever become consistent NFL starters. Either way, they have a big opportunity this week.
Pound the Football
Much of the talk is about Murray and Henry. However, the Raiders have their own slate of backs. We finally get to see Marshawn Lynch in full Beast Mode. Much of the offseason talked about him returning home. Raiders fans finally get to see their hometown hero full speed versus another team.
Added, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington should see some run too. They will be critical to spelling Lynch and keeping the defense on their toes. Both men are great pass catchers, they’re hard to tackle and they can take it to the endzone on any touch. Washington and Richard should keep Lynch fresh. We should see a heavy dose of both until one man runs away with the second RB job.
Ultimately, expect the Raiders to pound the football. Their offensive line and running backs are too good not to run the ball 60 percent of the time in this game. This will be critical to neutralizing the Titans plethora of zone blitzes and edge rushers.
Live up to the Moment
The Raiders are in a new position. Oakland is many people’s Super Bowl pick. They have a Pro Bowl quarterback and a bunch of skills players on people’s fantasy teams. The Silver and Black will have the entire mainstream watching them as they start a quest for a Lombardi Trophy with the cloud of relocation hanging over the great city of Oakland. Can the Raiders live up to the hype?
Oakland can not run from the big moments in this game or the rest of the season. Things will go wrong in this game but the Raiders have been their before. They must play like they are a Super Bowl contender from the opening kick off versus Tennessee. The Raiders need to set the tone by playing full speed even when adversity hits on the road versus the Titans.
I don’t expect this will be a problem for them. Oakland has Jack Del Rio at head coach and Derek Carr at QB. Players will run through walls for either of those great leaders. Not to mention, that duo has already lead some great comebacks over the past two seasons. Now, they must dominate games as the favorite. They got to beat the Titans like it is no competition.
The Raiders will always be underdogs, yes. Just last week CBS Sports ranked the Chargers over the Raiders. Either way, we embrace the underdog image as Raiders fans. However, this year the Silver and Black must learn to function in the spot light. This game against the playoff contending Titans is the first step in that process.