Week 10: Bair's Top 10 Vikings, Raiders to watch
Strength vs strength
The Raiders tangle with the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon, ready to engage in several battles of strength versus strength. The Vikings have the NFL’s best running back. The Raiders sport a solid run D. The Raiders score early and often. The Vikings allowed fewer points per game than 30 other teams. The Raiders like to chuck it downfield. The Vikings prevent that well. That makes for an intriguing matchup between two solid teams. Here are 10 individuals to watch on Sunday at O.co Coliseum.
10) NT Dan Williams, Raiders
The Raiders will put maximum effort into slowing Vikings rusher Adrian Peterson. That starts in the middle, where Williams makes hay. He’s a run stopper of the highest order, a gap plugger and double-team magnet that makes it easier for others to make tackles. The free-agent signee is the lynchpin of the Raiders run defense, and generates more quarterback pressure than expected from a man his size.
9) WR Stefon Diggs, Vikings
The rookie receiver has come on strong the last few weeks, giving quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a deep three he has desperately needed. He corrals 70 percent of his targets, and is averaging 16.5 yards per reception. He averages 6.1 yards after the catch and has had a reception of 25 yards or more in the last five games. After Steelers wideout Antonio Brown burned the Raiders deep time and again last week, Diggs should make Raiders defensive backs lose some sleep.
8) C Tony Bergstrom, Raiders
Before Sunday’s game, Bergstrom hadn’t played an offensive snap since 2012. He missed 2013 with injury and was inactive last year. He earned a job as the backup center, an important role when Rodney Hudson sprained an ankle against the Steelers. He isn’t expected to play the Vikings, leaving Bergstrom to man the middle. Hudson was in charge of alignment and blitz pickup, in addition to being a solid blocker. Bergstrom will have a somewhat lighter load, but the Raiders have confidence Bergstrom will show well.
7) NT Linval Joseph, Vikings
Jospeh is a mauler in the middle, easily one of the league’s best run defenders. That could hamper the Raiders running game, vital to offensive balance and steady production. The Vikings run defense has some holes. Joseph isn’t one of them, but they can’t stop running inside because he’s there. Double teams might be the easiest way to push him around, especially with back center Tony Bergstrom in the game.
6) OLB Khalil Mack, Raiders
Mack is the Raiders’ best defensive player. He didn’t show up in the box score against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He didn’t have a single tackle. Mack was active, with seven quarterback pressures, but spent most of his afternoon getting double-teamed, chipped by running backs and deliberately run away from. Mack is capable of making big plays or setting them up for others. An extra moment covering well on pass plays could allow him to get home and create havoc.
5) SS Harrison Smith, Vikings
Running back Adrian Peterson says Smith “is the key to our defense,” an accurate statement despite the fact he’s a relative unknown. Smith is a hard-hitter and the leader of a pass defense that ranks No. 6 in the league with 220 yards allowed per game. Smith is an aggressive, smart player who always seems to make the right play. He’s versatile, with 41 tackles (10 close to the line of scrimmage), an interception, a sack and eight other quarterback pressures.
4) RB Latavius Murray, Raiders
The third-year pro suffered a concussion against Pittsburgh, but has recovered quickly and seems to be in line to play against the Vikings. Murray said he is symptom free and, if he stays that way, he hopes to continue his efficient rushing became steady after the bye week. Murray has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and has become an explosive interior rusher. He fumbled twice last week, and needs to run low, hang on tight while the Vikings try and strip it away.
3) FS Nate Allen, Raiders
The Raiders are thrilled to have the starting free safety back in the fray, physically ready to come off short-term injured reserve on Sunday. The Raiders secondary is ailing and in desperate need of healthy talent. Allen provides that after missing eight games with a torn MCL. He was playing well in the preseason and the season opener before injury struck. The Raiders hope he returns to solid form and helps them defend deep and in the middle of the field. He should also allow TJ Carrie to return to cornerback and improve perimeter coverage.
2) RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Peterson is 30 years old, which is geriatric for a running back. He is still running strong, leading the NFL with 748 rushing yards. He runs hard, initiates contact and still has the slashing breakaway speed to make big runs. Peterson needs to be swarm tackled, and has been known to put it on the group. He has five fumbles, but has lost only one. The Vikings offense runs through him. Slow Peterson down and the Raiders have a real chance to win this home game.
1) QB Derek Carr, Raiders
The second-year pro is playing like a top-flight quarterback these days, with an excellent passer rating, with 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions. When Carr plays like he has the last four games, the Raiders have a great chance to win. He is playing with confidence, acting decisively and trusting the skill players around him to make plays downfield.