Week 2: Top 10 Ravens, Raiders to watch
Looking to avoid 0-2 hole
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio used a simple rationale to help his team move on from a 33-13 loss to Cincinnati in Week 1: You can’t beat the Baltimore Ravens next week if you’re still thinking about the Bengals. He’s right, and his players followed orders well. Moving on doesn’t mean you’ll beat the next opponent. That’s more about matchups and execution. There are plenty of players to watch heading into a contest between 0-1 teams wanting a win...
10) Ray-Ray Armstrong, SLB
The young strongside linebacker is an athletic fit for this Raiders defense. He’s fast and tenacious. The coaching staff likes that. Armstrong was a bit overzealous at times against the Bengals, and cost his team with some tackling issues, improper angles and pursuit. The Raiders don’t have another player to step in for Armstrong, who plays all three downs. He needs to settle down some, and not let emotion get in the way of execution.
9) Clive Walford, TE
The rookie third-round pick came to training camp with high expectations tempered by hamstring and knee injuries this summer. He played 24 snaps in his NFL debut, half of what starter Mychal Rivera took. Tight ends have become a weapon of choice around the league, and the Raiders haven't had much receiving production from theirs yet. In theory, Walford can be a dynamic player when given the chance. He needs to prove it, even in a limited role. That’s how you get a bigger role.
8) Larry Asante, FS
The journeyman has bounced around the NFL some, but has his first opportunity to start consistently with Nate Allen out eight weeks with a torn MCL in his right knee. Asante is a decent free safety with higher expectations, especially as the last line of defense on most plays. It’s entirely possible Charles Woodson (shoulder) won’t be ready for this game. Asante needs to play well, or the whole defense could suffer.
7) C.J. Mosley, ILB
The second-year pro, who finished just ahead of Khalil Mack for second in 2014 defensive rookie of the year voting, is a tackling machine and a leader in the middle of the Ravens defense. He is a solid run defender, someone who must be accounted for in order for Raiders running back Latavius Murray to churn out steady yards.
6) D.J. Hayden, CB
The 2013 first-round pick got picked on some against the Bengals, as he did in the preseason. Hayden allowed seven receptions on nine targets for 67 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens will likely go after Hayden again, especially because T.J. Carrie is playing well at the opposite cornerback spot. Hayden’s struggles have come with the ball in the air, where he must perform better to validate good coverage.
5) Elvis Dumervil, OLB
The Ravens lost defensive leader and sack artist Terrell Suggs for the season in Week 1, when he ruptured an Achilles’ tendon. The team replaced him with veteran signing Jason Babin, but the onus falls on Dumervil to create quarterback pressure. He’s pretty good doing that, with 17 sacks and 42 other quarterback pressures in 2014. The Raiders will have to keep a close eye on this dynamic pass rusher, who can crush an offensive rhythm in just a few plays.
4) Aldon Smith, DE
Smith played 29 snaps, primarily on passing downs, against the Bengals just days after signing with the Raiders. He was understandably rusty in limited action, his first since being released by the 49ers on Aug. 7. He’ll play more on Sunday against Baltimore, but the Raiders will continue to use him primarily as a pass rusher. Smith can create havoc when he’s going well. The Raiders hope that happens against a tough Ravens squad, that he can give the team a lift and rattle quarterback Joe Flacco.
3) Steve Smith, WR
The 36-year old may be retiring at season’s end, but the old man’s still got it. Smith is a deep threat and a quality possession man. He’ll use veteran savvy to throw young cornerbacks off his scent and be a weapon despite being the Ravens’ only established receiving threat. Raiders cornerbacks must keep a close eye on Smith as he moves around the field.
2) Derek Carr, QB
Carr’s bruised throwing hand is fine. His passes looked crisp in practice, especially in the Friday portions open to the press. Carr struggled some against the Bengals before getting hurt, due to some in-game excitement that put extra mustard on his passes. Carr must play well for the Raiders to have a chance. The offense was out of sync early, and it needs to find and maintain good rhythm throughout this game to compete with a physical Ravens team.
1) Amari Cooper, WR
The Bengals tried to intimidate the rookie No. 4 overall pick with physicality and taunting. There’s no reason to think Baltimore won’t do the same. Cooper isn’t fazed by much, and wasn’t bothered by Bengals roughhousing. He needs to be a consistent target who doesn’t drop passes. If he and Carr can play pitch and catch, Cooper can shine in open space with excellent footwork and elusiveness. The Raiders need big plays, even if passes aren’t thrown a great distance. Cooper is capable of making that happen.