The Raiders are in a tough spot. They’re rare road favorites Sunday, expected to beat the New York Jets -- who are more talented than you think -- after flying across the country to play a game when most of you are eating breakfast.
Oh, and there’s a massive, AFC West showdown on the horizon.
So, you know, stay focused and all that. Taking care of business is essential for Jon Gruden’s Silver and Black, but it won’t be a stroll through Central Park in Week 12. They’re going to have to earn this one.
Here are five players essential to beating the Jets and extending their already prolonged winning streak.
RB Josh Jacobs
Jacobs is ever-so-close to reaching 1,000 rushing yards. It seems he couldn't care less. The Alabama product shrugs off his entries in the Raiders record book, focusing more on making proper reads and maximizing yardage on a particular play.
He must do so consistently Sunday to produce against a stingy Jets front ranked No. 1 in run defense. That unit plays well collectively, with no clear weakness to exploit. The Raiders offensive line and fullback Alec Ingold must do their part, but Jacobs’ reads and rushing choices will ultimately determine the run game’s success.
If Jacobs gets going against such stout opposition, the Raiders will notch another win. It’s that simple to say, much harder to do.
DL Dion Jordan
The Oregon alum played just 14 snaps last week, rushing from the interior in obvious passing situations. His length, power and athleticism changed the way the defensive front was blocked, providing opportunities for himself and those around him. He did all that but a few days after being signed and eligible to play after a 10-game NFL suspension.
That’s impressive, and the Raiders will want to expand Jordan's role wherever possible as the season continues.
Jordan will be an X-factor in this game and others, and his pairing with either Maxx Crosby or Clelin Ferrell could free the edge rushers to make big plays. He instantly upgrades the Raiders pass rush and is a player other must account for. On Sunday, Jordan could help create havoc against a ho-hum Jets offensive line that can be exploited from the inside.
TE Darren Waller
Opponents work hard to take Waller out of the game plan. That’s easier said than done. Waller’s size, speed and versatility make him an attractive option the Raiders are determined to include, as we’ve seen with high target counts even when he’s blanketed in coverage. Waller said this week an attacking mindset and proper reads are key to the ball coming his way.
The Jets have been tough on tight ends, but Waller must find a way to stay involved to keep the Raiders offense running strong. He knows that and is taking this challenge head-on. Waller is an elite talent and must steadily produce -- even against stout opposition -- to keep the Raiders on their winning track.
S D.J. Swearinger
The veteran safety led the Raiders in tackles last week against the Cincinnati Bengals just days after signing. He was primarily active on first and second down, with Curtis Riley entering in obvious passing situations. Riley has struggled in those scenarios, and it will be interesting to see if Swearinger becomes a three-down player in this game or down the road.
We know for certain Swearinger can be an impactful run defender and intimidator in the middle. We know how badly he wants to succeed and help the Raiders' playoff push after a month-plus away from football. He has immense talent that must be harnessed and deployed appropriately. The Raiders must keep this defense going strong against quarterback Sam Darnold and rusher Le’Veon Bell, players far more dangerous than their stats suggest.
WR Hunter Renfrow
Third-and-Renfrow. It’s not just a fun thing say. Quarterback Derek Carr often looks to Renfrow as a chains mover, someone reliable in tense moments. The fifth-round pick has seen more targets in recent weeks, especially when the Raiders are in a bind. He has come through time and again when others are covered, being the safety blanket Carr has longed for from the slot.
He needs to continue his productive run and find soft spots in zones, especially with safety Jamal Adams roaming free and often rushing the passer. That can leave the Jets exposed and vulnerable to quick passes and runs after the catch, both of which are Renfrow’s forte. Steady production from him when other options are shut down or with the Jets focused on the run will be key to the Raiders producing consistently enough to win Sunday.