Five Raiders to watch in Week 4: Why Clelin Ferrell matters vs. Colts

Five Raiders to watch in Week 4: Why Clelin Ferrell matters vs. Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Raiders won’t be in a must-win situation Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. That overused term rarely applies when used, as it is too dramatic for most circumstances outside of an elimination game.

It certainly doesn’t fit in Week 4. It’s fair to say, when applying proper context, that the Raiders would really, really like to get this one at Lucas Oil Stadium. They left Minnesota with an upset stomach after the Vikings worked them over, and beating the Colts would be a soothing tonic.

That especially true given this grueling road slate, which extends four more games into early November. The Raiders won’t want to leave for London on a three-game losing streak, prepping for a faceoff with Khalil Mack’s Chicago Bears.

That would be rough. They could enter that hyped affair on a positive note if these five Raiders have strong showings against the Colts.

P.S. Quarterback Derek Carr won’t ever appear on these lists. He’s a top player to watch every week, so we focus on others who need to make big contributions.

LB Tahir Whitehead

Every Raiders linebacker on still the roster from last week is ailing. Save one.

Tahir Whitehead has been a stabilizing force while Vontaze Burfict, Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee (now on injured reserve) and Kyle Wilber got hurt last week against the Vikings. He played every linebacker spot in the base defense and sub packages, taking over play relays and pre-snap instruction when Burfict went out a while with an elbow injury.

All of those linebackers are expected to play, though some are playing below full health. That puts an onus on Whitehead to tackle well, fly to the ball and stay available against the Colts. Indy’s offensive line is awesome, meaning linebackers need to be aggressive making tackles on backs sliding through gaps.

Colts runner Marlon Mack has been excellent to start the season, and slowing him will be key and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook sliced through the defense a week ago. Defenders were too often out of gaps then, and Whitehead has been preaching discipline throughout the practice week. That has to hold up on game day for the Raiders defense to show improvement.

DE Clelin Ferrell

The Clemson product plays more than any other defensive lineman, often outside in the base defense and pass-rushing from the interior in the sub package. He’s capable of producing from both spots, but Ferrell must make some big plays to energize a defensive line that hasn’t been great.

The onus falls on the team’s No. 4 overall NFL draft pick, expected to make a dramatic immediate impact. Ferrell has a sack and seven total pressure through three games, a sum that has to increase to spark this defensive line. It’ll be tough sledding against the Colts’ front, but Ferrell must be a factor inside and out, especially if the Colts follow the Vikings' formula and try to lock the Raiders into a base defense.

It’s always tough, and at times unfair, to expect big things from rookies this early. But, the Raiders really need Ferrell to make his mark against Indy.

WR J.J. Nelson

Nelson is just getting back into the flow after an ankle injury stole nearly a month’s prep, but the Raiders need his speed to change things up in the passing game. Defenses can focus on Tyrell Williams and tight end Darren Waller without another obvious threat in the pattern, and Nelson must command respect with an impactful catch volume.

Antonio Brown’s departure forced the Raiders to adjust their offense, though it came too late to add a threatening presence in his place. They’ll go with the corps available now, and Nelson offers the best chance to capitalize on some favorable matchups.

He caught a flea flicker touchdown pass, but had four catches for just 36 yards. He needs to do more against the Colts.

DB Lamarcus Joyner

The Raiders are expanding Joyner’s role, all in an effort to make sure the Raiders’ best defensive back isn’t glued to the sideline like he was against the Vikings. Playing slot cornerback means you step out in the base defense, but he’s expected to move back to a safety/hybrid defensive back spot in the base defense to take greater advantage of his versatility and experience.

It will be Joyner’s job to make plays with the extra time, no matter where he lines up. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett can sling it, and Joyner must lead the secondary, make plays on the ball and help keep the Colts’ tight-end contributions to a minimum.

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RB Josh Jacobs

The Raiders must feed Jacobs early, both as a runner and receiver. Feature backs like getting into a good rhythm, something hard to find after the Raiders fell multiple scores behind early in the last two games.

He’s capable of popping big runs if given opportunities, and could do so often against a Colts defense allowing 5.3 yards per carry and four 20-yards-plus runs in three games.

Jacobs is healthy, though still dealing with remnants of an illness, but is ready to handle a heavy workload the Raiders would be wise to give him.

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

ALAMEDA -- Karl Joseph sat in the Raiders locker room Monday, with a pair of crutches by his side. A walking boot was nearby, transportation aids given the state of his ailing foot.

Joseph got hurt sealing Thursday's victory over the L.A. Chargers, a leaping interception was his final on-field act as a 2019 Raider.

That’s a difficult reality for Joseph and those around him. The West Virginia alum was popular throughout the locker room, a relentless worker playing the best football of his career before an injury that ended his season far earlier than expected.

“I think, as a team, we really started to click. That’s especially true in the secondary,” Joseph, who formally placed on injured reserve, said Friday. “It wasn’t just me necessarily. I think I was playing good ball, but we were coming together. I really believe we started to play good football and I wanted to be part of it moving forward.

"We have a strong chance to go to the playoffs. That’s what is frustrating part for me.”

Joseph is an eternal optimist, someone who relies on faith to weather tough times. It doesn’t eliminate frustration completely. Joseph knew his season was in jeopardy right away.

“The first night was pretty rough,” Joseph said. “I knew right away that something was wrong. I couldn’t even walk right afterwards. The next day I was rebounding. I was raised on strong faith. I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life, so this is nothing new. I’ll be okay.”

Joseph is waiting for the swelling to go down before formulating a rehabilitation plan. He will visit with renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, Wis., and ponder surgery based upon the doctor’s evaluation.

His season is over no matter what, with the possibility of a lengthy rehab ahead. The timing isn’t great considering the Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. He’ll head into unrestricted free agency without a chance to show he’s fully healed and ready to play at the high level found in games before the injury.

The Raiders’ 2016 first-round draft pick hopes to remain in silver and black next season, when the team moves to Las Vegas.

“Of course. This is the team that drafted me,” Joseph said. “I love playing with this group of guys. I love working with this coaching staff and in [defensive coordinator Paul] Guenther’s system. It’s great for me and the safeties. We’ll see what happens. It’s out of my control now. All I can do it get healthy and get better.

"I believe everything will work itself out.”

Joseph’s safety partnership with Erik Harris was working out well. The pair was in great sync in recent games, allowing both players to maximize abilities, make big plays on the ball and minimize the communication errors that plagued the secondary earlier this season.

Harris was disappointed to see his partner fall, especially when an interception slipped through his hands a few plays earlier.

[RELATED: Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary]

“He has a very positive outlook on life and that will help him through this,” Harris said. “I just feel bad because, if I would’ve made that pick, then him and [Lamarcus Joyner, who suffered a hamstring strain a few plays before Joseph got hurt] would be healthy right now. It’s just unfortunate.

"Karl is a great guy and a great player. I want to see him be healthy and to get paid. There is not a harder worker in this building than him. He strives to be great. He will lean on his faith, and that’s big.”

D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary


D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary

Yes, the Raiders are 5-4. Yes, the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

But issues abound in Oakland.

Jon Gruden's gritty club has fought through a rash of injuries, a five-game road trip, the suspension of Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown's decision to go AWOL to be in the thick of the playoff hunt in November. But the Silver and Black's secondary is running on emergency power after Karl Joseph suffered a season-ending injury on the final play of the Raiders' Week 10 win over the Chargers.

With Joseph out for the season, that means the Raiders are missing both of their starting safeties -- Johnathan Abram has been out since Week 1 -- as well as their starting middle linebacker and two defensive ends. Gruden is trying to patch the defense together as the Raiders prepare for a playoff run.

D.J. Swearinger is the latest member of the duct tape brigade. The Raiders signed the veteran safety Saturday, and hope he can slide in immediately and give them some relief in the backend. 

It's hard for players to come in cold off the street and learn a new system, but Swearinger played in a similar scheme in Arizona, so he isn't worried about the learning curve. 

"It's not a new system for me because Arizona ran the exact same system," Swearinger said Monday. "Just got to get the different terminology, which is sort of the similar terminology in Arizona --- almost identical -- with a few coverages so it's not a hard transition for me. I'm going to fit right in, do my studying and make it happen."

Swearinger played in four games for the Cardinals this season before being released. The 28-year-old veteran safety has played for four teams prior to the Raiders, including two stints with the Cardinals, notching 14 interceptions and 40 passes defensed in his seven-year NFL career.

He's versatile, experienced and likes to hit. Most of all he's hungry and ready to seize the moment, both for himself and the Raiders.

"It's a great opportunity, man," Swearinger said. "I'm happy to be here. Happy to be with a coach like coach Gruden. I know what he means to football, know what he brings to the table. I'm excited to be here, they are doing some great stuff here. I'm ready to add whatever I can to help this team win and win a championship."

With both their starting safeties done for the season, the Raiders are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on a guy that's been in the building for only couple days. Swearinger has the talent, and the Raiders need him to be at his best right away.

"I like Swearinger," Gruden said Monday. "He played for my brother in Washington. I was a broadcaster at one point, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina with my friend [Steve] Spurrier, so I know a little bit about Swearinger. I think he's a good player, he just has to put it all together. That's what he needs to do. He's got to start that process today. We need the very best of Swearinger."

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game in Raiders' TNF win]

He's spent the last month waiting for an opportunity, viewing this tough Raiders team from afar.

"They got grit and it starts with the head coach," Swearinger said of his new team. "I love the head coach, I've always loved coach Gruden. From way back in college, from him doing Monday nights. I know what he brings to football and I know playing for a coach like that we're going to bring it every time we step on the field. He expects that. The guys in the locker room ... there are some young guys but they are talented and they want to go to work and you can help but come in and get with the coach."

The Raiders will face an 0-9 Bengals team Sunday in Week 11, a vertically challenged team that should present limited problems for a new safety getting his feet wet in silver and black. Swearinger prides himself on being a physical safety with underrated cover skills. He's tough, emotional and hard working.

Gruden and the Raiders need all of that to translate into winning football in the backend of the Raiders' secondary. The playoffs might depend on it.