BALTIMORE – The Raiders haven’t been on a winning streak all season. Their two wins came six weeks apart sandwiching five straight losses by at least 14 points.
The opportunity’s here Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens after last week’s comeback victory over Arizona, but it won’t be easy sledding. They’ll have to corral fast quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is a better thrower than many realize. They’ll have to continue making strides on defense, and avoid giving up a huge play (for once).
An expensive, yet beat up offense has to produce better, and find a way in from near the goal line (for once).
Let’s take a look at four Raiders key to achieving those goals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
S Karl Joseph
The West Virginia alum is finally a steady, regular contributor on this Raiders defense. He started the year as its No. 4 safety, and then spent several weeks nursing a hamstring issue suffered in Week 3.
Joseph has been a regular at strong safety, and has brought physicality playing near the line of scrimmage. He has eight tackles the last two weeks, with five considered run stops without much gain. Joseph has also levied some big hits, adding a new element to this Raiders defense.
“He’s got very good striking ability,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s a good tackler in close-range situations. I think he’s improving. I think he’s learning this defense. He’s been able to practice, and I think he’s starting to recognize plays and smell plays out. he usually arrives in a pretty bad mentality. He’s a tough guy. We need a physical presence at or near the line of scrimmage and I think he can help us do that.”
LT Kolton Miller
The first-round left tackle has been dealing with knee injuries all season. He suffered another sprain last week in Arizona, but battled through as he does every single game. His sack total is high, but has shown great grit as clearly the best left tackle on the roster.
“It’s one thing to go out there and play hurt. It’s another thing to go out there and play winning football when you’re hurt,” Gruden said. “Not many guys can do that. Not many young guys, especially. That’s why we made him our first-round pick. He’s got really good inner strength, mental strength, mental toughness. He’s a tough guy and he’s showing it right now.” Miller has battled injury and a run of excellent pass rushers this season Terrell Suggs comes calling Sunday with great power and veteran savvy to manipulate tackles while pressuring the quarterback.
Miller must be ready for another stiff challenge in order for the offense to produce steadily.
CB Nick Nelson
Veteran slot cornerback Leon Hall is questionable to play Sunday with a back issue that kept him from practicing all week. Rookie Nick Nelson must be ready for a heavy snap count if Hall can’t go. He should be able to handle increased volume after rotating in with Hall the past few weeks and taking over following his injury last week.
Nelson’s stats in Arizona weren’t great. They say he gave up three catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns on five targets, though one was on a screen to Christian Kirk where many were culpable.
Nelson has all the tools to be a quality nick cornerback, and must show that against an unpredictable offense with Lamar Jackson at the helm. Nelson must offer solid run support as well, making his job as vital as any in this Raiders scheme.
WR Marcell Ateman
The Oklahoma State productive had a solid debut against Arizona, with four receptions for 50 yards. That included a big 32-yard catch to help set up the game-winning field goal.
Consistency will be key for a seventh-round pick now thrust into the spotlight by injuries atop the receiver depth chart. Expect Ateman to play most every snap, and he’ll have to use unique methods of separation creation to get open without breakneck speed. Quarterback Derek Carr needs some friendly target in the pattern. Ateman can certainly be one.