Top 5 players who can power Raiders past Texans
Who will step up?
The Raiders are in the playoffs, ready to play their first postseason game since 2002. That was earned with a 12-4 campaign flush with dramatic comebacks. Excitement should crescendo about now, yet Raider Nation speaks about this opportunity in tones muffled by Derek Carr’s injury and a ghastly performance against Denver with a division on the line.
That has most dismissing the Raiders before this Texans clash, especially with rookie Connor Cook under center. Head coach Jack Del Rio has preached all week it’ll take the whole team to help a new passer and win this playoff game. The Raiders need star power from all phases to lead that effort.
5) P Marquette King
It’s uncertain how much offense a Raiders team featuring Connor Cook can muster against the NFL’s No. 1 defense. That means they’ll have to win the battle for field position, and the Raiders have an excellent weapon in that fight. Marquette King excels dropping punts inside the opposing 20-yard line. He has done so 21 times this year, and is capable of a hot streak that can significantly impact a game. The Raiders need that Saturday more than ever, to help the offense and defense keep this game close.
4) FS Reggie Nelson
The veteran Pro Bowl safety hasn’t played perfect during his first year in Oakland, but has been clutch most of the year. He has seven takeaways this season, including three that clinched a Raiders victory. He also has five interceptions and a real nose for the ball, an asset against a quarterback in Brock Osweiller who often throws to the wrong guy. If the Raiders get pressure up front, Nelson must make the Texans pay. He needs to prevent big plays with well-timed cornerback assistance and must get picks when the moment strikes. Osweiller should give him a few.
3) WR Amari Cooper
Quarterback Connor Cook has an ability to throw receivers open. He isn’t afraid to throw towards tight coverage, into a spot where his receiver can make a play. That’s Beethoven’s Fifth to Amari Cooper’s ears. Cooper can make plays in traffic, turn on a dime and create big plays after the catch on well-timed throws. He was frustrated with Matt McGloin’s efforts last week, and while Cook isn’t Derek Carr reincarnate, he has the arm talent to reach his skill players in stride. Cooper has been quiet in the second half, with less than 60 yards in seven of his last eight games. He has to make big moves against a tough Texans defense to be a big-play receiving threat the Raiders desperately need.
2) DE Khalil Mack
Khalil Mack has taken over games before. Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller experienced it first hand last year with Denver, when Mack sacked him five times. Mack has finished two games this year with strip sacks that ended games. He’ll see double and triple teams. He’ll get chipped and hit and distracted. The superstar edge rusher must persevere to make impact plays in the backfield. The Raiders will ask a lot from their best player. Mack welcomes the responsibility to lead, especially in a do-or-die playoff game like this.
1) C Rodney Hudson
It might seem odd for a center to be the most important man on the field, but that will certainly be the case with Cook under center. It’s unrealistic for Cook to be Derek Carr-like with his pre-snap checks and adjustments with so little experience, so he’ll rely heavily on Hudson to help up front. Hudson might be the NFL’s best center, especially when it comes to making protection calls. He has veto power at the line, and can ease Cook’s burden. If the protection’s right, Cook stands a punchers chance. Hudson must make sure it is on each snap. The Pro Bowler is certainly capable of such a tall task.