Top five Raiders keys to coralling Colts
How Raiders can dispatch Luck, Colts
The Raiders secured a playoff spot with two games remaining, but have missions left to accomplish. They’d like to win the AFC West, something that requires finishing stronger than Kansas City. A first-round bye and home-field advantage are also in play, as the Raiders try to set the easiest possible path to the championship. A loss to Indianapolis on Saturday would hinder those efforts. Several players can help push the Raiders over the top, something that should happen given the Raiders’ plus-15 turnover margin and talent disparity at key positions. Here are five players key to beating the Colts.
5. S Reggie Nelson
The veteran free safety was somewhat of a surprise Pro Bowl election, though the Raiders have appreciated Nelson’s value throughout the season. Nelson has been a ball hawk and a quick study in a new scheme, regularly providing proper help over the top. Nelson has been better as the season’s worn on. He has six total takeaways, including three that have directly lead to a Raiders victory formation. The Raiders have been excellent late in games thanks to his clutch performances, a point Nelson has personified in his first season here. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck doesn’t make many mistakes, but Nelson can help capitalize on rare opportunities and keep the Colts from making big plays downfield.
4. WR Amari Cooper
Cooper is the Raiders most dynamic wide receiver. That hasn’t resulted in production of late, with Cooper recording 60 yards or less in the last five games. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave says he want the ball possessed by top talents, and Cooper is one. He wants to make up ground in this regard, meaning Cooper might get more plays designed to get him the ball. While he’s receiving more attention in coverage, Cooper must continue to perform well. The Colts don’t have a truly elite cornerback, Saturday could provide an opportunity for him to get back on track.
3. LB Perry Riley
Riley has stabilized the linebacker corps since signing with the Raiders early this regular season. He has proven a sure tackler – he has just three missed tackles this season – and a quality run defender. That’ll be important against Colts running back Frank Gore, who has a slick rushing style and a knack for finding extra yards. Riley and company must stop him cold and force obvious passing downs where the edge rushers can feast and get sacks or force errant throws downfield.
2. LB Bruce Irvin
The veteran edge rusher has been excellent of late, with five sacks in his last six games. Many of them have come in the fourth quarter, which has which has helped secure wins. Irvin does more than just rush the passer. He has become a solid run defender and cover man, often required to spy on mobile quarterbacks. He could assume that role occasionally against Andrew Luck on Saturday afternoon. Irvin has the speed and physicality to keep up with the excellent Colts quarterback. Hindering Luck’s performance is essential to yet another key game.
1. QB Derek Carr
Raiders fans are concerned over Derek Carr’s pinky, which was dislocated in two places during a victory over Carolina. The Raiders have gone 3-1 since that injury, while working almost exclusively from the shotgun/pistol formations to protect Carr’s pinky. Carr insists the injury isn’t an issue, but coaches remain cautious about him going back under center to avoid ball security issues or an injury setback. How he throws will be more important than the formation he throws from. A rebound is expected, and Carr seems poised to play well against a lackluster Colts pass defense.