Top five things to watch for in Raiders' 2017 season-opener vs Titans
The Raiders will play at the Tennessee Titans for the third straight year on Sunday. They don’t mind. Nashville has been kind to them. The Silver and Black have left Nissan Stadium victorious the last two seasons, needing high wire acts to pull out victory. Another might be necessary to complete the trifecta. Tennessee’s a team on the rise, maybe a year behind the Raiders in terms of progress. This looks like an offensive showdown in the making, though coordinators have new tricks ready after spilling vanilla all over the preseason. Here are five things to watch heading into Sunday’s game:
5. Getting Mack and Irvin some help
The Raiders didn’t create much pressure inside edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Those two had 18 sacks. The rest of the team had seven. That wasn’t good enough. Jack Del Rio said so. The Raiders head coach believes the rush will improve with a healthy Mario Edwards Jr. and rookie Eddie Vanderdoes. It well could. It should also get some help from the scheme. Blitzing isn’t ideal for Raiders defensive brass, but some extra bodies charging forward – Karl Joseph, anyone? – could help keep the Titans on their toes. They’ll also need to contain Titans QB Marcus Mariota, adept making plays outside the pocket.
4. Mariota’s militia
Tennessee considers Marcus Mariota their franchise quarterback, and for good reason. Dude can flat play. The Titans gave him some weapons this offseason, adding Eric Decker and No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis to the mix. They still have tight end Delanie Walker, who could give the Raiders fits between the hash marks. The secondary outside David Amerson looked suspect this season. How Sean Smith and TJ Carrie rebound will go a long way in keeping Mariota at bay.
3. A (former) Titan impact?
Tight end Jared Cook is new to the Raiders, familiar to fans in Tennessee. The Titans used a third-round pick on the quick pass catcher back in 2009 and employed him four seasons. He set a career high there in 2011 with 759 yards a number he could surpass in an explosive Raiders offense. The Raiders haven’t had a Cook-like tight end in the Derek Carr era. The Raiders quarterback is excited about Cook producing inside and diverting coverage from other receivers. The 2017 free-agent signing wants to make a good first impression, and would love to do so against his old team.
2. BeastMode of old?
Marshawn Lynch is in great shape. He’s thrilled to represent Oakland as a Raider. He hasn’t missed a practice and flashed his trademark balance and power in preseason cameos. Will the Raiders get vintage BeastMode at age 31? It seems likely. He has worked hard preparing for games that count. The offensive line loves him and is motivated to create acres of open space. Now it’s time to show what Lynch can still do. If he’s Marshawn of old – that guy’s one of his generation’s best – the Raiders offense could be tough to stop.
1. Defensive discipline
Raider Nation has heard a lot about defensive miscommunication and “eye violations” over the past 12 months. Misreads and not playing as one unit was an issue towards last season’s end. It was the reason coaches cited for all-too-often preseason struggles. The Raiders must be better in that area, especially against a Tennessee offense that likes to confuse with plenty of pre-snap movement and misdirection. Can the Raiders adjust accordingly? They’ll have to. Big plays will result if that doesn’t happen. That’s on the inside linebackers and safeties especially. Calls must be made and then followed without dispute, so the defense remains in sync. That will be crucial to defensive improvement, tough it’ll be against Tennessee.