Week 4: Top 10 Raiders, Bears to watch on Sunday
Can Raiders start out 3-1?
The Raiders are in prime position to start the season at 3-1, a record that would count as surprising attached to head coach Jack Del Rio’s startup. The Chicago Bears are ripe for the picking, losers of three straight to start the season. There is talent on this Bears side, though the offense has struggled mightily against top competition. The Raiders bring some swagger of their own after scoring 60 points in their last two games and finally generating quarterback pressure while beating Cleveland. Let’s take a look at 10 key players in Sunday’s Raiders-Bears matchup.
10) TE Clive Walford
Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wants to spread the ball around more, and tight ends are a position group not yet involved as receivers. Mychal Rivera remains the primary receiving option, but Walford has immense talent and could be a real threat down the seam if he can break free and make a play. He doesn’t need many catches to make an impact. A select few could draw attention in and create space for receivers on the outside.
9) OLB Pernell McPhee
It’s easy to make fun of a Bears offense that has struggled to do much of anything, but their defense has played well despite three losses. McPhee has been a real bright spot against the run and pass. He has 16 tackles, two sacks, five QB hits and 11 other pressures. He is dangerous getting after the quarterback and should pose a real test for both Raiders offensive tackles, who have done an excellent job keeping Derek Carr clean through three games.
8) DT Justin Ellis
The second-year pro hasn’t played much this season. He sprained an ankle early in the regular-season opener against Cincinnati and will make his return on Sunday. He instantly makes the run defense better, and should help an attempt to corral talented Chicago rusher Matt Forte. Ellis and fellow tackle Dan Williams form a tough interior against the run from whatever alignment they use in the base defense.
7) RB Matt Forte
The Bears won’t have all their weapons available for this game. Receiver Alshon Jeffery reportedly won’t play, and it’s possible quarterback Jay Cutler skips class as well. That puts an onus on Forte to generate offense as a rusher and a receiver. He’s certainly capable. He has five 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and generated 1,846 all purpose yards in 2014. The Raiders will take a whole-defense approach to slowing him.
6) S/CB TJ Carrie
The Raiders pulled a surprise move last week and moved their top cornerback to safety. TJ Carrie fared well despite an in-season switch, which gave the secondary more range and cover ability on the back end. It seems extremely likely the Raiders go with Carrie at safety for a second week. He is green and, now that the Bears can anticipate the position switch, they could scheme to exploit his inexperience. Can he counter with another week of solid play?
5) CB Kyle Fuller
The Bears’ 2014 first-round pick is a talented guy who has had an uneven season. He played well in Weeks 1 and 3, with just three catches allowed in those games. He was torched by the Arizona Cardinals, though, to the tune of three receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns. He draws a tough assignment against Raiders wideouts Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. How he handles them, especially in single coverage, will go a long way in determining how the Raiders offense fares on the outside.
4) OLB/DE Aldon Smith
The talented edge rusher doesn’t have a sack as a Raider yet. He’s knocked off some rust each week as he’s been integrated into the full defensive scheme. Smith is comfortable rushing from an outside linebacker spot as he did in Week 3 against Cleveland. His breakout moment as a Raider hasn’t happened yet. Sunday might be the day, with excellent odds that Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod won’t play with shoulder and concussion issues. Smith could be primed for a big day in the Windy City.
3) TE Martellus Bennett
Bennett has been a bright spot for this Raiders offense, with 13 receptions for 118 yards and 1 touchdown in three games. That’s been a rough output for tight ends against the Raiders each week. The Silver and Black have struggled covering these versatile pieces each week, and face their toughest test yet in Bennett. The veteran is a steady producer who knows how to get open, and could cause trouble in the middle of the field.
2) C Rodney Hudson
The Raiders paid a hefty price for a center, but Hudson has earned his keep the last few weeks. He has proven to be an excellent interior run blocker, creating slashing lanes for backs to sneak through. He can also get out in space as well as a guard and be a lead blocker downfield. His greatest asset might be his mind. Hudson has been a great help in blitz pickup and leads a Raiders offensive line that currently ranks among the NFL’s best.
1) WR Amari Cooper
The rookie receiver has made quite an impression on the NFL, and has generated national attention with back-to-back games of 100-plus yards. He is excellent after the catch, with the ability to turn any reception into a big play. Cooper seems immune to intimidation and does well even against a top cornerback like Cleveland’s Joe Haden. If the Bears devote extra help his way, that could open up opportunities for Michael Crabtree. But, if they give him an inch, Cooper could take a mile.