MINNEAPOLIS – The Raiders start a brutal stretch of road games on Sunday in Minnesota, and find themselves labeled underdogs right off the bat against the Vikings.
Oakland has the talent and game-day coaching to earn an upset at U.S. Bank Stadium, but these five Raiders must make key contributions to make it happen.
RB Josh Jacobs
The rookie running back has been effective when give the chance, churning out tough yards and taking chunks working in space. The Alabama product can do everything well, from rushing inside while making smart cuts to zone reads. He can be effective out of the backfield as well, and this might be a game Jacobs can control both in terms of time of possession and steady scoring.
The more attention Jacobs draws, the easier life will be on a passing game heavily reliant on Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller. Jacobs had 24 touches in a season-opening win over the Denver Broncos, and needs an equally heavy workload on Sunday. He has been dealing with an illness making its way through the locker room – coach Jon Gruden didn’t like Jacobs announcing that fact on social media – but must persevere for the Raiders to beat a tough NFC team on the road.
DT Johnathan Hankins
Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook has been the NFL’s most productive running back through two weeks. He has 265 yards and three touchdowns, gaining an impressive 6.5 yards per carry.
Cook will square off against a surprisingly effective Raiders run defense ranked fifth in the NFL with 63 rushing yards allowed per game. The Silver and Black have been tough to run against thus far, thanks in large part to Johnathan Hankins’ excellent interior line play.
Hankins has been collapsing plays on the inside with regularity, allowing others to fly downhill and make plays on the ball carrier. He lately has been playing most every down, which is a rarity on the defensive front, and the 27-year-old has proven impactful against the run and pass.
“He’s a load in there, and he can move,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said this week. “He’s a big, athletic guy who’s playing some on third down for us now, so he’s shown in the training camp that he can rush. He’s just not this big nose who can play the run and rush some.”
WR Hunter Renfrow
The Raiders need receiving targets not named Tyrell Williams or Darren Waller to take some heat off the top two guys. Renfrow’s certainly capable of creating quick separation and making tough catches. He has to prove quarterback-friendly and take advantage of single coverage inside to keep the chains moving.
If Renfrow’s especially impactful on third downs, the Raiders can be more threatening than they were after the first quarter last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. He only has six catches for 43 yards on 11 targets, which isn’t efficient or productive enough. The Clemson product must do better in Week 3.
DE Arden Key
The second-year pro has not followed a solid training camp and preseason with production in games that actually count. Key’s snap count has dipped a bit, but the LSU product must be more disruptive for the Raiders pass rush to reach another gear. The Raiders have done a good job stopping the run and setting up pass-rush opportunities that aren’t being maximized.
Key has the talent to make big plays -- if he can find ways to finish.
“He’s getting close each and every week,” Guenther said. “It’s going to come. It’s a lot like turnovers, everyone is saying, ‘Hey, you need turnovers!’ One of the things I’ve always said is, if you’re in position and you’re doing the things the right way, turnovers and sacks and those types of things come in bunches, so don’t press. Just keep working your techniques, keep working your moves and get off the ball.”
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C Rodney Hudson
The Vikings have a savvy, talented defensive front capable of causing trouble, one the Raiders offensive line must manhandle against the run and pass despite some injury issues. Trent Brown and Denzelle Good are both questionable heading into this contest, so Hudson must orchestrate the line well regardless of who is playing. Richie Incognito returns after a two-game suspension, so Hudson must integrate him well and assist whomever lines up at right guard.
The Raiders offense falls apart without solid line play, so Hudson must play like the elite talent he is to keep the line going strong.