Lamarcus Joyner

Five Raiders to watch in Week 5: Derek Carr must make plays vs. Bears

Five Raiders to watch in Week 5: Derek Carr must make plays vs. Bears

The Raiders are in a decent spot heading into the 2019 season’s second quarter. They’re at 2-2 after the first four, which would’ve been a realistic expectation even if Antonio Brown still was on this roster.

Adding another win to the tally Sunday here in London against Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears would be huge. That would put them in good standing within the AFC and provide great confidence with two more road games coming up after next week’s bye.

The road gets a little easier after that road stretch, and the Raiders could surpass expectations and maybe even enter the playoff picture. This could be a turning point game. Stealing a win here changes the Raiders' outlook on the season and would show great resilience after all the early-season setbacks.

Here are five players vital to achieving that goal:

QB Derek Carr

We normally exclude Carr from these lists, because he could easily be on them every week. An exception is to be made here because the Raiders quarterback must be awesome to work out a win here, showing shades of 2016 to beat an excellent Bears defense without some of his best weapons.

Chicago will emphasize run defense to keep Josh Jacobs quiet, and Carr must be solid moving the chains with smart ball placement that provides for yards after the catch even if the passes don’t travel far.

The Raiders might not need tons of points, but they need a zero turnover day from Carr and probably four touchdown drives to come out of this with a win. Carr has had several games like this before, with a penchant for fourth-quarter comebacks. He might have to orchestrate another one to beat Chicago.

TE Darren Waller

There’s a sense that Tyrell Williams will play Sunday, but that isn’t a stone-cold lock. Williams won’t be 100 percent even if he does play, so Waller becomes the best and most dynamic talent in the lineup. He needs to have a productive, high-volume day.

He’ll probably receive several relatively short passes as Carr will look to get the ball out quick, and Waller must do his best to create yards after the catch and turn those opportunities into bigger gains. The Bears are a sure-tackling unit, but Waller’s a powerful guy who can make plays in space. He also can chip edge rushers going into his route, a vital effort in slowing down the Bears' pass rush. Waller has a full Sunday ahead, but is capable of continuing his breakout season even if significant attention is paid to him in coverage.

DE Maxx Crosby

There’s no certainty whether first-round draft pick Clelin Ferrell will play Sunday due to concussion-like symptoms. Someone will have to pick up his slack, and Crosby has been most deserving of extra snaps. Crosby wouldn’t take over Ferrell’s role, but he could be active in the base defense. That means he would have to show well against the run, and would get extra chances to rush the passer. He had four quarterback pressures, two run stops, a forced fumble and two batted passes against Indianapolis, proving he can produce.

The Raiders need extra production off the edge, and Arden Key hasn’t done much to this point. Benson Mayowa’s an option off the edge, but the Raiders should look to Crosby for an encore after his performance last week. The Eastern Michigan product could provide some juice up front and create problems for Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel who will start in place of the injured Mitchell Trubisky.

RT Trent Brown

The massive, shockingly athletic right tackle was paid a pretty penny for games like this. He’ll be asked to shut Mack down when the former Raiders edge rusher is on his side, often all by himself. Mack moves back and forth, so Brown could be dealing with Leonard Floyd or another Bears edge rusher on his side at times.

Brown must handle those guys effectively, largely by himself. That allows the Raiders to shade protection coverage to Kolton Miller on the left. Last year’s first-round pick is talented, but could use the help early on and possibly often. Keeping Carr upright is imperative, and doing so solo is hard. Brown certainly is up to the task.

[RELATED: Raiders 'ready to go' vs. Bears after lengthy London stay]

DB Lamarcus Joyner

Raiders coaches found some creative ways to keep their slot cornerback on the football field after Minnesota schemed him out of the game. He played the run more than usual and had three big stops in that area. He allowed five receptions on eight targets, but they totaled just 39 yards. Just four of them came after the catch.

The Bears use David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, backs of different size and style, to make gains on the ground. Joyner must be impactful against those guys, occasionally against tight ends and, of course, against slot receivers. Joyner’s also an effective blitzer, and disguising them well and getting home could create problems for the Bears front and force Daniel into some bad decisions.

Five Raiders to watch in Week 4: Why Clelin Ferrell matters vs. Colts

Five Raiders to watch in Week 4: Why Clelin Ferrell matters vs. Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Raiders won’t be in a must-win situation Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. That overused term rarely applies when used, as it is too dramatic for most circumstances outside of an elimination game.

It certainly doesn’t fit in Week 4. It’s fair to say, when applying proper context, that the Raiders would really, really like to get this one at Lucas Oil Stadium. They left Minnesota with an upset stomach after the Vikings worked them over, and beating the Colts would be a soothing tonic.

That especially true given this grueling road slate, which extends four more games into early November. The Raiders won’t want to leave for London on a three-game losing streak, prepping for a faceoff with Khalil Mack’s Chicago Bears.

That would be rough. They could enter that hyped affair on a positive note if these five Raiders have strong showings against the Colts.

P.S. Quarterback Derek Carr won’t ever appear on these lists. He’s a top player to watch every week, so we focus on others who need to make big contributions.

LB Tahir Whitehead

Every Raiders linebacker on still the roster from last week is ailing. Save one.

Tahir Whitehead has been a stabilizing force while Vontaze Burfict, Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee (now on injured reserve) and Kyle Wilber got hurt last week against the Vikings. He played every linebacker spot in the base defense and sub packages, taking over play relays and pre-snap instruction when Burfict went out a while with an elbow injury.

All of those linebackers are expected to play, though some are playing below full health. That puts an onus on Whitehead to tackle well, fly to the ball and stay available against the Colts. Indy’s offensive line is awesome, meaning linebackers need to be aggressive making tackles on backs sliding through gaps.

Colts runner Marlon Mack has been excellent to start the season, and slowing him will be key and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook sliced through the defense a week ago. Defenders were too often out of gaps then, and Whitehead has been preaching discipline throughout the practice week. That has to hold up on game day for the Raiders defense to show improvement.

DE Clelin Ferrell

The Clemson product plays more than any other defensive lineman, often outside in the base defense and pass-rushing from the interior in the sub package. He’s capable of producing from both spots, but Ferrell must make some big plays to energize a defensive line that hasn’t been great.

The onus falls on the team’s No. 4 overall NFL draft pick, expected to make a dramatic immediate impact. Ferrell has a sack and seven total pressure through three games, a sum that has to increase to spark this defensive line. It’ll be tough sledding against the Colts’ front, but Ferrell must be a factor inside and out, especially if the Colts follow the Vikings' formula and try to lock the Raiders into a base defense.

It’s always tough, and at times unfair, to expect big things from rookies this early. But, the Raiders really need Ferrell to make his mark against Indy.

WR J.J. Nelson

Nelson is just getting back into the flow after an ankle injury stole nearly a month’s prep, but the Raiders need his speed to change things up in the passing game. Defenses can focus on Tyrell Williams and tight end Darren Waller without another obvious threat in the pattern, and Nelson must command respect with an impactful catch volume.

Antonio Brown’s departure forced the Raiders to adjust their offense, though it came too late to add a threatening presence in his place. They’ll go with the corps available now, and Nelson offers the best chance to capitalize on some favorable matchups.

He caught a flea flicker touchdown pass, but had four catches for just 36 yards. He needs to do more against the Colts.

DB Lamarcus Joyner

The Raiders are expanding Joyner’s role, all in an effort to make sure the Raiders’ best defensive back isn’t glued to the sideline like he was against the Vikings. Playing slot cornerback means you step out in the base defense, but he’s expected to move back to a safety/hybrid defensive back spot in the base defense to take greater advantage of his versatility and experience.

It will be Joyner’s job to make plays with the extra time, no matter where he lines up. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett can sling it, and Joyner must lead the secondary, make plays on the ball and help keep the Colts’ tight-end contributions to a minimum.

[RELATED: AB reportedly 'working on' contract grievance against Raiders]

RB Josh Jacobs

The Raiders must feed Jacobs early, both as a runner and receiver. Feature backs like getting into a good rhythm, something hard to find after the Raiders fell multiple scores behind early in the last two games.

He’s capable of popping big runs if given opportunities, and could do so often against a Colts defense allowing 5.3 yards per carry and four 20-yards-plus runs in three games.

Jacobs is healthy, though still dealing with remnants of an illness, but is ready to handle a heavy workload the Raiders would be wise to give him.

How Raiders are getting creative to keep Lamarcus Joyner on the field

How Raiders are getting creative to keep Lamarcus Joyner on the field

ALAMEDA – Lamarcus Joyner spent most of Sunday’s loss to Minnesota on the sideline. The Vikings essentially schemed him out of the game, staying with more tight ends and backs than receivers, eliminating a need for the slot cornerback.

The veteran team captain tried to handle the situation well, but playing just 23 snaps wasn’t easy watching his team struggle in a 34-14 loss.

“I tried to do a good job coaching the guys on the sideline and doing my job on the field,” Joyner said. “I think I handled it well, but I think coaches are going to handle it well in the near future with making sure things like that don’t happen.”

The days of Joyner getting schemed out of a game might be over, or minimized at least. That might mean he plays multiple positions, something he’s comfortable with after playing all over the secondary in his professional career.

“That’s what I signed up for,” Joyner said. “I came here to make the defense better. We’re in Week 4 in the season, the first quarter, and things are going to start getting picked up with the creativity and the way they use me. And you see it now, with this week in practice. I’m very excited for the challenge.”

Joyner fits most everywhere. He’s currently the team’s best slot cornerback and its best free safety. He prefers to focus on the slot, a unique position that requires coverage against a two-way go and physicality against the run.

Joyner (5-8, 191) might be up to covering tight ends soon, including Indianapolis’ Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron.

“We have a package where, I’m familiar with covering tight ends, so that’s a big challenge for me covering those big bodies,” Joyner said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, so I have to swell up in the run game. It’s a great challenge for me versus those tight ends this Sunday.”

Joyner can do that closer to the line of scrimmage, shadowing in-line tight ends expected to go into the pattern while defending possible runs close to the line of scrimmage.

The versatile defensive back also has played some damn good free safety during two years working under Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips from 2017-18.

Joyner doesn’t share the same passion for playing deep, and there was no pressing need to do so with Karl Joseph and Johnathan Abram paired up at safety.

There might be one now.

The safety position has fallen on hard times with Abram on injured reserve and Curtis Riley heavily involved.

Abram got hurt in Week 1 and is done for the season, leaving Riley to man the back often as a lone deep safety. That hasn’t gone very well. He has allowed four catches for 105 yards and two big touchdowns in as many weeks, and hasn’t been a sure tackler on ball carriers running downfield. There have also been some miscommunications deep in recent weeks, and while it’s unfair to put all that on one person or position without knowing every detail of an assignment or coverage plan, those prove costly.

[RELATED: Waller hopes to inspire by detailing past struggles]

Moving Joyner around could keep the Raiders unpredictable, shore up multiple problem spots and preventing teams from scheming him out of the game.

“I didn’t want to put him in a spot where he hasn’t practiced [versus Minnesota],” Guenther said. “I don’t want to do that to a player unless it’s an emergency, so we stuck with our plan. This week, we’ll have some different things for him.”