Zay Jones

Five Raiders to watch in Week 11: Josh Jacobs could dominate vs. Bengals

Five Raiders to watch in Week 11: Josh Jacobs could dominate vs. Bengals

The Raiders have become comfortable in the underdog role, accomplishing things few expected while battling a brutal schedule both at home and during a five-game road trip.

They’re in the middle of the playoff hunt, with the AFC West and a wild card spot right there for the taking. It will stay that way if the Raiders can thrive in a new position.

They’re the favorites.

The Silver and Black are 10.5-point favorites against the winless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, a game they should win handily. Will they? They should considering Oakland was 0-10 not too long ago and those who were there remember how hungry that 2014 team was for a win. They must parry Cincinnati’s desperation to keep this good thing going and stay in the hunt.

Here are five Raiders who will be key to that effort:

RB Josh Jacobs

The Bengals are awful defending the run. Like, really, really bad, to the tune of an NFL-worst 173 yards per game. This could be an opportunity for Jacobs to set a proper tone, help establish an early lead and possibly chill if the game’s in hand. Or…this could be a chance to pad stats and generate totals that’ll help make rookie of the year voting easy. Either way, Jacobs should be a fun guy to keep an eye on in this one. The Raiders run game is strong, even against stout competition, so this should provide an opportunity to control the game with old-school football.

Jacobs is too good not to have an efficient day. He can take over this game early and control it. That would be a straightforward way to secure a relatively easy win.

DE Clelin Ferrell

The No. 4 overall NFL draft pick is back to his playing weight after a midseason illness and finding proper form working within the Raiders defense. The key here is about helping the team and building individual positive momentum for the stretch run. Ferrell had 2.5 sacks and six(!) run stops near the line of scrimmage, a complete performance the Raiders expect from their top pick and are starting to get.

“We have asked him to do a lot,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He played inside, he played defensive tackle. I don’t know what Football Focus says, but if they focus on the numbers I bet he played inside quite a bit and that’s a real challenge for a rookie that is undersized and under his playing weight. So, we probably compromised him a little bit by asking him to do a lot, but I think last week seeing him at the outside position I think you really saw him at his normal playing strength, playing weight, playing position and played better. So, hopefully we can see more of that.”

A string of solid performances against lesser teams could build confidence and get him going down the stretch when the pass rush will be vital to late-season success.

DE Dion Jordan

The former first-round draft pick will make his Raiders debut on Sunday, just a day after being reinstated from an NFL suspension. It’s uncertain how much he’ll play, though the Raiders are hoping he can provide a spark rushing the quarterback inside and off the edge.

Jordan has massive potential yet unrealized due to a series of suspensions and substance abuse issues now firmly in his past. The nature of his position allows him to step right in and go, especially on passing downs.

“I don’t know what his overall football shape is without OTAs, training camp, missing 10 weeks of the regular season, but he did come in and really look the part,” Gruden said. “And we are going to try and ease the boat into the water and give him as much as he can take. He’s a talented kid.”

WR Zay Jones

It’s hard to call Zay Jones a newcomer anymore. The receiver was acquired nearly six weeks ago now, so integrated into the Raiders offense that his snap counts are consistently high. He has proven a solid blocker in the run game but hasn’t taken off with a big receiving game. He has six catches for 58 yards through three games played, and this could be an opportunity for him to make a mark and put enough strong play on film to become more of a coverage focus that could keep defenses honest.

Quarterback Derek Carr always looks to get multiple receivers involved, and this could be a game where he tries to build trust with the talented, shifty receiver.

S D.J. Swearinger

The Raiders need a new starting safety with Karl Joseph done for the year after suffering a foot injury. The Curtis Riley experiment has been tried once and didn’t work out, lasting just two losses where he was too often beat deep.

[RELATED: Raiders' Burfict blasts Goodell, calls him a 'total b---h']

That means the Raiders should look to Swearinger, who will play right away against the Bengals. He’s comfortable with the scheme considering how similar it is to what he ran in Arizona before the Cardinals cut him.

He needs to be sure of his responsibilities considering mistakes in the back routinely lead to explosive plays. That’s how Cincinnati can stay in a game the Raiders should control.

Raiders receivers finally finding stability after substantial changes

Raiders receivers finally finding stability after substantial changes

ALAMEDA -- Hunter Renfrow made the Raiders' initial 53-man roster with five other receivers. Only two of them remain.

Tyrell Williams and Dwayne Harris, primarily a return man, have been with the Clemson product this whole season, but have missed a combined six games dealing with injuries.

Renfrow is the only Raiders receiver who has played every game this season, seeing his position group turn over significantly. The primary slot receiver has lined with myriad combinations flanking him as the Raiders have cycled through options.

The Raiders cut Antonio Brown for insubordination, Ryan Grant for ineffectiveness and J.J. Nelson for unavailability. They re-signed Keelan Doss and promoted Marcell Ateman from the practice squad to account for injuries and transactional losses. They then traded for Trevor Davis and Zay Jones in an attempt to remodel the position in-season.

The receivers have found some stability after all that chaos. Williams is healthy again, Davis and Jones are generally up to speed and Renfrow is growing into a reliable target.

“There has been so much turnover, starting with all the AB here and all the stuff that transpired with that,” Renfrow said earlier this week. “We had a whole different receiver room this offseason. For me, it has been cool because I have been able to learn from so many different people. I try to take a little bit from everybody.

“But I’m excited about this group. We may not all be well known, but I think we have a great chance to go prove ourselves and show that we can be steadily productive. I love that type of challenge. I expect us to rise to the occasion.”

Renfrow’s right. The group is unheralded but can be effective with a diversity of talent all looking for something to prove.

Williams is the big body wanting to show he’s a true No. 1. Jones is shifty, wanting to prove efficient and reliable. Davis is the track star trying to show he's worthy of steady play and increased targets. Renfrow’s the possession guy, showing he’s more than just a college-level star.

There’s drive within the group. Time will tell if it’s good enough to complete an offense that is solid up front, with excellent tight ends and a star running back.

At this point, there is competition among the receivers as everyone battles to make an impact. The Raiders were trotting out a skeleton crew during the transition to this group. Now, it’s deep enough where guys must earn their role.

“Every day we’re fighting,” Davis said. “We have a lot of guys here who have played and contributed in games. Every week we’re competing to get those reps and those game-day opportunities. That just makes our team better.”

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett deserves some credit for getting this group back on its feet. While head coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson play a role getting new receivers ready, Bennett and quality control coach Nick Holz spent countless hours getting Davis and Jones prepared to play within the Raiders' scheme.

Davis was the first to go through the crash course, regularly showing up in pre-dawn hours for individual tutoring sessions before the team reported for the day’s work.

“He’s keen on details,” Davis said of Bennett. “Right when I got here, he was right there with me before the sun came up, teaching me all the details of this playbook. That’s how he is. If I ever want to come in early, he’ll be there. 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., it doesn’t matter. He has been instrumental to getting us through this period with new guys coming in.”

The Raiders have moved the ball well despite receiver turnover, with Carr often throwing to guys he had barely met or rarely targeted to before a given game. That reached a head last week against the Green Bay Packers when Davis and Renfrow were primary targets and Doss and Ateman were called into the action.

Williams’ return to health and the Jones trade has raised the talent level and brought stability to the group that should remain intact -- the Raiders passed on the chance to claim Josh Gordon off waivers Friday -- as they traverse the season’s second half.

[RELATED: Incognito among Raiders to watch, no matter where he plays]

Being strapped can be viewed as a positive now, with greater experience and depth to weather future storms should they come.

“It was good for us as a team and the receiver group especially,” Renfrow said. “It’s not like we didn’t have enough bodies. We were just running out young, unproven guys. That experience helps with depth so, if somebody goes down later in the year, we’re ready and have no dropoff.”

Five Raiders to watch in Week 9 vs. Lions: Where will Richie Incognito play?

Five Raiders to watch in Week 9 vs. Lions: Where will Richie Incognito play?

The Raiders haven’t been favored to win a game in quite some time. Oddsmakers expect the Oakland will beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum, but they also expect a close contest.

Those forecasts should run true.

The first home crowd since Sept. 15 should give the Silver and Black a lift in a crucial game that starts a run of easier opposition, but make no mistake: the Lions are no slouch. It will take the Raiders’ best to beat them.

Here are five players key to a win the Raiders need in order to snap a two-game slide.

OL Richie Incognito

See the position just to the left of Incognito’s name? It should say “LG” for left guard. We had to leave it generic this week because there’s legitimate uncertainty surrounding where he’s going to play.

The Raiders would prefer he stays put. Incognito has been solid this year and has formed a great partnership with left tackle Kolton Miller in the running game. Incognito might have to slide over to center if starter Rodney Hudson and backup Andre James can’t play with ankle sprains. Both guys are formally questionable after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. Incognito took snaps in their place and has played center before, but is clearly Plan C.

James is most likely of the two centers to play, though Hudson’s so tough he can never be ruled out. Keep an eye on where Incognito lines up, though the Raiders need him to be awesome playing in either spot.

WR Tyrell Williams

The Raiders unquestioned No. 1 receiver rarely posts on social media, but he tweeted this week a vow to be after two ill-timed, game-changing drops in his return from a two-game absence last week against the Houston Texans. Expect him to be.

Williams is a reliable downfield target who should rebound well against the NFL’s worst pass defense. Cornerback Darius Slay can play, but there should be openings deep and short for Williams to have a big day and continue his steady scoring. He has five touchdowns in as many games and should see more favorable coverage with the receiver corps whole with Zay Jones up to speed.

Williams must be productive and threat who creates space for others. He’s the catalyst for other aspects of the passing game and must play well for the air attack to function at a high level.

DE Benson Mayowa

The Raiders' most experienced and efficient pass rusher must continue solid play against quarterback Matt Stafford, who can beat anyone if allowed to operate from a clean pocket. Mayowa has made them dirty this year, with a team-high 5.5 sacks in six games.

The 28-year-old was a surprise scratch against Indianapolis but has been an agitator in every other game. Mayowa's primarily a situational pass rusher, so solid run defense could get him on the field in position to cause havoc.

The Raiders have matched their sack total from last year but still rank just 25th in that category. Mayowa must breathe life into the pass rush and start a game-long trend of hounding Stafford.

LB Tahir Whitehead

The Lions average just 3.6 yards per carry, but they run a ton. They run more than pass despite relative inefficiency and continued to do so even after feature back Kerryon Johnson was lost for the season.

The Raiders' run defense has been effective most of the season, and while it takes all 11 to shut opponents down on the ground, Whitehead leads the effort as a field general. He thrives in that role, which he had last year and assumed once again after Vontaze Burfict was lost for the year. Getting guys in the right gaps and then surging forward to make strong tackles will be key against a Lions team so committed to running the football.

This is also Whitehead’s first regular-season game against the team that drafted him in 2012 and employed him six seasons before he became a Raider. This is a big one for Whitehead and the Raiders need him at his best.

[RELATED: Why Raiders chose not to place waiver claim on Gordon]

WR Zay Jones

Jones makes the list for a third consecutive week as he continues to increase his snap count while adjusting to a new offense. He played 22 snaps in his first Raiders action last week, only half of which were passing plays. Coach Jon Gruden gave him a pair of easy, seemingly designed opportunities and he caught both targets for 27 yards. Eventually the Raiders have to let him loose despite inexperience in the offense in order to get his obvious talent on the field more often. This seems like a golden opportunity, against a struggling pass defense.

Jones has the ability to make big gains and prove he can be more efficient than his numbers with the Bills suggest. A big game would help get him into the offensive flow, diversify the Raiders' passing game and allow it to find a solid rhythm throughout the pattern.