Top 5 storylines to watch in Falcons-Raiders Week 2 matchup
The Raiders open their home slate on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, before a fan base salivating to see their favorite team. Hype has enveloped this team since the offseason, when bigger-name free agents and draft picks were brought in to round out what many consider a playoff contender. It swelled again in the season opener, a 35-34 victory over New Orleans where the Raiders won on a last-second 2-point conversion. The fans are ready to see this product in person. Expect a wild scene on Sunday afternoon, and follow these five storylines.
5. Sean Smith’s second act
Raiders cornerback Sean Smith got benched last week against New Orleans, breaking news only to fans living under a rock. His no good, very bad game against the Saints was well documented this week, a byproduct of the massive contract he signed this offseason. Smith is confident and ready to rebound against physical Falcons receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, good players and good matchups for the tall, powerful Raiders cover man. Expect a better, more productive day from Smith at home.
4. Irvin, Mack looking for greater impact
Bruce Irvin had a strip sack in the first series against New Orleans, but it was not a sign of things to come. The Saints neutralized Irvin and Khalil Mack with chop blocks and quick throws, preventing the scary pass rush expected from this pair. The secondary, the scheme and the interior rushers must help these two on the outside, and pressure could stifle the Falcons offense and keep the ball away from some talented Atlanta receivers.
3. Raiders diverse ground assault
Sunday’s win over New Orleans was a shootout, but the Raiders stayed patient with the run and were rewarded for it. They got 167 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, a quality sum the Raiders would like to continue against a Falcons defense that gave up 90 yards to Tampa Bay in the opener. Latavius Murray will get the lion’s share of carries but expect accent runs from several others to keep the ground game diverse. That should be a staple all season.
2. Continuing Carr’s quick start
The Raiders pass game was humming when the ignition turned thanks to quarterback Derek Carr’s smart decisions and accurate throws. He led the team to victory, inspiring confidence with clutch play and a steady hand despite pressure to produce on every drive. He’ll need to make that a regular occurrence this season by continuing to play smart football even when his competitive drive says to take risks.
1. Playing the favorite
The Raiders are used to being the underdog. Terrible performance over the years has made that a regular thing, erased only slightly during last season’s 7-9 campaign. That’ll change this season starting Sunday, where the Raiders are 6.5-point favorites at home against the Falcons. This is a game the Raiders should win and must win to tally a win total worthy of playoff consideration. Jack Del Rio tells his players to be unafraid of success and be comfortable in the cat bird’s seat. We’ll see how they handle this new role against the Falcons.