Although the Raiders post-season hopes are gone, they'd love nothing more than to repeat their week 16 feat and spoil the playoff aspirations of another conference foe, especially with the Broncos being a divisional opponent.
MHH: Since last the Broncos faced the Raiders, it seems that quarterback, Derek Carr, has turned the corner. Is that the case? And if so, what has been the biggest factor in helping him to navigate his rookie learning curve?
SBR: Carr has really been playing well as of late. He has been confident ever since coming into the league, but it appears finally earning the first win of his career has added to his confidence.
Offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, and quarterback coach, John DeFilippo, have to also be credited with the work on his mechanics. He has gotten much better on his drop backs, along with his ability to read defenses.
It also can't be overlooked that he now has a decent running game, with second-year running back, Latavius Murray, in the backfield. It's no secret that a rookie quarterback's best friend is a strong defense and a capable running game, both of which he has had in recent weeks. Carr has certainly excelled and proven he should be the Raiders quarterback next year.
MHH: Latavius Murray exploded on the scene in week 12 vs the Kansas City Chiefs, rushing for more than 100 yards and 2 TDs, on just 4 carries. How has his emergence changed the Raiders offense? Is he the future behind Carr?
SBR: It's tough to tell what the future holds for Murray behind Carr. He has certainly shown the abilities to be an explosive back in the NFL, but one has to wonder why it took the coaching staff so long to turn to him when the inept running game continued to stall. I was one who called to see him early, and I believe he has all of the abilities to be a strong back in the league for years to come.
As I stated above, the emergence of Murray has been very beneficial to Carr and the offense. Opposing defenses are now having to respect the Raiders running game, which is giving Carr more time and bigger throwing windows. In both of Carr's goal-line passing touchdowns, the defenses came down on a fake run and left a wide receiver wide open in the end zone.
MHH: Khalil Mack has had a remarkable rookie campaign. Despite not getting a lot of sacks, he's being disruptive, amassing a lot of combined hurries and hits on the QB. What makes him so dangerous to the opposing offense and do you see him having success vs the Broncos tackles this Sunday?
SBR: Mack has been a force to be reckoned with this season, despite the numbers in the sack column not showing up. He is strong against the run and is great at applying pressure on the quarterback, even if he hasn't gotten there that many times.
Mack's biggest problem in the preseason and early in the season was that he was thinking too much. He has now let that go and is playing on instincts, which are spectacular and allow him to be there to make the play.
He also has rare speed and size, which is a tough battle for any offensive lineman. The Broncos tackles could be in for a long day if he gets in his groove, especially if the Raiders other defensive linemen are able to apply some pressure.
The ceiling is the limit for Mack as he continues to develop his pass-rushing moves, along with a defensive line that can help him more.
SBR: Second-year cornerback, D.J. Hayden, has played well when he is on the field this year, showing instincts and being where he needs to be, for the most part. He still gets burned every now and then, but he really only has one season under his belt right now.
His biggest problem is staying healthy, which he has done since returning from the Physically Unable to Perform list in October.
He looks to be building confidence every week and should be another strong defensive player that the Raiders can build around.
MHH: I've been a proponent of general manager, Reggie McKenzie. I've always believed that given enough time and rope, he has the eye for talent that could truly transform the Raiders back into a contender. Dennis Allen seemingly had a hard time getting production out of the personnel McKenzie assembled. Moving forward, do you see a future for him in Oakland? And if so, could he and Jim Harbaugh coexist, should the rumors hold true and he ends up in Oakland?
SBR: It's hard to read Mark Davis (owner) regarding Reggie McKenzie and his future. He keeps maintaining that he is "his guy", but then also adds the obligatory "for now" to the quote.
I agree with you that McKenzie should be given another opportunity, as he really has drafted well, in my opinion. Carr has shown promise that he can be a franchise quarterback; Mack could earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors; Hayden has turned into a solid cornerback; and Gabe Jackson started at left guard and has had a good rookie season.
I do think that he and Jim Harbaugh could coexist, if he would come to Oakland and not Michigan like the rumors have turned to. Both McKenzie and Harbaugh like football players that just want to come to work and play. They really have a lot of similarities in players they appreciate, which would make it easier. Also having a defensive mind and an offensive mind would cause less friction.