The Raiders got out to a 2-1 start, thanks to a balanced offensive attack, but dropped one on the road to the previously winless Chicago Bears last week. With the kings of the hill coming to Oaktown this week, the Raiders will be firing on all cylinders.
This is Raiders team is not one to overlook. A lot has changed since last season. An influx of new coaches and talent have help to turn the tide in Oakland and position them for better competition within the division.
The Broncos are going to get the Raiders best shot.
MHH: Derek Carr was the best rookie QB in 2014. He's such a phenomenal arm talent. With bona-fide weapons surrounding him, and an improved O-line, have you seen him take another step forward in his second year? What can Broncos fans expect to see from him?
McClain: Second-year quarterback Derek Carr is certainly building on a solid rookie season last year. General manager Reggie McKenzie made it a point of emphasis this offseason to get him some weapons in wide receiver Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper. He has also benefited by having a much better offensive line, with a solid running game from Latavius Murray that goes with it.
With all of the additions, Carr certainly has taken a step forward this season. He passed for back-to-back 300+ yard games in Weeks 2 and 3, a feat that the Raiders haven't had happen since Carson Palmer did it in 2012. He has gotten better at making his progressions, as well reading the defensive coverage prior to the snap. Much of this can be attributed to his work ethic —he is always the first one in the building and the last one out (as cliche as it sounds). He also keeps a separate notebook filled with notes on every defense he faces.
Even with all of his growth, Carr can get a little sloppy with his footwork. This can cause him to sail some of his passes high, which has caused him some incompletions. I expect him to work on getting the ball out extra quick while facing the Broncos defense, but he will also look to take some shots downfield, as that has been a point of emphasis in the offense this year.
MHH: Broncos fans are very familiar with Jack Del Rio. In his second head-coaching job, has there been a noticeable change in culture, or expectations, within the organization?
McClain: It's always coach-talk when a new head coach comes into an organization and says that they are going to "change the culture", and that's been the case for the nine previous Raiders head coaches, since they traded coach Jon Gruden. But Jack Del Rio has actually made a difference in the culture. He came in and changed the mindset of the players and they are beginning to believe in the team, as was seen against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.
It all starts with Del Rio and then trickles down. He talks weekly about how the team must approach each week like it is a new one and that's exactly what the team does. It helps that Carr is such a confident player himself, as the team is believing in him as well.
MHH: Khalil Mack has become one of the premier edge players in the NFL. With Aldon Smith now calling Oakland home, has this duo been able to pressure the QB consistently?
McClain: Second-year linebacker Khalil Mack put on 15 pounds of lean muscle during this offseason and it has certainly benefited his play. While he hasn't slowed down at all, his patented bull-rush has been more effective and he has looked very good against the run as usual.
Aldon Smith got off to a slow start after being signed very late in the offseason but he got his first sack as a Raider last week. In addition, he has been playing the run very well and has been very impressive while wearing the Silver & Black.
The Raiders pass rush has looked much better with both of them on the field, as it takes away a double team from Mack, especially when they kick veteran Justin Tuck inside as an added pass rusher. They've been able to apply a solid pass rush all season, and I suspect they will get to Peyton Manning with his crippled offensive line.
MHH: What rookie or surprise player should Broncos fans watch out for on Sunday? Also, who wins and what's the score?
McClain: There's no doubt that Broncos fans should keep an eye on Amari Cooper. Cooper is a phenomenal talent that has lived up to the hype that comes with being the fourth-overall pick. The former Alabama star has stellar footwork that leads to some amazing route-running that is fun to watch, for a fan of any team.
Seth Roberts is another player to keep an eye on. The Raiders kept Roberts around on the practice squad last season and he has quickly emerged as the team's third wide receiver. He adds another nice dimension to Crabtree and Cooper. The Raiders also want to get their tight ends involved more, so don't be surprised if Carr goes that direction with the Broncos' corners possibly sticking with Raiders receivers.
Like you, it's a tough game to pick. The Raiders have looked much better this season and I think the added pass rush will benefit them against the Broncos. I think it will be a close game, with the Raiders edging them out 24-21 due to being at home.
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