The Oakland Raiders are heading into Houston for their first playoff game since 2002, but they'll have to play the Wild Card matchup against the Texans with their third-string quarterback.
Franchise quarterback Derek Carr broke his fibula two weeks ago against the Indianapolis Colts and backup Matt McGloin got knocked out of the first half last week's season finale against the Broncos, leaving rookie and fourth-round pick Connor Cook as the lone healthy quarterback on the active roster.
Cook made his NFL debut last week, but will now be the first quarterback in Super Bowl era history to make his first start a playoff game. The Michigan State standout finished 14-for-21 for 150 yards, one touchdown and one interception against a stout Broncos defense.
Things won't get much easier for the rookie this week as he'll lead a Raiders offense against the NFL's best all-around defense that is allowing just 301 total yards.
The Texans are especially stingy against the pass, allowing just 201 total yards through the air, second to just the Broncos. The Raiders receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper need to find a way to gain extra separation against the Texans secondary to give Cook a bigger throwing window.
On top of that, the Oakland Raiders offensive line will need to do a stellar job against a stout Texans defensive line, especially Jadeveon Clowney who had six sacks this season. Giving Cook a clean pocket will be key to keep the rookie's confidence high and not let him get rattled.
The Raiders will need to establish the running game early and get their rushing attack going against the Texans if they want to find success. The Texans are allowing 99 rushing yards a game (12th in the NFL).
Latavius Murray and the two young backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington will have to find running lanes and make some moves to avoid the Texans tacklers that use proper technique.
The Raiders defense will also have to step up to give the new-look Raiders offense a short field giving them an easier chance to score.
The Texans will go back to free agent Brock Osweiler as their starting quarterback after third-year Tom Savage went down with his own injury last week. Osweiler started the season as the team's starter and started 14 games, throwing for 2,957 yards and 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin must pressure the tall quarterback to knock off the rhythm of the offense with Osweiler back there.
Standout wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has struggled with Osweiler at quarterback, but he's still always a dangerous weapon that can take any pass the distance for the touchdown. He does lead the team with 78 receptions for 954 yards, but has just four touchdowns.
Like the Raiders, the Texans will look to establish the run to relieve the pressure on their quarterback. The Raiders will need to use proper tackling technique against Lamar Miller, who has earned his second career 1,000-yard season on the ground while also adding five touchdowns.
If the Raiders win, they'll either head into New England or Kansas City for their next playoff game, depending on what happens with the other Wild Card game. If the Steelers win, the Raiders will go into New England; If the Dolphins win, the Raiders will go to Kansas City.null