The Raiders and Texans are set to square off on Saturday in a rematch of an earlier meeting that Oakland won in Mexico City. Of course, that was back when Derek Carr was healthy and the Raiders looked like world-beaters, and things have changed for the worse since then. Now, it’ll be Connor Cook’s turn to beat the Texans, and I’d expect him to do just that. But it won’t be him carrying the Raiders. It’ll be the running game and an outstanding offensive line doing just that.
Here are three reasons the Raiders will advance to the divisional round despite starting their third-string quarterback.
Connor Cook isn’t completely terrible
This may not sound like a compliment, but it is: Connor Cook isn’t terrible. Sure, he’s also not great, but we haven’t seen enough of him to make a strong determination one way or the other. By watching his college tape and his game against the Broncos in Week 17, it’s certain that he can make most, if not all, of the throws necessary to succeed in the NFL. He dropped a beauty to Amari Cooper over Chris Harris Jr., which came after running play-action and turning his back to the defense.
His completion percentage in college was subpar and sat below 60 percent, but that was more about his poor decision making than it was his ability to throw accurately. He has a good enough arm – better than Matt McGloin – which will allow the Raiders to throw the ball deep if need be. However, don’t expect them to. Cook needs to protect the ball, avoid mistakes and simply get it in the hands of his playmakers. There’s no need to try to be Derek Carr and save the Raiders. He just has to stay out of the way and let the Raiders win as a team.
Houston is starting Brock Osweiler
I’m not saying I would take Connor Cook over Brock Osweiler, but I don’t think the gap is as wide as their experience, career numbers and name recognition tend to suggest. Osweiler is not a good quarterback, especially for a guy making $18 million per year. He finished in the bottom five in most passing categories, showing an inability to throw the ball downfield and complete passes with any regularity.
In his last five starts, the Texans are 2-3 with one of those wins being the result of Tom Savage saving Houston from an embarrassing loss to the Jaguars in Week 15. Osweiler completed 61.6 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and seven interceptions in that span, posting a passer rating of 65.6. That ranks second to last during that stretch, besting only Blake Bortles. And it’s not as though he was facing great defenses. They included Oakland, San Diego, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, yet he still struggled mightily.
Kirby LeeKirby Lee
The Raiders will run the ball with success
With Oakland down to its third-string quarterback, this game will come down to how much success the Raiders have on offense. It probably won’t be through the air, but Latavius Murray and Oakland’s dynamic backfield can carry the load and move the ball on the ground. The Raiders were sixth in the NFL in rushing thanks to Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard – a three-headed monster with both power and speed to break the big one.
Oakland’s offensive line is terrific, too – arguably the second-best to the Cowboys'. It can open up running lanes for the running backs to trot through, which will set the tempo for the rest of the game. Houston’s offense isn’t explosive or threatening by any means, but the Raiders still will need to hold the ball and keep the Texans’ defense on the field as much as possible. They can do that by giving Murray 20 carries and allowing their change-of-pace guys, Washington and Richard, to touch the ball 10-plus times, keeping the defense on its heels. That’s how the Raiders will have to win this game.