The Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders are traveling south of the border for the NFL’s first regular-season game in Mexico since 2005. Both teams lead their respective divisions, but they’re each in the midst of tight races.
The Raiders are rolling offensively, ranking among the league’s best in just about every category on that side of the ball. The Texans, on the other hand, are far from offensive juggernauts. They’re 29th in points per game and have struggled to sustain long drives despite having Brock Osweiler, DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller.
The Texans will need to keep pace with the Raiders’ high-powered offense if they want to have a chance to win this game, but it’s not likely to happen. As a result, the Raiders will move to 8-2 and remain atop the AFC West.
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Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin will dominate Houston’s right tackle
Khalil Mack got off to a slow start this season, recording just one sack in his first five games. since then, he’s racked up six sacks in four games, emerging as the pass-rushing threat that he was last year. Bruce Irvin, on the other hand, has yet to make his mark on this defense. He has just two sacks this season, both of which came in the first four games. He should increase his total on Monday night, however.
Texans right tackle Chris Clark has struggled this season, and he’ll see a heavy dose of Mack and Irvin on his side. That’s the approach many teams have taken with Clark, sending their best pass rushers his way. Expect the Raiders to do the same with their duo, though Mack is likely to see most of his snaps on the left side of the defensive formation. Osweiler isn’t a mobile quarterback or one who reacts quickly when faced with pressure, so this should prove to be a significant challenge for him.
Oakland’s defense will be tested by Lamar Miller and the Texans' running game, but when Osweiler drops back to pass, he’ll need to keep his head on a swivel.
Brock Osweiler and the Texans offense won’t keep pace
The Texans escaped with a win over the Jaguars last week despite Osweiler throwing for just 99 yards. It’s safe to say that kind of production won’t get the job done against the high-powered Raiders. Oakland averages the NFL's fifth-most yards per game, as well as the fifth-most points per contest, while the Texans are 29th in the latter department (17.9). Osweiler has to be better against the Raiders in order for Houston to have a shot, and I’m just not sure he will be.
He’s showed few signs of improvement this season as he ranks toward the bottom in just about every passing category. Osweiler is last in yards per attempt, 31st in passer rating, and 29th in yards per game. The Raiders don’t have a great secondary and teams have had a good amount of success throwing against them, but Osweiler poses a minimal threat against even the worst defenses.
The Raiders are going to score 25-plus points in this game as they typically do. Only twice this season have the Texans scored more than 24 points in a game, failing to reach 20 in four. They’ll need to open up the playbook and have Osweiler throw downfield if they want to hang around. If not, Oakland will run away from them.
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Oakland’s offensive line will protect Derek Carr
The Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in football, and it’s a huge reason they’ve had so much success this season. Derek Carr rarely faces pressure, even against teams like the Broncos. When a quarterback has as much time to throw as he has, it’s infinitely easier to find open receivers. Oakland will continue to protect Carr in the pocket, keeping Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney off of him. That will be the difference in this game as Houston often relies on pressure and sacks to win games.
The Texans have a solid pass rush, but it will be negated by Oakland’s offensive line. Donald Penn has been superb this season on the left side, and though Austin Howard has struggled at right tackle, the Raiders have formulated a plan to assist him. Backup lineman Denver Kirkland sometimes lines up at tight end to help in protection. It worked against Von Miller, and it can certainly work against Mercilus and Clowney.
If the Raiders can keep Carr off his back and protect him from the Texans’ dynamic duo, they’ll be in good shape.