Coming off their bye week, the Oakland Raiders (7-2) will play in their second consecutive primetime game against the Houston Texans (6-3) in Mexico City, Mexico on Monday Night Football.
With both the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans looking to maintain their leads in their respective divisions, this AFC clash holds high stakes.
Only one team will return to the U.S. with smiles and sombreros.
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Here’s an in-depth look at which team will ultimately down the piñata in this Week 11 matchup.
Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders tackle Donald Penn (72) and guard Kelechi Osemele (70) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Raiders’ Offensive Line to Spark Murray and Company
In Oakland’s last primetime showdown, the Raiders’ offensive line bullied the Denver Broncos defense for four quarters, sparking an offense that possessed the football for 41:28 and garnered 218 rushing yards.
A similar spark will flash against the Texans.
Led by veteran left tackle Donald Penn, the Raiders’ offensive line has dominated opposing teams in the trenches every single week. Though their names don’t always make it to the headlines, their play has spoken for itself.
Without All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt in the lineup, the Texans’ lack next level talent within their interior defensive line, a weakness that will be exploited against Oakland.
Former New England Patriot Vince Wilfork is still just as big as he was in Foxborough, but he has failed to carry over his success into Houston. With just 16 tackles in eight games this season, Wilfork is on pace for his lowest tackle total since missing 12 games in 2013. His second lowest season total (22) came in his first year with the Texans in 2015.
Outside of the aging nose tackle, second-year defensive end Christian Covington and rookie counterpart D.J. Reader have mirrored Wilfork’s lack of success. The two inexperienced defensive linemen have just 25 combined tackles this season, and both of them grade among the worst interior defenders, per ProFootballFocus.com.
Regardless of the talent that lines up in front of them, Penn and company will take no prisoners. After Monday’s contest, some of Houston’s interior defensive linemen will wish they wound up in cuffs instead of body bags.
Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) congratulate each other against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Oakland Raiders defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mack and Irvin to Clobber Chris Clark
Raiders’ edge-rusher Khalil Mack is hitting his stride and former Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin has successfully carried over his production to the Silver and Black. The sky was the limit for the two edge defenders as soon as the two joined forces, and now, they’re in reach of the stars.
With both Mack and Irvin teetering on the edge of a Pro Bowl season, Texans right tackle Chris Clark will have his hands full on Monday night.
Clark, an eight-year veteran out of Southern Mississippi, has struggled this season in comparison to his counterpart left tackle Duane Brown, and because of his poor play, opposing defenses have targeted Clark on a week-to-week basis.
At 6’5”, 305 pounds, Clark is a big, physical offensive lineman that is best utilized as a run blocker, but when asked to defend speedy, athletic edge-rushers, his weaknesses rise to the surface.
With Mack and Irvin likely taking turns on either side of the defense to best exploit the matchup, Clark will be facing an uphill battle in terms of limiting both of the Raiders’ edge-rushers from having a significant impact.
Unfortunately for Clark, this uphill battle is too steep.
Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) makes a reception during the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
DeAndre Hopkins to Test David Amerson
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has ascended as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL since entering the league in the 2013 NFL draft. It’s up to Raiders cornerback David Amerson, a former NC State product selected just 24 spots after Hopkins in 2013, to bring him back down to earth.
Due in large part to the poor play quarterback Brock Osweiler has put forth under center, Hopkins is on pace for his worst season in terms of receiving yards and touchdowns since his rookie year. However, he still possesses the tools necessary to have a dominant performance in any given week.
At 6’1”, 215 pounds, Hopkins is an elite athlete for his size. He is always a threat to beat a defense deep, but they must also respect him in underneath coverage, for he will tear apart shallow zone coverage with his ability to find open holes and make plays after the catch.
Asking someone to mirror Hopkins in coverage is a tall order for any cornerback in the NFL, but Amerson isn’t just any cornerback.
No order has been too tall for Amerson this season, as the 6’1”, 205-pound cornerback has accumulated two interceptions and a team-high 13 pass deflections in nine games.
According to PFF.com, Amerson has graded out as the 15th best cornerback in the league through 10 weeks.
Both star players should have their fair share of big plays in this matchup, but it will be the brighter star that ultimately gives his team the edge.
Nov 13, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Houston Texans tight end Ryan Griffin (84) celebrates a touchdown with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (87) and quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) during the second quarter of a football game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Texans’ Tight Ends Could Cause Matchup Problems
Other than Hopkins, no Texans wide receiver has stepped up to the plate to give their offense an added weapon outside the hashes, leaving the batter’s box open for their tight ends to hit line-drive singles all season.
Third-year tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz and fourth-year tight end Ryan Griffin have combined for 56 receptions for 526 yards and four touchdowns in nine games, and 34 of their 56 receptions have resulted in first downs.
Fiedorowicz (6’5”) and Griffin (6’6”) entered the league as dominant blockers for the position due to their elite size, but in an effort to make names for themselves in NFL, they have expanded their respective roles to the passing game. Both tight ends have already eclipsed their career-highs for receptions in a season in just nine games.
In comparison to their 2015 campaign, the Raiders have dramatically improved when it comes to covering the tight end position due in large part to the improvements they have made at safety and linebacker.
Rookie safety Karl Joseph has held his own since earning his first career start in Week 3, earning the 14th overall grade among safeties, per PFF.com.
Additionally, former Washington Redskins linebacker Perry Riley Jr. has quickly acclimated himself to the Silver and Black, as he now has earned the 6th best overall grade from PFF.com among all inside linebackers in just five games.
Both Joseph and Riley will play a key role in limiting the Texans’ tight ends, and if Osweiler is without either of his security blankets, his arm will turn cold, early.
Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph (24) against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Carr to Target Jonathan Joseph
With two of the best wide receivers in the NFL at his disposal, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has benefitted from having at least one favorable matchup between the two all season long.
The Texans’ secondary will pose no hiccups in the game plan.
Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye, a former undrafted free agent out of the University of Central Florida, has exploded onto the NFL scene in his fourth season, as he currently tops all cornerbacks in the NFL as PFF’s No.1 ranked cornerback through 10 weeks.
With that being said, Carr will likely look to divert a majority of his targets towards the Texans’ No. 2 cornerback, Jonathan Joseph.
Joseph, an 11-year veteran, is struggling to remain productive late in his career, as the former Pro Bowler, now 32-years-old, has fallen victim to almost every receiver that has lined up across from him this season.
Whether he takes on the physical veteran Michael Crabtree or sophomore superstar Amari Cooper, Joseph’s vacation in Mexico is going to come to an abrupt halt on Monday night.
Crabtree has brought in 49 receptions for 596 yards and a team-high six touchdowns, especially dominating on third downs and in the red zone.
Opposite of Crabtree, Cooper leads the team with 58 receptions for 843 yards and two touchdowns.
The two have combined for 75 first down receptions, and 26 of said receptions have come on third down, according to The Washington Post.
Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Lamar Miller Will Test Raiders’ Run Defense
Former Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller welcomed high expectations after joining the Texans on a four-year, $26 million contract this offseason, but unlike Osweiler, his heavy wallet hasn’t weighed him down in his play on the field.
Miller, a former fourth-round pick out of the University of Miami, has significantly benefited from a change of scenery, as he is currently on pace to have what would be a career-high 1,280 rushing yards this season.
Coming off a career-high 47 receptions for 397 yards with Miami last season, Miller has had similar production with Houston, bringing in 22 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Houston’s offense ranks 30th in the league in terms of total yards, so Miller’s impact both running the football and in the passing game is one of the only things keeping the Texans afloat offensively.
The Raiders’ defense, though porous at times, will have to continue to make plays against the run if they are going to push the ball into Osweiler hands and ultimately sink the Texans’ ship.
When Joseph and Riley aren’t occupied with the Texans’ tight ends in the passing game, the two should play key roles in limiting Miller at the second level. However, it’s going to take elite efforts from the Raiders’ interior defensive line if they are going to keep Miller from having a dominant performance.
With fourth-year defensive end Stacy McGee expected to return to the starting lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury, the Raiders’ play in the trenches should see an immediate boost. Before the injury, McGee consistently found his way into the backfield because of his ability to bully his opposition and penetrate beyond the line of scrimmage.
Inside of McGee, veteran defensive linemen Justin Ellis and Dan Williams haven’t lived up to their “Meat and Potatoes” nickname this season, but they have flashed their ability at times when inserted into the rotation.
Second-year offensive lineman Greg Mancz has exceeded expectations at center for Houston after going undrafted in 2015, but his teammates alongside him could struggle to keep “Meat and Potatoes” from overloading their plate.
Third-year guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, drafted just three spots above Carr in the 2014 NFL draft, has graded among the worst guards in the NFL in terms of run blocking.
Similarly, fifth-year guard Jeff Allen’s overall grade is ranked 73rd among the 80 guards with at least 160 offensive snaps this season.
Sep 21, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Oakland Raiders tackle Donald Penn (72) during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Raiders’ Offensive Tackles Face Tough Matchups Along the Edge
With the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft the Texans selected former South Carolina edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, and just four picks later the Raiders selected Mack. Clowney’s injuries have delayed his NFL stardom; Mack has quickly established himself as one of the top edge-rushers in the country.
Their paths will cross for the first time on Monday Night Football in Mexico City.
In 2014, Clowney missed the Texans’ Week 2 matchup against Oakland, but now two years removed from his rookie campaign, he should be looking to prove why he was worthy of the No. 1 overall selection.
With 34 combined tackles and three sacks in nine games this season, Clowney is expected to surpass career highs in both categories barring a drop in production or an injury.
Opposite of Clowney, veteran edge-rusher Whitney Mercilus has brought in 17 combined tackles and a team-high 4.5 sacks.
According to PFF.com, Mercilus has graded out as the 10th best edge-rusher through 10 weeks.
With Clowney and Mercilus pinning their ears back for a majority of the contest, the Raiders’ passing attack will hinge on the ability of their offensive tackles.
With Penn still playing at a Pro Bowl level, Carr’s blind side still remains safe, but the Raiders’ right tackle position is less secure.
Veteran offensive tackle Austin Howard has seen a majority of the reps on the right side, but even he will need backup offensive lineman Denver Kirkland to line up at tight end to perform damage control along the edge.
Kirkland, an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas, has filled in at tight end this season in wake of veteran Lee Smith’s season-ending ankle injury. In doing so, Oakland is often without an extra receiving threat inside the hashes, but he has performed well in pass protection.
Look for Kirkland to play a significant role in preventing either Mercilus or Clowney from taking advantage of the right side of the Raiders’ offensive line.