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
Latavius Murray earned the nod in this spot in Oakland’s last game, and all he did was run for 114 yards and 3 TDs. With a similar defense in Houston up next — strong secondary, weak run defense — he’s an obvious pick one again. But let’s go a different route.
The Raiders offense truthfully offers few players that are considered “x-factors”. You’ve got your star players — Carr, Cooper, Crabtree — that don’t really qualify as x-factors, leaving few other options. The same can be said for much of the offensive line, which is the best in the NFL.
But let’s roll with Donald Penn as Oakland’s offensive x-factor. Oakland is fortunate J.J. Watt is injured and will miss the game, but that doesn’t mean Penn will have an easy matchup.
Even though Jadeveon Clowney hasn’t lived up to his #1 pick hype, a lot of that is thanks to injuries. Even in the times he has been on the field, he’s dealt with nagging injuries. But now that he’s healthy, he’s starting to come around.
So while Clowney may not be the dominant force Houston hoped he would be, like Khalil Mack is for Oakland, he isn’t a player that can be overlooked. The former all-world recruit still possesses a rare combination of size and athleticism, arguably the best in the NFL regardless of position.
Penn has been stellar this season. But if there is any type of player that could get the best of him, it’s a freak athlete. Clowney is certainly that.
Few pass rushers all season has gotten to Carr, and usually when they have, it’s from the right side of the offensive line. But if Mike Tice decides to overload the right side with Denver Kirkland as the sixth offensive lineman, defenses won’t have a choice but to try to attack the blindside.
That makes the success, or lack thereof, that Clowney has vs. Penn on Monday night a key factor in this game.
Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V (15) against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Texans 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Houston’s offense is very intriguing, even though they have largely underperformed this season. But a lot of that falls on Brock Osweiler, who’s level of ineptitude even makes Blake Bortles almost look good. Almost.
Lamar Miller would be the easy pick here, but even Phill Simms could tell you that Houston is going to need their run game to be successful if they have any shot of beating the Raiders. So let’s look in a different direction.
How about Will Fuller?
Of course, his performance is highly dependent on his quarterback’s ability, or inability, to get him the ball. But assuming Osweiler can do a decent job of this, Fuller is exactly the type of WR the Raiders secondary has struggled with this season.
Registering a 4.32 40-yard dash as the NFL Combine, Fuller can flat out fly. He got off to a very strong start to the season, and the drops problem that plagued him at Notre Dame haven’t been nearly as bad in his rookie season.
Fuller is a big play waiting to happen, with 8 reception of more than 20 or more yards — the same amount as Michael Crabtree. Both Sean Smith and David Amerson don’t excel with their lateral agility, so a player like Fuller could give either cornerback fits.
Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) runs with the ball as Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Perry Riley (54) defends 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
There are plenty of x-factor candidates on the defensive side of the ball for Oakland. With Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller and others on Houston’s offense, the Raiders will have their hands full trying to defend this stable of weapons.
But since the success Houston’s lands squarely on the shoulders of Lamar Miller, the success of Oakland’s defense on Monday night will lie squarely on the shoulders of Perry Riley.
When it comes to stopping the run game, there are of course many players who will contribute to that. The defensive line has to plug up holes and win the battle at the line of scrimmage, and the linebackers and safeties have to clean up anything that reaches the second level. The Texans have a solid offensive line and have done well in creating holes for Miller, whereas the Raiders defensive line has been up and down stopping the run.
So it’s a safe bet that Miller will get out to the second level several times, and Riley will be the player, more often than not, tasked with bringing him down. If Miller can get past Riley, his athleticism easily could lead to multiple big plays, and possibly even a long touchdown run or two.
Which makes it critically important for Riley to continue his strong play, and help lead the Raiders run defense to another strong showing.
Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
A.J. Bouye is the best cornerback you’ve never heard of.
An undrafted free agent out of UCF in 2013, Bouye has been with Houston his entire career. But it wasn’t until this season where he has bursted onto the scene. Which is perfect timing for Bouye, as he is in a contract year.
Bouye has locked down every WR he’s faced this season, and he hopes to continue that trend against the Raiders. But with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree lining up on the other side, it won’t be easy.
But it won’t be easy for Cooper or Crabtree, either. Bouye has allowed 0 TDs this season and a passer rating of just 64 on balls thrown his way. And he’s actually PFF’s No. 1 CB, ahead of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
Bouye is a big reason why the Texans have the #3 ranked secondary in the NFL. The Raiders will likely try to establish the run, like they did against the Broncos, but they can’t abandon the air attack. If so, Houston could easily just stack the box, so the Raiders will need to have success against Bouye to keep the offense balanced.