The Raiders have been reliable this season, beating teams in the NFL’s lower half while falling to the top teams. Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field falls into the first category. The Raiders should win this one, even though it’s on the road, at 10 a.m., in the Eastern Time Zone. Vegas considers this a pick ‘em game, meaning the Raiders must play their best to emerge with a victory despite the Lions front-office upheavals and on-field struggles. Improvement is required on offense and defense to end a two-game losing streak.
10) FB Jamize Olawale
The Raiders use different backup running backs based upon the opponent, but Olawale has found a way into the regular rotation, with 22 touches for 119 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. He had eight touches last game against Minnesota, more than the blocking fullback had all of last year. Even if he isn’t a regular ball carrier, Olawale should contribute as a blocker in this offense. The Raiders need to keep running strong when Latavius Murray isn’t getting carries. Olawale could be in helpful in that effort.
9) RB/KR Ameer Abdullah
The rookie hasn’t been terribly effective as a rusher this season, despite the fact he leads the Lions in carries and rushing yards. He remains, however, a threat returning kicks. He had a 104-yard kickoff return against Green Bay last week, just hours before Minnestoa’s Cordarrelle Patterson returned one 93 yards for a touchdown against the Raiders. Abdullah is averaging an NFL-best 31.9 yards per kickoff return. The Raiders must monitor him carefully to avoid a game-changing play on special teams.
8) S Nate Allen
The veteran’s first game off short-term injured reserve came in last week’s loss to Minnesota. He adds stability to the secondary, but head coach Jack Del Rio agreed with outsiders that Allen showed some rust in his first game since the season opener. He’ll be active against the run and double teaming the likes of Calvin Johnson downfield. The Raiders need production from his spot to help a secondary still trying to find its way.
7) C Rodney Hudson
The high-priced veteran played 40 straight games, the last eight leading the Raiders offensive line, before missing the last game against Minnesota. Tony Bergstrom filled in well, but Hudson’s return will be welcome if he can play on Sunday. The Raiders like to run in Hudson’s lanes, especially Latavius Murray. He is strong in blitz pickup and makes the line better just by being on the field.
6) DE Ezekiel Ansah
The Lions feature several underperforming assets. Ansah isn’t one of them. He has seven sacks and 32 other pressures thus far, with most of his tackles happening at or behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a handle to block, and will pose a challenge to both tackles, especially talented left tackle Donald Penn. He is one of a select few Lions defenders who can wreck a game. The Raiders must work to prevent that.
5) DE/OLB Benson Mayowa
The Raiders have to carry on without Aldon Smith, who was suspended a calendar year on Tuesday afternoon. The entire defensive front must elevate its play, but Mayowa should take some of Smith’s snaps. Whether that’s only as an end in the nickel/dime or as a stand-up rush linebacker as Smith was, the young player must produce to keep pressure off other, more well known Raiders defenders.
4) DL Mario Edwards Jr.
The NFL’s reigning Rookie of the Week is gaining confidence after a series of solid performances. His last produced 11 tackles and a sack against Minnesota and was a force against the run. He should see some extra attention, but Edwards has used brute force to fight into rushing lanes and a quarterback’s pocket. The Raiders need Edwards to continue his production, which will be essential as the season wears on.
3) WR Calvin Johnson
The man they call “Megatron” is 30 years old and maybe not as productive as he once was, but he’s still regarded among the NFL’s best receivers. He’s an excellent downfield threat, going against a team that has had trouble containing elite playmakers. He has had five straight 1,000-yard seasons and is on pace for another. The Raiders will try and prevent him for making a major leap on Sunday, defending him with bracket coverage and a taller cornerback David Amerson.
2) QB Derek Carr
The second-year signal caller has been excellent this season, with a 101.5 passer rating after nine games. The Raiders go as far as he takes them, and an early passing surge could get the Raiders offense on the right track. The coaching staff shows a lot of confidence in Carr’s ability and decision making, which should pay off against a Lions secondary that will give him opportunities to work the ball downfield.
1) DE/OLB Khalil Mack
The Raiders still have one major pass-rushing threat, even after losing Justin Tuck to injury and Aldon Smith to a suspension. The Raiders have moved Mack around, and that could happen even more with defenses constantly keying on him. The second-year pro will have to take advantage of rare single coverage, and the secondary must cover well to give him time to make big plays rushing the passer. The defense desperately needs big plays. Mack can provide them when given a chance.