The Raiders were once the fun young upstart, an entertaining unit ready to crash the AFC’s playoff party. Then the Silver and Black lost three straight, each defeat more disappointing than the last. Now Jack Del Rio’s team sits at 4-6, and must pick up the pace just to reach .500. That quest starts Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, a beatable team that hasn’t won a game at home. The Raiders relish a role as favorites, and they certainly will be at Nissan Stadium. After losing an uneventful game at Detroit, no victory is assured.
10) CB David Amerson, Raiders
Amerson was a starter before TJ Carrie returned to cornerback from safety, which pushed him down to the No. 3 spot behind DJ Hayden. Amerson isn’t one to complain publicly, but his demotion was a head-scratcher considering Hayden’s recent performances. Amerson, by contrast, fared relatively well covering Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and allowed just two receptions on six targets against Detroit. Coaches wouldn’t commit to a lineup change, but Amerson could and probably should be back in the starting lineup Sunday afternoon.
9) ILB Wesley Woodyard, Titans
The former Denver Bronco is having a solid season in the middle of this Tennessee defense, proven by an awesome stat line. He has 75 tackles, five sacks, six quarterback pressures and seven tackles for a loss. He’s strong against the run and keeps gains small, meaning he must be accounted for just beyond the line of scrimmage. He’s also used as a blitzer in the middle, an active part of a creative Titans pass rush.
8) ILB Malcolm Smith, Raiders
Smith has been the only stable portion of the Raiders linebacker corps, which has been sapped by suspension, injury and ineffectiveness. The fifth-year pro has proven solid in coverage and against the run, though a bit more consistency is required from their leading tackler. He has 87 tackles, four sacks and an interception this season. He’ll have to man the middle on passing downs without losing sight of quarterback Marcus Mariota, who isn’t afraid use the read option or simply tuck it and run.
7) TE Delanie Walker, Titans
The former 49er is in the midst of a career year, his third in Tennessee. Walker has become quarterback Marcus Mariota’s favorite target, with 53 receptions for 617 yards, team highs roughly double the next Titan. He’s an essential part of this offense, and a safety net for a rookie quarterback. The Raiders struggled mightily against tight ends early this season – they’ve done better lately – but those deficiencies could crop back up given Walker’s talents. Malcolm Smith, Ben Heeney and Nate Allen will be chiefly responsible for slowing him down.
6) C Tony Bergstrom, Raiders
Starting center Rodney Hudson isn’t expected to play on Sunday, leaving Bergstrom likely to start his second game in three weeks. The fourth-year veteran was praised for his performance against the Minnesota Vikings, a game Hudson missed with a sprained ankle. Bergstrom fared well identifying pressure and protecting the passer. The Raiders didn’t run much up the middle then, but he needs to make the A gaps productive options for Latavius Murray.
5) OLB Brian Orakpo, Titans
The former first-round pass rusher has been extremely productive when healthy. He had four strong seasons in Washington, and two curtailed by injury. He has been a great fit in Tennessee. Orakpo is in the midst of another strong season – maybe his best. He has 36 tackles, seven sacks, 24 quarterback pressures and a forced fumble through 10 games. He’s a roll lately, with sacks in four consecutive games. He’ll use both speed speed and power to engage Raiders offensive tackles off the edge.
4) RB Latavius Murray, Raiders
Murray had his worst game of the season against Detroit, with just 28 yards on 13 carries. The entire Raiders run game struggled that day, with several negative runs preventing sustained drives. Murray needs to get going early on, as he has in several Raiders victories. There’s a chance to do that against a Tennessee run defense that is the unit’s weakest link. The Titans rank No. 17 against the rush, allowing 110 yards per game. A big game from Murray almost always leads to a Raiders win.
3) OLB Khalil Mack, Raiders
The talented pass rusher has lost some friends lately. Justin Tuck is long gone with injury and Aldon Smith was suspended last week. No matter. Mack remained productive despite those losses, with eight tackles, one quarterback hit and excellent play against the run and pass. The Raiders are increasingly dependent on Mack for big plays. While he’s playing well, the game-changing moments are needed more frequently. That’s especially true in a game the Raiders have to win.
2) QB Marcus Mariota, Titans
This year’s No. 2 overall pick has played well this season, although unspectacular in some instances, He is a dynamic player who can run, throw accurately and throw deep. That’s been on display in two games where he had four touchdowns and no interceptions. His numbers have been pedestrian at times, though his skill set poses a real challenge to a Raiders defense that has struggled stopping much of top-shelf athletes. The Raiders have to account for his running ability without sacrificing coverage downfield, where they need as many bodies as possible.
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1) WR Amari Cooper, Raiders
The wideout has had an excellent season, and is a frontrunner to be the league’s offensive rookie of the year. He has had many excellent performances, though Sunday’s game doesn’t count as one of them. He had two drops and just one catch for four yards against the Detroit Lions. Cooper was panned this week for having 10 drops this season, the only aspect of his game worthy of criticism. Cooper’s steely focus helps in times like these, and could help him get back on track against the Titans. That’ll a requirement for an big-play offense that hasn’t produced much excitement over the last few games.