Skeleton Keys: Week 11

The doldrums that is the mid-season bye week is finally coming to a close. The pillaging pirates in black look to emerge from this Bermuda Triangle with a healthy roster of swashbucklers. With the team setting sail to Mexico City to take on the Houston Texans, we take a closer look under the hull and give you the skeleton keys to the game.

The Silver and Black will swagger boisterously into Estadio Azteca with a top 5 offense and a defense that looks (hopes?) to be on the mend. On the flip side, the Houston Texans rank amongst the worst offenses in the league—I mean it’s truly offensive. However, the Texans boast a stout running game (ranked 5th in the league at 121.4 yards per game) that’s backed up by a 3rd ranked defense.

Any of this sound familiar? It should as there are parallels that can be drawn between the Texans and the Broncos. But make no mistake, they’re not the defending Super Bowl Champions. I’ll go a step further and say that the boys in blue are paper tigers sitting atop what is one of, if not the, weakest divisions in the NFL.

Look closely and you will see that Houston has been shutout by New England, trounced by Minnesota, rolled by Denver, and snuck out of games against KC, Indy, and Jacksonville. I’m not buying them as a 6-3 threat, and neither should you.

Coming off the heels of a stellar rushing performance in week 9, the Raiders need to continue to cannonball opposing defensive lines with it’s three-headed hydra of a running back core. Run to open the pass this week and the yards and points will pour down. The air is thin and dirty out there, pound the rock and get those d-lineman wheezing and holding their hips. Do this and the floodgates will open. This game won’t be close.

Michael Crabtree was almost shutout on Sunday Night Football and it doesn’t seem likely that he will go missing two games in a row. Couple that with an Amari Cooper who is at full health and freezing defending CB’s every weekend and you have a passing game that is poised to make a stellar return on another national stage. Roberts and the rest of the crew will continue to eat up yards underneath and take advantage when the defense doubles down on the outside threats.

17 touchdowns against 3 interceptions tells me Derek Carr isn’t intimidated by any defense. A QB that was often criticized for checking down has now entered the MVP arena by taking more chances downfield to supplement his knack for taking what the defense gives him. Couple that with a beast of an offensive line that has given up a league low 11 sacks through 10 weeks (two of these were Carr running out of bounds), and opened gaping holes for RB’s all season, and the Raiders are set to nullify the vaunted Texans pass defense.

On the other side of the ball, there isn’t much to fear. Lamar Miller is banged up and should be on a “pitch count” if he plays significant minutes at all. The Raiders defensive line hasn’t provided much push up the middle in passing situations, but has been very efficient in bottling up the run game. The team has allowed an average of 80 yards in the last 3 games—that’s 5th best in the league in case you were wondering.

Bottle up the run game and you have…dun dun dunnnn…Brock Osweiler. The overpaid ex-donkey with a tattoo of Khalil’s face mask imprint across his chest. Let’s face it, this guy sucks. Texans brass knows it, we know it, and the Texans fans (do they exist in real life?) know it. I had this game circled at the start of the season as the game our defense would finally make a statement. Getting Sean Smith back bolstered by a more communicative Reggie Nelson and an ever-improving Karl Joseph backing up “Hammerson” could lead to multiple turnovers and coverage sacks in Mexico City.

There you have it: Run to pass, bottle up the run game, and pressure Brock. This is football 101 and all are facets that Oakland should be able to cover confidently.

Lastly, I wanted to address the fact that this is technically an away game for both teams. After some research I’ve found that the Cowboys and Steelers are the top jersey sellers in Mexico City followed closely by the Oakland Raiders. This stems from the 70’s and 80’s when these three teams were dominating the league and remained fixtures on Monday Night Football; subsequently exposing the national audience to this brazen band of pirates you all know and love.

This installed fan base is reinforced by a Nation of Raiders fans that is known to travel well. With over 100k seats sold out in an hour, it can be expected that the Black Hole will descend upon the international arena. Brace yourselves Mexico, it’s November and the Autumn Wind is about to blow into town.

Written by: Kenny Stapler