Week four is upon us. The Raiders are in Chicago for their second-straight road game after a win in Cleveland last week gave them their first road win in two years. That one was their first win in the Eastern Time zone ins 6 years, and while this one is technically in the Central time zone, it's still an early start time (10am Pacific) which has proven problematic for the Raiders or any West Coast team.
To see all the viewing details on the game as well as coverage map, click here.
Road favorites (It's a trap!)
Even with the early start time, the Raiders are 3-point favorites to win the game. It's the first time in three years the Raiders are favored on the road. There are a lot of factors involved. First of all the Raiders are 2-1 and the Bears are 0-3. The Bears have the worst defense in the NFL and are banged up on offense.
Here's the scary part. The last time the Raiders were favored on the road was week two of the 2012 season in Miami. A gain they lost 35-13. That's what we like to call a trap game. When the stars are aligned and everything is favoring one side, and it all falls apart. While we can come up with a lot of reasons why THIS time will be different, the truth is, we just don't know. Be ever vigilant, my friends. Trap games are a real thing. And this team is not established enough to be confident they can avoid it.
One potential problem here is the status of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. He suffered a hamstring injury in week two that had him miss their game last week. He has practiced on a limited basis all week and is officially questionable for the game. There are some very conflicting reports about his actual availability. Earlier this week, Jack Del Rio made it clear he fully expects Cutler to start Sunday, going as far as to say he would be "shocked" if he didn't start.
What's interesting is NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, said he would be "stunned" if Cutler DID play in the game. One of these guys is going to be pretty surprised on Sunday. Adding to it, I spoke with editor in chief of Bears blog, Windy City Gridiron and he too said he expects Cutler will play.
It's a big deal if Cutler can play or not. Cutler is an established veteran quarterback and his replacement is Jimmy Clausen. Then again, if Cutler is not full go with a bum hamstring, that works in the Raiders' favor as well.
No Alshon Jeffery makes for slim pickins
If Cutler can go, he won't have his top Pro Bowl receiver to throw to. Jeffery is also questionable for the game with a hamstring injury, but unlike Cutler, no one is expecting him to be able to play. Without Jeffery, the Bears receiving corps is left with Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson who have a combined 14 catches for 135 yards and no touchdowns this season.
Jack Del Rio vs John Fox
Though these two may not be able to have a wrestling match at the 50-yard-line to settle this one as Jack Del Rio would like, there will be a battle of wits going on from the sideline. These two know each other well. Fox gave Del Rio his first coordinator job in the NFL in Carolina back in 2002. Del Rio went on to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars for 9 seasons after that and when the time came that Del Rio was let go, Fox was right there to hire him as defensive coordinator again.
The two veteran head coaches spent the past three seasons together in Denver before both moved on to be head coaches elsewhere. Now they meet on opposite sidelines as head coaches for just the third time in their careers.
Jack Del Rio's first game as a head coach in 2003 came against his former head coach John Fox. He lost that game 24-23. The two met again in 2007, a game Del Rio's Jaguars won 37-6.
Justin Ellis vs Matt Forte
There have been a few times in the last couple games in which the Raiders lined up without a defensive tackle on the field. In several of those instances, the opposing team exploited that by running right up the gut. It was a very successful plan.
In the week following the Ravens' game in which the defense gave up 33 points, Ken Norton Jr was asked about the times he lined up without a defensive tackle and his response was that because of the extreme heat, the already thin group of DT's needed to be given a rest.
That group got thinner when CJ Wilson went out with an ankle injury. The return of Justin Ellis comes at a good time. He should step back into the starting nose tackle spot where he will take on the middle of the Bears' line and try to keep Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte from running over the Raiders defense as he did the Packers in the season opener when he racked up 141 yards on 24 carries (5.88 ypc) and a touchdown.
The Bears will be relying on Forte to carry much of the load and stopping him is crucial to the Raiders' chances of success.
Clive Walford emergence?
Prior to last week, Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said the team would look to get the tight ends more touches. The result was two targets to tight ends with one catch for 8 yards. So, what makes me think Walford will finally see increased looks? A couple things.
Following the season opener in which Latavius Murray received 11 carries, Musgrave and Del Rio both said they wanted to see Murray get more touches. The following week against the Ravens, he still only saw 15 carries. But the week after that, he received 26 carries, including matching his week 2 total in the first half alone.
Walford was running with the first team pretty much from the moment he came into OTA's as the team's third round draft pick. Then he was injured in the pre-camp warm-up and missed all but two days of training camp. He played in one preseason game and was injured again. He has taken some time to get back into things and with former starter Mychal Rivera at a total of 4 catches for 19 yards, the time is now for Walford.
Martellus Bennett vs Someone... Anyone?... Hello?
Far more important than what the Raiders do with their own tight end is how they cover the opposing tight end. Through the first three games this season, tight ends have put up career-highs against the Raiders. Next up is Pro Bowl tight end, Martellus Bennett, who had 90 catches for 916 yards last season. With the Raiders making every other basic tight end look like super stars, imagine what will happen when they actually face a super star.
Working in their favor slightly in the aforementioned loss of Alshon Jeffery. This will hopefully allow one of the Raiders' safeties to key on Bennett and limit his ability to gouge the Raiders' defense. Because God knows, the Raiders' linebackers haven't shown the ability to cover anyone.
Aldon Smith vs Charles Leno Jr
Who? Charles Leno Jr is the man who will be replacing Bears' usual starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Leno was a seventh round pick by the Bears in the 2014 draft out of Boise State. He started one game as as rookie, though he only saw five snaps in that game, giving up a QB hit in that time. He saw six snaps in the 2015 opener, and gave up a hurry. His 20 snaps last week replacing Bushrod was half his entire career snaps previous to that game.
Now Leno will face off against All Pro pass rusher Aldon Smith who is chomping at the bit to get his first sack of the season. Leno will be trying to protect the blindside of either a gimpy Jay Cutler or Jimmy Clausen. If Smith doesn't feast on that, there's a problem.
Austin Howard vs Lamarr Houston
There's something about going up against a former team that really gets a player motivated. At one time, Lamarr Houston was the best defender on the Raiders. Now, a lot of people want to say "that isn't saying much", but that's just not the case. He was on the team through both of their 8-8 seasons and led the team in sacks in his final season in Oakland in 2013.
That's not to say the Raiders should have broken the bank on him. Houston wasn't fond of the Raiders' coaching staff and didn't feel like he fit in with whatever Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen were trying to do. He got a good contract from the Bears, and has yet to live up to it, partially because he missed half of last season with an injury. He will not only be looking to prove his current team they made the right choice in signing him, but his former team they made a mistake.
The man who will try to stop Houston most of the time is Austin Howard. As it happens, Howard was given a big contract by the Raiders the same offseason they let Houston go. The Raiders thought Howard was worth big money and Houston was not. He will be looking to prove to the Raiders they made the right decision to choose him and not Houston.
Gabe Jackson vs Jay Ratliff
While we talk about all the players the Bears could be missing for this one, there is one player they will actually have returning - All Pro defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. It has been mentioned many times that the Bears have the worst defense in the NFL this season, but part of that is because Ratliff has not been in the lineup as he has been serving a three-game suspension.
It will be Gabe Jackson who will have to handle the hungry four-time Pro Bowler. Jackson is currently graded as the best offensive guard in the league according to Pro Football Focus. He also has the highest run blocking grade among all offensive linemen. What a battle this is going to be. A true test for Jackson and a key match-up in this game.
Amari Cooper vs Kyle Fuller
Cooper has already made some of the best corners in the league look silly (Patrick Peterson, Jimmy Smith, and Joe Haden for instance). Other teams have been lining their best corners up against the Raiders rookie phenom and for the Bears, that's Kyle Fuller.
Fuller was the Bears' rookie phenom last season when the 14th overall selection had 4 interceptions. Though, saying Fuller is their best corner may not be saying a whole lot. Three of his four interceptions came in his first two games. After that he came back down to earth with a thud, giving up the fifth most receptions (64) in the league.