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Raiders -Titans preview: What to watch for, keys, storylines, match-ups, more

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It’s week three and the Raiders are in Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans. Both teams are 1-1 on the season, but by very different means. The Raiders have scored a lot of points (63) and given up even more (69), giving them the league’s top offense and the league’s worst defense.

The Titans are a bit more balanced, having scored exactly 16 points in both of their first two games, which wasn’t enough to win the opener against the Vikings, but enough to beat the Lions in Detroit.

The game kicks off at 10am Pacific time (1pm ET) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Titans are 1-point favorites.

Raiders offense to come back to earth?

Raiders fans are excited about the team’s high powered offense this season, but is it really as great as it seems? I hate to piss in anyone’s cheerios, but the teams the Raiders have faced the first two weeks have not exactly been a great way to test their offensive abilities. The Saints had the worst defense in all of football last season, and after two games this season, the only team with a worse defense is the Raiders. The Falcons have the worst pass rush in the NFL. They had the fewest sacks of any team in the league last year, had none in the opener, and their one sack against the Raiders was Derek Carr scrambling out of the pocket, finding no one open, and running out of bounds for no gain.

The Titans are a middle of the road NFL defense in most areas, which is a pretty big step up from those sad excuses for defenses the Raiders faced the first two weeks. If they can keep up the offensive success this week, they will have shown something. If not, then you now know why.

Will Raiders plan to “keep Mariota in the pocket” work?

There are a great many people who think they’re familiar with Marcus Mariota’s playing style based solely on having watched the Oregon offense during his time there. And usually that was from watching him once or twice in a Bowl game. The conclusion they often draw is that he usually works out of the spread, often doing some kind of option play.

But just because he CAN make you pay with his legs, doesn’t mean he’s a running quarterback.

“He’s mobile, he’s smart, gets rid of the ball really quick,” said Ken Norton Jr. “He’s growing up. You can see he’s learning how to use all of his weapons around him, really opening up the offense for him. He’s a guy that you really have to keep in the pocket.”

Keeping him in the pocket may eliminate his ability to hurt you with his legs, but make no mistake, Mariota will hurt you with his arm too. Especially when the game is on the line.

In the first two games this season, Mariota has completed 18 of 25 passes in the fourth quarter for 181 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. His 131.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter leads the NFL. This included a game-winning drive against the Lions last week. The third of his young career.

So, yeah, don’t think he isn’t fully capable of hurting the Raiders with his arm.

Dueling ground attacks

There is one thing these two teams very much have in common – they both have really good rushing attacks. The Raiders lead the league in yards per carry (6.3) with the trio of Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington. Their 161.0 yards per game is second only to the Panthers who have nearly ten more rushes per game than the Raiders have through the first two games.

The Titans have former rushing champ DeMarco Murray along with reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry. Both are big bruising backs who can tag team to wear down a defense if given the chance. They also gouged the Raiders in the preseason and there’s every reason to believe they can do it again, especially after what they saw Devonta Freeman do to the Raiders last week.

You can expect both teams to try to use the ground game to control the clock throughout which could make for a low scoring game. At least lower than the 31.5-point average the Raiders have had over the first two games this season.

Defensive shakeup a defensive step up?

Jack Del Rio will be making some changes on defense this week. Two of those changes happened late in the game against the Falcons with him making some of the defensive play calls and removing Ben Heeney in favor of Cory James. A third will have rookie 14 overall pick safety Karl Joseph seeing time with the defense for the first time this season.

We haven’t seen enough of either James or Joseph to know whether they’ll make the difference. What we have seen is what they have been doing has not been working. Last week the Raiders were worked over by the tight ends through the air and the running backs on the ground. Often times it was Heeney or safety Keith McGill who were supposed to make the play and didn’t. Though to be fair, you could pretty much say that about all the Raiders defenders in that one.

The one sack by the Raiders defense came courtesy of Stacy McGee on an inside rush. He ended up leading all defensive tackles in snaps last Sunday, which could suggest we see more of him this week as well. On a team lacking defensive playmakers, you have to reward those player who do step up.

The Delanie Walker dilemma

First and foremost, we don’t even know if Walker will play Sunday, let alone be his usual self while nursing a sore hamstring. The veteran Pro Bowl tight end is the Titans’ top receiver at a position the Raiders have struggled to defend. His status looms large for both teams. But as the Raiders are certainly preparing as if he will play, let’s do the same.

It would not be out of the question to assign a defensive back to shadow Walker all day. As the team’s number one receiver, it makes a lot of sense. It might even behoove the Raiders to consider making him Sean Smith’s assignment. At 6-3, 218 pounds, Smith is the largest defensive back on the team.

That’s not to say the Raiders will do that, but other attempts by linebackers and safeties to stop the tight end have not worked out so well. Some have suggested Karl Joseph, though while Smith is the biggest DB on the team, Joseph at 5-10, 205 pounds is the smallest going against the 6-1, 240-pound Walker.

It will be interesting to see what the Raiders come up with.

Paging Khalil Mack? Would Khalil Mack please pick up the white courtesy phone?

After each of the first two games, there have been those who made a point to tell everyone that Mack is still doing good work, despite not a lot of it showing up in the box score. Sounds a lot like his rookie season when he had just 4.0 sacks. And this defense needs sacks. They also need run stops. He is the star of this defense and thus far, the Saints and Falcons have been relatively successful in taking him out of the game.

Mack posted 15.0 sacks last season which was second only to reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt. Everyone who plays the Texans knows to focus on taking Watt out of the equation. And yet he still racks up the sacks. That’s what the great ones do. Mack knows the offense is going to double team him and run plays away from him. If this defense is to break out of its funk, he must lead the charge.