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Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders: Three key matchups

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Can the Raiders stop Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s matchup with the Detroit Lions at RingCentral Coliseum might be the most pivotal game of the season for the Raiders.

As noted in our “Path to the playoff” story, the next four Raider opponents are 7-22-1 combined, and the only team they face over the season’s final nine games that is currently .500 is the Kansas City Chiefs. Oakland could be poised to go on a big run toward playoff relevance, but the push will need start on Sunday. With that said, let’s take a look at the three key matchups that will decide the Raiders fate against Detroit.

Raiders Defensive Backs vs. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones

Will the defensive backs be able to handle, or at least slow down Golladay and Jones? Both of these teams have been subpar when defending the pass to say the least, but Trayvon Mullen’s performance against the Texans should give fans hope that the secondary can continue to improve as the unit coalesces.

The Raiders had Erik Harris, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley and and Lamarcus Joyner on the field together on 91 percent of snaps against Houston, basically operating exclusively out of a Nickel package. Mullen and Nevin Lawson often traded off at corner, with the rookie second-rounder getting into a press-engage role frequently.

Golladay and Jones are both big-bodied, explosive receivers who could be No. 1 options on a number of NFL teams. Over seven games, they’ve combined for 64 catches, 917 yards and 9 touchdowns. That means, on average, the duo combines for just over 9 catches, 131 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. If they remain close to those season averages, the Raiders have a major shot to overpower them in what is likely to be a shootout.

If Mullen can get one of them at the line of scrimmage and throw off the timing of their routes, Worley and one of the safeties could effectively bracket the other big-time receiving threat.

Kolton Miller vs. Trey Flowers

Trey Flowers was Detroit’s big, splashy signing of the offseason, but he hasn’t been as prolific as Matt Patricia would like.

Before breaking out against a porous New York Giants offensive line for two sacks and three quarterback pressures last week, Flowers had only accumulated one sack and three pressures across the first six games. The Raiders offensive line has been stellar, allowing only eight sacks this entire year. Much of that improvement is due to Miller’s added strength and improved technique.

Flowers is best as power rusher, using strength and leverage to knock opponents on their heels and drive them towards the quarterback. Those types of players have been Miller’s achilles heel over his first season and a half in the league, but he’s improved greatly in that regard recently. Against the Texans, Miller showcased a “snatch/trap” technique that can stymie bull-rush moves.

Derek Carr vs. Lions’ Safeties

The Lions traded away an impactful safety last week in Quandre Diggs, and will also be without starting safety Tracy Walker, who is dealing with a knee injury. Thus, Carr will likely be facing a trio of Tavon Wilson, Will Harris and Miles Killebrew. Hardly world-beaters.

The Lions employ stud corners Darius Slay and Justin Coleman, who will do their best to blanket Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller, but if Carr sees Waller matched up vertically with one of the Lions’ safeties? Goodnight.

With inexperienced safeties, there’s a tendency to overreact to a quarterbacks eyes. Carr often sets up and fires quickly, but with the Detroit pass rush grading out as one of the worst in the NFL, he will have time to scan the field, manipulate the safeties, and find open targets on intermediate and deep routes.

With as much time to throw as he will have all season, this game will be a great test of Carr’s ability to get through his progressions and make critical decisions that could change the course of the season.

A 3-5 record looks a whole lot worse than 4-4, and if the Raiders can win these key matchups, they’ll be sitting pretty next week when they take on the Chargers.