This week the Oakland Raiders travel to Minneapolis to face a strong Minnesota Vikings squad. Both teams are coming off of losses to division rivals, with the Raiders being blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs and the Vikings losing a close game to the Green Bay Packers.
With both teams entering the third week of the season at 1-1, this is a critical early juncture in the season. Both teams had terrific performances in week one. The Raiders fought for a statement win over the Denver Broncos while the Vikings easily dealt with the Atlanta Falcons. Week 3 can factor heavily into each team’s future, as their divisions are very tough and each win is paramount.
Upcoming for the Raiders is a tumultuous stretch that leaves them without a game in Oakland until November. A win would help offset some of the potential damage of a tough series of games including the Bears in London and the Colts, Packers, and Texans on the road.
With how important this win is for both teams, let’s look at three key matchups that will be very influential in determining the victor on Sunday morning.
Raiders interior offensive line vs. Vikings defensive tackles
One of the biggest storylines for the Raiders heading into this game is the return, and first start for left guard Richie Incognito. Incognito was suspended for the first two games of the season and now will return to his expected role as the starting left guard, replacing Jordan Devey who played in his stead.
Alongside him, center Rodney Hudson and fill-in right guard Denzelle Good are expected to start on Sunday. That trio of men will be pivotal against the Vikings, particularly in setting the tone in the running game.
The Raiders have rushed for 227 yards through their first two contests, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. Running the ball well will be huge for the Raiders on Sunday as controlling the tempo of the game will be vital.
The Vikings interior defensive line includes the 6-foot-4, 323-pound Linval Joseph and the 6-foot-5, 313-pound Shamar Stephen. Joseph in particular is one of the league’s best run stuffers, and neutralizing him will go a long way for the Silver and Black.
If Incognito, Hudson, and Good can effectively get push up front and open up holes in the running game, the Raiders will be able to control the clock and keep the Vikings offense off the field. With rookie running back Josh Jacobs battling a groin injury, this matchup becomes even more vital as it could be Jalen Richard or DeAndre Washington taking snaps in his place.
Raiders run defense vs. Vikings rushing attack
Through two weeks the Vikings boast the league’s second best rushing attack with 185 yards per game on 5.7 yards per carry. Running back Dalvin Cook has run over his opponents, and a large proponent of his success has been an improved offensive line.
2019 first round draft pick Garrett Bradbury is a large portion of the Vikings improvement in the trenches as the center looks very good through the first two games. Josh Kline and Riley Reiff round out a talented right side to the offensive front.
The Raiders need to limit Cook and the Vikings rushing attack and force quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw the ball (something he has not done well thus far in 2019). Johnathan Hankins, Maurice Hurst, and even Clelin Ferrell are going to be huge in neutralizing the dynamic Cook.
If the Raiders can force the Vikings into obvious passing situations, they can get defensive end Arden Key more involved and hopefully force Cousins into making some bad throws that result in turnovers. Limiting the run game is going to be paramount in this matchup, for both teams, and whoever wins that battle will put themselves in a great position to win the game.
Tyrell Williams vs. Xavier Rhodes
The Raiders offense needs to bounce back in a big way after a lackluster performance against a supposedly weak Chiefs defense. Quarterback Derek Carr threw two interceptions and seemed out of sync with his number one target Tyrell Williams. It didn’t help that Williams missed some snaps with a hip pointer, that is not expected to keep him out of Sunday’s contest, but nonetheless the duo seemed off.
Unfortunately for them, to get back in sync this weekend they have one of the best cornerbacks in the league trying his best to keep them off kilter. Xavier Rhodes has been a premier cornerback since being drafted in 2013. The former first round pick is a two-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2017.
Carr and Williams need to get back on the same page, like they were against the Broncos in Week 1 when they connected for 105 yards and a score. A bounce back performance is important for Carr and the team’s hopes of escaping the cold north with a win, and the connection between Carr and Williams is key for that.
Should Williams be able to win his matchup against Rhodes, it would open up more options on offense like utilizing tight end Darren Waller and possibly even getting rookies Hunter Renfrow and Keelan Doss involved.
Ultimately, it boils down to Williams and Rhodes and who comes out on top there. These three matchups are pivotal for Sunday’s clash between the Raiders and Vikings and will go a long way in determining who starts off 2-1 and who has to settle with a 1-2 record.