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Raiders at Colts: Three key matchups

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The second of five long road trips takes the Raiders to Indianapolis to face the Colts. The Colts boast a 2-1 record which is an accomplishment considering their franchise quarterback retired just days before the season started. The Raiders are coming off consecutive losses, each one less inspiring than the other and are looking to get back on track against an injury plagued Colts team.

The Raiders have a tough road schedule ahead of them playing away from Oakland until week 9. Jon Gruden and his team need to win a couple of these games if they hope to keep the season alive and the Colts are ripe for the picking.

Despite being favored to win this game, Indianapolis is particularly banged up—listing 5 starters on their game day injury report including ruling out 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard. Even with all the injuries this game won’t be easy to win, lets take a look at three key matchups that should decide the course of the game.

Raiders defensive line vs Colts offensive line

Credit is due to Colts general manager Ryan Grigson who has assembled one of the best offensive lines in all of football. The big guys up front are anchored by 2nd year player Quenton Nelson who is widely considered one of the best offensive line prospects to ever enter the NFL, earning first team All-Pro honors last year as a rookie.

The Raiders defensive line is more of a work in progress with young players who have yet to see the game click for them. Veteran Johnathan Hankins will have a big responsibility in this game to anchor against the Colts running attack. Meanwhile Clelin Ferrell and Arden Key will need to apply the pressure on QB Jacoby Brissett who has shown a tendency to hold onto the ball during crucial moments so far this season.

Much like how the Vikings were able to impose their will on the Raiders defense last week, this Colts offensive line is equally capable. These young players will need to grow up quick and they face a big test tomorrow.

Raiders safeties vs Colts tight ends

Even if the quarterback has changed since last year’s matchup against the Colts, the tight ends haven’t. Pro Bowler Eric Ebron should see an uptick in targets now that WR T.Y. Hilton’s status is questionable with a quad injury. But don’t forget Jack Doyle who terrorized the Raiders defense last year with many huge catches. Number 3 tight end Mo Allie-Cox also had a basketball poster touchdown last year.

This fearsome tight-end trio will be difficult to stop for undersized defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner (5’8) and Karl Joseph (5’10) each have had trouble defending tight-ends in the passing game so far this season. Erik Harris (6’2) should be in the mix with his size being more favorable in a physical match-up. Also look to see CB Daryl Worley (6’1) play some safety similar to how he was used in the Kansas City game and breaking up a pass to Travis Kelce in the endzone in man coverage.

If T.Y. Hilton is really limited the tight ends will be the Colt’s offense only means of moving the ball down the field. They showed they could do it last year, now the Raiders get to run it back with a chance to redeem themselves.

Josh Jacobs vs Colts linebackers

The Colts proved they are a disciplined defense capable of playing mistake free football. Much of their success this year however is owed to players who will not be in the game Sunday including aforementioned LB Darius Leonard. In his absence the Colts will be playing two rookies at linebacker in their base 4-3 defense.

The one weakness on film for this Colts defense has been their inability to stop opposing running backs from catching the ball out of the backfield. They have allowed an average of 141 total yards from scrimmage to opposing running backs this season and 4 touchdowns in 3 weeks. That number should be a starting point for Josh Jacobs to feast on the Colts now that they are missing their best player on defense.

A great performance from Josh Jacobs can unlock this offense if the Colts defensive coordinator needs to help his linebackers by adding extra men in the box. The Broncos game was the only time we saw the Raiders stick to the run and it helped the offensive line keep the Broncos pass rushers on their toes. It also helped Carr hit receivers downfield, something he hasn’t been able to do with consistency in the past two weeks. If Jacobs goes, the offense goes with him.