The Raiders are (for them) riding pretty high on two exciting wins, including one on the road, and in the Eastern time zone at that. The win in Cleveland removed the whammy of at least five significant losing streaks for the team. It would be understandable, especially heading into a matchup with the team most rankers regard as the league’s worst right now, if the Raiders got ahead of themselves a bit, and looked past this game to next week’s home stand against the Broncos.
But head coach Jack Del Rio, with his rather hokey but effective “keep chopping wood” approach, seems unlikely to let the team do that. Even a bad Bears team is always tough at home, and Del Rio is going up against his former boss in Denver, John Fox. Chicago DC Vic Fangio built a mighty D in San Francisco, and while he doesn’t have nearly the talent to work with that he did with the Niners, he’s still a wily strategist who will do his best to stuff Latavius Murray and confuse Derek Carr with disguised blitzes and stunts.
In the end, this should be a game for the Raiders to tighten things up as they head home for what would be a chance to tie for the division lead in the AFC West. As we’ve seen in the two victories, where Oakland jumped to early leads and had to fight to hang on for wins, they have trouble putting opponents away. That’s something you expect from a young team trying to gel and learn how to win. It’s something they’ll continue to refine as the season progresses, because good teams aren’t going to let them get away with it.
But let’s face it — the Bears are bad, really bad. They’re bad with Jay Cutler, and even worse without him. The Bears have a chance because parity and any given Sunday, but as long as the Raiders keep playing the way they have been, there’s no reason Oakland shouldn’t win this one convincingly.
Keys to Victory
Run like hell: The numbers don’t lie — the Raiders have won every time Latavius Murray has had at least 15 carries. Give the man his touches, mix in Marcel Reece, Taiwan Jones, and Roy Helu, Jr.
Use the tight ends: So far this position has been pretty quiet, with the three TEs (Rivera, Smith, and Walford) having just 8 catches for 36 yards between them. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been pretty good at being creative and adaptable in his game plans, no doubt Carr will be using them more as the season progresses.
Cover their TEs: Conversely, opposing tight ends have dogged the Raiders’ linebackers and secondary. Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge, who in seven full seasons had 48 catches total, had a career day last Sunday, with six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Chicago’s Martellus Bennett is the Bears’ leading rusher, and is easily the best TE the Raiders have faced yet this season. It will be a challenge to keep Bennett contained, while not leaving talented WRs Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal wide open.