(CBS San Francisco) — The Oakland Raiders, fresh off their Week 6 bye, find themselves in an unfamiliar position. At 3-2, they’re in striking distance of the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs, who seem vulnerable after two straight losses. To make headway, or just keep pace, they’ll need to keep winning. It won’t be easy.
The Raiders head to Green Bay this Sunday to face the Packers. Any Aaron Rodgers-led team presents a challenge, especially at Lambeau Field. But this year’s Packers, at 5-1, have emerged as a contender in an NFC that still seems to be sorting itself out. Sunday presents their fifth opponent in as many games with legitimate playoff aspirations.
But this is a different Raiders team, right? Is it too early to even raise the question? As NFL On CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn sees it, “there are things that are still swirling around Oakland, as we know, and they will continue to do so. But it feels like this group has an identity, and it’s rooted in some remaining talent. And maybe they’re better off for it.”
The Raiders have won two straight over the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. In Washburn’s opinion, “Oakland is grooving, that they can beat quality opponents. I’m a big fan of what Indianapolis is doing, and the fact that they (the Raiders) grabbed a win over the Colts. The Bears would seemingly be a team that’s still in the conversation for a playoff-caliber squad.”
Some of the credit for those wins should go to rookie running back Josh Jacobs, who’s given this offense some stability. Jacobs piled up 123 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry against a tough Bears defense. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 17 carries against the Colts the week before.
Jacobs’ production is particularly important given the issues the Raiders have had at the wide receiver position. Antonio Brown was supposed to be their number one going into the season, but he didn’t work out. Tyrell Williams started off the year with a touchdown in each of the first four games, but he’s been hobbled since the Colts game.
Derek Carr continues to find ways to complete passes, involving nine different pass-catchers in the win over the Bears. According to Washburn, “seeing what Derek Carr has done, with an extended period of time with Jon Gruden, he’s starting to shape into a quarterback that’s really effective. And his numbers are actually better than they were when he was at his best in 2016.”
But this offense clearly relies more on the run. They’ll be facing a Packers defense that can be beat on the ground. While they limited the Detroit Lions’ Kerryon Johnson to 34 yards last week and the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott to 62 yards the week before, they also let the Minnesota Vikings Dalvin Cook run over them for 154 yards in Week 2.
Can the Raiders exploit the Packers’ inconsistency defending the run? The answer to that question could determine the outcome of this matchup. Washburn says “Oakland is very comfortable flying a bit under the radar and happy to prove a lot of people wrong, that after training camp and all that noise, had written them off.”
The Raiders look to surprise the Packers this Sunday @ 10 am PT on CBS.