Dave Choate: You guys lit up the Saints, which we thank you for doing. Tell us a little bit about the strengths of this offense and how they'll attack a Falcons defense that doesn't have much of a pass rush?
Levi Damien: Well, as you may know, lighting up the Saints defense is not the most difficult thing to do. They have the worst defense in the NFL. The strength of the offense is the offensive line. They tend to have a 3/2 pass to run ratio. Derek Carr's favorite target is Amari Cooper and in the opener, he had several catches of 20+ yards. Latavius Murray is the workhorse back, with two speedy scat backs in DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard to keep the defense on their toes. Richard had a 75-yard touchdown run last week.
Dave Choate: Defensively, we're all afraid of Khalil Mack, but I don't know a ton about your front seven beyond that. Who should we be looking out for, and who is going to put heat on the quarterback here?
Levi Damien: Bruce Irvin and Denico Autry are the other guys on the line right now who will apply the most pressure. Irvin had a strip sack last week and a second sack wipe away by a phantom holding penalty on one of the corners. Autry was in the backfield pretty consistently from the defensive end spot. The last name you should know is Justin Ellis who holds down the middle of the line at nose tackle. He doesn't let much get by him so the Falcons running backs will likely be looking for their gaps outside the guards most times. Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney are the other two linebackers and right now they are quite suspect. Drew Brees was going after Smith a lot last week and Heeney didn't show up much in the box score as he spent most of his time taking on blockers.
Dave Choate: This is a question I ask every week, because I enjoy the range of answers. How are the Raiders going to stop Julio Jones? Who is the cornerback that will tail him, and how much safety help will they get?
Levi Damien: It depends on which side he lines up on. Thus far, the Raiders have had Sean Smith covering whomever lined up on the left side of the offense and David Amerson covering whomever lined up on the right. Smith was burnt badly by Drew Brees and the Saints receivers. Some are writing it off as bad match-ups, but I'm not so sure. Mainly because he was burnt by three different receivers. It was when Brandin Cooks got behind him and scored a 98-yard touchdown that Smith was benched. In that same vein, I have heard people say Julio Jones will be a better match-up. I'm not sure how that would be exactly, but we'll see. Amerson did well to keep most passes to the receiver he was covering in front of him. But, to answer your questions directly, the best way the Raiders will attempt to stop Julio Jones is to get pressure on Matt Ryan to not give Jones time to get open.
Dave Choate: The offensive line seems like a bit of a concern this week, with some backups in. How did this line keep Carr clean a week ago, and can they do so again this week?
Levi Damien: The line isn't quite as much of a concern as it may seem. They only have one backup in (sort of). The only starter out is right tackle Menelik Watson. He is replaced by Austin Howard who returned from injury this week. Howard started all last season for Watson who was lost to injury in the preseason. He and Howard were in a tight battle for the starting right tackle job out of camp, so there isn't really much of a drop off there.
That being said, what they pulled off last week was nothing short of miraculous. Howard was inactive, still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the preseason. In the second quarter, they lost Watson to a groin injury and backup Matt McCants came in for him. A quarter later, McCants went out with a knee injury. There were no more reserve tackles on the active roster, so they move Donald Penn from left to right tackle, shifted Kelechi Osemele from left guard to tackle, and brought in their last available offensive lineman, Jon Feliciano, to play left guard. And somehow with this patchwork line, they made a big fourth quarter comeback, scoring three touchdowns and two 2-point conversions to pull out the win. It was really something. Vadal Alexander, who was inactive last week, will be the backup swing tackle this week so they (shouldn't) have to go through what they did last week again.
Dave Choate: A lot of people are excited about the Raiders, I think with reason. What's the ceiling this year, how do you think the team will finish, and what's the final score of this game?
Levi Damien: That's cheating. Cramming three questions into one.
(Editor’s Note: It is.)
I have them finishing 10-6 this season and a wildcard berth. They're in a tough division and have a pretty tough schedule overall actually, so I wouldn't put their ceiling much higher than my prediction. Probably at best 11-5. As for this game, I will go with Raiders 27, Falcons 17