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Raiders must stop Marlon Mack, Colts running game

INDIANAPOLIS — The Raiders will meet the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but they’re still expecting a significant challenge.

The Colts are 2-1, defeating the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons in the last two weeks. Their offense has been efficient, ranking No. 4 by converting 54 percent of their third-down opportunities. And playing at home, the Colts should have the benefit of crowd noise to potentially throw the Raiders off their game.

Here are three things to watch for in Sunday’s game.

1. Will the run defense improve?

The Colts came to Oakland last season and rushed for 222 yards, including 132 by Marlon Mack. He’s first in the AFC this season in rushing with 299 yards.

The Raiders had been stout against the run until the Minnesota Vikings rushed for 211 yards last week in a 34-14 win over Oakland. But Colts coach Frank Reich said he thinks the Raiders’ run defense against the Colts’ ground game is a matchup of strength-on-strength.

“We think we have a good offensive line and good running game,” Reich said. “But we think they’re a very formidable run defense.”

If the Raiders limit Mack’s rushing opportunities, they’ll have a good chance of winning.

2. Can the Raiders get better field position?

Raiders coach Jon Gruden has harped that the Raiders must get better field position to increase their scoring.

Last week, the Raiders didn’t start a drive past their 25-yard line. There’s a lot that goes into field position, but part of it falls on the defense to force punts deep in opponent territory. If the Raiders can force a few three-and-outs from the Colts, that should give the offense a starting spot toward their 40 — a significant difference.

“That’s the area of hidden yardage. The winning edge is field position,” Gruden said. “We’ve gotta do a much better job getting turnovers, forcing three-and-outs, reducing penalties in the kicking game, getting some return yardage.”

The Colts have been one of the best in the NFL at sustaining drives. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been one of the league’s better passers on third down, completing 67 percent for 194 yards and averaging 9.2 yards per attempt.

So what must the Raiders do to slow the opposition?

“No. 1, third-and-short, we have to stop the run. And on third-and-intermediate downs, rush and coverage has to work together,” defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. “We have to match their intensity.”

3. Will another receiving threat emerge?

Raiders tight end Darren Waller is No. 2 in the league in receptions with 26. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams has caught a touchdown in all three games.

But the rest of the pass catchers have left plenty to be desired.

The Raiders want to get their running backs involved in the passing game, whether it’s rookie Josh Jacobs or reserves Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Tight ends Derek Carrier and Foster Moreau have shown receiving ability.

But the wide receivers — J.J. Nelson, Hunter Renfrow, Trevor Davis and Keelan Doss — have to make more of an impact. If one of them has a big game, the Raiders should have a chance to improve to 2-2.

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Contact Myles Simmons at msimmons@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @MylesASimmons on Twitter.

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