HOUSTON — After losing to the Packers last week, the Raiders are on the road for the last matchup of their five-game stretch away from home.
In Week 7, quarterback Aaron Rodgers torched the Raiders’ defense, finishing with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 for the first time in his career. Now, the Raiders will go into Week 8 with a new starter at cornerback — and their former starter on the opposite sideline.
The Raiders traded cornerback Gareon Conley — a 2017 first-round pick — to the Texans this week for a third-round selection in the 2020 draft. Second-round pick Trayvon Mullen is expected to start at cornerback this week for the Raiders, while Conley may contribute for the Texans.
With the Raiders at 3-3 and the Texans at 4-3, this game could have significant playoff implications.
Here are three things to watch for in Sunday’s game.
1. Will Josh Jacobs play?
Running back Josh Jacobs did not practice all week because of a shoulder injury. He said Thursday that he felt he would be able to play Sunday even if he didn’t practice. But Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Friday he was unsure if Jacobs would be ready.
If Jacobs can’t play, it would be a significant blow to an offense that is predicated on the run. Jacobs is averaging 92 yards rushing and has racked up at least 120 yards in each of the last two games.
Gruden said Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington — who have a combined 42 carries for 157 yards — would play if Jacobs can’t.
2. What does the wide receiving corps look like?
In six games the Raiders have started six different combinations. They may roll out a seventh Sunday, with the likely return of Tyrell Williams to the starting lineup and integration of Zay Jones.
Williams has missed the last two games with a foot injury but has caught a touchdown pass in each of the four games he’s played in 2019. Jones was inactive last week after coming over from the Bills in a trade during the bye week.
While the running backs and tight ends have been productive, the Raiders need to get more out of their wide receivers to create explosive plays. If both Williams and Jones are in the lineup, they’ll have a much better chance to do that.
3. Will the defense step up?
No matter how good the quarterback is, the opposing defense has issues if he finishes with a perfect passer rating. Yes, the Raiders traded one player who apparently was not playing to their standard in Conley. But the defense managed three quarterback hits and one sack against Rodgers and the Packers last week.
Players and coaches often say that pass rush and pass coverage go hand in hand. While the Raiders need to improve the back end of their defense, they also have to get more pressure on Deshaun Watson this week. The Raiders have 10 sacks, led by defensive end Benson Mayowa’s 4.5. But rookie defensive end Maxx Crosby has recorded a sack in the Raiders’ last two games.
In the secondary, Mullen will have a tall task in trying to cover wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins should the situation arise. Widely regarded as one of the best receivers in the league, Hopkins has caught nine passes in each of his last two games. So far in 2019, he has 49 receptions for 508 yards with three touchdowns. The Raiders will need to have everyone in their secondary step up if they are to slow Hopkins.