MINNEAPOLIS — The Raiders on Sunday begin a 49-day stretch between games on their home field, taking on the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
All week, coach Jon Gruden and players have talked about how the team must be mentally tough to compete and win in hostile environments. With one of the best game-day environments in the NFL, raucous fans will surely give the Vikings a big lift.
Here are three questions to ponder heading into the matchup:
1. How does run defense hold up?
Through two weeks, the Raiders’ run defense has been a team strength. The team ranks No. 5 in the category, surrendering 63 yards per game. Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs managed just 31 yards rushing, averaging 1.4 yards per carry.
But the Vikings’ rushing offense has been excellent and will be a significant challenge for the Raiders to contain. Running back Dalvin Cook leads the league with 265 yards on the ground, picking up 111 in Minnesota’s Week 1 victory over the Atlanta Falcons and 154 in the Vikings’ Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“They’re trying to run it down your face,” Raiders linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “And, yeah, the way they’re looking, they’re going to keep doing it until you stop it.”
To contain Cook, Whitehead and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther both stressed the Raiders must play solid up front and try to limit the numbers of tackles he is able to break.
2. Will Brown play?
Raiders right tackle Trent Brown had to exit last week’s game against the Chiefs after experiencing soreness in his right knee. Brown did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but he was a full participant in Friday’s session and is listed as questionable for the game.
“He’s a tough guy. Hopefully he’s ready to go on Sunday,” Gruden said Friday.
The Raiders have depth on the offensive line, but they need Brown against an aggressive and effective Vikings defensive front. Brown’s absence late last week was almost certainly a factor in the Raiders surrendering back-to-back sacks on quarterback Derek Carr in the fourth quarter.
Plus, right guard Denzelle Good is questionable after injuring an ankle in practice during the week. If both Brown and Good cannot play, the Raiders could have a hard time moving the ball.
3. Will Carlson get vindication?
The Vikings drafted kicker Daniel Carlson in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft. They cut him two weeks into the season after he missed three field goals in the Vikings’ tie with the Packers.
Carlson then went on to set a Raiders franchise record by connecting on 94.1 percent of his field goal attempts in the 2018 season.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer admitted this week he still thinks about the decision to cut Carlson, given the kicker’s success. Plus, the veteran who replaced Carlson, Dan Bailey, has hit just 75 percent of his field goals since Week 3 of the 2018 season.
Carlson said this week he’s not considering this a “revenge” game.
“I know you guys are going to write about it,” Carlson said. “I don’t think, for me, it’s anything more than just going there with the Raiders and trying to get a team win.”
But if Carlson were to do it with a last-second field goal, he’ll surely walk off the field with a smile on his face.