As is our wont leading up to game day every week, we've taken some time to exchange some questions with the folks from the SB Nation site for this week's opponent. That means that we're talking with Silver and Black Pride this week, and I've exchanged some questions about our teams with S&BP head blogger Levi Damien. Once he posts my answers to his questions, we will throw the link onto the front page here for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, here are the questions I sent his way, along with his answers.
1) The Raiders have been a pleasant surprise to most observers this year. Other than the improvement of Derek Carr, what do you think is the biggest reason that the Raiders have already surpassed their win total from last season?
Coaching. Jack Del Rio has had his hands on everything since he arrived in January. He put together a great staff of respected coaches and in turn those coaches pegged certain players they thought fit the Raiders' system both in free agency and the draft. If you want to take it to the top, you can say Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie deserve credit, but the main difference between this year and recent years is the coaching staff knowing what they want to do and how to do it. And the players have bought into what they're doing.
2) Speaking of Carr, he's playing at an amazingly high level this year, despite playing for his second coaching staff in two years. What do you think is the biggest reason for the jump in his play? Does a lot of it have to do with the addition of Amari Cooper, in your opinion?
Amari Cooper is a big piece of it, but he is just one piece. The offensive line is improved, due in part to the aforementioned coaching (Mike Tice). Along with Cooper, there's also Michael Crabtree and running back Latavius Murray who is picking up where he left off last season and leads the AFC in rushing right now. Having two receivers who are both better than anything he had last season and indeed better than the Raiders have had in a decade (at least) is a major factor and Cooper is the key to that.
3) The man calling the plays in Oakland is a man that Vikings' fans are pretty familiar with, as Bill Musgrave was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota for three seasons under Leslie Frazier. What do Raider fans think about the job he's done in his first year with Oakland?
Raiders fans are elated about the work of Musgrave for the most part. There has been plenty to like. He did well to take what he already knew about making the most of his offensive pieces (AP's 2k season) and added what he learned last season under Chip Kelly. A great example is what they did to the Jets' top ranked run defense. They spread them out and ran through them easily. The Jets couldn't keep up. As an Oregon guy, I saw a lot of what I have come to love from watching the Ducks fly past teams and break out to big early leads on teams. It's something to behold and there is reason to believe it can continue to improve as Musgrave and Carr get more and more in sync.
4) For as good as the Raiders' offense has been this season, the defense hasn't quite been at the same level, particularly in pass defense. We know that Charles Woodson is playing at a high level at age 87 (or so), but what have the issues been everywhere else? Is the rest of the secondary lacking? Are the Raiders not getting to opposing quarterbacks frequently enough?
Mostly it's that secondary. As the coaches have said of late, the pass rush and coverage must be functioning for either of them to work. The pass rush has been fairly good, but they don't have the numbers because unless they can crash the pocket within two seconds, they have very little chance of getting to the quarterback before he finds an open receiver and releases the ball. Old Man Woody has been amazing, but even he has been dealing with a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener. Nate Allen suffered a knee injury in the opener as well and is just now this week returning from partial season IR. The rest of the secondary has shown their youth and inexperience. Most notably DJ Hayden has been a tremendous disappointment.
5) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings' fans might not be terribly familiar with that you think will play a major role in deciding Sunday's game.
On offense, I'm going to go with Tony Bergstrom. Not because I think he will have a great game, but because he is filling in for Rodney Hudson who is injured. Hudson has been one of the best centers in the league this season and we are all about to find out how much of a factor is has really been now that he isn't on the field. Bergstrom is a former third round (compensatory) pick who has never been able to break into the lineup. He managed to make his way onto the roster this season by showing he can play some center. In his limited snaps over the past few seasons, he has not been too good. If that continues, he could play a major role. But not in a good way.
On defense, it's all about TJ Carrie. The 2014 seventh round pick is the Raiders' best cornerback but after Nate Allen went out, Carrie was filling in at safety. Now with Allen back, Carrie should move back to cornerback which will be huge for the prospects of this struggling secondary.
Thanks to Levi for taking the time out to answer our questions, and here's hoping for a good game on Sunday afternoon.