As the NFL continues to take its show on the road internationally, the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans square off in Mexico City on Monday Night Football. The tickets to the matchup sold out in minutes after becoming available July 25th. Now with both teams in great position to make playoff appearances, the game takes on a new meaning.
Oakland continues to be one of the premiere stories for the 2016 season, sitting at 7-2, in lieu of their best start since their 2002 Super Bowl loss. Oakland’s offense continues to lead the way, ranking in the top-five in Total Offense (401.1 ypg) and rushing (121.4 ypg) while ranking sixth in passing (273.3 ypg).
The Raiders take on a stingy Texans defense that’s allowing just 317.4 yards in total offense per game, good enough for fourth in the NFL. Oakland’s star receiving the duo of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper will have their hands full with Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye. Bouye is ranked as the league’s No. 1 corner this season by Pro Football Focus. Bouye suffered a sprained ankle Friday against the Jaguars, but returned to practice Wednesday and looks to be good to go.
“It felt great out there, actually, it’s a long week, I’ll be ready come Monday” Bouye told reporters Wednesday.
Also returning from injury will be Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who suffered a groin injury on Oct. 30th against the Detroit Lions.
Houston’s defense is performing well without the likes of injured defensive end J.J. Watt, whose been sidelined since September with a back injury. Houston’s forced a respectable 19 sacks (T-17TH), but dwells at the bottom of the league in forced fumbles with just 4 (27th).
Oakland’s defense made headlines early on, allowing over 1,000 yards passing in their first two games. Over their current three-game win streak, the Raiders are cleaning up, containing a number of pro-bowl caliber receivers like Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, and Emmanuel Sanders. All-Pro defensive lineman and linebacker Khalil Mack leads the way, garnering seven sacks and forcing two fumbles.
Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler is very familiar with Mack, especially after Mack spoiled his undefeated streak as the Broncos quarterback late season, sacking him five times. Osweiler struggles to hit his targets this season, throwing for just 99 yards on 27 attempts in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday. This is a great sign for the Raiders in guarding Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who garnered over 100 yards just once this season.
On the other hand, Houston’s run game is just as phenomenal as Oakland’s, led by running back Lamar Miller. With 720 yards on the ground, Miller’s currently tied for No.7 in the league in rushing. Miller’s backfield mate Alfred Blue continues to make his presence felt, chipped in 225 yards. Despite a calf injury, Blue is “optimistic” that he’ll play Monday.
Neutralizing the run game will be a key to victory for both teams, with Oakland allowing 114.8 ypg (21st) and Houston averaging 120.7 (26th). Whether it’s the three-headed Oakland backfield of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, or Miller and Blue, whichever team totes the pigskin better may be the victor.
For the Raiders, the performance of Carr will be contingent to victory against the aforementioned secondary of Houston. Carr’s put up respectable. numbers of 184 yards on 20-31 passing against the aggressive Denver Broncos. He will be looked upon to lead as the going continues to get tougher. Oakland’s ferocious offensive line, led by Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn, has done a number on some of the league’s premier edge rushers, including Super Bowl MVP Von Miller last week. On Monday, they will look to contain defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has logged in three sacks on the season.
While the Texans defeated average teams in low scorers, the Raiders high-powered offense will be too much. Oakland is averaging 27.2 points per contest (5th), while Houston sits at 17.9 (29th). With the unpredictable play of Osweiler, Houston is not prepared for a shootout, and Oakland’s continuously improving defense will look to Mack to make Osweiler say No Más.