1) I was pretty bummed to see you guys get Derek Carr as I thought he looked pretty darned good coming out of college. What is doing well as an NFL QB that is helping your team win and what area needs improvement from your perspective?
He is a very smart quarterback. He understands his protections and where his guys are supposed to be depending on the defense. And he has a very strong arm, and throws a very nice ball. Where he has improved this season has been in his anticipation and confidence in his receivers getting open. He has also improved his poise in the pocket. Where last season he would go with the check down very quickly, he now is much better about going through his reads and is not afraid to let a play develop. His accuracy and touch on the deep ball is still severely lacking. Most often, he will see his receiver get behind the defender and underthrow it. Whether it be because he just misjudged the timing on it or was overly concerned with making sure he didn't overthrow a wide open receiver. More often than not, this has allowed the defender to close the gap and get there in time to make a play on the ball. If/when he can fix that hole in his game, there won't be a throw on the field he can't make.
2) We all know about Khalil Mack (another great draft pick by the way), but tell us about what makes your defense tick outside of him. What is your defense's strengths and weaknesses?
There aren't a lot of strengths on the Raiders' defense. For the most part it's the defensive line. With Dan Williams holding it down in the middle, and Khalil Mack, Aldon Smith, and Justin Tuck on the edges, they have done well both against the run and the pass the past couple weeks. You can throw Charles Woodson in there for his leadership as well.
3) Jack Del Rio didn't get a lot of love while he was in Denver. What does your fan base think of him so far?
It's mixed. Some have questioned his game management, as I did when he opted to punt late in the game against the Browns, up 7 instead of attempt a 55-yard field goal. Others see the fact that the Raiders were able to hang on to get the win thanks to the Woodson interception and say the win proves he made the right decision. Those questions get louder in the losses, as one might expect. I liked the hiring initially because he meets a lot of the qualifications this team needed. He's got a lot of head coaching experience and wasn't one of those retreads that lasted one contract or less. He is a Bay Area guy and grew up a Raiders fan so he will have the level of enthusiasm for coaching the Raiders that Dennis Allen didn't have. And players and coaches respect him. He hasn't proven any of that to be incorrect yet, so if all we can do right now is the usual quibbling about a couple in-game decisions, he's doing ok. Until he's not.
4) Tell us about two players we may not have heard of who are making an impact this year for the silver and black.
Wow, two guys? On this team? That might not be easy. Well, you may not have heard of Gabe Jackson. He was the team's third round pick last year and started every game at left guard. He is their best run blocker by a wide margin and has Pro Bowl talents. PFF last week graded him as the best guard in the NFL and gave him the best run blocking grade of all offensive linemen. Depending on where they want to run, they will often pull him to be the leader blocker because of how much of a road grader he is.
I hesitate to mention TJ Carrie because he may not even play in this game due to a chest injury that has him missing practice. He was their 7th round pick last year, and earned his way to four starts as a rookie. Now he is their best cornerback, but due to the loss of Nate Allen to partial season IR, Carrie has been playing safety. You all have probably already heard of Latavius Murray at running back, but in case you haven't, he has shown the potential to be an every down star tail back. That is so long as he doesn't turn the ball over as he did twice last week -- both drops, once on a pass, the other on a pitch.
5) What are your keys to the game and prediction?
The Raiders must take advantage of the Broncos' suspect offensive line and put pressure on Peyton. If he gets any kind of time, he will carve up the Raiders' equally suspect secondary. And the Raiders need to commit to the running game. They have only done it once this season, and it was a win. That will take the game out of the hands of the Broncos elite pass rushers as well as theoretically control the clock to give Peyton fewer chances to pick them apart. That being said, this is a Broncos win. They have beaten far better teams and even if they manage to make it a close game, the Raiders defense is mowed over like grass in crunch time.