Many questions surround the Oakland Raiders after an abysmal showing in our Nation’s capital last Sunday night. Have we overhyped the Raiders? Is Derek Carr as good as we thought? Is Cooper a major concern after already matching last season’s drops total through only three weeks of play? Sunday’s game left Raider Nation with more questions than answers. So where and when do we find answers? I will answer both for you: When: this Sunday. Where: in Denver, Colorado.

Not often are a team’s seasons defined by a single game, but in this writer’s opinion, on Sunday against the Denver Broncos, it will define the Raiders’ season in two ways. One: does Oakland have the leadership to bring this young team back from a crushing defeat and find victory? Moreover, two: do these young players have the mental toughness to put the past behind them and go toe to toe with a good team? Elite teams pick themselves up after a crushing defeat and fight on, and good teams struggle to regain course after being beaten off the path. Which team will Oakland be this Sunday?

This game in Denver will be the purest test of Oakland’s mettle to date. Oakland just played a game that had many Raiders’ fans seeing flashbacks of the JaMarcus Russell era, it was a game where Oakland could have very easily put up zero points if it were not for the two mistakes made by the Redskins. Now Oakland will have to travel on the road against a team that currently ranks 4th overall in total defense per NFL.com.

This is not as easy of a bounce-back game as many may have suspected it could be at the beginning of the season. Trevor Siemian has the Broncos’ offense humming. Currently ranked just outside the top 10 offenses in the entire NFL. This offense is led by a strong rushing attack that ranks 3rd in the entire league per NFL.com.

There is little doubt the Oakland Raiders are an excellent football team, but if Oakland wants to reach the elite team status in the NFL, this is a game they must win.

So the obvious next question is: how do they come out of Denver with a win after the offense failed miserably on Sunday night against a Redskins defense that’s not even as good as Denver’s? Simply put, the Raiders need to get back to basics.

It is time for Oakland to settle down the play calling. It is no secret the Raiders possess lethal weapons across the entire board when it comes to the offense, but Todd Downing sometimes seems to get too creative. Raiders need to build that “Bully” that once was the bane of the entire NFL, and it starts with the run game. Oakland still possesses one the of best offensive lines in the NFL; use them! Oakland brought in a legendary running back in the offseason, use him!

Perhaps it seems rather obvious that when you are on the two-yard line and you have a stellar front five and a beast at running back, you are going to run the ball, so what? Sometimes the obvious is what needs to be done. However, through the first three weeks, Mr. Downing seems to veer from the obvious and get too tactical with his play calls. I believe this is hurting the Raiders. Part of building a “Bully Mentality” is having the ability to outperform the opposing team even when they know what’s coming. That is part of the mental side of football that Oakland needs to deploy!

Raider fans got a glimpse of this bully side of Oakland last season against the Broncos in primetime when the Raiders lined up in the “old fashioned” Power I formation. Moreover, in the words of Marshawn Lynch, they ran it down Denver’s throat “Over and over and over and over again” for 218 yards and three touchdowns. This takes the pressure off a still-young Derek Carr’s shoulders and allows the Raiders to start opening up the playbook as the game progresses after they have established their presence on the ground. The past three weeks Todd Downing appears to be opening up the playbook too soon and letting Carr become too aggressive too quickly in my opinion. So the results were not pretty.

I also know many believe the Raiders were trying to ease the older Marshawn Lynch back into the game over the past three weeks and didn’t expect him to take on too much work too soon. That needs to end Sunday in Denver. Lynch looks just as healthy if not more so in the past three weeks, and the game plan needs to be tailored to feeding him early and often. If Oakland is going to get the bounce-back win and establish themselves as a dominant presence in the NFL in 2017, they need to ride a legend’s shoulders, and that legend is Marshawn Lynch.

Prediction

Though the Bills did not find huge success on the ground against Denver in Week 3, they still ran a total of 33 times for 75 yards, and that kept Denver’s defense honest throughout the game. If Oakland can find similar success on the ground, the Raiders should be able to find success here and there throughout the game with a superior passing attack to that of the Bills. If Oakland unleashes the bully we all know exists in Oakland and starts with the basics which are setting the tone of the game with a good ground attack, I see the Raiders stealing a much-needed win in Denver. Score 31-23 Raiders.

Bonus Thought

I wonder if we aren’t seeing a side of the Raiders offense on purpose? Perhaps the Raiders’ coaches have that bully ground attack and are waiting to display it against Denver come Sunday? Maybe Todd Downing has been experimenting with his new weapons against “lesser teams” the past three weeks in order to surprise the Broncos with a game plan that is yet to be seen? I’m sure I’m not the only one puzzled as to why we haven’t seen Jamize Olawale lined up as a lead blocker in the Power I formation to blast holes for Lynch… just speculating.

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