The Detroit Lions are out west this week to take on a Raiders team that will enjoy playing at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum today for the first time since Week 2. That team and crowd will no-doubt be amped up playing at home. The Lions can expect a hostile environment.
Detroit is trying to make it two wins in a row and crawl their way back into the thick of things in the NFC race. Here are five things to watch out for in today's matchup:
THIRD DOWN GAME
It's referred to as the money down, and this game will feature two quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr who are among the best in the league on third down this season.
Carr is completing 70 percent of his passes on third down with seven touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 139.6, which leads the NFL. Oakland is third in the NFL in third-down efficiency at nearly 50 percent.
"We dove into (third down) pretty extensively here in the past couple of days," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said this week. "They're doing an excellent job of doing their scouting reports and attacking what the defense has been giving them. I think there are some guys out there that are making some big plays for them, too. They just have utilized every single weapon they have in those situations to attack the coverage that they're seeing and have been really, really efficient. It's very impressive."
Stafford has been good on third down too. His passer rating of 118.2 is the third highest in the league. He's got six touchdowns and no interceptions throwing on third down and is completing 64 percent of his passes.
Whatever defense is better limiting the opposing passer and getting off the field on third down will go a long way into deciding this one.
For the first time this season, Detroit's defense held an opponent under 100 yards rushing last week in the victory over the Giants. New York finished with 80 yards on the ground, and talented second-year running back Saquon Barkley had just 64 yards on 19 carries (3.4 average).
Can the Lions have similar success against another talented young back this week in Oakland's Josh Jacobs, who was just named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month?
Jacobs leads all rookies in carries (124), yards (620) and rushing touchdowns (4). He's powerful and elusive, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He's graded No. 1 in Pro Football Focus' elusive rating, which measures a running back's ability to make tacklers miss with either the juke or powering right through them.
The Lions will have to do a good job gang tackling like they did last week vs. the Giants if they plan to contain Jacobs.
Detroit's struggled getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterback this season (just 13 sacks), and they'll have their work cut out for them this week vs. a big, physical and stout offensive line.
In 2016, the Raiders allowed just 18 sacks, which was the fewest in the league since the 1970 merger. This year's team is ahead of that pace, allowing only eight sacks up to this point. Oakland hasn't allowed a sack in three straight games, and are the only team in the NFL that hasn't allowed a sack in four contests this season. One of those games was against Khalil Mack and the talented Bears defense.
CAN STAFFORD STAY HOT?
The Lions signal caller is playing some of the best football of his career and will look for that to continue later today against a defense that's 30th in the NFL against the pass (285.3 passing yards per game).
Stafford's been particularly good pushing the ball down the field, and that's an area Oakland's defense has really struggled to defend. Stafford's 33 passes of 20-plus yards are the fourth most in the NFL. Opposing passers have a 130.2 passer rating with eight touchdowns when pushing the ball 20-plus yards down the field on the Raiders' defense this year.
Look for Stafford to go to that well often today.
Outside of a couple nice runs early against New York last week, Detroit's rushing attack was pretty anemic in its first game playing without injured starting running back Kerryon Johnson.
Detroit mustered 59 yards on 25 carries (2.4 average). Tra Carson led the way with 34 yards on 12 carries, but the team placed him on Reserve/Injured Saturday with a hamstring injury.
Don't expect offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to simply abandon the run, however. It's an important part of his scheme setting up the play action and some of the other elements of the pass game.
Can Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic or Paul Perkins find a hot hand early? Will it continue to be running back by committee? How will the carries be distributed?
Bevell said this week the run game is still very much a work in progress with the collection of backs they employ that have been thrust into bigger roles. The Raiders are ninth in the NFL stopping the run (92.9 ypg).