The Raiders enter Sunday 4-2, affirming their status as an ascending team.
Oakland features a potent, young offense led by third-year quarterback Derek Carr and second-year wide receiver Amari Cooper. That pair along with veteran receiver Michael Crabtree and an often-overlooked – but effective – running game helped the Raiders win three consecutive games before Sunday's 26-10 loss to Kansas City.
The Raiders have struggled defensively despite third-year veteran defensive end Khalil Mack continuing to emerge as one of the NFL's elite players. The Raiders rank last in the NFL in total defense, and the offense has been key in three high-scoring victories – 35-34 over New Orleans, 28-27 over Baltimore and 34-31 over San Diego – to keep Oakland in first place in the AFC West.
The Raiders are beginning a two-game stretch against Florida teams. Following Sunday's game they will remain in Florida and practice in preparation for a game at Tampa October 30.
The Jaguars and Raiders haven't played since 2013, when Jacksonville lost in Oakland – 19-9 – in Gus Bradley's second game as the Jaguars' head coach.
This will be first time Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio has coached in Jacksonville since being fired as Jaguars Head Coach with five games remaining in the 2011 season. Del Rio was 68-71 with the Jaguars from 2003-2011 with playoff appearances in 2005 and 2007.
Cooper and Crabtree have combined for more than 100 yards receiving in every game this season, with Cooper following up a standout rookie season with three 100-yard receiving games. He has gone over 100 yards receiving in each of the last two games. The duo is averaging 158.3 yards receiving per game this season and has touchdown receptions in four of six games. Crabtree has five receiving touchdowns this season.
While Cooper, Crabtree and Carr are offensive focal points, Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller said the Raiders' offensive line is as key to the league's No. 8-ranked offense. "It starts up front," Miller said. "They have a really good offensive line – I mean really good. They're physical. They like to maul. And in pass pro [protection], they do a really good job. They create lanes for [Carr] to throw the ball. You cut the film on and you see Carr dancing and the running backs dancing because they have time." Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said the Raiders like to double the three-technique tackle, which means Oakland likely will key on Jaguars tackles Sen'Derrick Marks and Malik Jackson. "They're going to have to play well," Wash said. "Physically, it's going to be a big challenge for our front seven. It's going to be a heck of a battle inside. It's going to be a war."
Jaguars offense coordinator Greg Olson said the Raiders' defensive ranking doesn't reflect the Raiders' defense. Not only is Mack one of the NFL's elite edge players, the Raiders also signed edge player Bruce Irvin (Seattle) and cornerback Sean Smith (Kansas City) as unrestricted free agents in the offseason. "It's a little deceiving when you watch the tape," Olson said. "They've switched [coverage and rush techniques] a little bit from where they were at defensively from a year ago, so we're seeing some different things from them than when we looked at them over the summer. They're still transitioning a little to a new style of play. … They've allowed some explosive plays, and probably consistency is where they've struggled a little."
Cooper has emerged as one of the NFL's best at his position in his first two seasons, and Crabtree is a veteran who's far more than just a complementary player. The Jaguars used cornerback Jalen Ramsey to shadow Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery last week and Wash made clear this week the team has confidence in Ramsey in that role. Wash said preventing Cooper and Crabtree from scoring explosive, big-play touchdowns is critical. "They're tough to deal with," Wash said. "Their coordinator does a nice job of attacking the scheme and the system. The quarterback gets the ball over the top. We've talked consistently all week long of, 'We have to make sure the top stays on the defense.' We've got to keep them in front of us and make them earn everything they get and not give up big, explosive plays. Hopefully along the way they're going to make a mistake and we're going to make a play to get off the grass."
"I would say there's always appreciation to go back to the place where you spent a good portion of your career. I spent nine good years there. A place where [former Jaguars Owner Wayne] Weaver gave me my start as a head coach in this league. Lot of fond memories, lot of good people there, lot of friends and our family gets back there quite a bit so from that standpoint, it's always good to go compete against the people that you went up against."
--Del Rio on returning to Jacksonville to coach for the first time since 2011
"He's special. He can avoid the rush. He can throw the deep ball. He has good touch on mid-range balls. We're going to have our work cut out with this offense. They're good."
*---Wash on Carr and the Raiders' offense *
"He's extremely talented; he's just productive. They ask him to do a lot of things in both rushing and dropping and doing different stuff – him and Irvin as well are two guys on the edge that we're going to have to handle and take care of and do different things and try and affect. I think he's definitely at the top of that list [of the best pass rushers the Jaguars have faced] and deservedly so."
---Jaguars QB Blake Bortles on Mack