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Ball Security, Blocking Key to Raiders Offensive Surge

Don't let last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers fool you. The Oakland Raiders are red hot right now, especially on offense. They rank No. 3 in the NFL over the past three games at 35.3 points per contest and they've scored at least 34 points in each of those games. In that same stretch, Raiders QB Derek Carr is tied for 1st in the NFL in passing TDs (11), 2nd in passer rating (119.3), 4th in yards per attempt (8.25) and 6th in passing yards (305.3).

Those numbers are all impressive, no doubt. But here are a few others over the last three games that are more impressive and are allowing the numbers mentioned above to happen.

-- Sack %: .9 (1st in NFL)
-- TD-INT ratio: 11-1 (1st)
-- To-go distance of 0-4 yards rushing average: 5.3 (4th)
-- Negative runs: 8 (T-10th)

What do those numbers tell us? They tell us the Raiders offensive line is playing well and Carr is protecting the ball.

Carr has just 1 INT in 111 passing attempts over the last three games and he also has not lost a fumble. He hasn't fumbled because A) he only has two non-kneel down runs in the last three games and B) his offensive line isn't allowing many sacks and, thus, not many chances for strip-sacks. As for the offensive line, they've allowed just 1 sack in the last 111 dropbacks and they are getting the job done in obvious rushing situations. Oakland has a 5.3 yards-per-carry average when the to-go distance is between 0-4 yards, which is a full 2.0 yards better than the League average and ranks 4th-best in the NFL. Also, the Raiders have just 8 negative rushes in 76 attempts over the last three games.

Add up negative rushes, negative receptions, sacks and INTs over the last three games for the Raiders, and the number is 13. That's 13 negative plays on the last 188 offensive snaps (6.9%). That explains a lot about how why the Raiders have been one of the best offensive teams over the last three weeks.

What does this mean for the Vikings defense? Head coach Mike Zimmer preaches team defense constantly, and that will remain a point of emphasis as he prepares his defense for the Raiders. But it's hard not to think it's the defensive line that must set the tempo on Sunday in Oakland. The big guys up front for the Vikings must disrupt what the big guys up front are trying to do for the Raiders. Obviously, no team in the last three games has been able to do that against Oakland, but the Vikings defense is playing outstanding football right now. They've created 30 negative/no gain plays (15 rushes, 9 sacks, 6 receptions) for opposing offenses over the past three games.

What an intriguing and fun battle to watch this will be on Sunday. "It all starts up front" is an old football adage, and there will be no better illustration of that in Week 10 than in Oakland when the Vikings and Raiders clash.

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