When the NFL schedule came out earlier this year, Chicago Bears fans circled Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders as a potentially easy game after a tough start to the campaign, but the Raiders could prove to be anything but easy to beat on Sunday at Soldier Field.
That’s because the Raiders’ offense has been one of the most impressive in the league thus far, and it all begins with their potent passing game. Derek Carr, whom the Raiders drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, has been positively brilliant this season for the team, completing 63.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 726 yards and five touchdowns in three games.
A big part of Carr's success has been rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper, whom the Raiders drafted in the first round of this year’s draft. The Alabama product has 20 catches on the young season, racking up 290 yards and a touchdown in the process. He also has a remarkable 178 yards after the catch, displaying speed and field awareness that aren’t common characteristics of a receiver of his experience level.
The Raiders have also gotten a good amount of production from their second wide receiver, with Michael Crabtree averaging six catches and 61 yards per game so far this season. He also leads the team in first downs, racking up 12 of them for the Raiders so far on the young season.
As if all of that passing firepower wasn’t enough, the Raiders also have a solid run game going behind Latavius Murray. The back is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season, racking up 248 yards and two touchdowns so far.
To cap off everything, the Raiders take care of the ball extremely well. Through three games, the team has just three turnovers, with Carr and Matt McGloin with one interception apiece and Cooper losing a fumble for the only turnovers that the team has committed.
When one contrasts that kind of effectiveness with the Bears’ offensive struggles, the results can be jarring. The Bears’ passing game hasn’t looked all that great even with Jay Cutler at the helm this season, and it’s still questionable as to whether or not he’ll be able to play on Sunday. If he can’t, then Jimmy Clausen will likely be under center, and with his poor performance against the Seattle Seahawks in a Week 3 loss, there isn’t much reason for optimism if he gets the call in this one.
The Bears’ running game has been an effective weapon this season, but with their struggles against Seattle last week, they weren’t able to keep the ball long enough to get into any sort of rhythm. That will be a key component going up against a Raiders’ defense that hasn’t been great at stopping the run this season, and if that trend continues then Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford could have big games for the Bears on Sunday.
One thing to keep an eye on in the run game will be whether or not the Bears can get effective blocking on the left side of their line. They got some good news on the right side as Kyle Long won’t have to wear a cast on his hand during Sunday’s game, but the team will not have Jermon Bushrod at left tackle against the Raiders, and they’ll have to rely on Charles Leno Jr. as they look to re-establish their rushing attack.
The Bears' wide receiver corps could also be weakened on Sunday, as Alshon Jeffery has reportedly been ruled out of the contest. On the official injury report, Jeffery is listed as questionable for the game, but there still isn't much optimism that he will make his way back onto the field.
Needless to say, the Raiders seem to hold the edge on offense this week, but with an improving pass rush and the potential to have Cutler back under center, the Bears could start to have a bit of a turnaround this week despite some struggles early on in the season.