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Raiders Mailbag: Red zone questions, DeSean Jackson and Malcolm Koonce

As the Raiders look to get back on the right track this Sunday when they play host to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 5-3 Raiders need a win to either keep pace with the 5-3 Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West chase or gain some breathing room from the rest of the Division. However, a loss puts the Chiefs back in the division hunt.

In spite of recent off-field issues, they have all of the objectives within reach. And their fans have plenty of questions about those goals.

Here is a sampling of what arrived in this week’s Raiders mailbag:

Robert Alvarado (@raiderrob1964SS): In 2019 and 2020, Jon Gruden said red zone issues were a point of emphasis. It’s 2021 and the Raiders have the same problem. Will we get Marcus Mariota more involved in the red zone anytime soon?

Vincent Bonsignore: If you look at last week’s red zone woes, it was almost 100 percent an issue of execution, turnovers and penalties rather than scheme or playcalling.

It’s ironic because the offensive line seems to have turned a corner, which means running the ball has been easier. The new playcalling dynamic of Greg Olson and Derek Carr has meant more creativity. In that regard, they are in a good position to deliver in the red zone.

None of it matters if the Raiders are turning the ball over, committing a penalty or Derek Carr is missing an open receiver in the end zone. It makes sense the Raiders would look to expand Mariota’s role in that area as he gives the defense more to account for with his ability to run the ball.

Hook Jr. (@DominionRaider): Is our pass rush duo being exploited by a lack of run defense? As soon as Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue were in the backfield, the Giants seemed to run it up the gut. What are Maxx and Yannick’s responsibilities in those cases?

VB: In a way, yes. The Raiders want to create max pressure off the edge, and that is the primary responsibility of Crosby and Ngakoue. Sometimes that leaves them vulnerable to the run. However, the Raiders scheme accounts for that on their second level with linebackers and safeties, whose job is to fill open gaps — or run fits — in order to plug the lanes.

Too often, positive run plays by opponents are the result of bad run fits. That creates room to run and positive yards. It’s been a point of emphasis all year, but the Raiders clearly need to do a better job.

Holz® (@holz75): How many wins would it take for Mark Davis to want to keep this staff together? Or, do you get the sense that he’ll want a change at the end of the season regardless?

VB: It’s tough to pinpoint exactly how many wins are the magic number. You assume decision-makers have a clear idea of what they want to see from this team and that they will know whether that expectation has been met by the end of this season.

Whether or not that will be determined by amount of wins, or a playoff spot or division championship remains to be seen.

Oaxaca_Raider (@EnJoYDeez): With the recent improvement in the offensive line, do you think they will continue to to make progress?

VB: The offensive line has played its best football of the season during the last two games, with big improvements from center Andre James and Alex Leatherwood.

James is on a major uptick in all phases, and it appears the Raiders’ patience in him is paying off. Leatherwood’s run blocking has been at its highest point all season, although his pass blocking still needs work.

As currently constructed, the five games this group has now played together has resulted in steady improvement. There is no reason to think that can’t continue.

GO (@antfrk60): How much practice did DeSean Jackson get in this week?

VB: The new wide receiver was a full participant all week and is not only expected to make his Raiders debut Sunday, he is expected to have a role.

JasenD (@Allbeef_Frank47): Malcolm Koonce’s name has been thrown around a lot this week. Are they going to use him to spy Patrick Mahomes like we used Arden Key last season?

VB: The rookie defensive end’s name has been mentioned quite a bit this week, and that is a clear sign he is making progress. It would not be a surprise if he suited up Sunday and that a package was in place for him.

However, at this point it would probably entail what he does best: Get after the quarterback.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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