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Five Things to Watch: Panthers at Raiders

1. Can Panthers put the brakes on Derek Carr? How Carolina's resurgent defensive line fares against the Oakland offensive line – widely considered one of the best – will no doubt influence the outcome.

The Raiders have surrendered just 11 sacks of quarterback Derek Carr this season, the lowest total in the NFL.

"Their offensive line does a nice job protecting (Carr) and keeping him clean," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.

The Panthers' pass rush has been on a roll lately, and Carolina now ranks second in the league with 30 sacks. But Oakland's quick-fire passing attack coupled with stout protection up front makes it challenging to get to Carr.

"I think it's a combination of things. There is most certainly a West Coast element to what they do," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Their passing game – people use the term 'extended handoff.' By the time he hits his third step, he's getting the ball out. When that happens, you are not going to get close to the quarterback. To be able to affect him, you have to get in the throwing lanes."

2. Panthers press on without two major leaders: Center Ryan Kalil and linebacker Luke Kuechly are All-Pro players who are largely responsible for communicating signals and directions to their respective units. Not having them on the field is a tremendous blow.

That said, Carolina must rally around the replacements to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. Gino Gradkowski and A.J. Klein have starting experience to lean on, and both will need to be at their best to make up for the missing captains.


3. Can corners contain Cooper and Crabtree? Oakland features one of the league's better wide receiver duos with young star Amari Cooper and productive veteran Michael Crabtree making plays consistently.

Cooper is ninth in the NFL with 900 receiving yards to go along with three touchdowns. Crabtree has 52 catches for 601 yards and six touchdowns.

This will be quite a test for James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, the Panthers' rookie starting cornerback duo which has been getting better each week.

4. Olsen due for a big game? Tight end Greg Olsen was racking up yards at an incredible rate early in the season. In the six games before Carolina's bye week, the Pro Bowler was averaging 101.6 yards per game.

In the four games since, he's averaged 33.7 per game, although the Panthers won three of those four. But everyone would agree this offense is at its best when Olsen is involved.

He could be a difference-maker against a Raiders defense that's allowed the seventh-most yards to opposing tight ends, according to Pro Football Reference.

5. Is this the week Carolina's run game is revitalized? Running back Jonathan Stewart hasn't had much room to run the past three weeks (2.4 yards per carry in that span), but despite injuries along the offensive line, we know the Panthers are going to continue to try to establish a physical run game.

The Raiders are allowing 115.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Last week, Texans running back Lamar Miller rushed for 104 yards against Oakland.

View photos of the Panthers as they travel to Oakland for their Week 12 game against the Raiders.

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