1) Statistically, Cory James has been impressive this year. How has he actually looked?
Impressive is a good word. He is a sixth round rookie who in his second start had twice as many solo tackles as the next Raiders player. Before he started, it was a defensive back who led the team in tackles the first three weeks (that's not good). Ken Norton Jr said this week that he's "not an error repeater" which I'd agree with. He has little lapses here and there, which you expect from a rookie, but overall, he has shown no glaring flaws one to point to. That isn't to say he has none, just that perhaps we haven't seen enough of him for defenses to exploit them.
James has been a downright savior for a team that unwisely neglected the middle linebacker position this offseason. They drafted him as a special teams maven, hoping to get some quality depth at middle linebacker. Just two games in, Heeney proved not to be the answer and James has shown already that he is a more than capable starter until further notice.
2) If Latavius Murray is unable to go Sunday, do you expect that we will see more DeAndre Washington or Jalen Richard? And which would you prefer to see?
We will see both. Probably equally. They each game has seen one or both of them break off a big run. Richard carries the added dimension of being a return specialist. He had a nice looking 47-yard punt return last week that set up a touchdown. Washington may see a few more carries in the running game, but the touches between he and Richard will even out when you include receptions.
3) After all the money spent on the defense for the Raiders, why have they been so disappointing?
Most of the disappointment came in the first two games going against two of the best offenses in the NFL in the Saints and Falcons. Those two games the defense was still trying to find themselves. Ben Heeney and Keith McGill were starting at middle linebacker and strong safety respectively while Cory James and Karl Joseph were relegated to special teams. The Raiders switched those out the past two games and it has made a big difference. The secondary in particular has shown a near night and day difference.
That being said, there are still issues. The big issue has been stopping the run and that centers around the defensive line. The interior defensive line has been a major weakness. There is some depth, but no one has stepped up to be the sure starter. They have been working in a rotation mainly because the best they can do is to try and keep them all fresh.
4) Has Michael Crabtree become the focal point of the passing game or is his production more a result of opposing defense's focusing on taking away Amari Cooper?
Carr has looked to Crabtree more and more in crucial situations. His dependable hands and aggressiveness in fighting for 50/50 balls makes him a reliable target. Cooper is a threat to take it the distance on any play and team's need a dynamic talent like him, but he has had his issues with drops. He could also use some of Crabtree's competitiveness.
5) Derek Carr appears to be on the verge of becoming a star. Where have his biggest improvements been and what does he need to overcome to take that next step?
His long ball is far better than it had been. No longer does he use the back shoulder throw as his fallback. He is leading his receivers better. Some of that comes from being used to them and how they get through their breaks. A few times per game he will flee a clean pocket or check down before going through his reads, but not nearly as often as he used to. You can see him look off his first option and go elsewhere a good deal more and it had paid dividends. What we are seeing is a player with all the tools who has put in the work and has become more comfortable and confident. Having the same coaching staff and surrounding receivers again this year has helped with that a great deal.