Raiders
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

Mid-Season Las Vegas Raiders Report – 20/20 Vision

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“The greatness of the Raiders is in its future”

 

Raiders
Photo Credit: ESPN

True words. Spoken by the former franchise owner, Al Davis, and the Las Vegas Raiders’ future looks as bright as the Vegas Strip. Here we are just a little past a quarter of the way of the 2020 NFL season. The Raiders headed into their bye week with a 3-2 record. After two consecutive losses and crucial injuries in weeks three and four, doubts started to swirl about whether or not this team could be a serious contender. Instead, the club had a huge win against AFC West Division rivals Kansas City Chiefs.

It was a great turnaround performance for both the defensive line and the young secondary crew. That game could have been the momentum shift the Silver and Black defense needed to get in a groove for the remainder of the season. They showed the rest of the NFL how to beat the Super Bowl defending champs and that they are more than capable of competing with anybody in the league.

Then came the debacle vs. Tom Brady and The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It is not reasonable to ask a defense to contain these high calibrated offenses for the whole game in today’s NFL. Studs like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson will make those highlight reels week in and week out. As a defense, you have to limit their production and rhythm, and it starts with pressure from the defensive line.

 

Raiders
Photo Credit: KMBC Kansas City

Let’s take a look at the good…

If you can get your big guys up front to disrupt the backfield, it becomes that much harder for quarterbacks to make those tight-window throws, scramble to extend plays, or escape out of the pocket themselves to pick up yards. We witnessed a great performance and example from the Raiders against the Chiefs. They blitzed and put pressure on Mahomes, forced Kansas City to punt and the Super Bowl MVP to throw an interception, which allowed Derek Carr and the offense to extend their lead in the fourth quarter.

The defense forced Mahomes to constantly scramble out of the pocket, which gets tiring for a quarterback. They also halted the run game, only allowing 80 total rushing yards from Kansas City. These two components helped out the defensive backs tremendously because they focused on wideout threats like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. That focus kept the KC playmakers from making plays with their feet after the catch. In that game, the secondary relied heavily on the zone coverage, not allowing any receiver behind them or any throws over the top that could turn into big yard gains. That was why Mahomes was limited to his dump-off options to his running backs and curl routes from his receivers.

Las Vegas’s defense needs to keep the same intensity and efficiency if it wants to compete for a playoff spot.

And now, the BAD.

 

 

The defense has been down right offensive to watch.

 

Raiders Weekly
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

Let’s be all the way real; the Raiders defense overall has been pretty terrible. There is no pass rush. They give up way too many yards and even more points. If the Raiders want to make the playoffs, this team area needs to play a lot faster and a lot better. At some point, you have to look at the person who coordinates the defense, Paul Guenther, who is in his third year running the unit, and one can argue that the group has not gotten any better. The team ranks 26th in total defense but dead last in turnovers, rushing TD’s allowed, and 29th in sacks.

The Raiders went out and spent big money the last two offseason’s on this side of the ball but have yet to see the type of return on their investment. Lamarcus Joyner, Cory Littleton, Carl Nassib, and Maliek Collins all have yet to have the type of impact the Raiders had hoped for when they signed them to big-money deals. In Nassib’s case, he is dealing with a broken toe. He was doing a workman’s job when he was healthy.

The lack of pass rush is what has been the Raiders‘ biggest issue all season, just as it has the past two years. The Raiders’ best defensive game came in the win against the Chiefs. That just so happened to be the one game Guenther dialed up blitzes and kept the pressure on Patrick Mahomes. Why isn’t that type of pressure brought weekly?

Tom Brady picked the Raiders apart in the second half during the Week 7 loss to the Bucs, and the game was effectively over when Tampa Bay completed a 3rd down and 13 in the third quarter when he had all day to throw. Some pretty good coverage downfield led to a check down to the running back who picked up the first down with no Raiders in the vicinity. It was the type of defensive lapse that Raider Nation has become all too familiar with.

If there is a bright side The Nation can point to, it’s Trayvon Mullen. Despite the poor pass rush, Mullen has proven to be a very good cover corner and has the look of a potential shutdown guy. His play will only improve once the Raiders pass rush gets better, which should have everyone excited. If Jonathan Abram, who missed the Tampa game after going on the COVID list, can remain healthy, he is another player that should be a cornerstone for the Silver and Black secondary. He fits exactly what you want in a “strong safety” and has already earned the reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL.

 

 

What’s in store for this offense…

 

Raiders
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We are now entering the eighth week, and due to injuries and COVID-19 decision making, we still have yet to see this offense at their full capability. Led by a determined Derek Carr, this offense has shown the potential to be a serious threat to score at any time. Carr mentioned at the start of the season that he is “tired of being disrespected.” He’s out there this season proving critics wrong thus far, as he ranks in the top ten in passing yards, touchdowns thrown, interceptions, and quarterback rating.

DC is on his way to put up career highs in completion percentage, average yards per throw, and Total QBR. We need to see improvements from the veteran out of Fresno State taking care of the football in the pocket and trusting in his guys downfield more often.

He has all the weapons he needs with a great young core around him. Second-year running back Josh Jacobs will keep doing his thing on the ground, as he has 394 rushing yards to go along with five touchdowns, both of which are fifth-best in the league. Only arguably the best defense in the league in Tampa has been able to stop him, and that was with three starting offensive linemen out. Guys like Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, and Henry Ruggs III stay as lethal options for their quarterback as well. The Raiders’ offense is equipped with all the right pieces they need to “Just Win, Baby” and compete for the Lombardi Trophy this year.

John Gruden knows what it takes from a coaching perspective to get to the Super Bowl and come out victorious. However, you have to crawl before you can walk. And Las Vegas’ first point of order is making the playoffs.

 

 

What to expect the rest of the way

 

Raiders vs Patriots
Photo Credit: KTNV

In order for the Raiders to take that next step as a perennial playoff contender, the defense needs to improve, and dramatically. They have to find a way to create pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback and create turnovers, the two things they have failed at doing for the past two-plus seasons. If they can’t do this, it won’t be just some of the players that will feel the heat after the season ends, Guenther will be looking for another job when “NFL Black Monday” rolls around.

On offense, as always, it all starts up front. The Raiders’ offensive line has to remain healthy and adhere to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. Trent Brown has to make better decisions off the field and remain healthy. He is a dominant player when on the field, but the past couple of seasons he hasn’t been able to live up for whatever reason. If that continues to be the case, the Raiders will no doubt release him and free up a substantial amount of money to find his replacement.

Derek Carr is having his best season and showing everyone that he isn’t the issue, so it’s about time fans lay off him. In the first half of this season, he has proven to be the least of the Raiders’ worries. The offense is set, and it’s time the defense catches up. Las Vegas should be a team fighting for an AFC Wild Card playoff spot, which they could do with the rest of their schedule looking a bit easier (on paper).

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Justin Brooks – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @Ayyeju5tin

Instagram: @Ayyeju5tin

 

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