The Las Vegas Raiders loss to the Buffalo Bills at home this Sunday has Raider Nation on edge. Despite being at 2-2 in 2020, many are concerned about a Raiders defense that continues to struggle and put its offense in a difficult spot.
The Las Vegas Raiders dropped to 2-2 on the season with a 30-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders loss was a game many thought the Raiders would be outmatched but it turned into a very winnable game. However, the Raiders shot themselves in the foot at every turning point and came up short. It wasn’t completely unexpected with the amount of injuries the Raiders have that they would struggle and as Jon Gruden said in the post-game presser, there are things to be “proud” of. Here is what went good for the Raiders, what went okay, and what was ugly.
A Philly outcast after last season, Agholor has been given a second chance in Vegas. He is taking full advantage of the opportunity. Gruden talked him up all off-season, to some deaf to some ears, but Agholor is proving his coach right. Agholor had 4 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, which doesn’t tell the whole story. He had a 50-yard touchdown called back and was the Raiders best WR throughout the contest. If the Raiders get healthy and can get production from Agholor, it will give them a great third option. You can see the chemistry between Derek Carr and Nelson Agholor getting better on a weekly basis.
The Raiders gave up one lengthy return. However, I still put this in the good category. Jalen Richard had a 35-yard return late to set the Raiders up in good field position to tie the game and was one tackle away from a house call. Daniel Carlson continues to be nails, hitting on 3-of-3 field-goal attempts, including another 54 yarder. One of the major bright spots so far this season is Hunter Renfrow in the punt return game. Although he may not give you the most dynamic threat back there, he can get chunk returns which he proved on a 16-yard return. He has proven that he can provide a threat back there for the Raiders thus far.
After getting shredded by Rex Burkhead and Sony Michael last week, the Raiders rallied to the ball and held the Bills to 2.6 yards a carry on Sunday. One significant change is the return of their green dot MLB, Nick Kwiatoski. Kwiatoski finished the afternoon with 3 tackles including one for a loss. While, those numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, having him back was clearly very important to the defensive alignment and gap integrity of the entire team. Another guy that helped the run defense was Lamarcus Joyner, a player who has taken plenty of criticism. He has really improved this season, especially around the box. The Raiders defense doesn’t have much to be positive about but the run defense showed Sunday that they can be a competent NFL unit.
The stat-line says that Derek Carr was great and that’s the argument being made all over the internet. That’s not the only argument. It seems Derek Carr is either considered awful or great and there is never an in-between. However, I believe Derek Carr did enough yesterday to compete, but not enough to push the team over the top. It was a collective effort in this loss, and Derek Carr missed some vital throws along with one fumble and a near second fumble. The team will need Derek Carr to play above-average most games in order to overcompensate for a bad defensive unit. The overthrow to Zay Jones, which arguably should have been caught anyway, and the late fumble are two plays that changed this game completely. Derek Carr was without his top two wideouts and still put up respectable numbers, so let’s see how he bounces back next week, hopefully with some of his weapons back.
The offensive line by no means played well. Giving up two sacks, including a strip-sack, and producing limited running room for Josh Jacobs. However, with two major injuries and Sam Young seeing his first snaps at RT since his injury, there was enough time for Derek Carr to produce throughout the afternoon. The Raiders will need the line to play better, but hopefully, that is a given with Trent Brown and Richie Incognito returning soon. Having replacements in for one game is a lot different than a four-game stretch and missing two All-Pro caliber players takes the teams biggest strength and makes it average.
This is a tough one, considering the Raiders had such a bad week with injuries. However, a winnable game became a Raiders loss with some blatantly bad play-calling and a lack of aggression. Settling for two red-zone field goals on 4th-and-short situations set the Raiders up for disaster. Coming out of the half down 17-13, and taking six minutes off the clock was huge. When the drive stalled inside the 20, I assumed it was four-down territory and I believe Derek Carr did too. It didn’t seem bad to take points at the time, but playing a prolific offensive team that has dominated the football game, aggressive offensive playcalling was needed. The Bills went for it on 4th down the following drive setting up another score. Jon Gruden decided to go for it on 4th down finally in the 4th quarter down 14, and ran a very simple run with Josh Jacobs up the middle that was blown up. The argument is that they want to see the Raiders take a shot there, everyone in the building knew it was a run up the middle, similar to Alec Ingold on a short-yardage run earlier in the ball game. I don’t think Gruden coached a bad game throughout, but his major mistakes really hurt the team in the end. Moving forward, second-half adjustments and being a tad more aggressive will be key to this teams success.
Through two weeks the Raiders secured the ball very well, minus a Jalen Richard pitch gone wrong. However, the script has flipped on them in Weeks 3 and 4. The Raiders now own a -4 turnover differential on the season – good for 25th in the league. For a team that struggles defensively, both securing the ball offensively and creating opportunities on the defensive side of the ball are vital. In Sundays game, the Raiders did neither of those things. It got particularly ugly when Darren Waller fumbled fighting for extra yardage on a drive that would have tied the game. An absolute gut punch to a Raiders team that seemed to have some momentum late in the ball game. Waller’s fumble, and QB Derek Carrs league-leading 5th fumble, both came in crunch time when the Raiders still had a chance. This combined with the defense’s lack of creating turnovers is a sure-fire disaster for this young football team. As Gruden said, “We’ve got to get turnovers from our defense.” As Raider fans know, a bad defense can mask a lot of problems by forcing turnovers. Moving forward, the Raiders need to win the turnover battle weekly to compete.
Two things, that will lose you football games at the pro level: turnovers and penalties. The Raiders started the season off well in these categories, but like the turnover battle, penalties have become an issue for this team. In the Raiders loss on Sunday, they finished with seven penalties for 66 yards, but it’s when the penalties came that hurt them. The Raiders had a 50-yard bomb, on a beautiful play-design called back because of an illegal formation penalty. As a result, the Raiders settled for a field goal on a stalled drive – a 4-point swing. Throughout the afternoon penalties hampered this team, some of which were questionable calls, but you can’t put yourself in a position to have them called.
This is going to be a weekly theme. Simply put: the pass rush is not producing at an NFL level. The Raiders generated very little pass rush all afternoon and their only sack came on a coverage sack late in the game. This will continue to plague them all season if not corrected. When they do blitz, it’s not getting home causing chunk plays on defense. The Raiders were expecting a big second-year leap from Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, but they haven’t seen the results they are looking for. What makes this even more ugly is the Raiders added Carl Nassib and Maliek Collins to help the pass-rush and have seen next to zero results from those two. Is this something that is fixable? I’d love to say yes but the only solution I see is getting the productive guys in there. Arden Key and Maurice Hurst have posted the highest win rates on the team and deserve the majority of snaps at their respective positions.
In summary, the Raiders are a football team that should compete throughout the season. The latest Raiders loss was self-inflicted. As with most young teams, they will make mistakes, and limiting those mistakes is the key to success. Turnovers, penalties and mental mistakes will need to improve in order for them to get back in the win column. I know the panic button is getting close, and even with a loss to Kansas City next week, the bye week is approaching and the schedule eases up significantly in the second half of 2020. However, Jon Gruden would gladly take a statement win next week vs the arch-rival Kansas City Chiefs.