After a disappointing home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Las Vegas Raiders returned to the win column with a 16-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Week 8 for the Las Vegas Raiders held much significance not only for a team still searching for its identity but also for a team in need of a win that could impact their playoff chances later on this season. The Raiders traveled to Cleveland knowing the game had significant playoff implications hoping to get their Pro Bowl right tackle back for the game.
A freak medical episode kept Brown off the field on Sunday, but the game did not disappoint as it proved to be an old school AFC showdown. Had the Raiders lost, it would have made it very difficult for them to surpass the Browns for a Wild Card playoff spot come January. With an expanded playoff pool, every AFC match up is important and the tie-breakers at year end could prove crucial.
The Raiders did not disappoint as they were the better, more physical team all afternoon. While the weather played a role, the defense played more physical and fundamentally sound more than we have seen all season. The Raiders had a lot to be proud of but are far from a finished product. Here’s this week’s The Good, The Okay, The Ugly breakdown:
Raiders Running Game
In Week 7, the Raiders struggled to run the ball, prompting Josh Jacobs to express he felt the team was not clicking in establishing the run early in games. As the rain and snow fell on the two AFC teams with playoff hopes, it became clear whoever ran the ball best would prevail. The Raiders went to the run as part of their early game plan and established it immediately. Thanks to a renewed Josh Jacobs, the Raiders ran the ball with authority and found an unlikely boost on the ground by quarterback Derek Carr.
Las Vegas averaged 4.6 yards per carry on their way to 208 rushing yards on the day, while contributions from Carr and backup running back Devontae Booker helped. But it was the spirited running of their star Jacobs that was the difference on the ground on Sunday. Jacobs carried the ball 31 times for 118 yards and looked like is 2019 self.
Raiders Ball Control Offense
The Raiders knew with their Browns opponent, and the inclement weather in Cleveland, they’d need to establish a good run game, get solid situational defense from Paul Guenther’s group, and convert successfully on third-and-short, and fourth-and-short situations on offense. While the time of possession doesn’t always correlate with winning the game, the Raiders completely dominated this facet of the game.
Las Vegas controlled the ball for over 37 minutes on Sunday having fice drives of 10+ plays. The defense also contributed greatly to the cause creating their first forced fumble of the season, holding the Browns to 30 percent on 3rd downs. As a result, the Browns only possessed the ball for under 23 minutes and had six total possessions – a 30-year low for a team in an NFL game.
The Raiders can win more games if they can keep the ball away from their opponent as they did on Sunday. This area of the game is something Gruden has been sorely looking for from his defense. The defense and offense playing complementary football is the secret to success for a team with a developing defense and an efficient offense.
The Thumper – Nick Kwiatoski
The Raiders defense has struggled the majority of the season, and a few of the big-name free agent signings have left a lot to be desired. That’s not the case with linebacker Nick Kwiatoski.
Kwiatkoski has given the Raiders a huge boost defensively – especially when it comes to the team’s ability to stop the run. When he isn’t making tackles, Kwiatkoski is near the ball or altering the ball carrier’s direction. On Sunday, the Raiders held Browns running backs to just 16 carries for 72 yards. This was due in large part to Kwiatoski’s 5 tackles and his leadership of the defense. Kwiatoski also contributed with a crucial takeaway when he stripped tight end Hunter Bryant of the ball to take potential points off the board for the Browns. Key to his success this season has been his offensive reads. Kwiatkoski was given the keys to this Raiders defense and there is no question he’s doing his part.
Gruden’s Second Half Adjustments
The Raiders completely dominated the second half of Sunday’s game in Cleveland. Even though they only outscored the Browns 10-3, the Raiders had two 8+ minute drives that completely wrangled control of the game from the Browns. Much of this due to the adjustments made by Jon Gruden after the first half. One element we saw after the half on defense for Raiders was the use of more run blitzing. With weather conditions making it hard to pass, Guenther utilized the run blitz and it worked like a charm against Cleveland. By putting his players in the right positions to be successful, the Raiders defensive coordinator made a key adjustment we had not seen earlier in the season.
Not to be outdone by his defense, Gruden also made key adjustments on offense. Despite the high winds, the Raiders challenged the Browns with some early passing plays but the conditions limited Carr and the receiving corps. However, Gruden quickly adjusted moving the Raiders offensive focus to short screens and positive run-play designs. It’s always nice to out coach an opponent, and the Raiders did just that.
Derek Carr did something he hasn’t been as successful at during his Raiders career – win a cold-weather football game. The Raiders had the triple-whammy of East Coast travel, 10 AM start time, and bad weather. Those three things have plagued them throughout Carr’s tenure until Sunday.
Looking at Carr’s day on the stat page, going 15-for-24 for 112 yards and a touchdown, you might make the assumption he struggled. That was not the case on Sunday as Carr proved to be an excellent game manager and leaders. In the harsh weather conditions of Cleveland, he did what he had to do. He converted on 3rd downs and even got the lead out by rushing for 41 yards. Carr could have easily had another touchdown with the bad replay call on Henry Ruggs III near touchdown and Darren Waller’s crucial early drop. However, for the Raiders, the stats don’t matter.
Carr has put up impressive stats for years but has had trouble winning games. In 2020, when given the chance, Carr is winning games and having an impressive season that even his doubters must come to grips with.
Ever-Changing Offensive Line
The offensive line once again had to play musical chairs. Trent Brown had a major medical scare pre-game and was determined out again, meaning Raiders line coach Tom Cable had to activate much-maligned third-year tackle Brandon Parker and Sam Young. Young, who once again left the game with an injury, was downright abysmal on Sunday, allowing Carr to be sacked twice early in the contest. After Young went down, the Raiders turned to a not so fan favorite Parker. Parker has taken heat throughout his young career but on Sunday he may have changed some minds
Parker allowed zero pressures on the day and, once again, was a bully in the run game. Other than the rough start from Young, the offensive line proved to be the biggest factor in the victory. Paving the way for 208 rushing yards and not allowing a sack in the 2nd half, Cable’s group continues to defy the odds and play despite their starting unit playing just three snaps together all season. The Raiders hope to get back to full strength with Brown and Incognito but seeing Parker and Denzelle Good playing well as stand-ins is good news for the Raiders. Tom Cable has done an amazing job this season and certainly deserves more praise than he’s getting.
Watching the first quarter of the game, the Raiders defense looked no different than it did against Tampa Bay. It looked like it might be another long day – especially against the Browns strong run attack. But, as they moved into the second quarter, the unit shored up their sloppiness and poor tackling to turn it around when the team needed it most. The Raiders defense allowed 108 rushing yards on the day, which normally you might scoff at. But in a close game, in the pouring rain, it was a very good day for Guenther’s gang. Tied 6-6 heading into the second half, the Raiders held Browns starter Kareem Hunt to 30 yards in the second half. The team stayed disciplined and got help from the safeties in the run game, and for the most part, stayed in their gap. Last week we highlighted what appeared to be a lack of effort by some on the Las Vegas defense. Sunday, the effort level was high and every play there were multiple helmets on the ball. The Raiders run defense has quickly turned into a strength of the team since the debacle in New England. Since the Week 3 loss, the Raiders haven’t allowed more than 70 yards to an opposing running back.
I generally don’t like to pinpoint one player in this section as it’s truly a team game, but Lawson’s ineffectiveness is a big issue for the depleted Raiders secondary. Lawson was exposed multiple times Sunday, and a few calls went his way to prevent the stat line from looking truly awful. Damon Arnette returning is going to be key for the Raiders because when they face better teams, you cannot have Lawson covering an opponent’s WR2. In the future, I would like to see Johnson, Nixon, and Arnette take the majority of the snaps at the corner over Lawson. It’s perplexing why the Raiders haven’t given Isaiah Johnson some snaps. Remember Gruden called Johnson “the steal of the draft” in 2019.
This is going to plague the Raiders all season. The defensive front can, and should, get better in spots but they are who they are at this point. Not only did they generate zero sacks once again, but they also were beset by early presnap penalties. The Raiders simply need to improve their pass rush somehow, someway. The combined unit had one QB hit on the afternoon from reserve Chris Smith. The big money players up front continue to work hard but are not producing or earning their scratch. Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby and Maliek Collins and Carl Nassib continue to fail in getting to the quarterback. While Crosby and Nassib played well on Sunday, they will need to disrupt the quarterback more this coming week when they play Chargers young phenom Justin Herbert. Herbert could have a huge day if the line can’t muster more pressure in Los Angeles.
In the End…
All-in-All, the Raiders won a game they should have and punched the Browns right in the mouth. In the NFL, you need to win at home and you need to win the games on the schedule that favor matchups. The Raiders did that against the Browns and now, sitting at 4-3, must travel to LA to take on the talented by snakebit Chargers.
The Raiders need to string wins together and they have an opportunity with a more favorable schedule to make their push to the playoffs very real. They need around four more wins to perhaps secure that 7th and final Wild Card playoff spot come January. It’s time to show they can be consistent week-to-week.