The Las Vegas Raiders are on a two-game winning streak as they take care of business on the road downing the Los Angeles Chargers 31-26.
For the first time since 2010, the Raiders have started 2-0 in the AFC West. It wasn’t pretty, but as we all know, AFC West games are always a battle.
Sunday proved to be no different, as the Chargers and Raiders duked it out. You can throw records out the window when it comes to this rivalry, the games are always hard-fought. Here is your weekly breakdown.
The Raiders Run Game
Similar to the win over Cleveland in Week 8, the Raiders set the tone early with the run game. Something that Jon Gruden wants and needs from his offense is a bruising run game. The Raiders averaged 6.2 yards a carry, including an eye-popping 8.5 yards per carry from backup Devontae Booker. The Raiders now have a legitimate two-headed monster that produced two first-half touchdowns for the team. Last season down the stretch, the Raiders desperately needed someone to help take the workload off of Josh Jacobs and it looks like they have that man this year. If the Raiders average 6+ yards a carry, they will be hard to beat. Jon Gruden’s entire offense relies on 3rd and short scenarios, and the good running game creates those chances.
The Cable Guy
Perhaps the most unheralded member of the entire Raiders team is offensive line coach Tom Cable. The offensive line has been a revolving door this season due to injuries – including the loss of three starters for the Chargers game. Playing the game with two backup offensive tackles, the Raiders held up in a big way Sunday. Derek Carr was only sacked one time and hit 3 times, a relatively clean afternoon for the banged-up unit. Even more impressive were the holes they were opening up in the run game. The Raiders ran at will all day and managed to average 6.2 yards a carry in large part due to the dominance from the line. Cable got plenty of slanders when he was hired but his unit again proved to be the deciding factor in the victory.
A Classic Carr
Derek Carr has received plenty of criticism for losses where he put up good numbers, and it’s about time he gets credit for grinding out victories with what some would consider pedestrian stats. The stats didn’t tell the story Sunday as Carr propelled the Raiders to victory. Literally and figuratively, as Carr’s 3rd quarter diving first down conversion was a difference maker in this game. Carr made big throws when he needed to, and for the second week in a row, despite all the adversity, was victorious. The Raiders passing game will look to ramp up at home with a healthier offensive line.
Nick the Stick
Nick Kwiatkoski has been the Raiders most steady defensive player. Leading the team with tackles with 13, he was the glue and spirit of the Raiders defense on Sunday against LA. He’s the clear leader of the defense and makes plays when they count. That included a huge two-point conversion attempt where he stuffed Tyrod Taylor at the 3-yard line to prevent the Chargers from converting. Kwiatkoski continues to impress in coverage as well, very rarely getting beat. Coverage isn’t considered the veteran linebacker’s strong suit but he continues to impress. The Raiders hit the jackpot in free agency with Kwiatoski.
The special teams unit of a football team is always the most undervalued. It comes with the territory. However, I don’t think enough can be said about the Raiders special teams on Sunday. Starting with the return game, Hunter Renfrow again had a steady afternoon averaging 12.5 yards a return. Jalen Richard also chimed in with a beautiful 44-yard return just after halftime that jump-started the offense after a disastrous end of the first half. The Raiders kicking game was equally impressive. Punter AJ Cole booted two punts inside the 20, again proving he’s one of the most consistent punters in the game. The Raiders also added a special teams turnover on a muffed punt in the 4th quarter, which ended up being the difference in the game. Overall, if the Raiders can get this kind of production from the special teams, it will put them in a position to win a lot of football games.
Progress is progress as they say. The Raiders defensive line group, which has struggled most of the season, played another better game. Registering seven QB hits and two sacks on Sunday, the line did a good job getting pressure on young Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. The progress against the Browns and LA is a good sign, however, the Raiders still need to produce more pressure consistently. There are long stretches where the line disappears and it’s a regular occurrence. That, combined with giving up a big push in the run game, kept them out of the good category for now. Seeing a game like that from Clelin Ferrell and others is a positive sign and the Raiders will look to build on that as they face the Denver Broncos next week.
The Raiders wide receivers had a relatively quiet game, which is okay if the game-plan skews away from it. Two big passing plays, one to Hunter Renfrow for 53 yards, and the other to Nelson Agholor for a 45-yard touchdown are good enough. Agholor and Renfrow were the only two wideouts with catches and averaged 28.5 yards per grab. The big plays will be there when the Raiders run the ball like they have and it’s nice to see this group come through in big-time situations. The only knock on the group right now is first-round pick Henry Ruggs III is not getting involved as much as one would hope. Even without the production, Ruggs takes attention from the defense helping spark big plays for others. As the season progresses, it would be great to see Gruden get Ruggs involved more in short passes and in the running game.
A 31-26 win on the road in a tough divisional match-up and I put Jon Gruden in the bad category? Let me explain. There were major opportunities to put this game away earlier, however the Raiders made a couple of key coaching decisions that made the game closer than it had to be. The common criticism of Gruden is he is aggressive when he doesn’t need to be, but too conservative when he needs to be aggressive. On Sunday this was on display when he called for a passing play with just 19 seconds left in the half. Carr was stripped under pressure and fumbled. The Chargers were able to convert the turnover into three points before the half expired. Although Gruden said tight end Darren Waller was open deep on what could have been a touchdown, it was a bad move regardless. With a makeshift offensive line, there wasn’t a good reason to be aggressive there, just go into halftime tied. The other critical mistake Gruden made almost lost the Raiders the game. When he decided to punt at the Chargers 42 on 4th and 2, he left the game’s fate to the Raiders improving but suspect defense. Getting two yards to win the football game is always going to be the right choice in my opinion. Luckily for the Raiders, they still won the football game.
The Injury Bug Won’t Die
A theme for 2020 around the league and for the Raiders has been injuries. There’s nothing a team can do about it and it can change the complexion of a season in an instant. Already down multiple starters on both sides of the ball, the Raiders lost Alec Ingold and Trayvon Mullen early against LA. Ingold posted a picture from a local hospital with a rib injury, and Trayvon Mullen left with a hamstring pull. The Raiders are hopeful they’ll get Damon Arnette, Richie Incognito, and Kolton Miller back next week in time for the Broncos at home. Sitting at 5-3, with the way this season has gone, is a borderline miracle. I’m excited to see what this team can do once they start to get healthy.
Even with the adequate pass-rush, the Raiders got diced up in the air for a large part of the afternoon. Justin Herbert finished with over 320 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. The concerning part if you’re a Raiders fan are blown coverages that occur far too often. Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Mike Williams were often wide open and it was simply just the defenders being in the wrong spot. This all falls back on coaching and a lack of execution from the players. Granted the Raiders were missing their top two corners for the majority of the game. Hopefully, as the season progresses, the unit begins to limit the head-scratching miscommunications.
Of course, the one bright spot was the play of cornerback Isaiah Johnson. He’s not enough to move the group into the OK category, but this kid earned his stripes in a big way. His two pass breakups at the end of the game sealed the deal for the Raiders and we’re excited about his ability and motor.
Considering all of their adversity and the ups and downs of the game, the Raiders are in a good position at 5-3 heading into the back half of the 2020 season. In a tight playoff race, every AFC game is important and the Raiders delivered. It doesn’t get any easier as the Denver Broncos and Drew Lock visit Allegiant Stadium for the first time on Sunday. AFC West matchups are always tough no matter the team’s record.
Despite that, the Raiders are winners of two in a row and have a chance to start to solidify a real playoff run with a win against Denver at home on Sunday.