The Las Vegas Raiders control their own destiny on the road to the 2020 NFL Playoffs as they need an improbable ending to beat the now 0-12 Jets at Met Life Stadium.
Sometimes you have to win despite playing a game you most likely should have lost. That’s exactly what happened to the Las Vegas Raiders at Met Life Stadium on Sunday as they won 31-28 on a last-second pass from Derek Carr to Henry Ruggs III. It wasn’t pretty but the Raiders improved to 7-5.
As Raider Nation knows, winning hasn’t come as often as they’d like the past decade so no win should be taken for granted. Even though it took the full 60 minutes to beat the hapless Jets, a win was the only thing that mattered Sunday. The miraculous 46-yard touchdown to Ruggs with just four seconds left on the clock, catapulted the Raiders back into the playoff race.
As Las Vegas heads into to a marquee match-up with the Indianapolis Colts, the Raiders will look to clean up their play in all three facets of the game after two sloppy weeks. Before we shift our focus to that key game, here is the breakdown of the good, the OK and the ugly from Sunday.
Darren Waller was simply the best player on the field Sunday. Waller has improved vastly in the one key area of weakness after his breakout year in 2019: scoring. Waller has been finding the end zone all season and on Sunday he had a thrilling 38-yard touchdown where he broke two tackles on his way to extend the lead. On the day Waller finished with 13 catches, 200 yards, and two touchdowns – a stat-line that will go down in Raiders history. There haven’t been many dominating performances like this for the Raiders this decade, but on Sunday the Jets had no answers for Waller. Late in the game, Waller almost got a third touchdown and 30 more yards but drew a crucial holding penalty instead. For the Raiders to have success down the stretch, Waller playing well is crucial. He changes the offense and gives them one of the best weapons in football.
The 2019 first-round draft pick has gotten plenty of heat for his lack of pass-rush production. I don’t think people realized how important Ferrell was to this defense until he was out two weeks. On Sunday, Ferrell finally capitalized on the hard work he’s been putting in up front all season. He had two crucial strip-sacks in the first half, and in a close game, they proved to be the difference-maker. The Raiders know their defense isn’t very good, however, if they can produce some pass-rush and create turnovers it will go a long way. Getting a healthy Clelin Ferrell will help Maxx Crosby down the stretch as well. Ferrell’s performance, after being sidelined due to COVID-19, is even more impressive.
After a couple of really brutal weeks in the penalty department, the Raiders finished Sunday with a measly three penalties for 21 yards. The Raiders will not win many football games if they get penalized and take points off the board because of it. It was good to see them get back on track in this category, and hopefully, the disciplined football continues down the stretch.
Carr had another impressive statistical day going 28 of 47 for 381 yards and four total touchdowns. That is considered a great stat line in today’s NFL. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Carr to be perfect every Sunday. However, the second half of this game, minus the miracle to Henry Ruggs, was extremely hard to watch. Carr did get pressured on 45 percent of his dropbacks, which didn’t make for an easy day. However, he just looked flat and made some errant throws at crucial times in the second half. Carr displayed his gritty leadership though by leading his team until the end and finding a way to win – something that has escaped the Raiders far too often. Carr gets slandered endlessly when the Raiders lose and he puts up good numbers, so he deserves a break when he pulls it out as well. Hopefully the Raiders offensive line steps up in coming weeks because when Carr is at his best he is getting good protection. Overall, the Raiders need a much cleaner game top to bottom to beat anyone on the remaining schedule.
The Raiders’ pass defense is by far the team’s biggest Achilles heel. It has been all season. And, again, the squad had some really ugly blown assignments. Wide Receivers are open far too often against this team. When you’re getting gashed in the run game, the passing numbers generally shrink, so the Raiders held New York to 186 yards through the air. With the secondary getting banged up the entire game, it was actually a good effort from these guys. Trayvon Mullen had a beautiful one-handed interception and the Raiders added on two strip-sacks. The Raiders are young and banged up in the secondary, so some hiccups are expected. They have some things they need to clean up along with getting Abram, Mullen, Isaiah Johnson, and Damon Arnette healthy and on the field together. The pass defense seems to be heading in the right direction and is steadily improving week to week.
The Jets had their way with the Raiders’ offensive line. As I mentioned earlier, Carr was pressured on 45 percent of his dropbacks and sacked twice. Along with the bad pass blocking, the usually dominant run-blocking was non-existent. This is two weeks in a row the offensive line played poorly. A surprise from what has otherwise been an amazing season. Getting Trent Brown back (hopefully), and giving the Raiders 4/5 of their starters moving forward would be a huge step in the right direction. Brandon Parker has done an adequate job replacing Brown, but it’s caught up to the Raiders finally and they need their elite right tackle back. The Raiders’ offense managed to put up 31 points even with a poor effort from the line, and if the line can get back to its usual dominance, the Raiders have a great shot at making a playoff run.
This was the worst part of the game Sunday and it’s not close. The Raiders gave up 206 rushing yards to a Jets team that lost Frank Gore on the second snap of the game. Getting diced up by Ty Johnson and Josh Adams was embarrassing for this team. The Jets just were more physical than the Raiders in the trenches and some ugly missed tackles made for a long day. This was also an example of the Raiders’ defensive scheme’s weakness. Without playmakers on the outside, the Jets ran off the end all day. The only positive note from this group as they stopped the Jets three times to allow the big play to Ruggs to happen. Without that stop at the end of the game, the Raiders are 6-6 and imploding.
Without top running back Josh Jacobs, who was out with an ankle injury, it was expected the Raiders wouldn’t run well vs. the Jets. I expected his capable backup Devontae Booker to get going a little more but it didn’t happen. On the day the Raiders averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. The Raiders’ offense scored 31 points on Sunday, but it was still a struggle. That was due in large part to the fact that they couldn’t get any rhythm going with the run game. Even in games when they pass well, the Raiders’ offense is built around the run game and time of possession. When they don’t have those things working wins will be hard to come by. Some of it is on the players, but the run scheme for the last three weeks hasn’t been very good. Add in a very good Jets defensive front, and it was tough sledding on Sunday. The plays seem long to develop and aren’t producing much. In the end, the Raiders need Trent Brown and Josh Jacobs back and that should help the run game immensely.
The Raiders won a game they should have won and they won a game they had to win. It’s a week-to-week league and right now the Raiders are 7-5. With the 8-4 Indianapolis Colts visiting Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas must play clean football and execute flawlessly to continue their run to the playoffs. With the Colts, Dolphins, clueless Chargers, and Broncos still on the schedule, there is no room for error for this team if they want a chance at the postseason.