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Raiders: 5 potential X-factors against Eagles

With a chance to go 5-2 before the bye, these guys need to show up on Sunday

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Alex Leatherwood
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

On paper, the Las Vegas Raiders should have no problem taking care of business this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Raiders are a 3.5-point favorite, per DraftKing sportsbook, and are a team with playoff aspirations, while the Eagles are young and still trying to figure out their identity. However, if Raiders fans have learned anything over the last few years, it’s that the team can’t take anyone lightly.

Philadelphia still has talent and their offense is getting a key contributor back with right tackle Lane Johnson returning. So, Las Vegas needs to stay locked in and get the most out of the players below.

Alex Leatherwood

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Alex Leatherwood
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The move to guard has done Alex Leatherwood some good. In pass protection, his efficiency rating has gone from 93.3 in Weeks 1-4 to 95.7 in the last two games, per Pro Football Focus. Also, his run-blocking grade has been nearly 10 points higher on the inside versus the outside.

That being said, Leatherwood still has plenty of room for improvement and hasn’t faced a pair of defensive tackles quite like the two the Eagles have.

Fletcher Cox has been one of the best pass rushers at the position for a few years, and while he hasn’t been as productive this season as he has in the past, he’s still wreaking havoc on the interior. Cox has accumulated 14 pressures which ranks tied for 16th among defensive tackles and is tied for 29th with a 12.6 percent win rate.

Next to the former All-Pro is an emerging pass rusher in Javon Hargrave, who has the third-highest PFF pass-rush grade (90.2) among interior defenders, 0.7 points behind Aaron Donald. Production-wise, Hargrave ranks tied for ninth with 19 pressures, is fifth with an 18.8 win rate and has six sacks which are the most at his position.

So, the strides Leatherwood has made in pass protection will be tested.

The ground game is where the rookie offensive lineman could have an upper hand, though. Cox and Hargrave both have run defense grades in the low 50s - 50.0 and 51.5 specifically - while Leatherwood’s run-blocking grade is 62.5 since the move to guard. With that, I’d expect the Raiders to try and establish the run early on.

Regardless of the game plan, Leatherwood needs to bring his “A-game”, both in pass protection and as a run blocker, and this Sunday will be a big test to see how much growth he has made.

Drake and Josh

Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
Kenyan Drake
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

As a team, the Eagles have the fifth-worst PFF run-defense grade (48.9) and have allowed 812 rushing yards this season, which is also the fifth-worst in the league. Part of that has to do with them playing from behind for a majority of the year, so opponents are running the ball on them more frequently. So that also adds significance to the Raiders’ rushing attack this week.

Las Vegas should be able to get an early lead, meaning they’ll likely be leaning on their ground game to close out the contest. A week ago, I would have said that means a big game is coming or needed from Josh Jacobs, but after Kenyan Drake broke out against the Broncos, I’d expect to see more of a two-headed monster out of the backfield.

Drake only had four carries in Denver but two went for first downs, one was for a touchdown, and he averaged 8.5 yards per attempt. While the latter figure will likely come down with more touches, the free-agent signing did more than enough to earn a larger role in the offense.

As for Jacobs, he’s still the team’s bell cow and is also coming off an impressive week, where he had a season-high 41 yards after contact.

Jacobs hasn’t been given more than 16 carries in a game this season which is partially because he’s been banged up for almost the entire year. So, while I’d expect him to get more opportunities on Sunday, I’d be surprised if he has more than 20 rushing attempts which should mean more touches for Drake to help close out the game. In other words, the Raiders are going to need both of their backs to show up on Sunday.

Philadelphia’s linebackers also struggle in coverage so I wouldn’t be surprised to see these two have a bigger role in the passing game as well.

Cory Littleton

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Cory Littleton
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles offense has a handful of weapons that can test linebackers in coverage. Tight end Dallas Goedert is an impressive athlete for the position and should have a bigger role now that Zach Ertz is in Arizona. Then there are running backs Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell, both of whom can make plays as receivers.

Goedert was on the reserve/COVID list last week but should be back on Sunday. Through five games this season, he’s been targeted 19 times for 15 receptions, 216 yards and two touchdowns. His 1.74 yards per route run ranks 11th among tight ends - one spot ahead of Darren Waller - and his 78.0 receiving grade ranks eighth, and again, all of this has come with him serving as the second tight end on the depth chart.

While Sanders hasn’t been as involved in the passing game as some people would expect - 21 targets, 18 catches, 121 yards and 0 touchdowns - he’s forced 10 missed tackles as a receiver, which ranks fourth among running backs. That’s a potential problem for the Silver and Black since Littleton six missed tackles on the year, tied for the 12th-most among linebackers, and that’s been an issue for him since joining the team in 2020.

Gainwell is a rookie who actually played quite a bit of wide receiver in college. That skill set has served him well in the NFL so far, as he ranks third among running backs with an 86.8 receiving grade and is 12th with 1.66 yards per route run.

So, Littleton will have his hands full this weekend.

The linebacker has been up and down in coverage so far this year. He’s had three games where he’s allowed four or fewer completions and three games that he’s given up at least seven, for a total of 31 receptions and 235 yards allowed on the campaign.

Las Vegas will need him to put together one of his better outings against Philadelphia, which means being able to match Goedert’s athleticism in coverage and shoring up his tackling form against Sanders and Gainwell.

Brandon Facyson

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Brandon Facyson
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After getting signed just two weeks ago and thrown into the fire against Denver, Brandon Facyson stood out versus the Broncos last week. Facyson made a couple of momentum-changing plays with an interception and a pass break up, while also allowing a solid 84.2 passer rating when targeted. However, his day was far from perfect.

The former Charger was targeted seven times and surrendered four receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown. He also had a slightly below-average 55.5 PFF coverage grade for the game.

Given that Casey Hayward is playing phenomenally and Facyson is still relatively new and a reserve player that’s starting because of an injury to Trayvon Mullen, I’d expect Philadelphia to test the new guy as much as possible, especially early on.

Rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith has been impressive so far this season. He’s emerged as the Eagles’ “No. 1 receiver”, hauling in 27 passes for 345 yards and a touchdown. In college, Smith was known as a do-it-all pass-catcher who can impact all areas of the field, and he’s shown that in NFL as well with at least a 74.9 receiving grade in the four major depth categories - behind the LOS, 0-9 yards past the LOS, 10-19 yards and 20 yards or more.

Since Philadelphia’s other outside receiver, Jalen Reagor has struggled during his young career, I’d expect them to try and get as many matchups between Smith and Facyson to avoid the rookie having to compete with Hayward.

Obviously, that means Facyson will need to step up and clean up his technique to build on the two big plays he made last week. If he can get his hands on a couple of passes early on, that could throw the Eagles’ game plan completely out of whack.

Tre’von Moehrig

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Tre’von Moehrig
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like Tre’von Moehrig is getting a little better every week. His grades have been solid to good ever since Week 2, and he got his first career interception last Sunday to go along with his second pass break up.

Additionally, Moehrig has filled the team’s deep safety role and the longest reception he’s allowed as the primary defender in coverage is just 10 yards. However, that will be put to the test against the Eagles.

Philly has a breakout wide receiver in Quez Watkins who’s quickly become their best deep threat and one of the best in the league overall. The second-year wideout has a 99.9 PFF receiving grade on targets 20 or more yards down the field and has caught 71.4 percent of his targets on such throws, the sixth-highest mark at the position. In total, he’s been targeted 7 times for 5 receptions and 232 yards on deep balls.

Now, Moehrig and the Raiders’ secondary will get some help when the Eagles do try and air it out as quarterback Jalen Hurts ranks 22nd in the league with a 38.5 adjusted completion percentage on deep shots.

However, Hurts and Watkins seem to have a good connection in that realm and Philadelphia should be playing with nothing to lose, meaning they could dial-up bomb after bomb in the hopes of hitting a few big ones that change the momentum of the game. Of course, that can go the other way too and work in Las Vegas’ favor, but only if their deep safety is doing his job play after play. In other words, Moehrig will be facing a lot of pressure this weekend.

Watkins also lines up in the slot about 73.1 percent of the time so Moehrig should get some assistance from Nate Hobbs but with two rookies, that might be a bit of a blind leading the blind scenario. Hopefully, those two will continue to play like a couple of veterans.

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