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Raiders: 3 key matchups against Eagles

A couple of OL vs DL matchups and a WR vs DB one-on-one

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

Riding off the high of a convincing divisional win, the Las Vegas Raiders have a great opportunity to hold a 5-2 record heading into the bye week. The Raiders are set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7, who are still trying to find their identity at 2-4.

However, Philadelphia isn’t exactly devoid of talent.

The Eagles roster is a mixture of proven veterans from a Super Bowl-winning team and an impressive crop of young players. They’re capable of pulling off an upset so winning the matchups below will play a big factor in the game.

Maxx Crosby vs. Lane Johnson

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Maxx Crosby
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of who has the ball, this game has the potential to be an all-out war in the trenches. I touched on the Eagles’ defensive line versus the Raiders’ offensive line, especially the battle on the inside, in my X-factors column this week, so we’ll focus on when Philly has the ball here.

As I’m sure you already know, Maxx Crosby is having an outstanding season as a pass rusher so far. He currently leads all edge defenders in pressures (43), win rate (27.6%) and PFF pass-rush grade (92.2). In five out of six games this year, he’s had at least five pressures and he’s coming off his second double-digit performance of the campaign with 12 last week against Denver.

Crosby is playing his way into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, and he has a chance to pad his resume by beating an offensive tackle that’s been one of the league’s bests in recent years.

Lane Johnson returned to practice this week for the Eagles after taking some time to work on his mental health. Obviously, Johnson hasn’t played very much this season but has been effective with a limited workload. He allowed just five pressures in the first three games of the season, all of which were just hurries so he hasn’t allowed a sack or quarterback hit, meaning he hasn’t let anyone even touch the quarterback yet.

The veteran offensive tackle’s pass-blocking efficiency rating is an impressive 97.9 which ranks tied for 15th - with fellow Eagle Jordan Mailata - among offensive tackles in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. However, that’s down from his 98.7 mark that ranked fourth in 2020.

In other words, Johnson is one of the better pass-protectors in the NFL, so this will be a fun one-on-one battle between a rising star edge rusher and a former first-team All-Pro offensive tackle.

Johnathan Hankins vs. Jason Kelce

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Johnathan Hankins is hands-down one of the best run defenders on Las Vegas’ defense. He does a lot that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet like taking away rushing lanes by plugging up gaps and helping to cut the field in half. That’s why it was such a big deal when he couldn’t suit up last week with a hip injury.

The big man returned to practice in a limited role on Wednesday this week, which is a good sign he’ll be ready to go against Philadelphia. That’s good news because the Raiders are going to need him big time on Sunday.

While Jason Kelce isn’t quite what he used to be, which was the best center in the NFL, he’s still a very effective run blocker. Kelce currently boasts a 91.7 run-blocking grade per PFF, which ranks first among centers. This should come as no surprise though, seeing as he’s graded out in the 80s or higher four out of the last five seasons, with the outlier being 79.0 mark in 2020.

Kelce has the unique blend of size, strength and athleticism to get the better of some of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. In other words, Hankins draws a tough assignment in his first week back from injury.

While the Eagles have the fifth-fewest rushing attempts in the league, it might be something that they start emphasizing more as their game plan evolves throughout the season because they are efficient at it. Philly is tied for the most yards per carry as a team with 5.2, and averages 113.7 rushing yards per game - 15th-most - despite such a low usage of run plays.

Given that the Birds have struggled offensively in recent weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come out and place an emphasis on the ground game early on. That means the Raiders’ defensive tackle has to be on his game otherwise, Kelce and company could have no problem running the ball and keeping Las Vegas’ offense off the field.

Hunter Renfrow vs. Avonte Maddox

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Chargers
Hunter Renfrow
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

One of the best storylines stemming from the Raiders this season has been the emergence of Hunter Renfrow. Of course, Raider Nation already knew about the third-down menace, but now the rest of the world is starting to recognize him as one of the league’s top slot receivers.

Renfrow has hauled in 16 of 22 targets for 212 yards and a touchdown on the inside. His receptions rank 13th among slot receivers, while his yardage ranks 11th and 78.9 receiving grade is 14th.

But probably the most impressive and telling stat for the three-year veteran is his 10 first downs which are good enough for eighth-best among slots. He’s been a chain-mover all season and that’s exactly what Las Vegas’ offense will need him to be on Sunday.

However, that could be tough sledding as Philadelphia’s nickel corner, Avonte Maddox, has also been fantastic this season.

Maddox currently allows 0.65 yards per coverage snap in the slot, which ranks sixth at the position. In total, he’s surrendered 15 receptions on 23 targets for just 97 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 88.5 on the inside.

The defensive back has been an emerging player for the Eagles this season, which sets up for an intriguing battle between two up-and-coming young players in the league. Factoring in Philly’s pass rush against Las Vegas’ offensive line, this will be a key matchup for the Silver and Black. Derek Carr likely won’t have much time in the pocket so he’ll have to rely on his security blanket to win in short areas of the field.

That could lean in the Raiders’ favor as Maddox has allowed 69 yards after the catch this season - tied for 15th-most among slot corners - however, he hasn’t missed a tackle this year so this still shapes up to be one hell of a fight.

Week in and week out, Renfrow has been up for the challenge so there’s no reason to think he won’t be this time around either.