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Las Vegas Raiders: 5 potential X-factors against Bears

Interesting matchup since a lot of Raiders’ strengths are Bears’ weaknesses and vice versa

Seattle Seahawks v Las Vegas Raiders
Amik Robertson
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

For two teams that typically only play each other once every four years, the Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears have been compared to one another frequently over the last few years.

Now, that might have something to do with a certain transaction that happened about three years ago, but all of this makes it even more fitting that these two teams square off in the first 17-game regular season in NFL history.

The Raiders were able to get the best of the Bears back in 2019, however, this Sunday will be another hard-fought matchup. Chicago has a lot of playmakers on both sides of the ball so Las Vegas will need the players below to step up this weekend:

Foster Moreau

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Foster Moreau
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

To be honest, it’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Foster Moreau so far.

He was viewed as someone who could be a potential breakout candidate in the offseason but has only managed to generate five targets for three catches, 42 yards and one touchdown over the last month. Now, part of that can be chalked up to the emergence of wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, but Moreau isn’t cutting it as a blocker so far this season either.

Pro Football Focus currently has the third-year pro as the fifth-worst run-blocking tight end this season with a grade of 41.6, by far the lowest mark of his young career. He’s been better as a pass protector but still not up to par, earning a 56.4 grade - ranks 41st among TEs - and has allowed a sack and a QB hit on just 20 opportunities.

Given all of this, Moreau’s role in the offense has diminished as he participated in a season-low 17 snaps against the Chargers on Monday night. However, he has an opportunity to get back on track this week since he’ll be going against a team he had a lot of success against as a rookie.

Back in 2019, Moreau caught four of four targets for 46 yards and three first downs, while also earning a pass-blocking grade of 75.8 and a respectable 63.5 run-blocking grade against the Bears. He was also a key part of the game plan to help keep Derek Carr clean in the pocket, which is where he’ll probably make his biggest contribution this time around as well.

There’s no dancing around it, Las Vegas offensive line is going to need some help keeping Chicago's pass rush in check, and said help will likely come from the 2019 fourth-round pick. I’d expect Jon Gruden to use a lot of six-, seven- and even eight-man protections this week, so Moreau is going to have to turn things around and hold his own as protector.

That could also help set up a couple of play-action passes to the tight end, but that will only be effective if the Bears have to honor him as a blocker. Otherwise, they can just sit back in coverage and let the front four get pressure without having to blitz.

Side note, I also wouldn’t put it past Gruden to come off the sideline and throw a chip block on Khalil Mack himself for a play or two. Whatever it takes, right?

Hunter Renfrow

Los Angeles Chargers Play Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium
Hunter Renfrow
Photo by Terry Pierson/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

Aided by the aforementioned pass rush, the Bears have a pretty good secondary. Second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson is having an excellent year, ranking fifth among qualifying corners with a 79.2 PFF coverage grade. He’s allowing a completion percentage of just 42.1 percent, is tied for the lead at his position with five forced incompletions and ranks third with a 42.7 passer rating when targeted.

Then there are safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, both of whom are former Pro Bowlers and Jackson has an All-Pro honor to his name. Granted, Gipson is banged up and may not play this weekend but regardless, it could be tough sledding for the Raiders’ outside receivers this week.

However, Chicago is rather weak at covering the slot.

In Week 1, Marqui Christian started at nickel and allowed five completions on six targets for 85 yards and two touchdowns, playing his way straight to the bench. Duke Shelley has taken over ever since and has been better, but still leaves something to be desired. Shell has surrendered the third-most receptions among corners when covering the slot, and his 1.43 yards per coverage snap ranks just outside the bottom-15 of players at the position.

Meanwhile, Hunter Renfrow currently has the 12th highest PFF receiving grade (82.1) among slot receivers and has been wearing a silver and black cape, serving as the Raiders’ superhero this season.

Considering the Bears are inevitably going to be able to get at least some pressure on Carr and struggle to cover the slot, this could be a huge week for Renfrow, again. He could easily be the team’s go-to receiver in the short- to intermediate-range and just needs to be able to make some magic happen after the catch.

Plus, if the defensive backs keep dropping like flies, the team might need Renfrow to play both ways and keep lighting people up at the catch point.

Amik Robertson

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at San Francisco 49ers
Amik Robertson
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll preface this by saying, at the time of writing, I’m not sure what Trayvon Mullen’s status is for Sunday.

Per ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, Gruden said there are serious/long-term injury concerns with a few players and some are still undergoing MRIs and other tests. The coach didn’t name the cornerback specifically, but Mullen was absent from practice on Monday according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Vincent Bonsignore, and the same goes for Damon Arnette.

So, that likely means Amik Robertson will be elevated to a starting or bigger role, seeing as he’s one of three healthy cornerbacks currently on the active roster. Granted, the team will probably sign someone five minutes after this article publishes with the sole purpose of making me look like an idiot ...

Robertson had a solid performance against the Chargers, especially when considering the situation. He did allow completions on all four passes thrown his way but for just 31 yards, and he was thrown into the fire after likely getting limited reps in practice during the week.

The Louisiana Tech product should get a full workload this time around, but he’ll be lining up against a couple of impressive receivers in Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney.

Robinson has gotten off to a slow start this season with just 13 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, but he’s been one of the best all-around receivers in the league over the last few years while also being held back by poor quarterback play. Plus, he had his best and most productive game of the year last week with Justin Fields under center, who was recently named as Chicago’s starter moving forward.

As for Mooney, he burst onto the scene about halfway through last season and is coming off his best outing of the season. He’s hauled in 17 catches for 226 yards on the year, five and 125 of which came in Week 4.

For the Raiders, this isn’t exactly the best week to be down a starting cornerback, but this is also a great opportunity for Robertson to make a name for himself.

He’s been working to carve out a role on the team over the last couple of seasons, and shutting down a couple of good wideouts would bode well for his future and earn him some more playing time down the road.

Tre’von Moehrig

Miami Dolphins v Las Vegas Raiders
Tre’von Moehrig
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Since we’re on the topic of the Bears’ passing attack and the Raiders’ defensive backs, our next X-factor will be a natural transition, Tre’von Moehrig.

I touched on how phenomenal Moehrig has been recently in my winners and losers column, so to avoid repetition, I’ll sum it up by stating he’s PFF’s fifth-highest graded safety over the last two weeks.

The second-round pick has filled Las Vegas’ deep safety role as that’s where 93.1 percent of his snaps have come and was a major weakness for the team last season. He’ll need to bring his “A-game” this week though, especially with Fields as the starter.

A lot was made about Fields’ abysmal first start in Week 3 and one of the biggest reasons for that was head coach Matt Nagy didn’t seem to change the game plan for his new quarterback. Of course, the pass protection was a big part of that discussion but Nagy also didn’t let Fields loose as he had zero passing attempts 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. However, last Sunday was a completely different story.

The coach opened up the playbook against the Lions as the rookie took six deep shots, completing four of them for 151 of his 209 passing yards.

Pushing the ball down the field was one of the Ohio State product’s strengths in college and obviously, was a big factor in his success during his second NFL start, so I’d expect that to be a big part of this week’s game plan for the Bears. While yes, Detroit is playing its way into the “could they beat Alabama” conversation, but that’s where Moehrig and the Raiders’ talent overall comes in.

If Fields’ Week 4 success was more indicative of his competition than his skill set, then Las Vegas should have no problem keeping the quarterback in check. However, that means the team’s free safety has to play well.

There’s no reason to think Moehrig isn’t up for the task, but he’ll have to prove it in the game and that could end up being a difficult challenge.

Raiders’ Offensive Line

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Kolton Miller
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For the last several years, Chicago’s defensive line has been one of the best in the NFL and they’re putting together another good season once again. They currently lead the league with 15 sacks and while their run defense isn’t quite as good, the Monsters of the Midway rank 13th surrendering 4.1 yards per carry.

Unfortunately, the Bears’ defensive production isn’t just coming from one player either. Defensive end Robert Quinn has the most sacks on the team with 4.5 and the second-most tackles for loss with four, while Mack is just behind Quinn in sacks with four and has four TFLs, which leads the team.

On the interior, former Raider Mario Edwards Jr. has put the quarterback in the dirt 1.5 times and has one tackle behind the line of scrimmage on just 48 total snaps, and Eddie Goldman returned from injury and worked his way back into the rotation last week. Then there’s former Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks, whose status for Sunday is up in the air after exiting last week’s game early with a groin injury.

Regardless of whether Hicks plays or not, the Raiders struggling offensive will have their hands full this weekend.

There are rumors that Alex Leatherwood has been practicing at guard this week, though that’s not coming from a particularly reliable source, but also not unfathomable as something has to change in the trenches. The Raiders currently rank dead last with a 34.2 team run-blocking grade per PFF - over 15 points lower than the 31st team - and 21st in pass blocking (54.7), and the latter is honestly higher than I expected.

Obviously, that has to improve not only for the team to have sustained success throughout the season but also just to get through this week. It will take a collective effort but several offensive linemen need to step up to turn this around otherwise, it could be another long night for Carr and the Silver and Black’s offense.