After suffering their first loss of the season, the Las Vegas Raiders look to bounce back in Week 5 against the Chicago Bears. The Raiders are in for a fight, though as the Bears have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to make for several interesting one-on-one matchups.
In full disclosure, I’m well aware that Las Vegas’ offensive line versus Chicago’s defensive line will play a big factor in the game, but I didn’t include anyone from those position groups here for a couple of reasons.
For one, I already touched on that topic in my X-factors column so rather than beat a dead horse, I figured it’d be better to keep things fresh this time around. Secondly, the rumor that the Raiders are reshuffling their offensive line has picked up more steam, so I’m not exactly sure who’s going to be playing where, making the matchups more like guesswork.
With that, let’s move on to the other important one-on-one battles.
Henry Ruggs III vs Jaylon Johnson
Second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson is having a fantastic year so far for the Bears. He’s currently Pro Football Focus’ third-highest graded cornerback - minimum 69 total snaps - has allowed a 42.1 percent completion rate and a 42.7 passer rating when targeted.
Johnson was a second-round pick in 2020 and was widely regarded as one of the better Day 2 picks of the draft, due in part to his size. He stands at 6’0” and 196 pounds and has been able to hold his own against bigger pass-catchers this season.
For example, T.J. Hockenson and Tee Higgins combined for just one catch on five targets for just seven yards and no first downs against Johnson, and Johnson was able to record an interception and pass breakup when working against Higgins specifically.
However, speed receivers have given the Fresno native some trouble in coverage. Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson were able to haul in four receptions, 70 yards and four first downs on seven targets against the defensive back.
Johnson was clocked with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time at the combine so speed might be a bit of a weakness for him. That’s where Henry Ruggs III steps in.
We all know how fast Ruggs is at this point, and he’s proven to be a quality deep threat this season. He currently has 172 receiving yards on targets 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage which ranks third among receivers, and his 135.4 passer rating on such throws is tied for 12th.
Now, Jon Gruden might not call as many shots down the field this week given the Raiders’ offensive line and the Bears’ pass rush, but if Ruggs can break loose early on and force Johnson and Chicago to honor his speed, that will help open up the rest of the field.
So, I’d expect Gruden to use max protection and dial-up a bomb to Ruggs in the first or second quarter to test the corner’s speed and see if his wideout can break free. Even if it’s only one play, that could have a major impact on how Chicago plays defense for the rest of the game.
Casey Hayward vs Allen Robinson
Staying within the skill positions, let’s dive into another wide receiver and cornerback matchup but flip the teams around on this one.
Casey Hayward has been one of this year’s best free-agent signings not only for Las Vegas but in the NFL as a whole. He currently has the highest PFF coverage grade (86.4) among cornerbacks, has allowed a 38.5 percent completion percentage - ranks fifth - and just 39 receiving yards - ranks ninth.
Hayward has taken over as the Silver and Black’s No. 1 corner, giving the organization an outstanding return on investment seeing as he’s only making $2.5 million this season. However, the 10-year veteran faces arguably his biggest challenge of the year this week in Allen Robinson.
Over the past few years, Robinson has been widely regarded as one of the top wideouts in the league, partially because he’s managed to be productive despite playing with terrible quarterbacks. For example, he had 200 catches for 2,397 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020 combined, and that was with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles throwing the ball to him. Those two are now backups in 2021.
The eight-year pro has gotten off to a slow start this season with just 13 grabs, 149 yards and one score, but he’s also coming off his best game of the year. With Justin Fields at the helm, Robinson caught three of three targets for 63 yards and two first downs in Week 4.
That’s especially impressive since it was Fields’ second start and Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy spent the last two months or so trying to coerce people into thinking Andy Dalton is the starter, meaning Fields and Robinson have taken limited reps together until now.
The rookie is probably the best quarterback Robinson has played with - remember, he started his career with Blake Bortles - which should help unlock some of the wideout’s potential and make for a really competitive back and forth between him and Hayward. To quote a great philosopher, Lane Kiffin, “Get your popcorn ready.”
Yannick Ngakoue vs Jason Peters
Speaking of excellent free agent signings by the Silver and Black, Yannick Ngakoue is already paying major dividends for the team.
The pass rusher has 18 pressures on the year which is tied for ninth among edge defenders and his 80.5 pass-rush grade ranks tied for 13th - minimum 32 rushes. For comparison’s sake, Raiders’ edges collectively had 22 pressures through four weeks last season and Arden Key led the way with a 71.8 grade, while no one else broke 60.
Part of what makes Ngakoue such a threat on the edge is his get-off. He’s able to fly off the ball and put pressure on offensive tackles vertically, which should come in handy this Sunday.
Jason Peters starts at left tackle for the Bears, and he’ll likely be putting on a gold jacket once he finally stays retired. Peters has been widely regarded as one of the best tackles in the league in the past, and while he’s not quite what he used to be, he’s still a quality lineman.
In pass protection, the 15-year veteran has allowed two sacks this season, but he’s only surrendered five pressures in total and ranks 11th among tackles with a 78.4 pass-blocking grade. However, Peters is nearly 40-years old and Chicago signed him off the street about halfway into training camp, so he isn’t quite as fleet of foot as he used to be, and that’s where I think Ngakoue might have the upper hand.
If the edge rusher can continue to get off the ball like he’s been able to, he should be able to win around the edge and put some pressure on Fields. The rookie quarterback has put together two polarizing starts. One where he struggled and was under pressure on 53.5 percent of dropbacks, and another where he shined and was under fire 31.6 percent of the time.
So, a key to the game for the Raiders on Sunday will be to make Fields uncomforable and that means Ngakoue needs to get the best of a future Hall of Famer.