After showing little-to-no signs of life in the two games following the bye week, the Las Vegas Raiders managed to revive their playoff hopes on Thanksgiving Day.
The Raiders currently sit at 6-5 and in a three-way tie for the AFC’s third wild card spot with two division rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos. That means Las Vegas has little to no room for error as we head into the final six weeks of the season.
This week, the Raiders are currently 2.5-point favorites against the Washington Football Team via DraftKings SportsBook, so the Silver and Black should be able to get the job done at home on Sunday. However, they’ll need significant contributions from the five players below.
(Note: all stats and rankings below were taken before WFT’s Week 12 Monday Night Football game)
It’s no secret that the Football Team’s biggest strength is their defensive line, even without Chase Young and Montez Sweat in the lineup. While Young and Sweat grab the headlines on the edge, Jonathan Allen has been just as disruptive on the interior.
Over the last couple of years, Allen has emerged as one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league. He registered 47 pressures on the inside in 2020 which was just outside the top-10 for the position, but his 83.5 PFF pass-rush grade ranked tied for sixth and 17 percent win rate ranked ninth. In 2021, he’s been even better.
The Alabama alum already has 41 pressures on the campaign, just nine away from a personal best and good enough for the fifth-most among defensive tackles. What’s most impressive about that figure is the efficiency at which he’s been able to get after the quarterback, as Allen has the fewest pass-rush snaps in the top-five by over 60 snaps. Also, his win rate (20.7 percent) and pass-rush grade (91.4) rank second behind only Aaron Donald.
Allen predominately lines up on the offense’s left, so that means he’ll be matched up with John Simpson frequently this Sunday.
Simpson struggled in pass protection to start the season but has played extremely well over the last couple of games. He’s allowed only two pressures in the last two weeks, his 98.2 efficiency rating ranks tied for 17th among guards and a 79.8 pass-blocking grade is good enough for 12th-best during that timeframe, per PFF.
Granted, those numbers are partially inflated since he left the Bengals game early with an injury but regardless, there’s been a noticeable difference in the 2020 fourth-round pick’s play during his recent outings.
The Raiders are going to need that trend to continue to contain one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the NFL.
Speaking of Washington’s fearsome pass rush, Daron Payne is another significant rusher Las Vegas will need to account for.
Payne isn’t nearly the same caliber of player that Allen is, but he is still a disruptive pass rusher. With 28 pressures on the year, Payne ranks tied for 12th among defensive tackles but the good news is, his efficiency numbers are more run of the mill for the position.
The former first-round pick’s 11.3 percent win rate is tied for 42nd out of 125 qualifying defensive tackles, and his 69.0 pass-rush grade is 30th. Those aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but they are certainly not as worrisome compared to some of the other defensive tackles the Raiders have faced this season.
Regardless, Alex Leatherwood is going to need to be at his best.
At guard, Leatherwood has been much more productive as a pass protector. He went from allowing four sacks in four games at tackle to just one at guard, and the one came during his first game at the new position. So he’s on a six-game sackless streak and is coming off his highest single-game pass-blocking grade with an impressive 82.5 mark.
Now, the first-round pick has still been giving up quite a few pressures. From Weeks 5-12, only one guard has surrendered more pressures (25) and only two others have a lower pass-blocking efficiency rating (95.1).
In other words, the strides Leatherwood has made have been great, but the team is going to need him to turn it up a notch this weekend. Even Matt loannidis, Washington’s backup defensive tackle, poses a threat to the rookie with his 16 pressures and 71.0 pass-rush grade on the year.
Unfortunately, the Raiders win over the Cowboys did come with some bad news. Darren Waller suffered a strained IT band and luckily, he’s not out for the rest of the season, but he could miss some time with the injury.
Even if Waller does suit up this weekend, he likely won’t be 100 percent and that should mean Foster Moreau takes on a bigger role in the offense.
Moreau stepped up as a solid run blocker last week after Waller went down, but he only managed to haul in one of four targets for just three yards against Dallas. Obviously, Las Vegas is going to need more than that to replace the team’s top receiving threat.
Luckily, two factors are working in the LSU product’s favor. His previous performance without his predecessor in the lineup and this week’s matchup.
Moreau’s most productive game by far this season came in Week 7 when Waller missed the game with an injury. Against the Eagles, he caught six of six targets for 60 yards, a touchdown, four first downs and a passer rating of 147.9 when targeted. For what it’s worth, he also had one of his best run-blocking grades (65.9) of the year in that contest.
As for the matchup, Jamin Davis is a rookie linebacker for Washington who has struggled in coverage. His 41.3 coverage grade ranks 76th out of 85 qualifying linebackers, due in part to the 10.2 yards per catch and 86.4 percent completion percentage he’s allowing, both of which are in the bottom third at the position. Opponents have started to take advantage of this too, as he went from being targeted once every 11 coverage snaps in Weeks 1-5 to a one per 6.7 rate in Weeks 6-11.
Davis’ struggles aren’t limited to the passing game either. His 32.5 grade against the run is also toward the bottom of his position, so Moreau should be able to create some second-level rushing lanes against the rookie.
Washington’s linebackers are rather weak even beyond Davis, especially in coverage. So, even if Waller plays, the Raiders could use their No. 2 tight end to step up and take some of the pressure off the superstar for at least one week.
Tre’von Moehrig is having a fantastic rookie season. He’s recorded more snaps than any other defensive rookie by over 100 and has the eighth-highest overall PFF grade of any defender in the draft class - one spot behind Nate Hobbs.
Moehrig’s ball skills have been what’s stood out the most. Among all qualifying safeties, he ranks tied for 11th with four forced incompletions (FI) and has the fourth-highest rate of FIs to targets at 44 percent.
However, if there’s one knock on him in this department, it’s that he also ranks tied for third for the most dropped interceptions at the position with two. At the end of the day, that’s not a terrible stat since it does mean he’s around the ball a lot, but those errant throws are something he needs to start capitalizing on, especially this week.
Taylor Heinicke, the Football Team’s starting quarterback, has what I like to call a “YOLO mentality”, meaning there isn’t a throw he doesn’t think he can’t make and is susceptible to putting the ball up for grabs.
Not only does Heinicke rank tied for 11th with nine interceptions on the year, but he also ranks tied for sixth with 15 turnover-worthy plays (TWP). Out of nine starts this season, he’s had five games with multiple TWPs and had at least one in all but three starts.
Las Vegas is tied with the Jets and Seahawks for the fewest interceptions in the NFL with four, but they should have plenty of opportunities to turn that around this weekend. Hopefully, Moehrig will be able to capitalize and generate some momentum-altering plays, which has been one of the defense’s biggest deficiencies this season.
To be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of offensive players that I’m terribly worried about from the Football Team. They’ve used the majority of their assets on the defensive side of the ball in recent years, and are left with a rather lackluster group of offensive weapons. However, Terry McLaurin is a wideout that can and should strike fear in opponents.
Scary Terry has 54 grabs for 735 yards and five touchdowns on the year and owns the 15th-best receiving grade (78.8) among wide receivers. What makes him so dangerous is he’s a do-it-all receiver who can impact the game in several different ways.
Of his 735 receiving yards, 258 have come on targets 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, 218 in the 10-19 yard range, 215 at or within 10 yards of the line, and 44 have been on screens. Removing the last category, that’s about as balanced of a breakdown as it gets and his receiving grades in those areas are 97.2, 94.3 and 92.6, respectively.
Even at just 6’0”, McLaurin still leads the league with 23 contested catches which are eight more than second place. Now, part of that has to do with Heinicke’s YOLO mentality as the quarterback will just toss up some 50/50 balls when the wideout isn’t open, and that’s why McLaurin also has the most contested targets (38) by a wide margin. However, the wideout is still coming down with 60.5 percent of those passes so he does have plenty of skills at the catch point that cornerbacks need to be able to defend against.
That’s where Casey Hayward comes in.
Hayward has five pass breakups (PBUs) on the year and is putting together a solid season, but he has been slipping a bit lately.
Four of his five PBUs came in Weeks 1-6 and the difference in targets he’s seen has only dipped from about 3.5 per game in those contests to 2.6 in the five games since then. Also, he’s coming off his worst outing of the year, allowing five targets for five completions and 102 yards against the Cowboys. For what it’s worth, the veteran’s coverage grades during those time frames are 84.3 - highest among cornerbacks - 53.3 - 97th at the position.
The Raiders could be set up for their best defensive performance of the season this Sunday given the Football Team’s lack of offensive weapons, but that could be all for not if the team’s top corner doesn’t turn things around quickly.