After a bye week where the Las Vegas Raiders got some help and are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC West, the Raiders are officially primed for a playoff run.
Las Vegas is in control of its own destiny so all they need to do is continue to stack up wins for the final 10 weeks of the season. The Raiders are three-point road favorites against the New York Giants, per DraftKings Sportsbook. This is a game that shouldn’t be too difficult, but as we all know, the Raiders are coming off an extremely emotional and tragic week.
The Giants are no easy out, either. They’re coming off a 22-point victory over the Carolina Panthers and just a three-point defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs. New York has a good defense that will keep them in games.
So, the Silver and Black are going to need several key players to step up to avoid the upset.
Speaking of the Giants’ impressive defense, their defensive tackle duo — Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence — might be one of the best in the league.
Against the run, Williams ranks tied for fourth among defensive tackles with 16 stops while Lawrence is just outside the Top-25 with 10, per Pro Football Focus. As pass rushers, Williams’ 26 pressures ranks tied for sixth at the position, and Lawrence’s 20 are good enough to tie Calais Campbell and Grady Jarrett for the 14th-most.
So, Las Vegas’ interior offensive linemen are going to have their hands full on Sunday.
Nearly all — 90.0 percent -—of Lawrence’s snaps have come on the offense’s right and Williams has played there 19.3 percent of the time this season, so Alex Leatherwood is going to have to deal with both of them.
Leatherwood’s move to guard has come with a mixed bag of results. His PFF run-blocking grade has improved from 53.9 to 67.8, but his grade in pass protection has remained stagnant, going from 28.1 to 27.3.
Granted, the latter is weighed down by a Week 7 performance where he posted an 8.1 pass-blocking grade against Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, but it’s not like things are going to get any easier this Sunday. It’s also worth noting that Leatherwood earned his highest pass pro grade in Week 6 against the Broncos — 62.3 — so it has been a roller coaster ride for him in that realm at the new position.
To keep Derek Carr clean and move the ball on the ground, the Raiders are going to need their first-round pick to put it all together and have a complete game.
Part of the reason the Giants have struggled offensively this year - and last year - is because they’ve been playing without their best player, Saquon Barkley.
Barkley missed all but a game and a quarter of last season with a torn ACL and has been out basically since Week 4 in 2021 with a sprained ankle. He exited in Week 5 after playing in just six snaps.
If you’re wondering how much New York’s offense has missed having their top back this year, look at it this way, Devonte Booker leads their running backs with 216 rushing yards on the season but is only 21 yards ahead of Barkley despite playing in three more games and having 10 more carries. Quarterback Daniel Jones comfortably has the most rushing yards on the team with 241.
But Barkley is expected to be back this week and I’d expect him and the ground game to be a huge part of their game plan. That’s where Johnathan Hankins comes in.
Hankins hasn’t been as productive as he’s been in the past, with only 5 solo tackles and 0 for loss, but he’s still a space-eater in the middle and one of the team’s best run defenders. He can wreak havoc in the opponent’s backfield and luckily, he’ll have favorable matchups in the trenches this Sunday.
Will Hernandez is probably the best healthy interior offensive lineman New York has, and he was benched about halfway through the season in favor of a fifth-round rookie. Hernadez has switched to right guard and has been a starter this season, but his play has been about the same.
At center and left guard, the G-Men have been devastated by injuries. Their week 1 starting center, Nick Gates, went down during the team’s second game of the year and backup Billy Price has taken over. Price was considered one of the worst starting centers in the league during his short tenure in Cincinnati (2018-2020) and has only been slightly better in New York.
As for left guard, the Giants might set a record for most players used at one position as they’ve already had four guys play at that spot, Shane Lemieux, Matt Skura, Ben Bredeson and Wes Martin. This week it will either be Bredeson — who is coming off an injury — or Skura, both of whom are castaways from the Baltimore Ravens.
So, Hankins should have no problem getting off blocks this weekend, and the Raiders will need him to throw a wrench into the Giants’ game plan.
First thing, I’d like to take send my condolences to Tina Tintor and her family, the victim of Henry Ruggs’ DUI car crash. That’s an extremely sad and terrible situation and far more important than anything that’s happening on a football field this weekend.
As far as the game goes, Las Vegas will need someone to step up in Ruggs’ absence. They only have three wide receivers on the active roster other than him; Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones. Renfrow and Edwards already have a defined role on the team but Jones will be taking on a much bigger role than normal this Sunday.
Jones has played well with limited playing time so far this season. He’s hauled in six of seven targets for 115 yards and a walk-off touchdown against Baltimore, giving him an impressive 19.2 yards per catch on the campaign. Surprisingly, he leads the team in yards per route run with 2.17, granted, that’s slightly inflated due to the lack of playing time.
The East Carolina product will have an opportunity to prove that he can maintain that level of production this week, however, it will be tough sledding against New York’s secondary.
James Bradberry has become a household name over the last year and a half, primarily because of his top-notch ball skills. Last season, he finished tied for second among cornerbacks with 14 pass breakups and was in the Top-10 for interceptions with three, and this season, he ranks tied for third and second in those categories with six and three, respectively.
On the other side is Adoree’ Jackson, whose 8.8 yards allowed per reception ranks tied for 15th at the position and leads all corners with 15 stops in coverage. For comparison’s sake, there’s a three-way tie for second place in coverage stops but all three players are four behind Jackson, so he’s significantly out-pacing his peers in that department.
In other words, yards might be hard to come by for Jones and the Raiders receiving corps this Sunday. However, he needs to be up for the task as stretching the field with the passing game has become a staple of the Silver and Black’s offense this year.
There’s no doubt that Nate Hobbs has severely outplayed his draft slot this season.
The fifth-round pick has allowed 0.70 yards per coverage snap in the slot this year which ranks eighth among slot corners. He also ranks second, behind Casey Hayward, with an 81.8 PFF coverage grade and is firmly in the discussion for defensive rookie of the year.
Hobbs has passed every test he’s faced so far this season, but he’ll have another difficult one this weekend.
Sterling Shepard is the Giants’ primary slot receiver and is a tough cover on the inside because of his shiftiness and contested catch ability. He currently ranks 21st among slots with 187 yards despite missing three games and has hauled in six of his seven contested targets. Granted, Shepard left Monday night’s game against the Chiefs with a quad injury and is questionable for this Sunday.
However, rookie Kadarius Toney has filled in nicely when Shepard has been out. Toney is another human joystick that will test Hobbs’ tackling skills as he currently averages 8.7 yards after the catch per reception, which is the third-most among inside receivers. Now, the Florida product also exited the Chiefs game with an injury, so his status against the Raiders is up in the air as well.
But, New York has used a platoon approach in the slot this year, partially because they’ve been forced to with all of these injuries, and tight end Evan Engram has seen his fair share of snaps there as well. Engram has the size and speed combination that makes him a tough cover for defensive backs, and he’s hauled in 15 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown as a slot receiver this year.
So, no matter who suits up for the G-men this weekend, Hobbs will have his hands full and might have to face a variety of different styles of pass-catchers.
I feel like a bit of a broken record because the last time I wrote this column, two weeks ago, I included Tre’von Moehrig in it and this week it’s for the same reason, protecting against the deep ball.
The rookie was successful in that task against the Eagles. He didn’t allow a reception as the primary defender in coverage and Quez Watkins, Philadelphia’s deep threat, was held to just two catches for 18 yards. Moehrig will need to replicate that effort this weekend as he faces another downfield specialist in John Ross.
Ross isn’t a starter for New York - well unless injuries force him into that role - and isn’t a high-volume target or catch guy - he’s had more than three targets once this season - but he is capable of making some impact plays.
The former first-round pick has eight catches for 189 yards and a touchdown, giving him an astonishing average of 23.6 yards per catch. He also has a 94.0 PFF receiving grade on targets 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage and has caught two of two contested targets at that depth.
Given New York’s injuries and overall lack of an offensive spark, I’d expect them to dial-up several deep shots Ross especially early on to try and inject some energy into the team. But if Moehrig continues to do what he’s done all season, those long bombs will be nothing more than long incompletions.