A few weeks ago, a lot of people, myself included, were ready to declare the Las Vegas Raiders dead. The Raiders were on a losing skid that appeared to have no end in sight and was encapsulated by a 39-point loss to the Chiefs.
However, Las Vegas has risen from the ashes by winning their last two contests and pulling themselves into a three-way tie with the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers for the AFC’s final Wild Card spot.
Yesterday’s victory over the Denver Broncos not only improved the Silver and Black’s postseason chances, but also all but eliminated their division rival’s hopes at making the tournament. Also, several players stepped up in some key areas that have been lacking for the Raiders this season, providing more reason for optimism heading into January.
WINNER: Darius Philon
This is the time of year where every team’s depth is tested. Injuries are occurring left and right as the toll of the season wears on players' bodies and positive COVID tests seem to be popping up every day. The Raiders were no different on Sunday as they had several players out, including starting defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
However, Hankins’ absence went virtually unnoticed due to the play of Darius Philon.
Philon finished the game with four total tackles - third-most on the team - one tackle for loss and a 79.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus that was the second-highest mark among Raiders’ defenders behind Maxx Crosby. Diving even deeper into the stat sheet, the free-agent signing registered three stops against the run which is currently the third-most among defensive tackles for the week.
He constantly played in Denver’s backfield and turned what could have been a weak spot in Las Vegas’ defense into a strength.
LOSER: Alex Leatherwood
In fairness to Alex Leatherwood, he did have a good game as a run blocker with a career/season-best 79.5 grade as a run blocker that also ranked second on the team. However, that’s never been an area of concern with Leatherwood, and pass protection was a wildly different story.
He’s struggled with consistency in that area all year long and Sunday was another low point, with five pressures surrendered - one sack, one QB hit, three hurries - and a 19.0 pass-blocking grade. Those numbers are the fourth-worst and second-worst among guards for Week 16, respectively, to go along with a 90.0 efficiency rating that also is in the bottom two for the position.
It’s frightening to see the rookie continue to struggle in pass protection this late in the year, especially after undergoing a position change that was supposed to help him. Leatherwood’s prowess as a run blocker is great but in a pass-happy league, he has to find more consistency as a pass blocker moving forward.
WINNER: Desmond Trufant
Desmond Trufant found himself in almost the same situation as Philon, needing to step up with Trayvon Mullen, Nate Hobbs and Brandon Facyson on the shelf. And much like Philon, Trufant answered the call.
Granted, he gave up the most receiving yards on the team (60), but he was also targeted significantly more than anyone else. Linebacker Denzel Perryman finished in second with five targets and cornerbacks Keisean Nixon and Casey Hayward were third with two. Meanwhile, Trufant was tested with 10, so more than double any other defensive back on the team.
What made the veteran’s performance so special was his tackling. Of the 60 yards he allowed, only one came after the catch and he didn’t miss a single tackle. On top of that, he’s tied for the lead among cornerbacks with three stops in coverage this week.
While sure, mixing in a few pass breakups would be nice, if Trufant can remain a sure tackler and limit the opponent’s explosive plays through the air, he’ll become a valuable No. 2 corner for a potential playoff run.
LOSER: Divine Deablo
Divine Deablo played excellent in the three games leading up to this one, but he struggled to make an impact on Sunday. He finished with just one total tackle and earned his lowest overall PFF grade (51.8) since Week 3 (42.4).
Coverage was the biggest issue for the Virginia Tech product. His 40.4 grade in that realm was the 10th-lowest among linebackers for the week and while he was only targeted once, it went for a 40-yard completion. That was Denver’s most explosive play of the game by 20 yards.
Deablo’s lone tackle was on said reception so it’s not as if he was flying around and making plays against the run, either.
At the end of the day, it was one rough outing and won’t define him, but he has allowed completions on 11 of 11 targets this season so this is starting to become a problem. The rookie is more than capable of figuring it out and improving in coverage for the long haul, but he is running out of time to correct the issue for the team’s playoff push this season.
WINNER: Raiders’ run game
While Josh Jacobs will get a lot of the glory with his 27 carries for 129 yards - 4.8 yards per attempt - and first 100-yard performance of the season, the Raiders’ success on the ground was truly a collective effort.
As a team, Las Vegas rushed for 160 yards which is a season-high by 17 yards, and only the fifth time all season they’ve eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The Silver and Black also had three offensive linemen register run-blocking grades north of 75; Leatherwood (79.5), Kolton Miller (76.6) and Brandon Parker (90.4). Parker’s figure is not only in the elite category but also ranks fourth among offensive tackles for the week.
Foster Moreau (67.2), Daniel Helm (65.8), Andre James (65.7) and Sutton Smith (63.1) also earned respectable grades in that department, so it really was a full-team effort, especially on the four-minute drill where they only threw the ball once to shut the door on the Broncos.
It’s no secret that the Raiders’ rushing attack has been lackluster this year as they came into the game with the fifth-lowest team yards per carry (3.8) in the league. Making strides toward a more balanced offense is a welcomed sight with the potential of playing in a bad weather postseason game upcoming.
WINNER: Foster Moreau
In the spirit of the big victory, I’ll shift the balance of winners and losers this week to cover more winners, and Moreau got a much-needed “win” this week. As mentioned above, he made a positive impact in the team’s rushing attack, and he’s also starting to break through as a receiver.
With Darren Waller out for about the past month, it felt like we were all waiting on Moreau to break through as a pass-catcher. However, he was rather pedestrian with the increased opportunities, until the last couple of weeks.
In the first two and a half games without Waller, the 2019 fourth-round pick was targeted 13 times but only had five catches and 50 yards to show for it. Against the Browns and Broncos, he’s had the same amount of targets but has turned those into 11 grabs for 132 yards, nearly tripling his production in two fewer quarters.
Part of what made Moreau’s game against Denver so special is he came through in the clutch as well. Las Vegas faced a third and two on their final drive of the game and dialed up a play-action pass to the tight end that he pulled down for a 28-yard gain to seal the victory.
The last couple of weeks is exactly what the team and fans have been waiting for from Moreau. If he can continue to gain Derek Carr’s trust, then the Raiders will be able to have the dynamic one-two punch of tight ends when Waller comes back that everyone thought they’d have at the beginning of the season.
BONUS WINNER: Gamblers
Most sportsbooks had the Raiders around the seven-win mark for the season and Sunday’s win pushes them over that figure. Hopefully, some of you will be able to cash in!