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Raiders playoff push: Lassoed one horse, now for another

Raiders’ resurgent defense can provide quite the statement by corralling the Colts

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (77), who had a sack in Sunday’s win, and the Raiders defense are walking around with a bit of swagger.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders defense earned to walk with some swagger. Not the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair supreme drip strut, mind you. But a little dip in the Raiders hip is warranted when they stroll around headquarters in Henderson.

What Gus Bradley’s unit did against the visiting Denver Broncos this past Sunday was impressive: 18 yards rushing allowed. Let that sink in. Drew Lock starting at quarterback or not, the Raiders defense smothered the Broncos and blew out the candle on the horsemen from Colorado in Vegas’ 17-13 victory.

“Our defense, I really haven’t come up with a word yet to describe it,” Bisaccia said after the win. “First and foremost, I’d say it was outstanding. It was phenomenal. It was awesome. It was a relentless, competitive effort down in and down in and down in. I can’t say enough about how excited we are about the way our defense played. … They kept us in it the whole day.”

Bradley’s group kept the Raiders alive even when the team’s offense was habitually giving the Broncos the ball back. First was an awful fumble by running back Josh Jacobs that saw the tailback knock the pigskin out of his own hand with his knee. Then came the absolutely awesome leap, tip and near pick-six by Denver edge rusher Bradley Chubb. Those two were followed by a strip sack on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and it was a sequence Raider Nation and football observers, alike, have seen in the past: When the going gets tough, the Silver & Black fold.

Only, the Raiders didn’t.

Despite giving Denver the ball several times, the Vegas defense stiffened. And when it was all said and done, the much-maligned Bradley defense yielded just 158 total yards and 13 points.

“Our mentality is 1-0. That’s what it’s been the last couple weeks,” Maxx Crosby said postgame. “Just seeing how the guys have been responding has been awesome. On the D-line, we’ve just been super locked in on not making mistakes.

“Ever since the Kansas City game, we were jumping offsides, having penalties. We just can’t have that. We can’t be having penalties this time of the year. We’ve just got to play clean, good football, and that’s what we did today.”

The defense carrying the day is a tremendous sign, even if it was against an inferior Denver offense that was captained by a scattershot quarterback in Lock. We can debate the legitimacy of the Cleveland Browns and Broncos offense — the two teams the Raiders have beat in back-to-back games to rejuvenate the team’s postseason aspirations — till the cows come home, but make no mistake: A win is a win no matter if it’s a shellacking or ugly.

Corralling Denver’s run game is an encouraging sign as Vegas embarks on the final two win-and-your-in regular season games left on tap. The upcoming contests against the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers are de facto playoff games for the Raiders.

“They’ve done a great job of stopping the run and that’s where it starts. It starts from the inside out,” Raiders slot extraordinaire Hunter Renfrow said after Sunday’s win. “It gives you a lot of confidence because you don’t have to be perfect. You know that the defense is going to have your back no matter what. Great teams find a way to feed off each other, and our defense has given us that.”

Bradley’s unit will need to be in tip-top shape when they meet the Colts in Indy this Sunday. What awaits the Raiders defense is a supremely talented running back Jonathan Taylor. The second-year tailback immolated Vegas last season to the tune of 150 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, top, galloped for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries the last time Indianapolis played the Las Vegas Raiders.
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

What can compound matters for the Raiders — besides Taylor running through and around the Vegas defense like a hot knife through butter — is six defensive players landing on the COVID list on Monday. However, the NFL has since reconfigured it’s COVID protocol thanks in large part to new CDC guidance. The new quarantine period goes from the 10-day affair to merely five and that means both Las Vegas and Indianapolis could see a full slate of players mix it up this Sunday.

One of the integral Raiders who could be in line to suit up this Sunday is thumping middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. The team’s leading tackler (138 total, 89 solo) is a heat-seeking missile against the run and is the lone tone-setter now that hit man safety Johnathan Abram was lost for the year.

“He’s a special cat, man. The way he plays, you can tell it matters to him,” Crosby said. “The way he hits people, I would not want to be hit by that man. I don’t care how small he is, he puts a dent in everybody. He’s just a different type of player. He’s relentless, he brings leadership and he’s a guy you can trust back there.”

To combat Taylor and the Colts offense, Las Vegas will need to dial up the intensity to maximum level this Sunday. The Raiders playoff lives depend on it.