As inhabitants of the NFC L-East, the Washington Football Team — unsurprisingly — has quite the chip on their collective shoulders. Declared virtually dead and flatlined with a 2-6 record after the first eight weeks of play, whoever put the defibrillator on the WFTs heart had that sucker set to maximum level.
Washington has rattled off three-straight impressive wins. The resounding bounce back surged WFT to the final wild-card spot as the topsy-turvy NFC race is mind-boggling. Ron Rivera’s team may have more losses than wins overall, but it’s 5-2 in the conference vaulting them to the postseason chase.
“Some guys do have chips on their shoulders, things to prove,” coach Ron Rivera said. “When you can get that guy and he has that mentality and he’s part of what you’re doing, and he gets that chance.”
High-spirited and embracing the underdog mentality, Washington offers plenty of bite and today’s clash in Allegiant Stadium will not be a cakewalk for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Washington rolls into Vegas with the 20th-ranked scoring offense (20.8 points per game). The team owns the 19th-ranked total offense in terms of yards per game (349.9) and is ranked 20th in passing (224.4 ypg) and ninth in rushing (125.5 ypg).
Washington’s Jack Del Rio-led defense is 25th in points allowed per tilt (25.6). The team is 18th in total defense in yards allowed per game (359.3) and is ranked 30th against the pass (266.6 ypg) but is the fourth-ranked crew against the run (92.6 ypg).
Flip the coin and Vegas is the 17th-ranked offense in terms of points per content (23.5). The Raiders are sixth in total yards (385.6 ypg), second in passing (296.5 ypg) and 27th in rushing (89.1 ypg).
Vegas’ Gus Bradley-led defense is 30th in points allowed per tilt (26.8). The D is ranked 21st in total defense (360.5 ypg), 13th against the pass (234.6) and 25th against the run (125.9).
In WFTs three-straight wins, the team held Tampa Bay (220), Carolina (186) and Seattle (233) to under 300 yards passing. Washington’s ground game dominance was on full display against the Panthers and Seahawks as the team churned out 190 and 152 yards, respectively, in those two contests.
Las Vegas snapped a three-game skid with a thrilling overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. In those four games, the Raiders defense flip-flopped holding opponents to under 300 yards of total offense to allowing 400 and 500 yards. Vegas’ offensive firepower was on full display against Dallas, however, as the team racked up 509 total yards (366 through the air and 143 on the ground).
WFT: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke; running back Antonio Gibson; defensive tackle Johnathan Allen
The definition of a scrappy quarterback, Heinicke is equal parts tough as he is an improviser. He slithers in the pocket and is a slippery signal caller to bring down leading to extended plays as he’s thrown for five TDs to just one interception during Washington’s win streak. While he’s been sacked nine times in those three games, if Vegas is unable to bring him down, it could spell trouble.
Showcasing power, speed and vision, Gibson is the type of tailback that could break the Raider defense’s back. He’s galloped for 270 yards on 72 totes with two scores in Washington’s trio of victories and, with receiving back J.D. McKissic missing today’s tilt due to a concussion, Gibson’s soft hands may come into play in the passing game. He’s a nightmare to stymie when he runs the ball and he could prove equally difficult to cover on routes.
Washington’s sack leader (six total) hasn’t notched a quarterback takedown in the last three games, but he’s still a beast to block in the interior. Allen is adept at attacking centers and guards, alike and wrecking both run and pass plays. He’s a “must-account for” defensive tackle and if the Raiders can’t control Allen, the battle at the line of scrimmage will be tough for Vegas.
Las Vegas: Quarterback Derek Carr; defensive end Yannick Ngakoue; defensive end Maxx Crosby
In all of Vegas’ victories this season, Carr has launched the ball to eclipse the 300-yard mark. When he doesn’t, the Raiders lose. If given a clean pocket and correctly diagnosing the pre-snap read, Carr can carve up defenses and Washington won’t be any different — even without tight end Darren Waller at the quarterback’s disposal.
Armed with an explosive first step that couples really well with snap anticipation, Ngakoue is a tough blocking assignment for any offensive tackle. With a team-leading eight sacks, one in each of the Raiders' last two games, Ngakoue’s bend and speed can ruin a pass play shortly after the snap.
His tag team partner in the pass rush department, Crosby, is equally as driven and comes with a non-stop motor. While Crosby hasn’t notched as many sacks (five total and he hasn’t registered a QB takedown since Week 6), he’s still disruptive at displacing QBs from the pocket with pressures.
It’ll Come Down To ...
The battle of the 4s (Heinicke vs. Carr). How well Carr plays dictates how well the Raiders offense will do game in and game out. When he’s on and in Mamba Mentality, he’s surgical when it comes to the airstrikes. If he isn’t dialed in, however, the results aren’t pretty.
Flip the script and how well Bradley’s defense gets to and stymies Heinicke will go a long way in ensuring the Raiders are victorious at home. While Vegas is susceptible to the run, making Washington one-dimensional and eliminating Heinicke as a factor will help Bradley’s defense play with its ears pinned back.