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Lessons learned for Raiders rookies in tough defeat

Moehrig could’ve ended it; Hobbs snags 1st interception; Koonce gets 1st sack; Deablo played a lot

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Raiders rookie safety Tre’Von Moehrig is the backend cover man Las Vegas has sorely needed. And the dropped interception against Washington will serve as a valuable learning lesson.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It was all right there for the taking and Tre’Von Moehrig’s eyes must’ve been as big as a full moon. The Las Vegas Raiders rookie safety anticipated the short throw, got a jump, and appeared set to snare a game-sealing interception.

The rookie just couldn’t finish. Oh, what could’ve been.

“If Tre’von Moehrig hangs on to that, the game has a chance to be over,” Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia lamented in the post game press conference.

Moehrig couldn’t come up with the would-be game-sealing interception as Washington’s Taylor Heinicke’s dart to wide receiver Adam Humphries ricocheted off the Raiders’ rookie’s hands and incomplete. That was a much-needed, bailout-type takeaway with Las Vegas holding on to a precarious 15-14 lead with 0:59 ticks left to go. That incompletion was on 1st-and-10 from the Raiders 40-yard line and just two plays later, the Washington Football Team drilled the eventual game-winning field goal from 48 yards out in a 17-15 disappointment of a loss for the Raiders.

While disconcerting, the inability to pick the pass off should serve as a valuable learning lesson for Moehrig. It was a brilliant display of the instincts, reaction time and burst that made Moehrig a stellar defender at TCU and a second-round NFL pick. Finishing a play — whether it’s a tackle, pass break up, or interception — is key going forward.

In all, Sunday’s tough defeat — one that deals a painful body blow to the Raiders playoff hopes — should serve as a teaching tool for Vegas’ rookies. Moehrig is chief among them, but that group includes cornerback Nate Hobbs, defensive end Malcolm Koonce and linebacker Divine Deablo.

Hobbs, a fierce competitor and unquestioned fifth-round gem, snatched the would-be pick veteran Casey Hayward couldn’t haul in, for his first of his debut season. Hobbs did everything in his power to go downfield with the ball, too, as he tried to elude WFT offensive players to gain yards to give Derek Carr and the Raiders offense even better field position. The takeaway was the catalyst for the Raiders taking a 15-14 lead, albeit temporary, after a field goal.

“Got the ball at the 39-yard line from the big interception, had the chance to go down there and score a touchdown, and we didn’t,” Bisaccia noted. “We came out of there with a field goal. Puts us in a bad position that way. I know it gives us the lead, but certainly the clock became an issue at the end. … We’ve got to find a way to score more than 15 points obviously.”

NFL: Washington Football Team at Las Vegas Raiders
Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke (top) is sacked by Raiders rookie defensive end Malcolm Koonce on Sunday.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Koonce, who was finally on the active game-day roster due in large part to Carl Nassib being inactive, recorded his first sack of his career in the second quarter against Washington. Back end coverage was on point and Koonce went to his pass rush toolbox to drop Heinicke for a 10-yard loss.

Deablo, on the other hand, played 38 snaps (57 percent of defensive snaps) at linebacker after having a total of 26 snaps through the Raiders first 11 games. The college safety-turned-NFL-linebacker finished with the second-most solo tackles (eight) and combined tackles (11) for Las Vegas against Washington.

Even though Koonce’s participation has been minimal compared to the other Raider rookie defenders, he wasn’t shy about sharing his thoughts on the defensive turnaround as of late.

“Oh it’s just everything that we practice,” Koonce told the local FOX affiliate after Sunday’s loss. “Like every day we come in and we focus on the same thing. So I want to say the defense is finally coming around, we we’re doing it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, every day in practice so it’s just finally showing up on Sunday’s.”

Just how much more Koonce plays the rest of the way is up in the air as he saw only seven snaps in his Raider debut against WFT. How the aforementioned rookies play or improve with given snaps as the Raiders careen towards the final five games of the 2021 campaign merits watching.

Moehrig (837 snaps, 99% of Raiders defensive snaps) and Hobbs (648, 77%) are ensured to keep getting a high volume of snaps, but the same cannot be said for Deablo or Koonce, unless injury forces them back into action.

Yet, it wouldn’t hurt to see what the youngsters have to offer, especially if the losses mount and the playoffs are definitively out of the Raiders reach.

By The Numbers

One of the major elements missing from Moehrig’s game are interceptions, but he’s played the deep safety role very well for an NFL neophyte. According to Pro Football Reference, he’s allowed 9 of 17 throws his way to be completed (52.9% completion rate) for two touchdowns and 106 yards. He’s also fifth on the team in total tackles with 42.

Hobbs, on the other hand, is providing solid tackling skills from the slot as he’s fourth on the team in total tackles with 60. While Pro Football Reference charts him with an 83.3% completion rate (40 of 48 passes allowed) for 299 yards, Hobbs has yet to give up a touchdown. His tenacity and willing to mix it up at or behind the line of scrimmage is impressive.