While it does feel like the Las Vegas Raiders’ odds of clinching a playoff berth are slim to none, their chances aren’t quite as bleak, mathematically at least.
The Raiders are only a game behind the Bills for the AFC’s third wild card spot, and own the tiebreaker over the Steelers and have a matchup upcoming with the Colts - the other two teams that are in front of them in the standings. So, Las Vegas still has a chance to earn a postseason spot, but there’s little room for error and they can’t afford to take a loss in Kansas City this weekend.
It will be tough sledding against the Chiefs, as the Raiders are currently 9.5-point underdogs, per DraftKings Sportsbook. That means the Silver and Black are going to need significant contributions from the five players listed below.
Darren Waller is on a “day-to-day” basis with his knee injury, meaning he could be out again this Sunday or at least not at 100 percent. So, the Raiders are going to need someone else to step up within their receiving corps this week and Bryan Edwards could and hopefully will be that guy.
When Las Vegas and Kansas City squared off earlier this year, Edwards had one of the best performances of his career. He was only targeted three times but caught all three for 88 yards a touchdown, two additional first downs and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. That’s the most receiving yards he’s had in regulation during his young career, and he was one of the few bright spots in what was an ugly game for the Raiders.
While it was only on seven snaps, Edwards also gave the team a boost as a run blocker back in Week 10. He earned an 80.2 run-blocking grade from PFF that week and seeing as the team has struggled to move the ball on the ground all year, they could use all the help they can get.
However, the second-year wideout has been a bit of a ghost ever since then. In the last three games, he only has four grabs for 42 yards and no scores, including a contest against Cincinnatti where he wasn’t even able to generate a target.
The Raiders desperately need a wideout to emerge from the ashes and take some of the pressure off of Waller and Hunter Renfrow. They’ve had a few pass-catchers show flashes of brilliance recently, but no one has been able to give them consistent production. Ideally, that will be Edwards seeing as he’s about to enter year three and hasn’t proved that the organization can rely on him for the long haul.
One thing that stood out to me about the broadcast for the Raiders’ last game was when Greg Olson - the former tight end, not the offensive coordinator - was talking about how a lot of cover three-heavy defensive coordinators have adapted in recent years. However, Olson would go on to point out how Gus Bradley doesn’t fall into that category and is seemingly stuck in his ways.
Now, Las Vegas’ defense hasn’t been the team’s biggest issue as they are coming off an outing where they only allowed 17 points, and the scoreboard was slightly misleading against the Bengals. But there’s no doubt that Bradley’s scheme needs some tweaking this week.
Patrick Mahomes shredded the Raiders secondary in Week 10, completing 35 of 50 passing attempts for 406 yards and five touchdowns, by far the most productive game he's had all season. Part of the reason for that was while Bradley did mix up his coverages more frequently than normal, he didn’t run enough of the two-high coverages that have been giving Mahomes trouble all season.
The defensive play-calling this week needs to be much more complicated. Bradley has to keep Mahomes on his toes throughout the game by giving him as many looks as possible and breaking tendencies. Manufacturing some pressure on the gunslinger couldn’t hurt either as he currently ranks 19th out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF passing grade (51.0) under pressure.
Otherwise, it’s hard to expect a much different result this time around.
Kolton Miller has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of the best pass blockers in the NFL this season. His 87.6 PFF pass-blocking grade ranks second among offensive tackles and his 97.6 efficiency rating is tied for 15th, one spot behind well-renowned Trent Williams.
However, Miller’s worst game of the season - relatively speaking - came in Week 10 against the Chiefs, where he registered 69.7 grade as a pass protector and earned a 96.2 rating. Neither of those figures is bad by any means, but clearly not up to the left tackle’s standards.
While Frank Clark’s and Melvin Ingram’s production didn’t come all against Miller, those two did combine for six pressures in that contest.
Clark and Ingram both like to line up on the offense’s left and keeping them in check will be crucial to the Raiders’ offensive success.
During the Chiefs’ win five-game streak over the last six weeks, Clark ranks 14th among edge rushers with 20 pressures and he’s played in one game fewer than eight out of the 13 players ahead of him. Ingram only has 10 pressures in that timeframe, but he’s been a force against the run.
The former Charger’s 78.3 run defense grade since Week 8 ranks fifth at the position, and his 0.3-yard average depth of tackle is good enough for 11th. So, not only does Miller need to hold his own in pass protection, but the Silver and Black could really use a boost from him in the running game.
Miller only managed a 52.6 run-blocking grade the first time against Kansas City - his second-lowest grade of the season - and his 69.7 mark for the entire season ranks 36th among tackles. The latter figure isn’t terrible but it certainly leaves something to be desired.
In other words, for Las Vegas to pull off this upset and have success offensively, they’re going to need their best offensive lineman to play his best game, on the ground and in the air.
There isn’t a single player on the Raiders roster that is having a better bounce-back year than Johnathan Abram. He went from a defensive liability to a reliable contributor in just one season.
However, if there is one game that had people - myself included - questioning Abram’s growth, it was Week 10 against the Chiefs. In that game, Kansas City made it a point to pick on him in coverage, targeting Abram nine times for nine completions, 127 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. And it wasn’t even a particular one-on-one matchup that they liked as five different players caught passes against him.
While an improved scheme (*cough* Gus Bradley *cough*) can certainly help out by giving the third-year veteran some assistance in coverage, the onus is also him to execute.
The good news is Abram is coming off arguably the best game of his career in coverage. Last week, the 2019 first-round pick was targeted three times and allowed two completions for five yards and a 70.1 passer rating, and he also added a pass breakup into the mix.
Of course, Sunday will be a much tougher matchup but it also is an opportunity for him to show even more growth and how he performs will have a strong correlation to what the scoreboard looks like.
As mentioned above, the two-deep safety looks are what have been giving Mahomes and the Cheifs’ offense trouble all season. With Abram playing his best in the box, the Raiders have primarily turned to Dallin Leavitt to fill that second safety spot.
In Week 10, Leavitt played the most defensive snaps he has all season with 24 but didn’t find much success. He was targeted four times and allowed four completions for 40 yards and a 108.3 passer rating, while also earning the sixth-worst PFF coverage grade (47.0) at the position for the week. That’s not exactly what I’d call an efficient outing.
I’d imagine the four-year pro still won’t see a ton of playing time on defense this Sunday, but he’ll still likely get more action than normal given the game plan for the opponent.
If he can replicate his Week 11 outing against Cincinnatti - 13 snaps in coverage with an 81.4 coverage grade - then the Silver and Black could be in pretty good shape. However, if he doesn’t, Bradley and Las Vegas’ defense could quickly run out of solutions for their biggest problem.