It wouldn’t be a Las Vegas Raiders game unless there was at least a little heartache involved, right?
As fans suffered through a roller coaster of emotions, the Raiders got a huge win against a consistent playoff and Super Bowl contender in the Baltimore Ravens. It was far from pretty, but as a wise man once said: “Just Win Baby!”
Las Vegas certainly had its fair share of elite performers, but with such an up and down performance, there was also plenty of room for growth from a handful of players.
WINNER: Maxx Crosby
With the story coming out recently about his personal struggles and sobriety, and the quotes from head coach Jon Gruden talking about how Maxx Crosby has been putting in the work in the film room combines to make Crosby’s Monday night performance even more special. Not to mention that he was also named a captain for the first time.
It was evident to everyone tuning in that Crosby was dominant against the Ravens. Per Pro Football Focus, he finished the game with 13 pressures — the most among EDGEs by four - and an elite overall grade of 93.0 that was second-best at the position. He was edged out (no pun intended) by Chandler Jones by just 0.8 points on the grade scale.
Crosby was also towards the top of the charts in defensive stops, accumulating six of them which tied Jones for the second-most among EDGEs.
The third-year pro was virtually unblockable all night and added two more sacks to his resume, bringing his career total up to 19 in just 33 games and 27 starts. Personally, I thought this was his best game as a Raider, even better than his four-sack performance as a rookie against the Bengals.
LOSER: Alex Leatherwood
It was a rough NFL debut for Alex Leatherwood.
Leatherwood ended up allowing five pressures, two sacks and recorded a pass-blocking grade in the mid-30s, per PFF. Probably the most notable play of his night was a rep where he stopped his feet in pass protection against Justin Houston that led to a third-down sack.
As you can see from the clip below, the rookie had a good initial set but stops his feet when he starts to worry about the inside move from Houston. Then, he leans to punch Houston instead of letting the pass rusher come to him and the veteran rusher swats the young offensive lineman’s hands away to capitalize and force a punt. That’s one Tom Cable and Leatherwood will certainly revisit in the film room this week.
Justin Houston got the sack but Josh Jacobs' blitz pick-up sheeeeeesh pic.twitter.com/yp0STg1kx4— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 14, 2021
Leatherwood also had a couple of big penalties. About a 10-yard run from Josh Jacobs was called back due to a hold from the first-round pick, and he false-started on the goal line in overtime to turn second and one into second and six. The latter forced Gruden to change his play-calling and the subsequent play was the interception that nearly cost the Raiders the game.
All is not lost for the rookie, though. He did have a few nice blocks in the ground game and the Ravens are a tough matchup for any offensive lineman, especially one making his first career start. However, things don’t get much easier next week as the team heads to Pittsburgh, so Leatherwood will need to correct his mistakes quickly.
WINNER: Johnathan Abram
A lot of people, myself included, have been hard on Johnathan Abram recently. He’s always been known for his ferocious tenacity, but that ended up hurting the Raiders on several occasions last season and he must turn it down a notch or two this season. In fact, defensive backs coach Ron Milus even said about a month ago that Abram needs to “turn the volume down.”
On Monday night, we got an example of what the coach was talking about.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a play or two in the first half where I thought Abram looked a little lost and it was far from a perfect game from him, but I thought he picked it up in the second half to put together a solid overall performance.
Abram allowed three completions on five targets for just 16 yards and a passer rating of 65.4 when targeted, to go along with a nice pass breakup against tight end Mark Andrews and a respectable PFF coverage grade of 72.8. That’s a significant improvement seeing as he was the lowest-graded player at his position last season.
All-in-all a good sign of what's to come from the 2019 first-round pick.
LOSER: Raiders Run Defense
I thought about picking a player or two to single out but honestly, it was pretty rough across the board against the run for the Raiders’ defense.
The Ravens ran for 189 yards on 34 carries which comes out to an average of 5.6 yards per attempt. For comparison’s sake, Baltimore only averaged one more yard per pass than they did when running the ball. Also, Las Vegas as a whole earned a 53.5 run defense grade from PFF, the seventh-worst in the league this past week.
The middle of the defense was probably the most concerning for the Silver and Black. When rushing anywhere between the left and right guards, the Ravens were able to gain 42 yards on 10 attempts — 4.2 ypc — one touchdown and two first downs. Plus, Gerald McCoy had to be carted off the field with an injury so it was a rough night for the Raiders' defensive tackles.
However, the silver lining is that scrambles by Lamar Jackson did account for 63 of Baltimore’s 189 rushing yards. Obviously, Jackson is a unique talent that Gus Bradley and company won’t have to worry about again until at least January, but there’s no doubt the coach will be working on cleaning things up between the tackles during practice this week.
WINNER: Casey Hayward
When it comes to cornerbacks, a lot of times when you don’t hear their name or see them on the broadcast, that’s a good thing because it means they’re playing well and not getting targeted. That was the case with Casey Hayward on Monday night.
There were a few moments in the first half where his name got called after a couple of stops against the run, but it was pretty silent from him throughout the majority of the game.
Hayward was targeted twice but allowed zero completions and a passer rating of 39.6 when targeted. The latter ranked tied for sixth among corners with at least 13 coverage snaps, and his PFF coverage grade of 84.1 was second-best. That performance was exactly what he needed coming off the worst year of his career in 2020.
The Raiders are extremely young in the secondary and desperately need the 10-year veteran to lead the group throughout the season. So, this outing by Hayward is a good sign of things to come for the secondary moving forward.
LOSERS: Wide Receivers
I’ll start this section off by stating that I’m fully aware that both Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards played integral roles in the team’s late rally to win the game. However, waiting until about five minutes left in the game for either of them to get their first catch isn’t exactly a formula the offense can rely on.
If it weren’t for overtime, Edwards would have finished with just two receptions for just 38 yards, and Ruggs only hauling in two catches just simply isn’t going to cut it moving forward.
Those who watched the Manning brothers’ broadcast heard them getting frustrated about how Las Vegas’ receivers just weren’t getting open and the two above were a big factor in that. Creating separation was an issue for Ruggs last season and Edwards clearly doesn't have quarterback Derek Carr’s trust to win on contested catches just yet.
However, all is not lost.
As mentioned above, the wideouts stepped up when it mattered most, highlighted by Edwards near touchdown in overtime and Zay Jones’ walk-off score. Also, I thought Hunter Renfrow did a great job of capitalizing when Marlon Humphrey wasn’t on him.
So, there’s plenty of reason for optimism within this young position group, but there’s no doubt that someone needs to emerge and take the pressure off Darren Waller. Preferably, that will come from one of the two 2020 draft picks.