After riding the high of a huge Week One victory, injuries have brought the Las Vegas Raiders back down to earth. 17 players were listed on the Raiders’ first injury report of Week Two, including offensive linemen Denzelle Good and Richie Incognito.
Good is done for the year with a torn ACL, and Incognito is still out and didn’t practice on Wednesday with the same calf injury that has been bothering him for weeks. Granted, the team just held a walkthrough so holding Incognito out could be more precautionary, but it’s not exactly a good sign that he’s still not 100 percent.
So, with two starters out, what are the Raiders missing, and who is going to be replacing them?
What they’re missing
To me, Good is hands-down the bigger loss of the two. By no means is that meant to be a slight on Incognito, but the team played the majority of the season without him last year and the offense as a whole was far from the problem. In fact, Good stepping up was a large reason why Las Vegas’ didn’t regress much after losing a starter upfront, and he was even called the team MVP by Jon Gruden and Derek Carr.
The seven-year pro was a backup tackle option for the team, has been solid as both a pass and run blocker throughout his career and offered balance and leadership to the Raiders offensive line.
Las Vegas has a lot of linemen that excel in the ground game but struggle to hold up in pass protection, or vice versa, so Good offered some stability in the trenches. Also, he had the most experience among the Silver and Black’s Week One starters, and his absence leaves Kolton Miller as the only big ugly that has been in the league for more than three years.
Of course, Incognito brings a leadership element to the position group too, so if he can’t go on Sunday against the Steelers, the Raiders will be extremely young and without a captain upfront. However, it’s hard to say that the 13-year veteran is much of a loss.
As mentioned above, Incognito missed the majority of the 2020 season, and even if he does get healthy soon, he’ll be a 38-year-old, 320 plus pound man coming off two lower leg injuries. So, there’s no guarantee that the four-time Pro Bowler will come back and be the same caliber of player.
Between him not playing much recently and the combination of his age and injuries, the Raiders don’t “lose” much with Incognito sidelined, in my opinion.
John Simpson stepped in for Incognito last week so I’d imagine he’ll continue to start with Good out and Incognito questionable at the moment.
Simpson is a guy who falls into the category of being a good run blocker but needs some work in pass protection. At Clemson, he was a mauler in the run game and could move defensive linemen to create rushing lanes, but he had flaws in his technique as a pass blocker.
The latter showed up on Monday night as the former Tiger allowed four pressures on 65 pass-blocking snaps, earning an efficiency rating of 96.6 and pass-blocking grade of 46.2, per Pro Football Focus. Those figures ranked tied for 40th and 49th, respectively, among guards in Week One.
In other words, expect Gruden to give Simpson some help in pass pro against the Steelers, but the lineman should be able to hold his own in the rushing attack. Granted, Pittsburgh’s defensive line is difficult for even the best offensive linemen to handle, so this Sunday will be a difficult test for Simpson.
Jermaine Eluemunor stepped in when Good went down against the Ravens, and he might actually be the perfect replacement. Like Good, Eluemunor doesn't have a particular specialty but is a solid all-around offensive lineman.
We got an example of that from him on Monday night, as he played 69 total snaps and registered solid but not spectacular PFF Grades of 65.2 on running plays and 61.4 on passes. It’s also worth noting that he only allowed one pressure on 47 opportunities and earned a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 98.9. So, Eluemunor might actually be the most “ready-to-go” and stable option for the Raiders interior offensive line moving forward.
Another option at Las Vegas’ disposal would be to play Nick Martin at guard. Martin is a natural center who struggles to create rushing lanes but offers upside in the passing game.
For example, he’s never had a full season with a run-blocking grade above 60, and his lowest grade in pass protection was 68.5 as a rookie. Outside of his first season, his pass-blocking grades have never dipped below 74.0, but his run blocking has been about the same throughout his career and the trend continued this preseason.
The Raiders did pluck Jordan Simmons off of the Seahawks’ practice squad, and he has potential as he’s played well in the preseason, but it will probably be a while until Simmons has the playbook down and is ready to mix in with the starters.
Lester Cotton and Jeremiah Poutasi are on the practice squad and therefore also at the team’s disposal, however, the signing of Simmons likely signals how much trust the coaching staff has in those two. Otherwise, what’s the point in bringing in outside help if there’s a competent solution internally?
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t expect Gruden to dive much deeper into the depth chart than Simpson and Eluemunor to solve the team’s guard problem for the near future. There’s a good chance both of them start in Pittsburgh, but if Incognito suits up, my guy says the coach’s affinity towards veteran players will lead him to start Eluemunor over Simpson.