Derek Carr is finally getting his long-sought NFL Playoffs start. But what awaits the quarterback is his old nemesis: Mother Nature. Namely, temps that dip below the 37-degree mark on a thermometer.
Below that particular temperature, Carr sports a big fat donut to go along with five losses. He’s 0-5 in that particular circumstance meaning, if he’s going to lead the Las Vegas Raiders past the Cincinnati Bengals this Saturday, Carr has to tame the cats and the cold. The temperature for Saturday’s Super Wild Card matchup between the two teams at Paul Brown Stadium is slated to be a high of 33 degrees with 8 to 10 mile per hour winds, according to the National Weather Service.
“With the run game kicking up and Zay (Jones) stepping up and Bryan (Edwards) making some clutch plays for us, I feel like we’re a better team today than we were at the beginning of the year,” Carr said during his mid-week press conference. “I remember sitting here and saying, do we have to throw for 300 yards to win a football game? Because that’s what the stats said. And now we can do that, or we can run the ball, we can play action, we can do a lot of different things.”
A diverse attack is imperative against Cincinnati because these cats have a potent offense of their own. When the two teams met in November for a regular-season clash, the Raiders offense then isn’t what it is today. Tight end Darren Waller was the star attraction (seven catches for a season-high 116 yards), while the Raiders offensive line and running back Josh Jacobs were sputtering. Now, Waller is regaining his footing after being out with injury and the Vegas offensive line and Jacobs are rolling and punishing teams. Not to mention slot receiver Hunter Renfrow has become a full-fledge dynamic weapon for Carr and the Raiders offense.
And Renfrow harped on the adversity the Raiders continuously conquered and overcame during their wildly impressive 4-0 finish and netted a playoff berth.
“You get used to winning,” Renfrow said Sunday. “It’s good for the young guys on the team, too, to be able to experience it. And, as we go on the rest of this year and next year and the year after, we’ve got a program of winning. The adversity we’ve been through has definitely made us tighter.”
Navigating a course past both the cold elements and the Bengals is a must-do if Carr and the Raiders do have grander plans than just merely making the playoffs, ahem, the Super Bowl.
Bengals coaches are not taking Carr’s or his ability to preserver and lead the Raiders heading into Saturday’s game.
“Derek is incredibly smart, and he’s one of the most natural quarterbacks I’ve ever been around as far as how easily he spins the ball,” Cincy offensive coordinator Brian Callahan who spent 2018 as the quarterbacks coach under former Raiders coach Jon Gruden and current offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “He’s really accurate and he sees everything. He has years of experience now underneath his belt, and this is the first time he’ll play in a playoff game. That’s exciting for him and the Raiders.”
“He’s a really, really, really good quarterback,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “He sees a lot of the blitzes you are trying to bring. He’s a veteran guy that has been around and knows how to push the ball down the field. We were fortunate in the first game, but it will be tough for sure.”
While Carr has yet to win a game when temps are 37 and under, there’s a donut for Cincy, too. The Bengals are 0-7 in the playoffs since the loss to the Raiders on Jan. 13, 1991. That game gained the moniker “Curse of Bo Jackson” as it was in that game Cincy ended Jackson’s football career.
So something’s got to give.
By The Numbers
Bengals: Cincinnati’s offense was the seventh-highest scoring offense in the regular season with 460 points. It also sport the 13th most yards gained (6,145). The Bengals’ air attack was potent racking up the seventh-most yards (4,403) and touchdowns (36). The ground game ranked 23rd in yards (1,742) and 14th in touchdowns (16). Defensively, Cincy ranked 17th in points allowed (460) and 18th in yards yielded (5,964). The team was 26th in passing yard allowed (4,222) but 13th in touchdowns given up (26) and ranked 15th in interceptions (13). The Bengals rush defense was strong finishing with the fifth-least yards allowed (1,742) and the 14th-most touchdowns (15).
Raiders: Las Vegas’ offense ranked 18th in points scored (374) and 11th in yards gained (6,184) during the regular season. The Raiders aerial showcase sported the sixth-highest yards gained (4,567) but the team ranked 16th in passing touchdowns scored (23). The ground attack closed out 28th in yards gained (1,617) and 18th in rushing touchdowns (14). Defensively, the Raiders ranked 26th in points allowed (439) and 14th in yards yielded (5,732). The team ranked 13th in air yards given up (3,789) and 22nd in passing touchdowns allowed (29). The team was dead last in interceptions with six total. Against the run, Las Vegas finished 19th in yards given up (1,943) and 23rd in rushing scores yielded (18).
Bengals: Defensive tackle Josh Tupou hasn’t practiced this week due to a knee ailment and is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s contest. Wide receiver Stanley Morgan (hamstring) and cornerback Jalen Davis (ankle) both got in limited practice and are listed as questionable.
Raiders: Nose tackle Johnathan Hankins (back/knee) got in a limited practice and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s clash. Tight end Darren Waller, running back Josh Jacbos and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. each got in limited practices this week but don’t hold any designation on the injury report.
Keep An Eye On
Bengals: Trey Hendrickson. The 6-foor-4, 270-pound edge rusher ended the 2021 regular season with 14 sacks, one of those a quarterback takedown of Carr back in November. Pro Football Reference charted Hendrickson with 45 pressures, 27 quarterback hits, and 16 hurries during the regular season. He’s a pain-in-the-butt type defender just like Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby. If there’s even a momentary lapse in the Raiders offensive line, Hendrickson will take advantage and ruin a play, much like the fumble he forced on Carr in the first game between the two.
Raiders: Brandon Facyson. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound outside cornerback will have his work cut out for him whether he’s covering Bengals wide receivers Tee Higgins or Ja’Marr Chase. At his size and length, Facyson is a good matchup for the 6-foot-4 Higgins or 6-foot Chase. In the regular-season game between Vegas and Cincy, Facyson finished with seven total tackles and three passes defensed. In the regular season, the ex-Charger was targeted 81 times and allowed 45 of them to be completed (55.6 percent) for 522 yards and six touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. Opposing quarterbacks sported a 94.8 rating targeting Facyson.