It was one hell of a ride — and a wild one at that — but the Las Vegas Raiders season has come to an end with a 26 to 19 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card weekend.
The Raiders have plenty to be proud of, though. Not only did they accomplish their primary goal of earning a postseason berth, but they did it while fighting through an unprecedented amount of adversity on and off the field. Whether it was losing both starting guards before Week 2, John Gruden’s scandal or the Henry Ruggs tragedy, the list goes on and on but the team managed to preserve.
That adversity did pave the way for a lot of young players and/or newcomers to step up and into bigger roles, and that trend continued on Saturday for some of the guys listed below.
WINNER: Maxx Crosby
Truth be told, Maxx Crosby has been a winner just about every week this season. He leads the league in pressures (108) by a wide margin and had five or more in 11 out of 18 games this year. Saturday wasn’t even his best outing on the campaign but it was special given the magnitude of the situation.
In his playoff debut, Crosby managed to rack up seven pressures — most among EDGEs in Wild Card Weekend, pre-Monday Night Football — a sack and the third-best pass-rush grade (74.8) at the position from Pro Football Focus. He dominated the Bengals’ offensive line with a 27.6 percent win rate as a rusher, the highest percentage for an EDGE by 2.6 percent.
Crosby got the job done as a run defender, too. He graded out as the best run defending defensive lineman (82.9) and had five total tackles against the run with no misses and a run stop. Overall, he earned an 89.4 PFF grade which is currently the highest mark among all EDGEs this weekend.
It was a dominating effort for the three-year veteran and a perfect way to close out what was a dominant year. He currently sits as the 162nd-highest-paid player at his position, but something tells me that’s going to dramatically change in the next few months...
LOSER: Greg Olson
The big mystery in Las Vegas right now is what Mark Davis will do with this year’s coaching staff and obviously, that involves offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
On one hand, it’s a staff that dealt with a ton of adversity and still managed to lead the team to the postseason. On the other, the coaches played a role in nearly fumbling away another hot start to the season, and made some questionable decisions that didn’t put players in a good position to succeed.
Sense around #Raiders is that people are pretty anxious. It's awfully quiet around the building. Everyone is waiting to see what Mark Davis is going to do.— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonNFL) January 17, 2022
This week, Olson is catching fire for the latter more than anyone else in the building. On a fourth and goal from the nine-yard line with the season on the line, he called a play with four receivers in the progression and only one of them running their route into the endzone. To make matters worse, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller — the team’s two best pass-catchers by far — were given flat routes well short of the goal line. Waller was even asked to chip block before releasing.
With essentially only two viable options, Derek Carr tried to force a ball into Zay Jones and it was intercepted and the Raiders’ season was over. While Carr made a mistake, he wasn’t given very many options and Jones would have only gained eight of the nine yards needed to keep the game and season alive anyway.
For Olson, that’s just simply not a play call that puts your players in a good position to win. Essentially, he took the offense’s two most dangerous weapons out of the equation for the defense and left two receivers to find an open area against seven defenders.
It also doesn’t help the coordinator’s case that the Raiders were eight of 18 on third down and only managed one touchdown in the contest. Even if Rich Bisaccia is retained, Olson could still easily be on his way out.
WINNER: Kolton Miller
Much like Crosby, Kolton Miller has been a consistent winner this season.
Miller finished the regular season as PFF’s eighth-highest graded tackle overall (84.2) and seventh in pass protection (84.4). He allowed two or fewer pressures in 13 out of 17 games and those trends continued this weekend.
Against the Bengals, the 2018 first-round pick earned a 77.9 overall mark and an 80.8 pass-blocking grade with just one pressure surrendered. Those figures ranked fourth, fifth and tied for fifth, respectively, among the 21 qualifying offensive tackles that played this weekend. But what made his day so impressive is he did it against elite competition.
For the majority of the game, Miller lined up across from Trey Hendrickson, who has been one of the NFL’s best pass rushers over the last couple of years. However, the former kept the latter under control and away from the quarterback until Hendrickson ended up leaving the game with an injury. In case anyone’s wondering, Hendrickson’s sack came on a stunt against John Simpson.
Miller was effective as a run blocker on Saturday as well. His 79.3 run-blocking grade was his third-highest of the season and currently ranks third among tackles in Wild Card weekend. The UCLA product has gotten better and better every year and his growth is something Raider Nation can take pride in.
LOSER: Brandon Facyson
In full disclosure, I battled between listing Desmond Trufant instead of Brandon Facyson here. Both guys were pretty bad but Trufant at least graded out higher in coverage — 56.9 versus 29.3 — and mixed in a couple of defensive stops, whereas Facyson didn’t. The latter also only recorded 11 snaps in coverage compared to 25 for the former, but their numbers were pretty similar.
Trufant was targeted four times and allowed four completion for 68 yards, four first downs and a 118.8 passer rating, while Facyson also surrendered a 100 percent completion rate on four targets for 44 yards, four firsts and a 112.5 rating. That comes out to a completion every 6.25 opportunities and 2.72 yards per coverage snap, compared to one per every 2.75 opportunities and 4.0 yards per coverage snap.
Probably one of the most frustrating aspects about Facyson’s performance is that he wasn’t able to record a pass breakup or force an incompletion, something that has saved him in coverage throughout the year. Despite only playing in 12 games, he led the team in forced incompletions with 11 while also giving up the most passing yards and touchdowns with 590 and six.
The four-year veteran clearly has good ball skills that can be valuable for the defense moving forward, but he needs to tighten up in coverage to become a consistently reliable cornerback in the future.
WINNER: Casey Hayward
Moving to a cornerback that did shine on Saturday, Casey Hayward continued to thrive in his bounce-back season.
Hayward was targeted four times and allowed zero receptions with a pass breakup added into the mix. The Raiders’ defensive backs had trouble covering Ja’Marr Chase all game — nine catches for 116 yards and seven first downs — but quarterback Joe Burrow only threw Chase’s way once with Hayward in coverage, which was one of the three times they didn’t connect.
This was the sixth game the 10-year pro didn’t allow a reception and the 13th time he allowed two or fewer all season. He finishes the year as a top-20 corner in terms of PFF coverage grade — 75.5, tied for 18th — and as one of the best free-agent signings in the league from this last cycle.
Hayward, who turns 33 years old in September, is set to hit the open market again but should get a nice raise after only making $2.5 million this year. He’ll likely be one of the team’s top in-house priorities this offseason, it’s just a matter of how much and for how long?
LOSER: Yannick Ngakoue
Speaking of Las Vegas’ 2021 free-agent class, Yannick Ngakoue provided the team’s pass rush with a much-needed boost. He finished the regular season tied for 10th with 62 pressures to make the Silver and Black the only team in the NFL with two edge defenders in the top-10.
However, the majority of his production came early in the season and he began to falter down the stretch.
In Weeks 1-9, Ngakoue was racking up about 4.6 pressures per game and had an average pass-rush grade of about 72.6, but in the following 10 games, those averages dropped to 2.6 and 54.6. A big reason why is he only managed one pressure per outing in three of the team’s last five contests, including this past weekend.
To put it simply, the Raiders can’t have one of their best pass rushers disappear in the games that matter the most, especially if that same player is going to be a liability against the run.
Ngakoue earned a sub-par 59.8 run defense grade on Saturday, so that wasn’t necessarily a huge issue against the Bengals, but he did finish the regular season as PFF’s lowest-graded edge defender against the run (28.6). By no means is this meant to suggest that the team should move on from him in the offseason, but it is something to consider if he’s looking for an extension heading into a contract year.
BONUS WINNERS: Josh Jacobs, Roderic Teamer and Zay Jones
Josh Jacobs posted his highest yards per attempt of the season (6.4) which also led all running backs over the weekend. He also was the top dog in yards after contact per carry with 5.08, — 1.93 more than second-place — forced three missed tackles and added 44 yards as a receiver. Not picking up his fifth-year option was considered a foregone conclusion not too long ago, but is now something the Raiders will have to at least mull over in the coming months.
Roderic Teamer had his best game as a Raider with an impressive 68.4 overall PFF grade and allowed just 19 yards in coverage. His future with the club might be tied to Gus Bradley’s, but Teamer made a strong case to stick around on Saturday.
As for Jones, he continued his hot streak to close out the year with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. He’s another guy who will be looking for a new contract this offseason and this surge might have pushed him ahead of Bryan Edwards on the team’s depth chart.