In contention late into the season. That’s something the Las Vegas Raiders have yearned for... well, forever. Famished for success, the Silver & Black have two excellent opportunities in front of them to make the playoffs.
Lasso the Indianapolis Colts today and the Raiders have the chance to zap the Los Angeles Chargers in the regular-season finale to get into the postseason tournament. Winning for themselves is one thing, but the Raiders are also presented the golden opportunity to win for John Madden, the legendary Raiders frontman, broadcaster and football renaissance man.
I will always remember this moment with Coach Madden as we celebrated our 1st Raider SB Victory. He will remain an icon for our sport & much more to those of us who knew him as coach, friend, mentor. An honor knowing this humble man for 45 + yrs. RIP pic.twitter.com/iDJcNc42YV— Ted Hendricks (@HOFTed83) December 29, 2021
And it’s apt a pair of Madden-isms are perfect for Vegas as it embarks on the last charge of Rich Bisaccia and his immortals.
“Don’t worry about the horse being blind; just load the wagon.”
“The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else.”
Both encapsulate the situation the Raiders find themselves in. Win and get in.
“At the end of the day, like we always talk about, nobody cares. The fact of the matter is that we have two games left against two really good football teams and we need to win them,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said earlier this week. “And if we do and we can get in, I think that would be pretty remarkable. I think that would be pretty amazing. But it falls in line with what our plans were at the beginning of the year and despite all the adversity to be able to still stare your goals in the face and have an opportunity to obtain them, it’s pretty cool, not going to lie. It is pretty cool.
“But none of it matters unless we take care of business on the road here against the Colts.”
Both the 8-7 Raiders and 9-6 Colts want to be firing on all cylinders by winning out in the last two games. Indianapolis is nipping at the heels of the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans (10-6) and could vie for the division crown. Las Vegas, meanwhile, can’t suffer any misstep and a loss ends their postseason aspirations.
If the Raiders are to walk out of Lucas Oil Stadium victors, they’ll have to corral Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. The Wisconsin product scorched the Raiders in 2020 with a 20-carry, 150-yard and two-touchdown performance in Allegiant Stadium last season. In fact, all the Colts’ losses this season have come when Taylor’s failed to reach the 100-yard mark.
Then, there’s the Raiders limiting turnovers. Las Vegas gave Denver the ball back with giveaways this past Sunday, but the defense rose to the occasion and limited the potential damage. Giving a well-oiled Colts offense the ball back is not a recipe for success. Fortunately for Vegas, they’re keen on what can happen if Indy’s given opportunities.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to secure the football. I believe we had three turnovers in that game last season,” said Olson. “So, securing the football. Even the previous two wins that we had, we got to do a better job of taking care of the football. They lead the league in creating turnovers. So, we are very aware of that, and ball security has been a big emphasis for us leading into this week.”
By The Numbers
Colts: Indianapolis boasts the fifth-ranked offense in terms of points scored (420) and the 14th-ranked group in yards gained (5,406). Indy’s rushing attack is second in yards (2,324) and third in touchdowns (21). The Colts air attack is ranked 22nd in yards (3,082) and 10th in passing touchdowns (25). Defensively, Indianapolis ranks 11th in points allowed (316) and 18th in yards yielded (5,190). The Colts run defense sits at 14th in yards allowed (1,668) and fourth in rushing touchdowns given up (nine). They are 16th in air yards yielded (3,522) and are 31st in passing touchdowns allowed (29). Indy’s defense does have the fifth-most interceptions (17).
Raiders: Las Vegas sports the 17th-ranked offense in points scored (316) and 11th in yards gained (5,512). The Raiders aerial bombardment ranks fifth in the league in yards gained (4,154) but 18th in passing touchdowns (20). Their ground-and-pound game ranks 28th in the league in yards (1,358) and 19th in rushing touchdowns (12). Flip the coin and Vegas defense is 26th in points allowed (387) and 14th in yards yielded (5,030). The team is ranked 11th in passing yards allowed (3,294) and 23rd in touchdown passes given up (25). The Raiders are 28th against the run in terms of yardage (1,736) and 23rd in rushing touchdowns allowed (16). Vegas is dead last in interceptions (five total).
Colts: Indy gets starting quarterback Carson Wentz back from the COVID-19 list along with right tackle Braden Smith and cornerback T.J. Carrie. Safety Andrew Sendejo will not play due to concussion protocol. Tackle Eric Fisher (knee/shoulder/toe) is listed as questionable along with tight end Jack Doyle (knee/ankle) and guard Mark Glowinski (illness).
Raiders: Vegas gets linebacker Denzel Perryman, cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. linebacker Cory Littleton, defensive tackle Darius Philon, quarterback Marcus Mariota and linebacker K.J. Wright back from the COVID-19 list. Defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins (back) is listed as questionable.
Keep An Eye On
Colts: Linebacker Darius Leonard. The obvious choices are Wentz and Taylor but pay close attention to No. 53. Leonard is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can do everything Indy asks of him: defend the run, drop back into coverage or get after the quarterback. His stat line against the Raiders in two games seems nondescript (10 total tackles, no sacks, no interceptions), but how Leonard communicates and orchestrates the Colts defense against Carr and the Raiders offense bears watching.
Raiders: Running back Josh Jacobs. As Marcus Johnson poignantly stated earlier this week, Jacobs and the run game are going to be instrumental in Vegas' run towards the playoffs. Jacobs asked the coaches to put the team on his back and the tailback responded in a big way against Denver with 27 totes for 129 yards. If the Raiders want to lasso the Colts, they’ll need Jacobs to be every bit as eager, willing and productive when his number is called.