Less than a month ago, if you would have told me that the Las Vegas Raiders would beat the Indianapolis Colts to force what is essentially a play-in game for the playoffs, I would have called you crazy.
Well...here we are and the Raiders accomplished just that with their 23-20 victory yesterday. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking like an idiot which I can’t say is the first time, nor will it be the last.
What might be most impressive about Las Vegas’ huge win is they were able to get contributions from players that have been relatively quiet this year, some of whom will be the subjects of this week’s winners.
WINNER: Zay Jones
To say Zay Jones had a career game yesterday would be a bit of an understatement.
Not only was it the first time he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in his five-year career, but it was also just the third time he’s had more than 70 yards in a single game. He had 93 yards in each of those other two performances, both of which came back in 2018. So yesterday was nearly 30 yards better than his previous career-high, and the most productive he’s been in over three years.
Jones was also one of the most impressive receivers across the entire league yesterday. His 120 yards is currently the third-most among wideouts - pre-Monday Night Football - he averaged 4.0 yards per route run which is tied for fifth, and an 85.0 PFF receiving grade is good enough for sixth-best - one spot and 0.8 points below Hunter Renfrow.
One of the biggest differences from yesterday is the Raiders were able to get the ball to the veteran pass-catcher on drag routes instead of vertical ones, somewhat masking his ball tracking struggles. Instead of having to find the ball over his shoulder, Jones was able to stare at Derek Carr as the passes came his way and the results were fruitful. Hopefully, this is a game plan the coaching staff can replicate this Sunday.
LOSER: Tre’von Moehrig
The upcoming game against the Chargers will test Tre’von Moehrig’s resolve because yesterday was certainly one to forget.
He registered a season/career-low 47.5 overall PFF grade and his tackling was a major issue. The rookie was credited with just one tackle on the day, had one miss and an overpursue that led to a big gain for Indy.
On another occasion, he was sent on a rare blitz by defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and had an opportunity to get a sack, but Carson Wentz put a move on him and bought time outside of the pocket. Granted, nothing came of that play so no harm no foul, but it was another lost opportunity for Moehrig to make a momentum-changing play.
What might be most frustrating Moehrig’s performance yesterday is it broke his streak of five games without a missed tackle, and he had only missed two in the last nine contests. Plus, the tipped pass that led to a T.Y. Hilton touchdown and will go down as another dropped interception for the TCU product was another hair-pulling moment, though that one wasn’t completely his fault and was more bad luck than anything.
The good news is tackling hasn’t been a huge issue for Moehrig lately and an unlucky play made his performance look worse than it actually was. However, he certainly needs to clean things up and make sure these types of outings stay flukes as the Raiders begin what is essentially the first round of the playoffs next weekend.
WINNERS: Darius Philon
Those who follow this column every week shouldn't be too surprised that Darius Philon had a big game since as he was listed as a winner last week as well. Against Denver, he was very productive against the run and that carried over against Indianapolis, but this time he mixed in some pass rush production as well.
On Sunday, Philon managed to make four tackles as a run defender and all four went four stops. That’s tied for the most among defensive tackles for Week 17, and his seven run stops in the last two weeks are the second-most at the position, just above a few big names like Aaron Donald and Leonard Williams.
As a pass rusher, the former Charger registered three pressures - just outside the top-10 at his position for the week - and notched another stop on a scramble. The latter brought his weekly stop total up to five, a personal best and more than any other interior defensive lineman yesterday.
This was the second game in a row that Las Vegs was without its best defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins, and the team barely missed Hankins with the emergence of Philon. Not only could that pay dividends for a postseason push, but the soon-to-be 28-year-old might have earned a second contract with the club.
LOSER: Solomon Thomas
Speaking of Raiders’ defensive tackles, yesterday was a game to forget for Solomon Thomas.
He recorded the most snaps he’s had in a single game since Week 13 (31) and earned the lowest overall PFF grade of his season (28.4) and on the team’s defense for the week. In fact, that’s the lowest mark of any defensive tackle that participated in at least 20 plays yesterday.
Run defense is really what killed Thomas. He earned a career-low 25.9 grade in that department, which was also the worst on the team and in the league. A figure that low means he was getting washed out of his gap badly and frequently.
Not being stout against the run is nothing new this season for the free-agent signing - granted, never to this extent - but he has been able to make up for those shortcomings with some production as a pass rusher. However, that part of his game was absent on Sunday as well.
Thomas also earned a season-low grade as a rusher (47.8), which is currently the second-worst figure among defensive tackles in Week 17, and he only managed to generate one pressure. Unfortunately, this has become a common theme for the five-year veteran.
He’s had more than one pressure just twice in the last nine games, and he had just two in both of those outings.
While the Raiders don’t need Thomas to be a world-beating pass rusher, they do need him to be much more productive especially if he’s going to struggle against the run. There’s always a give and take when it comes to reserves/backups but right now, all Thomas is doing is taking.