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5 potential X-factors for the Raiders against Texans

It is a must-win game this week as Houston visits Las Vegas

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders
Rock Ya-Sin
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

After a much-needed week off, the Las Vegas Raiders are back to work in Week 7. It might be early but the Raiders need to go on a run coming out of the bye to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

In comes a young and feisty Houston Texans team that may be 1-3-1, but their largest margin of defeat has been just 10 points and they are also well-rested after being idle last Sunday. Houston was able to notch their first win of the season two weeks ago so their confidence is high heading into Las Vegas.

The good news for the Silver and Black is DraftKings Sportsbook has them slated as touchdown favorites, but that will all go for not unless the five players listed below show up and produce.

Andrew Billings

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Andrew Billings
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans' offense is predicated on the running game. Rookie running back Dameon Pierce has taken the league by storm with 86 rushes for 412 yards — 4.8 yards per carry — and three rushing touchdowns. Houston has also made a conceded effort to give him the rock more as he’s had at least 20 carries in two out of their last three games, so plugging up rushing lanes will be a point of emphasis for Patrick Graham this week.

That’s where Billings comes in as he’s been a space-eater on the defensive line this season. He doesn’t have any eye-popping stats, just 10 total tackles with no TFL on the year, but he does his job well by plugging up gaps in the middle of the defense.

While his run defense grade from Pro Football Focus for the campaign is just a few points above average (63.5) that’s getting weighed down by a couple of ugly performances against the Titans and Broncos with marks of 37.0 and 48.3, respectively. However, he’s been sharp in the other three contests with grades of 80.6, 74.0 and 66.7 in Weeks 1, 2 and 5.

Billings will be lining up against an offensive line that has a below-average run-blocking grade (56.2) as a whole, however, they do have an intriguing young guard in Kenyon Green. Green is a physical presence in the trenches who can create rushing lanes in the ground game. While he’s had his ups and downs as a rookie, the 15th-overall pick has managed to find some success as a run blocker with a 61.9 grade in that department.

Don’t get me wrong, the veteran defensive tackle should have the upper hand, but Green is not to be taken lightly and the Raiders will need Billings to have a good game to keep Houston’s offense in check.

Denzel Perryman

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Denzel Perryman
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Perryman is an X-factor this week for a lot of the same reasons as Billings. The biggest difference is, if the latter is plugging up the gaps, someone has to come in and actually bring Pierce down.

While he’s missed a lot of the season with various injuries, Perryman has been productive when on the field. He’s registered just 33 snaps versus the run but has managed to collect seven tackles as a run defender, three of which were defensive stops. Meanwhile, he’s only missed one tackle against the run.

The linebacker is one of the Raiders’ most productive defensive players, but he faces a big test with Pierce, who has been hard to bring down so far this season.

With 33 missed tackles forced, the rookie already ranks second among running backs for that metric, and his 359 rushing yards after contact are the fourth-most at the position. What makes the latter figure even more impressive is he has the fewest carries of the backs that rank in the top 5.

So, this one-on-one matchup will be a matter of strength versus strength and the scoreboard will likely reflect who won the bout between them.

Rock Ya-Sin

Las Vegas Raiders v Tennessee Titans
Rock Ya-Sin
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Las Vegas’ cornerback depth has already been tested this year and Nate Hobbs going on injured reserve only makes matters worse. Anthony Averett is eligible to return from his stint on IR this week but even if he can play, Ya-Sin needs to step up and take on the CB1 role.

Ya-Sin has been solid this year, allowing a 43.8 completion percentage that is tied with Darius Slay for fifth-best among corners with at least 56 coverage snaps. He’s only surrendered 93 yards and a passer rating of 62.8 in coverage, which rank 14th and 15th at the position, respectively. However, that’s going to be put to the test against the Texans.

With Hobbs out, Ya-Sin will likely draw Brandin Cooks in coverage throughout the game. Cooks is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the league as he doesn’t get a ton of attention, but he has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in six out of eight seasons. The only years he hasn’t surpassed that benchmark were 2019, when he only played in 14 games, and 2014, his rookie season when he missed six contests.

Cooks can fly and has caught three of five targets 20 or more yards down past the line of scrimmage for 83 yards and his lone touchdown on the year. That’s where Ya-Sin could struggle as the corner isn’t slow by any means, but he doesn’t have the 4.3-speed that the wideout does.

Hobbs’ injury gives Ya-Sin a chance to prove that he can be a lockdown cornerback in the league. It’s a contract year for him so shutting down a guy like Cooks could be a big money-making opportunity.

Hunter Renfrow

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders
Hunter Renfrow
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

More than anything, Sunday is Renfrow’s chance to get back on track. Missing two weeks with a concussion plays a factor in his underwhelming production with just 11 catches for 105 yards and no touchdowns, but beyond that, his impact plays have been more negative than positive.

He had the three fumbles in the first two games of the season and the majority of his stats have come later in games when the defense is giving up short completions. Then there was the fourth down two weeks ago where he and Davante Adams collided, which wasn’t necessarily Renfrow’s fault, but just goes to show how “off” he’s been so far this year.

Now that Renfrow is healthy and had an extra week to recover, it’s time for him to get back to Pro Bowl form. The problem is he’s going to face some stiff competition this week.

Desmond King has made a name for himself as one of the better nickel corners in the league and this year is no different. When covering the slot, he’s yielded a 57.0 passer rating when targeted which is the third-lowest at the position, and his 12.9 coverage snaps per reception allowed ranks fifth. He’s also averaging just 0.86 yards surrendered per coverage snap, the 13th-best rate in the slot.

That should make for an interesting individual battle, and Derek Carr is going to need Renfrow to win if Waller is out or not 100 percent with the hamstring injury he suffered against the Chiefs.

Jermaine Eluemunor

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Jermaine Eluemunor
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Hughes might be 34 years old and toward the end of his career but make no mistake about it, he’s still a productive pass-rusher. Last season with the Bills, he racked up 55 total pressures (including the playoffs), and he’s already notched 15 in five games this year, putting him on pace for 51 during the regular season. He’s also racked up four sacks so the old man is hitting home, too.

While he does split time between the two edge spots with about 44.3 percent of his snaps coming on the left and 55.7 percent on the right, the Texans will likely put their best edge rusher over the Raiders’ weaker tackle.

After a couple of blunders to start the season, Eluemunor has been solid in pass protection recently. He allowed four pressures, two of which were sacks, in the first two games of the campaign but has given up three hurries, one QB hit and no sacks in the last three. Extrapolating that further, in Week 3 he lined up at right guard and surrendered three pressures so in the last two games at right tackle, he’s only allowed on pressure.

Keeping that trend going is going to be paramount for Las Vegas’ offense. Houston’s defense is a collection of young players who are still getting their feet wet in the NFL and a few names that make you say: “that guy is still in the league?” So, shutting down the Texans’ top pass rusher should make life pretty easy for Carr and Co.