The Las Vegas Raiders got back on track last Sunday with their win over the Texans, but, as the old cliché goes, the NFL is a week-to-week league and the Raiders have to prove themselves again this weekend to creep back into the playoff picture.
Las Vegas heads to New Orleans as slight favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook to take on the Saints in their Week 8 matchup. Both teams enter the contest with similar records, the Raiders at 2-4 and the Saints are 2-5, however, the former is riding off the high of last week’s victory while the latter has dropped back-to-back games.
Heading into Sunday, the Silver and Black certainly have momentum on their side but they’ll need key contributions from the players below to accomplish their goal.
Crosby has picked up right where he left off last season, ranking fifth among edge rushers with 30 pressures on the campaign. Also, he’s tied for fifth across the entire league with six sacks in as many games, just two shy of his season total from a year ago.
There’s no doubt that he’s been on a tear and has established himself as one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushers, however, Crosby will face arguably his toughest test to date this season.
Over the last several years, Ryan Ramczyk has become known as one of the best right tackles in the game. In five years, he’s never registered a PFF pass-blocking grade below 73.0 and is on pace to keep that streak going with a 76.8 mark so far this season. He’s yielded just 14 pressures in 2022, five of which came in one bad outing against the Buccaneers, so he only gets beat about once or twice a game.
But the Raiders will need their superstar pass rusher to break that trend and win more frequently to help keep the Saints’ vertical passing attack in check. Plus, this matchup is a perfect opportunity for Crosby to cement himself as an All-Pro quality player at his position.
Similar to the Raiders’ defensive backs, the Saints have had to deal with several injuries within their receiving corps. However, it hasn’t impacted their offensive production much as they rank seventh with 25.0 points per game through seven weeks, and they’re tied with Las Vegas for the most PPG (33.0) over the last three weeks.
A big reason for their continued offensive success is the emergence of rookie wide receiver, Chris Olave. In six games, the Ohio State product has hauled in 32 catches for 495 yards and two touchdowns. That comes out to an average of 15.5 yards per catch which is a top-20 mark among wide receivers this season and highlights one of the biggest threats he poses for the Silver and Black.
With sub-4.4 speed, Olave is an excellent deep threat and New Orleans takes advantage of that as he currently boasts the third-highest average depth of target (17.4) and the most targets 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage (17) among wideouts. That’s led to him recording the second-most receptions on deep passes with six and the fifth-most yards with 210. The latter accounts for over 42 percent of his receiving total this season.
Clearly, pushing the ball down the field with the first-round pick is a big part of New Orleans’ offense and something Las Vegas’ defense must have an answer for. That’s where Ya-Sin steps in, who is assuming the team’s CB1 role while Nate Hobbs is out.
Ya-Sin has performed admirably this year, yielding just a 47.8 completion percentage, 135 yards and no touchdowns when targeted. And perhaps the most significant stat for this week, he’s only allowing 12.3 yards per catch which ranks toward the middle of the pack for cornerbacks.
Now, the problem is Ya-Sin doesn't quite have the speed to keep up with Olave, clocking in with a 4.51 40-time back in 2019 at the combine. So, it’s imperative that he either wins at the line of scrimmage in press coverage or maintains his cushion when playing off the line to keep the Saints from hitting on explosive plays.
Otherwise, the veteran will certainly remember the rookie’s name after the game as he’ll be starting at the back of that black and gold jersey throughout the afternoon.
Alvin Kamara has made a career out of being one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the NFL. While he’s never had a 1,000-yard season as a rusher or receiver, he’s put up over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and made the Pro Bowl every year he’s been a pro.
Through five games in 2022, he’s racked up 542 total yards which put him on pace to eclipse 1,600 yards from scrimmage for the second time in his career. Don’t let the lack of touchdowns this season fool you, Kamara is still one of the most productive backs in the NFL and someone Vegas’ defense has to keep in check.
Last week, Patrick Graham and co. primarily relied on Deablo to cover the Texans’ running backs in the passing game. The results were somewhat promising as the linebacker did allow three completions on three targets but that only resulted in 16 yards and no first downs nor touchdowns. That being said, the combination of Dameon Pierce and Rex Burkhead doesn’t even hold a candle compared to what Kamara brings to the table.
Kamara has missed two games this season but still has the eighth-most yards after catch among running backs with 188. That’s due in part to his shiftiness in the open field as he’s forced five missed tackles as a receiver, tied for 13th at the position.
This is where Deablo could struggle as he’s given up 143 yards after the catch, which is in the bottom 20 of linebackers, and has missed a couple of tackles in coverage this season. Albeit, his MT rate (8.7 percent) is about in the middle of the pack for his position.
The linebacker is in for a challenge as a run defender, too. The versatile back has forced 12 more MTs as a rusher and ranks tied for 18th at his position with 10 runs of 10 yards or more and four for 15-plus despite missing more games than all but one back in the top 20.
Luckily, Deablo heads into the matchup ranking 12th among linebackers with a 73.4 PFF run defense grade and is tied for 16th with 12 defensive stops against the run. So, Sunday could be a matter of who gives in first.
A fullback as an X-factor? In today’s NFL? Yep.
Not many teams even roster a player at the position anymore, but when you like to call iso as much as Josh McDaniels does, having a road grader coming out of the backfield is essential.
Johnson has paved the way for Josh Jacobs this year and has quietly become a crucial part of the Raiders' offense. He’s constantly asked to block linebackers on the second level and the Saints have a good one in Demario Davis.
Over the last five seasons, Davis has never posted a PFF run defense grade below 77.0. While he’s threatening to end that streak with a 73.2 mark currently for 2022, he still sits in the top 15 among linebackers for the metric. In other words, we could be in for some massive and impactful collisions between him and Johnson on Sunday.
But the ground game isn’t the only situation where these two will meet. Davis has been one of the top pass rushers at his position with a 91.6 grade, the highest among off-ball linebackers, 11 pressures, tied for third, and five sacks.
While Josh Jacobs has recorded the most snaps in pass protection within the Raiders’ backfield this season, Johnson is in second and has been their most-effective pass blocker. The latter hasn’t allowed a single pressure in 14 opportunities through the first five games of the year and has surrendered just two throughout his entire career.
So, the fullback’s job is simple on Sunday. Find no. 56 and make sure he doesn’t make any impactful plays, however, that’s much easier said than done.
We’ve come to almost expect this from him at this point, but Miller has been stellar in pass protection this season. He’s given up just 14 pressures on the year and only two per outing in five out of six games. That’s earned him a 77.3 pass-blocking grade that ranks 15th among all offensive tackles.
However, Miller will face a big challenge this Sunday in Marcus Davenport.
While Cameron Jordan is more of the “household name” that has put up the sexy sack numbers, Davenport has been the better edge-rusher in New Orleans this season. The former has registered a 59.4 pass-rush grade with 15 pressures and a 9.6 percent win rate, while the latter has notched 75.5, 20 and 17.8 percent for the same metrics.
Also, what makes Davenports figures even more impressive is all but three of his snaps have come on the offense’s left, meaning he’s routinely going against the opponent’s left tackle. That should lead to plenty of one-on-one battles between him and Miller, and the winner will have a direct impact on Las Vegas’ passing game.