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5 potential X-factors against Seahawks

Big week in the trenches and secondary

NFL: NOV 06 Raiders at Jaguars
Tre’von Moehrig
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders will wrap up their final two-game road trip of the season this weekend with a Week 12 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, who are looking to keep pace with the 49ers at the top of the NFC West standings.

In what should come as no surprise, the Raiders head to Seattle as a little more than a field goal underdog on DraftKings Sportbook, but the rest of this season for Las Vegas is really about seeing what the young guys on the roster have. And Seattle poses an interesting test in both the secondary and the trenches.

Tre’von Moehrig

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
Tre’von Moehrig
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In what’s been a rough year overall for him, Moehrig had a solid bounce-back performance last week against the Broncos.

He was only targeted once and did allow said pass to go for a completion, but limited the catch to just seven yards and didn’t yield any YAC. As a run defender, he earned an impressive 71.1 grade from Pro Football Focus which is his second-highest of the season and his best performance since Week 8.

It was definitely a step in the right direction for the second-year pro, however, the Seahawks’ receiving corps brings an even more difficult challenge for safeties.

With DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Marquise Goodwin and Dee Eskridge, Seattle basically has a 4x100 Olympic relay team outside. Goodwin is literally an Olympic athlete who runs a 4.27 40-yard dash, Metcalf was clocked at 4.33, and Lockett and Eskridge are the slow pokes of the group with 4.4s. In other words, the Seahawks always have a deep threat on the field.

Metcalf and Lockett are both in the top 25 for deep targets — 26 combined — among wide receivers this year, and they’ve turned those targets into six touchdowns. Lockett is second in the league behind Davante Adams (six) with four while Metcalf is tied for 10th with two. And that’s not including Goodwin’s three scores on deep shots which are tied for the third-most in the league.

To put all of that in perspective, Seattle has scored 29 touchdowns on the year — tied for seventh in the NFL — so nine scores are on balls thrown 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage account for about 31 percent of their total touchdowns. Also, they’ve thrown 17 touchdown passes on the year so more than half of their touchdowns via the passing game come from bombs. That will test any safety’s range and discipline.

Rock Ya-Sin

Houston Texans v Las Vegas Raiders
Rock Ya-Sin
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Moehrig won’t be alone in trying to contain Seattle’s high-flying offense as Ya-Sin will also shoulder the burden of trying to slow Metcalf and Lockett down.

Ya-Sin has done well at keeping receivers in front of him this season, allowing 10.1 yards per catch which is tied for the 23rd-lowest among 123 qualifying cornerbacks. However, he hasn’t been tested on very many deep shots with an average depth of target in coverage of 9.3 yards, tied for 84th-highest at the position.

The Temple product also has never been known for his speed, but he’s always been strong and physical as evidenced by the two-point takedown he had on Marvin Jones against the Jaguars a few weeks ago. So, Ya-Sin’s best bet against Lockett and Goodwin is to win at the line of scrimmage, however, that could be much more difficult against the physically imposing Metcalf.

A big performance this weekend could also earn Ya-Sin some extra cash in the offseason. His rookie contract expires at the end of the year, and he’s played well enough to earn a new deal with the Silver and Black, but a strong outing against a top-tier receiving corp could add an extra zero to the negotiations.

Bilal Nichols

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders
Bilal Nichols
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

If you caught this week’s winners and losers column, then you know Nichols had one of his best games as a Raider. I won’t rehash all of the details from that article but essentially, he had his best game on the campaign as a run defender and mixed in a couple of pressures as well.

Replicating that effort against the run might be the defensive tackle’s biggest task this Sunday. Rookie Kenneth Walker took over as Seattle’s primary running back in Week 6 and has been one of the league’s most-productive backs since then. Over the last six weeks, Walker ranks fourth with 442 rushing yards and is tied for the most rushing touchdowns with six, and the Seahawks had a bye last week.

He’s quickly become a focal point for the Seahawks’ offense so it will be crucial for Nichols to get off blocks and bring down the back. That being said, Nichols will be facing some stiff competition in left guard Damien Lewis, who may only have a 66.4 PFF run blocking grade on the entire season, but is coming off 86.2 and 79.6 marks in the team’s last two games.

Seattle’s other guard is a familiar face for Raider Nation, Gabe Jackson. The former Raider isn’t the player he used to be as he currently holds the lowest overall PFF grade (57.0) of his career, but he’s still capable of creating some rushing lanes for Walker if Nichols isn’t on his game.

Adding in a few pressures wouldn’t hurt either as Nichols signed a two-year, $11 million contract last offseason, but he hasn’t lived up to it yet and Las Vegas would save about half of his salary for next season by letting him go.

Dylan Parham

NFL: OCT 23 Texans at Raiders
Dylan Parham
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Dylan Parham can’t be an X-factor or have something to prove every single week.” That’s fair, but this weekend is important for him — again — for a couple of reasons. Personally, he could use a bounce-back performance, and the Seahawks have a really impressive defensive line.

Run blocking has been Parham’s strength for the majority of this season, but he posted an abysmal 43.1 grade in that department against the Broncos and that’s coming of back-to-back sub-60 performances in the two previous weeks. Getting back on track and ending the year on a high note needs to be the focus for him for the rest of the season, and Seattle’s defensive tackles won’t make that easy.

Shelby Harris, another former Raider, sits as PFF’s 11th-best defensive tackle against the run and is 0.3 points behind Jeffery Simmons in 10th. Harris has also been efficient against the run, recording a defensive stop on 10.5 percent of opportunities which is tied for 12th at the position.

In the middle of the line is Al Woods with a 69.6 grade against the run that ranks 22nd among interior defenders. Woods’ 1.7-yard average depth of tackle is nothing to scoff at either.

So, Parham’s feet will be held to the fire a bit this weekend as this matchup isn’t ideal for someone needing to get back on track.

Jermaine Eluemunor

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders
Jermaine Eluemunor
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Fairly quietly, Eluemunor has been on an impressive run lately. In Weeks 8 through 10, he posted PFF overall grades of 72.3, 80.7 and 76.4 and only allowed one pressure in each contest. That streak ended last Sunday but that was because he was filling in for Kolton Miller at left tackle so really, it was another commendable effort for Eluemunor considering the circumstance.

At the time of writing, there’s no word on if Miller will be suiting up in Seattle, however, Eluemunor will likely have to face the Seahawks’ best pass rusher, Uchenna Nwosu, regardless.

Nwosu has spent 204 snaps on the left edge and 273 on the right this season, so he’ll bounce back and forth between sides of the center throughout a game, and he’s been an impressive rusher for a couple of years. He racked up 41 pressures last season with the Chargers which was good enough to finish in the top 40 of edge rushers. That was a career-high and he’s already got 35 pressures this season — top 20 at the position — so he’s on pace to set another personal benchmark at the end of the year.

Eluemunor is currently playing on a one-year veteran’s minimum contract so shutting down an impressive pass rusher could earn him a big raise in the offseason, whether that’s in Las Vegas or somewhere else.