The Las Vegas Raiders have their backs against the wall in a “must-win” Week 9 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. On paper, the Raiders should have the upper hand as they’re slight road favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook, however, the Jaguars pose an interesting challenge.
Jacksonville has a lot of young talent including running back Travis Etienne, who has been on a tear since getting the starting job a few weeks ago. In the Jags’ last three games, Etienne has 48 carries for 356 yards and two touchdowns, proving to be a big and important piece of their offense that the Raiders will have to have an answer for.
So, for this week’s five questions, I made sure ot ask Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country for his thoughts on if Vegas can slow down the up-and-coming rusher, and a few other topics to give Raider Nation a preview of Sunday’s matchup.
Question: Last year, the coaching situation was a mess with Urban Meyer and it pretty clearly had an impact on Trevor Lawrence’s development. But there’s a new regime in Jacksonville this season and it looks like Lawrence is still struggling. Do you think his struggles have more to do with the overall situation in Jacksonville or him just not being the guy everyone thought he’d be?
Answer: I believe Lawrence’s struggles are due to a mix of things. Firstly, his entire rookie season was essentially a wash with the Urban Meyer situation — who likely did more to stunt Lawrence’s growth and development than improve it — and he also had very little talent and help around him in 2021. Now in 2022 with Doug Pederson, you are still seeing Lawrence make some mistakes, questionable decisions and head-scratching plays. But when he is on, he is really on. It’s important to remember he is still developing and learning how to be successful at the NFL level.
Lawrence’s issues have mostly come with his accuracy/touch on passes, decision-making at times and, particularly, his play in the red zone. Perhaps Lawrence is more aggressive in the red zone, but he has left a lot of points off of the board once the Jaguars get inside the opponent's 20-yard line. According to Pro Football Reference, Lawrence has completed just 18 out of 41 passes (43.9 percent) for 111 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions in the red zone. There have been a lot of missed opportunities there, especially due to the turnovers.
Doug Pederson and his staff are night and day better than Meyer and the last regime, but they are partially to blame for Lawrence’s struggles, too. The staff needs to do a better job of not putting so much pressure on Lawrence. He has 277 passing attempts this season, which averages out to nearly 35 attempts per game.
The staff has often abandoned a rather successful running game throughout the season (the Jaguars rank No. 9 in the NFL in rushing yards per game) and put the ball in Lawrence’s hands in some difficult situations. To be fair, Jacksonville seemed to do a better job of sticking with the run against the Denver Broncos in London last week. I would like to see the coaching staff utilize Lawrence’s athleticism and legs on more read options and run-pass options, as he has shown in the past he could be effective there.
Also, I feel like outside of the red zone issues, and a few other situations in which Lawrence made poor decisions or threw uncatchable balls from time to time, he has actually played fairly well this season and has garnered a lot of unfair criticism. I think he is a product of unfair expectations.
Coming out of the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence was touted as a “generational talent” and perhaps the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, or maybe ever. Lawrence has obviously not lived up to that billing quite yet, but it’s important to remember that “generational talent” doesn’t necessarily mean immediate results, it means that his potential is unlimited. It still takes time to adjust to the NFL, develop and reach that untapped potential. He possesses all of the skills, traits and intangibles to eventually be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks — it’s just a matter of time. Patience from Jaguars fans and the organization is important here.
Overall, I think Lawrence will eventually figure it out, but he needs to start making more progress toward getting there soon. Some of his problems do fall on him directly and he takes accountability for that.
Q: The Jags traded James Robinson to the Jets to pave the way for Travis Etienne, who has looked good so far. In fact, DraftKings Sportsbook is currently offering a weekly special bet where Etienne rushing for over 100 yards and more than one rushing touchdown pays three to one. The Raiders haven’t yielded a 100-yard rusher so far this season, so do you think the second-year back can break the mold? Are you taking that bet?
A: The Raiders’ defense has struggled to defend the pass but has been quite stout against the run, allowing just 108.6 yards per game on the ground (10th in the NFL). Meanwhile, as I mentioned, the Jaguars have a top-10 rushing attack. It was clear that Pederson and the coaching staff felt Travis Etienne Jr. was the better fit as the lead back for the offense and decided to trade James Robinson — who had a successful stint in Jacksonville — off to the New York Jets, and Etienne immediately showed why.
Etienne rushed 24 times for 156 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown against the Broncos last week. He broke off several chunk gains, including a 49-yard scamper. Etienne is also currently tied with Saquan Barkley for the most 20-yard runs this season (six) and is tied with Tony Pollard for the most 40-yard runs this season (three). So, he’s obviously an explosive runner who can make big plays. I certainly think Etienne is capable of being the first running back this season to rush for 100 yards or more on the Raiders.
With that said, however, if it were me personally, I would not bet on Etienne to cross the century mark versus Las Vegas. The most the Raiders have given up to a single running back this season has been 92 yards to Dameon Pierce (on 20 attempts) against the Houston Texans. Las Vegas has limited the likes of Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler and others — that track record speaks for itself.
Q: Between Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram, the Jaguars made a lot of additions to their receiving corps in free agency this offseason. Of those three, who has made the biggest impact and who has been the most disappointing?
A: All three of the free agent pass-catchers, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram, have contributed in a positive way. In fact, those players make up Jacksonville’s top three in terms of receptions and receiving yards so far this season.
I don’t know if any of the three have been game-changers per se, but Kirk has certainly made the biggest impact thus far and has played up to the four-year $72 million contract he signed in the offseason (that many people scoffed at). He leads the team with 35 receptions for 498 yards and four touchdowns. He also grades out as a top-four slot wide receiver in the league, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, with a calculated score of 87.
The only issue with Kirk is that he is fairly limited to an inside role and the Jaguars still lack a true outside receiving threat (which is why Jacksonville made the move to trade with the Atlanta Falcons for suspended wide receiver Calvin Ridley and start building toward 2023).
Zay Jones has been a fairly reliable target with 34 catches for 309 yards and a touchdown, but he is only averaging 9.1 yards per catch. Engram has come on strong lately — he had four catches for 55 yards and his first touchdown of the season last Sunday in London against Denver. On the season, he has accumulated 32 catches for 330 yards and the aforementioned score.
I wouldn’t say any of them have been disappointing, but as I mentioned, none of them are going to move the needle all that much, outside of maybe Kirk. But until the Jaguars get a dominant outside receiver (which looks to be Ridley in 2023), and with Lawrence’s aforementioned struggles, I think the passing game will have a hard time finding consistency this season.
4. Josh Allen and Travon Walker are the headliners on Jacksonville’s defensive line but their defensive tackles aren’t exactly household names. Who should Raider fans know about from that position group?
Roy Robertson-Harris, Foley Fatukasi and DaVon Hamilton will typically be the guys you see on the defensive line, with Hamilton at nose tackle, and Robertson-Harris and Fatukasi as “defensive ends” in the base 3-4 look, but still playing “inside” with Travon Walker and Josh Allen often playing as stand-up edge rushers. Corey Peters is likely the other player you will see repping in at defensive tackle in the interior. Other guys to watch out for on the defensive line include Adam Gotsis, Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key.
5. From the looks of it, Tyson Campbell has come onto the scene and emerged as the Jags’ top cornerback. He’s having a great season but has he lined up across from a receiver of Davante Adams’ caliber yet? How do you think that one-on-one matchup plays out?
This will certainly be a fun matchup to watch. I think both players are going to win some battles, as Tyson Campbell is transforming into a No. 1 lockdown cornerback in just his second year in the NFL, and Davante Adams remains one of the best wide receivers and route-runners in the league.
Campbell has allowed just 23 catches on 44 targets (52.3 percent) for 234 yards with two touchdowns given up and two interceptions. He has allowed an opponent passer rating of just 64.0 and just 5.3 yards per target. Meanwhile, Adams is coming in with perhaps some lower (but still solid) numbers than many expected at this point in the season with 38 catches for 512 yards.
He also has a catch percentage of just 55.9 percent — his lowest since 2015 — but I am sure the inconsistent play of quarterback Derek Carr is at least somewhat to blame there as that number can be misleading. Also, Adams is still a big threat to score, as he ranks in the top five in touchdown receptions so far this season (five).
Pederson hinted toward Campbell potentially shadowing Adams on Sunday, perhaps not every play, but often. Don’t be surprised to see Campbell make a few nice plays come Sunday.
“(Campbell) did a little bit (of shadowing) Sunday (against the Broncos),” Pederson said on Wednesday. “That’s something that we will continue to explore as we go, and obviously the Raiders have a pretty good receiver over there, without giving away game plans and stuff, we’ll see how the week goes.”
With that said, I would still give the advantage to Adams, as I expect the veteran to win his fair share of reps.