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Raiders vs Colts Week 10 preview: 5 potential X-factors

Las Vegas Raiders host the Indianapolis Colts in Jeff Saturday’s first game as interim head coach.

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NFL: NOV 06 Raiders at Jaguars
Rock Ya-Sin
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Two months ago, a lot of people had this Week 10 matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and Indianapolis Colts circled as a game that might have playoff implications on the line. However, now there’s more at stake for the first overall pick in the draft than there is for any postseason aspirations.

The Colts fired head coach Frank Reich on Monday and subsequently hired Jeff Saturday, who has no previous NFL coaching experience, as Reich’s interim replacement in what feels like a decision to tank for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, many in Las Vegas have been questioning Josh McDaniels’ qualifications as the Raiders’ head coach with them posting a 2-6 record at the midway point of the year.

Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook believe in the Silver and Black, or think very low of the Colts, as Vegas currently sits as a touchdown favorite heading into Sunday. But, the Raiders are coming off a couple of embarrassing losses after being favored heading into the game, so the guys below will need to be at their best to turn the team’s fate around.

Josh McDaniels

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Josh McDaniels
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Besides maybe the Broncos, there isn’t another team in the NFL that wants to beat McDaniels more than the Colts do. He infamously agreed to be their head coach in 2018 but got cold feet and left them at the alter, withdrawing from the position after Indy made the announcement which in turn led them to hire Reich.

But beyond making sure the Colts don’t get their revenge, Las Vegas’ coach has a lot of ground to make up to prove himself. Blowing three 17-point leads in eight games is the primary reason why the fan base is now questioning his credentials and the continual “this team needs to learn how to win games” explanation in the post-game press conferences is unacceptable.

For one, it’s the coach’s job to instill that finishing mentality in the players. And two, the Raiders showed that they know how to win games and not squander leads last season when they were a playoff team, and the roster only got better. That being said, there is one significant difference between last year’s squad and this year’s, the man in charge...

McDaniels is staring at the possibility of being one-and-done and a loss against a coach who had to ask the owner: “Why am I a candidate for this position?” could be enough cause for Mark Davis to send McDaniels packing.

Granted, the entire coaching staff should be on high alert too, especially defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Vegas’ defense is allowing 25.1 points per game which ranks 27th in the NFL, so Graham could make for an easy scapegoat if McDaniels starts feeling the heat.

Meanwhile, the Colts’ offense is dead last in the league with just 14.7 ppg and are starting 2021 sixth-round pick, Sam Ehlinger, at quarterback, who began the year as their third-stringer. So, the Raiders’ DC desperately needs a shutdown performance from his unit to salvage his reputation.

Rock Ya-Sin

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Rock Ya-Sin
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

While we’re on the topic of revenge games, Ya-Sin has an opportunity to go up against his former employer this Sunday.

He’s been solid so far for the Silver and Black, allowing a 55.6 completion percentage for just 204 yards and no touchdowns with three pass breakups thrown in the mix. Those figures rank 25th, 47th, first and tied for 37th among 123 qualifying cornerbacks in the league. Also, he’s been picked on at a fairly high rate with 6.7 coverage snaps per target but has stayed stingy by allowing a reception once every 12.1 coverage snaps.

In other words, the ex-Colt has played well for the Raiders, but his old teammate, Michael Pittman, presents an intriguing matchup.

Pittman is a pretty well-rounded receiver who’s racked up 54 catches for 550 yards and a touchdown in eight games this season. He’s fifth among wideouts in receptions despite having the fewest targets of anyone in the top five and is inside the top 20 for yards even though he missed Week 2.

But where the USC product might pose the biggest threat to Ya-Sin is in contested catch situations. Pittman has recorded 17 contested targets this season — fourth-most at the position — and hauled in 10 of those passes which are the second-most in the entire league.

Being physical at the catch point is one of Ya-Sin’s strengths, but that will be put to the test this weekend in this one-on-one matchup. Also, out-performing Yannick Ngakoue would be an added bonus.

Interior offensive line

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Bars, Andre James, Dylan Parham
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Deforest Buckner has been one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the NFL during his seven-year career. He’s accumulated at least 48 pressures every year and has posted PFF run defense grades in the 70s in four out of his six full seasons. One of those two outliers was a 69.5 mark as a rookie.

So far, it’s been more of the same in 2022. With 28 pressures through nine games, Buckner is on pace to finish just shy of 53 for the campaign, and he’s currently sitting at a 71.9 grade as a run defender.

Part of what makes him difficult to gameplan against is he lines up on both sides of the center fairly evenly, with 141 total snaps coming as a left defensive tackle and 131 on the right. That means all three of the Raiders' interior offensive linemen, Dylan Parham, Andre James and Alex Bars, must be on top of their games this weekend.

Parham is coming off a tough performance in Jacksonville, but he does hold the highest PFF run-blocking grade (67.4) of the bunch. He’ll just need a lot of help in pass protection, as he’s allowed the fourth-most pressures among guards and centers with 23. Luckily, James and the rookie are perfect compliments of each other as James has yielded just 10 pressures but sports a sub-par 54.7 mark in the ground game.

Then there’s Bars, who will probably need a lot of help on Sunday. He’s posted the lowest run-blocking grade (44.9) of Vegas’ six qualifying offensive linemen and has surrendered 17 pressures, third most within that group. For the latter, keep in mind that he didn’t start until Week 3.

So, those three will have their hands full this weekend and it will likely take all three of them to keep Buckner in check.

Neil Farrell Jr.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Neil Farrell Jr.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in last week’s debacle against the Jaguars was Farrell’s potential breakout performance. He earned the highest single-game overall grade of his young career by over 13 points with an impressive 76.9 mark, highlighted by a 75.3 grade as a run blocker.

His grade against the run was the fifth-best among defensive tackles in Week 9, aided by three tackles on just 21 opportunities. Of those three takedowns, one was a defensive stop, and his -1.5-yard average depth of tackle trailed only Calais Campbell for the week.

However, much like Parham, the rookie defensive linemen will be lining up across from one of the league’s bests, Quenton Nelson.

Granted, Nelson hasn’t been himself so far this season, currently posting the lowest PFF grade of his career at 65.9. However, the last the rookie wants is to be part of the perennial All-Pro’s “get right” game.

During his first five years in the league, Nelson built a reputation as the best all-around guard, pancaking defensive lineman after defensive lineman in the ground game and stifling pass rusher after pass rusher. So, not only does Farrell have to be on top of his game to help the team win, but he also has an opportunity to turn some heads and prove to the coaching staff that he deserves more playing time in the second half of the season.

Hunter Renfrow

Las Vegas Raiders v Indianapolis Colts
Hunter Renfrow
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

All eyes are going to be on the matchup between Stephon Gilmore and Davante Adams, however, don’t be surprised if Renfrow ends up stealing the spotlight. While Renfrow will be lining up across from a fellow 2021 Pro Bowler in Kenny Moore, this might be the most underwhelming one-on-one battle of reigning Pro Bowlers in league history.

Renfrow’s struggles can be perfectly summed up by the difference in his yards per route run in the slot this year compared to last. In 2021, he ranked 20th among wideouts for the metric (1.67) but that figure has been cut in half this season to 0.81, 68th out of 75 qualifiers at the position. Meanwhile, Moore has been on a similar trajectory with coverage grades of 62.1 and 43.9 in those respective seasons.

But beyond this matchup, Renfrow needs to shake off the demons and get back on track.

A year after being arguably the most reliable player on the roster, he’s had more negative plays than positive ones after signing a contract extension in the offseason. He’s part of the front office’s long-term plans, so with eyes toward the future for the rest of the 2022 campaign, the third down machine needs to get his groove back and build momentum heading into 2023.