The resurgence of complementary Las Vegas Raiders football is a major reason the team has gone from an inexcusable loss three weeks ago to back-to-back victories the last two weeks. In the Silver & Black version of All-22, all 11 Raiders on offense and defense did their jobs — something that’s been super elusive the weeks prior.
Hence the team’s disappointing 4-7 record.
Yet, everyone doing their job is the backbone of Las Vegas’ victories.
“Yeah, absolutely, and that’s a perfect picture of football,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said when asked if all 11 guys doing their job on offense is what is preached in HQ. “Like, we see eight-yard gains, and we say, ‘Wow, what a great run,’ and all that kind of stuff. That’s what happens when everyone does the right thing all the time. Defensive guys get paid too and make good plays and all that kind of stuff all the time. So, for something to come together like that, it doesn’t happen often, but it was great timing for us.”
Nail. On. Head. Carr is right that the Raiders coming together hasn’t occurred as frequently as the team would like. Yet, playing complementary football isn’t because of something super natural. It’s player execution that’s occurring much more frequently. And the onus on ensuring it’s a habitual thing instead of rare occurrences is on the Raiders moving forward.
Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who helms a unit that’s received severe criticism throughout the season, was asked during his mid-week media session if his players had an understanding of what he’s wanted them to do in last Sunday’s walkoff overtime win against the Seattle Seahawks. And his answer was relatively elementary.
“I wouldn’t say a little bit more. I mean, sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way. But the guys have been working really hard all year,” Graham said. “I think coach talked about in his press conference, the temperature really hasn’t changed. The guys have been focused, just some breaks here and there. I think the one thing like coach said, they’re learning how to play together. All three phases, learning how to gut it out for a full 60 or 65 minutes, whatever it may take. And I’m just happy that they’re getting the reward.”
Rewards, however, are a fleeting thing, too. Las Vegas has an AFC West divisional game against the incoming Los Angeles Chargers, a team that is not only 6-5, but beat the Silver & Black 24-19 in the season opener. A Raiders win would make Las Vegas 5-7 and L.A. 6-6, helping to close the gap between second place in the division.
“And again, now we got to reset, come back in tomorrow, and get ready to go for the Chargers because it’s big division game and big challenge ahead of us,” Graham said. “A home game, give the fans something to cheer about there with that. I know the guys, they’ve been working hard all year and focused, and I know that right now their attentions have turned to the Chargers.”
Complementary football will be a must once more for the Raiders this Sunday against the Chargers in Allegiant Stadium. A series like Las Vegas did against Seattle — a Denzel Perryman interception was a takeaway the defense needed and on the ensuing drive, running back Josh Jacobs galloped in for a touchdown — would do wonders against L.A.
Especially considering what Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen told the L.A. Times’ Jeff Miller.
“Barbecued chicken,” Allen said when asked about the Raiders using man-to-man coverage at a rate that ranks the Silver & Black ninth in the league in terms of usage. “No doubt. That means they’re dead. You’re gonna get to see ‘Slayer.’”
‘Slayer’ is Allen’s nickname and it’s somewhat apt. In 16 career games against the Raiders (the Bolts are 10-6 in that span), Allen has 1,058 yards and five touchdowns on 97 receptions. Although, his last touchdown against the Silver & Black was back in Week 15 of the 2020 season — a game the Chargers lost 31-26.
However, perhaps Allen doesn’t get to go BBQ chicken on the Raiders secondary. Not if the Chargers can’t properly protect quarterback Justin Herbert. In the Bolts’ last three games, Herbert sustained 11 total sacks with five and four coming in the last two weeks. The Raiders premiere pass rusher, Maxx Crosby, is a man possessed the last three games racking up 4.5 sacks with 3.5 of those coming the last two games.
Compounding protection matters for the Bolts is missing key linemen in center Corey Linsley and right tackle Trey Pipkins. If Crosby goes off again, the Herbert to Allen connection likely gets zapped.