The Las Vegas Raiders will be looking for redemption in their home opener and Week 2 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday. Losing by five points to a Super Bowl contender like the Los Angeles Chargers isn’t cause for concern, but the Raiders need to get back on track and not let things spiral out of control to keep pace in the division.
Luckily, the oddsmakers believe in Las Vegas as they are currently touchdown favorites over Arizona on DraftKings Sportsbook. That’s certainly a confidence booster going into the contest, but it won’t mean much unless the Silver and Black get key contributions from the players below.
Abram put together a solid season debut last week, leading the team in total tackles with 12 and allowing just three catches on six targets for 11 yards. He also mixed in a pressure as a pass rusher and perhaps his most impressive stat was only having one missed tackle despite being so active. However, the Cardinals bring in a new challenge with quarterback Kyler Murray.
In addition to his arm, Murray is known for being able to make plays with his legs and has over 1,800 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in his young career. Part of the reason he’s able to put up such impressive numbers as a rusher is he’s extremely shifty and hard to bring down.
Last season, Murray forced 59 missed tackles (MTF) which were the fourth-most among quarterbacks behind Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, and Murray had four more MTF last week. With the Raiders likely playing a lot of zone coverages to keep the scrambling quarterback at bay, that’ll put him and Abram in a lot of open-field tackle situations. In other words, we’ll find out just how much the safety’s technique and discipline have improved as both will be put to the test.
The Cardinals also pose threat with tight end, Zach Ertz. The three-time Pro Bowler may not be the player he once was, but he is coming off a 74-catch, 763-yard and five-touchdown campaign, so he is certainly still capable of impacting the game.
Covering tight ends, especially the really good ones in the league, has been an issue for Abram in the past so this will be another opportunity to show how much he’s grown. And Las Vegas is going to need him to step up to take weapons away from Murray, especially if Tre’von Moehrig can’t go after leaving the Chargers game with an injury.
Speaking of injuries to defensive backs, the Silver and Black suffered a big loss with Anthony Averett going on injured reserve after breaking his thumb. The injury comes at a terrible time too as Arizona has an impressive receiving corps, even without DeAndre Hopkins.
A.J. Green’s prime might be behind him, but he still was productive a year ago with nearly 850 yards and 15.7 yards per catch. The latter ranked 10th among NFL wideouts with at least 46 targets. Then there’s the new guy, Marquise Brown, who’s coming off a 1,000-yard campaign and is reunited with his college quarterback after they connected 75 times for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns back in 2018 at Oklahoma. Not to be forgotten is Rondale Moore, granted, he missed last week with an injury, but he is lethal after the catch with the third-most YAC per reception (7.9) among receivers a year ago.
So, starters Nate Hobbs and Rock Ya-Sin will have their hands full, but the Raiders’ depth at cornerback will likely be an even bigger factor since the Cardinals have three solid receivers. While there are a couple of new faces in the meeting room for Las Vegas, Robertson is the one who’s been in the building the longest and needs to be the one to step up.
Last week, he logged 14 snaps after Averett went down, and while Robertson didn’t get targeted, he did have a missed tackle which has been a problem in the past and is part of the reason he got benched last season. That simply cannot happen this Sunday as the Raiders need him to be at his best, and if he isn’t, that might end up being the three-year veteran’s last opportunity to prove himself.
Dylan Parham/Lester Cotton
Head coach Josh McDaniels suggested that the rotation on the right side of the Raiders’ offensive line will continue, so I’ll go ahead and lump both right guards into one X-factor.
Parham ended up getting the start last week and taking 35 of the 58 total snaps. The results were pretty positive as he didn’t allow a pressure to earn a 73.1 PFF pass-blocking grade and had the fourth-highest run-blocking grade (82.6) at the position. He ranked third with an 82.3 overall grade as well.
The other 23 reps went to Cotton who also pitched a shutout in pass protection but earned a higher mark at 84.4, ninth among guards. The difference can partially be chalked up to Cotton participating in a higher rate of ‘true pass sets’ to earn some extra points in the grading system. However, he did struggle more in the ground game with a slightly below-average 58.1 run blocking grade.
Regardless, both guys need to be ready to go as J.J. Watt awaits.
Much like Ertz and Green, Watt isn’t the player he used to be but make no mistake about it, he still is capable of wreaking havoc in the opponent’s backfield. Before suffering an injury in Week 7 of last season, he ranked tied for third in pressures (28) among interior defenders, tieing with Jonathan Allen, one spot behind Kenny Clark and just ahead of Jefferey Simmons. So Watt was still problematic for pass-happy offenses in 2021.
The future Hall of Famer missed last week with a calf injury but could return this Sunday, which means the Raiders’ right guards, who have one NFL start between them, will have a chance to make a name for themselves against one of the all-time greats.
Yes, yes, listing the superstar tight end who just got a big payday as an X-factor is a cop-out, but there’s no denying that the Raiders offense was more efficient last week when Waller was involved.
In the first half against the Chargers, Waller only had one catch for 15 yards while Vegas averaged 3.88 yards per play and scored just three points. However, the third and fourth quarters were a completely different story as those figures jumped up to three catches for 64 yards, 7.09 yards per play and 16 points scored.
Don’t get me wrong, Davante Adams still should be the go-to guy, but part of the benefit of having him out wide is to open things up for guys like Waller, which Derek Carr and the offense need to take advantage of earlier in the game.
The good news for Waller and the Raiders is the Cardinals just got scorched by Travis Kelce, who had eight grabs on nine targets for 121 yards, a touchdown and seven first downs. Seeing numbers like those should make Waller foam at the mouth since he’s often held in the same regard as Kelce.
However, Arizona does have a couple of talented players that could make things difficult.
Isaiah Simmons is a versatile linebacker who primarily played safety in college, so he has some good coverage skills. It’s just a matter if he can put it all together in the pros to turn potential into production as he’s failed to do that two seasons and one game into his career.
Then there’s Budda Baker, one of the highest-paid safeties in the league. Baker may lack the ideal size for an NFL safety — listed at 5’10” and 195 pounds — but he’s an impressive athlete with excellent ball skills, racking up 11 combined interceptions and pass breakups in 2020 and 2021. He also allowed a reception once every 29.2 coverage snaps last season.
Long story short, Waller has a chance to cement himself as a top player at his position this Sunday which will help the Raiders' offense be more efficient, but he’ll have to beat a couple of other impressive athletes to accomplish the feat.
There’s always a little extra motivation anytime a player gets to go against the team that let him walk in the offseason. That’s the case with Jones this weekend and there’s an extra incentive seeing as he was relatively quiet in Week 1.
Jones did make a few plays against the Chargers that won’t show up on the stat sheet to earn a 67.5 grade from PFF. However, he only registered two tackles and two pressures and, to put it simply, the organization isn’t playing him $17 million per year for that little production.
While All-Pro Rashawn Slater won’t be on the other side of the trenches this Sunday, the Cardinals do have a quality left tackle in D.J. Humpries.
Humpries was solid in pass protection last season with a 65.7 PFF pass-blocking grade, however, that was a down year. In the two previous campaigns, he posted marks of 76.3 and 79.9, respectively, and allowed just five sacks on a little bit less than 1,400 opportunities. It looked like he was back to that form in Week 1, earning a 78.4 pass-pro grade and allowing just two pressures, both of which were just QB hurries.
If the Raiders are going to be able to ‘cage in’ Murray, like defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has talked about regarding running quarterbacks, then Jones is going to have to win some one-on-one battles against his former teammate. That should lead to a fuller box score and help him earn his keep.