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Raiders-Patriots: 3 key matchups, big week for the ground game on both sides

A very winnable matchup for Las Vegas

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

With Josh McDaniels taking over as the Las Vegas Raiders head coach and bringing over several players, coaches and front-office members from his former employer with him, the connection between the Raiders and New England Patriots is strong. That adds some much-needed drama to this Week 6 matchup as neither team has shown much life so far this season.

The Patriots come to Las Vegas with a 1-4 record and have lost their last two games by a combined score of 72-3 while Bill Belichick has officially hit a low point in his career. Meanwhile, the Raiders have put up more of a fight and are 2-3, making them about a field-goal favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook.

It's a contest where a lot of pride is on the line for both sides and winning the individual matchups below will go a long way toward winning the game.

1) Josh Jacobs vs. Jahlani Tavai

Jahlani Tavai made a name for himself in 2022, finishing with a 73.5 grade from Pro Football Focus that ranked 22nd among all linebackers. But what was most impressive about his campaign is that he was the only backer to play at least 263 defensive snaps and not record a single missed tackle. So far this season, he’s picked up right where he left off.

Tavai currently ranks 10th at the position with an 80.5 grade and while he does have two missed tackles, his 7.1 percent MT rate is still in the top third among qualifiers at the position. He’s also been impressive in coverage with just five receptions allowed for 34 yards with a couple of those catches and 19 yards coming when the Dolphins were able to scheme up matchups where he was covering their wide receivers.

Meanwhile, Josh Jacobs has been known to make defenders miss. He led the league with 90 missed tackles forced as a rusher in 2022 and nine so far this season. So, that will be a matter of who gives in first as both players’ strengths will be tested.

Jacobs has also been a factor as a receiver lately. Two weeks ago against the Chargers, he was the team’s leading receiver with eight catches for 81 yards, and he hauled in five balls for 20 yards on Monday night. He’s currently boasting a career-high 8.6 yards per catch which ranks in the top 20 for his position, and he’s the leader in receiving yards with 193.

So, these two should face off against each other often this weekend and the winner of that battle will have a significant impact on Las Vegas’ offensive success.

2) Robert Spillane vs. Rhamondre Stevenson

NFL: OCT 01 Raiders at Chargers
Robert Spillane
Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s no question that the Patriots’ passing game is an absolute mess right now and that’s the biggest reason for their offensive struggles. So, the Raiders’ primary concern defensively should be slowing down their rushing attack and specifically, keeping Rhamondre Stevenson in check.

Stevenson is coming off a season where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged five yards per carry. He’s a good power back where about 77 percent of his yards in 2022 came after first contact (YCO) and while his box score stat line is down this year—188 yards and 2.8 yards per attempt—he’s had to manufacture a lot of runs on his own with 122 YCO so far.

That’s where this matchup can get tricky for Robert Spillane as he’s missed 9 tackles through the Raiders' first five games of the year. Also, he has struggled to make impact tackles against the run with a 4.8-yard average depth of tackle and a run stop rate of 4.3 percent as both figures rank in the bottom 25 among linebackers.

Granted, Spillane is coming off of his best performance as a Raider where he didn’t miss a tackle and was an effective run defender against the Packers. Hopefully, that trend continues so Las Vegas will be able to keep New England’s rushing attack in check.

3) Kolton Miller vs. Josh Uche

With Matthew Judon out until at least December, Josh Uche will step into a bigger role for the time being.

Last season, Uche was quietly one of the most efficient edge-rushers in the entire league with a pass-rush win rate of 19.2 percent that ranked sixth at his position, per PFF. He also was tied for 16th with 56 pressures on 285 rushes while everyone in the top 15 had at least 380 opportunities.

It’s been more of the same so far this year as the fourth-year pro’s win rate sits at 18.9 percent, 12th-best, and he has 16 pressures, tied for 29th, on just 78 pass rushes.

That sets up for an interesting battle between Uche and Kolton Miller, as Miller is once again one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles in pass protection. The tackle has only allowed nine pressures so far this season, which is in the top 20 for his position (minimum 129 snaps in pass protection, and boasts a 79.6 PFF pass-blocking grade that is ninth-best in the league.

Seeing as the Patriots don’t have a ton of good pass-rushers left on their roster outside of Uche, this matchup will be the key to how much time Jimmy Garoppolo has in the pocket.