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How the Raiders avoid another prime time face plant

Pass rush, feeding Josh Jacobs early and often in both ground and air attacks are key

Las Vegas Raiders v Buffalo Bills
Malcolm Koonce is splitting snaps opposite Maxx Crosby with rookie Tyree Wilson. The third-year edge rusher is creating pressure and collapsing the pocket. More of that will be needed against the visiting Green Bay Packers.
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

With speed on the outside and a big-arm quarterback who isn’t afraid to let the deep bombs fly, the incoming Green Bay Packers will remind the Las Vegas Raiders of something quite familiar to them — Silver & Black teams of yester yore.

Led by third-year signal caller Jordan Love, the Packers have shown no qualms spreading the ball all over the field with the intent of generating explosive plays. Six different receiving targets have been the recipient of passes from Love that have gone for 30 yards or more. Running back Aaron Jones tops the group with 51-yard catch, followed by rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed with a 44-yard haul. That’s followed by rookie tight end Luke Musgrave (37-yard reception), and wideouts Samori Toure (35), Dontayvion Wicks (32), and Romeo Doubs (30).

The long ball is definitely in play with Green Bay head coach and offensive play caller Matt LaFleur scheming up how to attack a defense and Love is much obliged to fire away. Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels is all too aware of this and isn’t expecting anything less.

“They have. And they’ve gotten a lot of defensive pass interference penalties as well,” McDaniels said when asked about the deep shots the Packers have taken and connected on so far this season. “So, I mean, it’s like one way or the other, they’re gaining 50 yards. We’ve talked about it. We know it’s going to be part of the game. They definitely will test the deep part of the field. You have to be disciplined. And even if you’re down there on them, the ball may be coming anyway, and he’s already shown the ability to drop it in there even if the coverage is tight and give his man an opportunity to touch the football and make a play.

“Got a lot of guys that can run, too. This is a fast team, and they use them the right way and try to get them down the field. We’re going to have to be disciplined and we’re going to have to defend the ball when it’s thrown even if we’re back there.”

How do the Raiders combat this and avoid another primetime face plant? By getting the pass rush going early and often.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Las Vegas Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby, top, sacks Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert during last Sunday’s game. Crosby had two sacks and could’ve had there if it were not for a penalty.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

That means putting edge rusher Maxx Crosby in the best possible position to succeed. Las Vegas can take a page out of the Detroit Lions playbook in this regard as the team moved their standout rusher Aidan Hutchinson all over the defensive front to take advantage of matchups and keep the Packers guessing. This style allowed the Lions to feast on Love for a total of five sacks. According to Pro Football Reference, Love was pressured 12 times, hurried twice, hit five times and forced to make eight bad throws. And Detroit did it mostly with a natural front-four pressure (the team did blitz three times).

“There was a bunch of four-man rush and they were getting home,” LaFleur said after the loss to the Lions. “They did a nice job moving Hutchinson around and they did some nice jobs with some of their line stunts. We’ve got to do a better job up front, no doubt about it.”

Crosby is flanked by Malcolm Koonce — who is showing needed burst off the edge to collapse the pocket — and improving rookie Tyree Wilson — whose power is showing up more on film. Get that trio going off the edge will be key to keep Love uncomfortable and giving the Raiders secondary a boost in coverage. While the Packers quarterback holds an impressive eight touchdowns to three interceptions mark so far, he’s ranked dead last in completion percentage (56.1) amongst the 34 signal callers to have played two games this season.

The Raiders did well to quell the Los Angeles Chargers offense in the second half of last Sunday’s loss and did blitz Bolts quarterback Justin Herbert six times. According to Pro Football Reference, that netted Las Vegas two sacks, eight pressures, three hurries, three hits and forced Herbert into six bad throws. Replicating that at home and on Monday Night Football against the Packers is a must-do.

Offensively, the Raiders need to feed running back Josh Jacobs the ball early and often in both the ground and air attacks. The Packers are near the bottom in rushing yards allowed (621 total for the 30th ranking) and teams have ran the second-most times against Green Bay (139 carries, 31st in league) and Las Vegas should test the run defense often. While Jacobs hasn’t been the same dominant tailback that tore up the 2022 season and reign as league rushing king, he’s been an available target in the passing game with 18 catches for 173 yards. That balances well wit his 62 carries for 166 yards and one touchdown.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Las Vegas Raiders
Getting running back Josh Jacobs both carries on the ground and catches through the air early and often should help the Las Vegas Raiders offense get its footing.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Whomever gets the start under center for the Raiders — be it Jimmy Garoppolo (who seems the likely candidate once he’s out of concussion protocol) or rookie Aidan O’Connell — a steady diet of Jacobs either carrying the ball or catching is sound. Especially in the red zone, an area where McDaniels’ offense ranks 24th in the league with a 46.2 percent conversion clip inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (13 red zone trips, only six end zone visits).

“I think our ability to execute and run the ball into the end zone, last year eventually we got kind of got that going, and I think the easiest way to score is to obviously hand the ball off and take it into endzone,” McDaniels said. “So, haven’t done that as well as what we would have liked to do, and then we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in some of those four-point plays we call them with third and goal down there. And in those situations, there’s really no shortcut. They know you’re throwing it; you know you’re throwing it, and you got to do a good job of executing, protecting, getting open, finding the single (coverage).”

Execution is key and that’s not something the 1-3 Raiders have done very well through four gamers. But to avoid another primetime letdown, the team must execute — in all three phases of the game: Offense, defense, and special teams.