Antonio Pierce is a throwback and for one game, he was what the Las Vegas Raiders need out of an interim head coach. Yet, playing inspired football and having conviction for the new man up top for one game is one thing. Sustaining that determination and drive going forward is a different thing altogether.
And thus, the Silver & Black have another opportunity to show its a different team under Pierce and under the primetime lights of Sunday night, no less, against the New York Jets.
Pierce, who is coming off a convincing 30-6 win over the New York Giants, made no bones about what he wants to see from his Raiders this coming Sunday. And, no surprise, it’s defensively.
Who would expect anything less from the former NFL linebacker and linebackers coach?
“Run defense,” Pierce said without blinking, when asked what areas he wants to see more out of, during his mid-week media availability. “ It was great getting eight sacks. It’s not cool giving up 100 yards. That’s not cool. The cool part about it is being heavy handed, dominant up front, making a team one dimensional. I don’t care what team, what year of football we are in, you stop the run. You got to be stout up front, you got to be heavy handed, linebackers got to be hammers. The corners got to come out there and be secondary support players, and our back end got to come down and bring that thump. And until you really establish that, you can’t be the defense we really want to be.”
Which leads us to the primary area of concern for the Raiders (4-5 overall) when it comes to the incoming Jets (4-4): Breece Hall.
The 6-foot-1 and 220-pound Iowa State product is a tailback that have both Pierce and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s full attention. Hall has galloped for 493 yards and two touchdowns on 94 rushes (a robust 5.2 yards per carry average) and while he may have been limited by the Los Angeles Chargers defense this past Monday to 50 yards on 16 carries, his power and speed were evident. He ran through another AFC West team, the Denver Broncos, like a hot knife through butter four games ago with a 177-yard, one-touchdown effort on 22 carries. That was a tilt that saw him run for a season long 72-yard carry.
“I mean, the explosive runs that he has, 60, 70-yard runs. He can get to the outside, very patient runner,” Pierce said about Hall. “Actually, I tried to recruit him out of college. Told me no right away, I was like, ‘Okay, cool, no problem.’ But this is a different back, this is going to be challenging for us up front. We understand that. They don’t hide it when they want to run. We know they want to run; we know they want to be tough and get after the run game, and it’s a great challenge for us this week.”
“I’d say with Hall, the thing is everybody’s at the point of attack. No matter where the play is designed to go, he could go anywhere with the ball,” Graham added.
Wilson to Wilson
While the Jets offense is in the dregs so far, they do have potent weapons.
Another is wide receiver Garrett Wilson, another young and improving option for Gang Green. The 23-year-old may not be the biggest at 6-feet and 192 pounds, but he’s consistent as he runs routes with precision and speed. On the year, he’s hauled in 46 passes for 549 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just in terms of the combination of speed, quickness and the ability to catch the ball from all different types of angles. His catch radius is pretty dynamic, in my opinion, and he presents a lot of challenges,” Graham said of Wilson. “And they do a good job of moving him around and finding ways to give him the ball.”
While starting quarterback Zach Wilson has struggled mightily overall, he has no issues looking for and throwing to Garrett Wilson as often as he can.
There isn’t a singular standout or marquee pass rusher on the Jets defense, but that’s not a detrimental thing for New York. The team’s pass rush is balanced and production is spread out, even thought he team has a dominating defensive tackle in the middle of the line in Quinnen Williams. Case in point: He had 12 sacks last season and only 0.5 this year.
But a total of 10 different Jets defenders have notched a sack with Bryce Huff leading the group with five. He’s followed by Jermaine Johnson II and Quinton Jefferson with 4.5 each.
New York can attack from different angles and will truly test Las Vegas this Sunday night.
“They’re a good football team, they really are,” Raiders interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree said. “They’re very explosive and we have to do a really good job of hitting our keys and what we believe in that’s going to help us win the football game, and we’ll develop our plan around that.”