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Raiders-Vikings: 3 key matchups, Las Vegas defensive backs get ready for track meet

Jefferson returns for Minnesota, creating a big problem for Las Vegas’ secondary

New York Giants v Las Vegas Raiders
Amik Robertson
Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

This Week 14 matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and Minnesota Vikings is an interesting one as both teams are coming off byes and looking to end two-game skids. The Vikings are also clinging onto an NFC wild-card spot while the Raiders are looking to play spoiler as their postseason hopes stretch the definition of hope.

With more to play for, DraftKings Sportsbook has Minnesota as a field-goal favorite in Las Vegas and a lot of the key matchups below favor the visitors.

1) Amik Robertson/Jack Jones vs. Justin Jefferson/Jordan Addison

Justin Jefferson hasn’t played since Week 5 but his 571 receiving yards still rank 35th among wide receivers and everyone ahead of him on the list has played in at least double the amount of game as he has. Before suffering a hamstring injury, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year was on his way to defending the title by averaging 7.2 catches and 114.2 yards per game to go along with three touchdowns this season.

Jefferson has been a problem defenses have struggled to find an answer for since he entered the league four years ago, but the veteran’s absence this season made way for rookie Jordan Addison to make a name for himself.

While Addison only has one 100-yard performance this season, he’s been a consistent producer with 54 receptions for 685 yards and seven touchdowns. Those figures rank tied for 20th, 26th and tied for fifth, respectively, at the position.

The rookie’s ability to win down the field has been his calling card as intermediate to deep targets have accounted for about 44.4 percent of his catches, 72.0 percent of receiving and all seven scores, according to Pro Football Focus.

With Jefferson returning to the lineup this week and Addison’s emergence, the Raiders’ cornerbacks draw a tough assignment but also have a great opportunity to prove themselves this Sunday.

Amik Robertson becomes the team’s top corner now that Marcus Peters is gone, which gives Robertson a chance to show how valuable he is before his contract expires at the end of the year. So, putting together a strong performance against one of the league’s best receivers could help result in a big payday this spring.

The four-year pro has been up and down this season with a 64.7 completion percentage and 256 receiving yards when targeted to go along with a 58.1 coverage grade from PFF. But he has been playing better lately, surrendering no more than 29 receiving yards in the last six games he’s played in.

Meanwhile, Jack Jones will likely be getting his first start for the Silver and Black as he was claimed off of waivers from New England a little less than a month ago. Obviously, Jones hasn’t received much playing time with Las Vegas yet, but he did log 40 snaps against Kansas City after Peters’ benching and gave up 19 yards on the two times he was targeted.

While the second-year pro is under contract through 2025, Sunday’s matchup provides an opportunity for him to show his new employer that he’s capable of being a No. 1 or at least starting cornerback moving forward.

So, while Jefferson and Addison provide a significant challenge for the Raiders’ secondary, there’s also a big opportunity for a couple of young players to make names for themselves and make some money.

2) Jermaine Eluemunor/Thayer Munford Jr. vs. Danielle Hunter

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings
Danielle Hunter

On a similar note, Jermaine Eluemunor and/or Thayer Munford Jr. have a lot to prove this Sunday. Eluemunor is on a one-year contract while Munford Jr. has been attempting to take over the starting job for a few weeks now, and this game brings a huge matchup that could swing the position battle in one of the two player’s favor.

Vikings’ pass-rusher Danielle Hunter is putting together a career year in 2023. His 13.5 sacks are the third-most in the NFL (pre-Monday Night Football) and he ranks tied with Myles Garrett for 16th among edge defenders with 51 pressures, per PFF.

While Hunter lines up on both sides of the center, he spends the majority of his time on the offense’s right as about 67.6 percent of his snaps this season have come as either a left defensive end or outside linebacker.

So, it will be up to the Raiders’ right tackles to keep the three-time Pro Bowler in check to ensure the team’s passing attack stays on schedule, and their recent performances favor Eluemunor.

While Eluemunor has given up 20 pressures this season, over half (11) came in a tough two-week stretch against the Steelers and Chargers. Those contests also account for all five sacks he’s allowed during the campaign. So containing one of the league’s top pass-rushers will help build the case that those two poor outings were an anomaly, which should come in hand during contract negotiations this offseason.

Meanwhile, Munford Jr. has been heading in the opposite direction as a pass protector. Of the 17 pressures and four sacks he’s surrendered on the year, 14 and three have come over the last three games. Unfortunately, those underwhelming performances have coincided with the coaching staff giving him more playing time, meaning the 2022 seventh-round pick has to turn things around quickly to earn the starting job beyond this season.

3) Malcolm Koonce vs. Christian Darrisaw

Minnesota’s left tackle Christian Darrisaw has quickly become one of the NFL’s best pass protectors. With just 19 pressures yielded in 10 games this season, the third-year pro is giving up just under two per game and that’s coming off of a year where he gave up 20 in 14 regular season outings.

Darrisaw also ranks second at his position with an 83.9 pass-blocking grade from PFF and will undoubtedly have the fifth-year option on his rookie contract picked up in the offseason, which should lead to a lucrative extension in the future.

But the Raiders have an ascending 2021 draft pick as well in Malcolm Koonce, who will be looking to make a statement this weekend.

Koonce has been more of a rotational player this year, logging 30 or more defensive snaps in just two games but has made the most out of his limited opportunities. On 195 reps as a pass-rusher, he's logged 29 pressures and has a win rate of 17.0 percent, per PFF. The latter ranks 16th among edge defenders and is only 0.3 points behind Maxx Crosby’s figure.

So, this matchup gives Koonce a chance to make a name for himself against one of the league’s top tackles, which will be a great opportunity for him to earn more playing time heading into a contract year in 2024.