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Raiders Week 14: How to attack the Vikings defense

Establishing the aerial attack and flipping the script is in Las Vegas’ best interest

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
Getting slot receiver Hunter Renfrow involved early and often against the Minnesota Vikings susceptible pass defense is a solid way to for the Las Vegas Raiders to attack this Sunday.
Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

Amplifying the passing attack to set up the ground and pound game? That doesn’t sound ideal with a rookie quarterback, but it’s a game plan that can serve the Las Vegas Raiders best this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

For Silver & Black to snap a two-game skid and get a much-needed win at home it needs to flip the script and throw the ball to set up the run. The Raider have made it no secret the success of their offense rides on the capable shoulders of running back Josh Jacobs (220 carries for 771 yards and six touchdowns) and interim head coach Antonio Pierce readily admits getting the tailback 20-plus touches normally means good things for Las Vegas. But in a must-win Week 14 matchup with the Vikings inside Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders must take flight and lean on the arm of Aidan O’Connell.

The inherent reason for that is Minnesota’s eighth-ranked defense (in terms of points allowed: 242 total) is susceptible to an aerial attack while being very stingy on the ground.

The Vikings (6-6 overall) pass defense has given up the fourth most receptions (171), 12th most yards (2,000) and seventh most touchdowns (10) to opposing wide receivers in the league, according to Pro Football Reference. In addition, the Vikings have given up 61 receptions, 540 yards, and four touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season. And another 66 catches for 383 yards and one touchdown to running backs catching the rock out of the backfield.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
Giving rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell (4) the opportunity to let it rip and going to a quick passing game would be a solid way for the Las Vegas Raiders to attack the Minnesota Vikings defense.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Compare that to just 855 yards and four touchdowns yielded (sixth and fifth least in the league in the respective categories) to running backs and 266 yard and three scores to quarterbacks, and you can see how much more stout the Vikings run defense is. Which portends to going to the air is a better proposition for the Raiders. Minnesota’s defense allows an average of 3.7 yards to opposing running backs (good for fourth least in the league) and Jacobs heads into the contest with a 3.5 yards per carry average.

Las Vegas (5-7) could certainly force the issue and test Minnesota’s run defense by running the ball on early downs — something the Silver & Black habitually have done through the 12 games played so far. Expect the Vikings to hone in on stonewalling Jacobs especially since they’ll operate under the assumption the Raiders are going to try and get their workhorse tailback going and establish physicality.

Thus, it’d be an opportune time for interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree to go to a quick passing game to get the ball out of O’Connell’s hands and to the playmakers Las Vegas boasts at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. See if the offense can generate yards after the catch (YAC) on the quick passes while mixing in the intermediate and deep shots O’Connell is showing impressive accuracy and touch on.

While Hardegree noted wholesale changes aren’t coming to the offense, even after a bye week, flipping the script is likely to be advantageous.

“Yeah, there’s always time,” Hardegree said during his media availability when asked if there’s time left in the season to make subtle changes or dramatic changes.. “But you have to be respectful for the players and then what we put on their plates. Because what we do, we expect to execute it, and we have to practice it and that has to carry over the game. So, wholesale changes, no, not at this time.”

The Vikings are going to be keenly aware of where Raiders elite wide receiver Davante Adams (team-leading 69 catches for 814 yards and four touchdowns) is at all times. They’ll also be eying wideout Jakobi Meyers (52 catches for 591 yards and team-leading six touchdown catches) as he’s found the end zone the most out of Silver & Black pass catchers. Yet, the Raiders have shifty slot receiver Hunter Renfrow (22 catches for 209 yards) at their disposal and his route-running can exhaust a defense. Meanwhile, rookie speedster Tre Tucker (eight catches for 161 yards) has game-changing jets as a wide receiver to torch defenders. Then there’s rookie tight end Michael Mayer (22 catches for 251 yards and a score) who is providing physicality after the catch.

Go to the air early and often and get as many of the receiving options involved and having the Minnesota defense unable to focus and dial in on one particular weapon.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Miami Dolphins
Incorporating rookie tight end Michael Mayer (87) in the passing game can prove beneficial to the Las Vegas Raiders offense. He has soft hands and brings physicality after the catch.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Spreading the formation out and putting as many pass catchers out there for O’Connell to choose from and running quick routes — slants, digs, and even crossing/drag — to allow the signal caller to make fast decisions and get the ball out of his hands. Let the rookie rip and find out how much more progression he’s made and going to make.

That should — keyword should — soften the amount of defenders cluttered near the line of scrimmage and give Jacobs more operating room as the game progresses.

Yet, Hardegree is well-aware of what must happen for any play call to have success.

“Execution, relying on the things we do well,” the play caller said during his Tuesday media availability. “Is there a better call sometimes? Possibly. Is there better execution out there? Certainly. Just those things combined into one, but just staying levelheaded and calling a good game.”

Putting players in the best possible position to succeed with play calls and having them execute go hand-in-hand and Las Vegas has fallen back into the trap of lacking in one or the other, or both. The bye week should’ve served as the perfect time to focus on execution and the little things and we’ll see if there’s an improvement in calls and execution this Sunday. The Raiders offense must be a well-oiled machine because while the Vikings do yield air yards, Brian Flores’ defense is one of best units in the red zone.

Out of 32 trips inside Minnesota’s 20-yard line, the team has allowed 16 touchdowns which is a 50 percent conversion rate and good for ninth in the league. Las Vegas’ offense made 34 red zone visits so far and scored 16 touchdowns for a 47.1 percent conversion rate that’s good for 27th in the league.