It’s Now or Never For The Las Vegas Raiders

Phil Robinson III
RB Peyton Barber

The Las Vegas Raiders return home to the confines of Allegiant Stadium in what amounts to a playoff game against familiar nemesis Philip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts.

There comes a point in time in every NFL season where it’s time to prove whether or not you are a contender or a pretender. Of the two conferences in the NFL, the AFC is by far the most competitive. With an additional playoff spot available in the 2020 season, competition has been that much fiercer. For the Las Vegas Raiders, they control their own destiny with three-straight home games including against the Colts and the Miami Dolphins – both of who are fighting for those playoff spots.

Las Vegas Raiders Derek Carr
Derek Carr is the field general and leader of this Las Vegas Raiders team. He has to elevate the play of his teammates around him during this playoff run.

Where The Raiders are At

Currently, as the 8th seed, the Raiders are on the outside looking in with a 7-5 record. The game against the Indianapolis Colts (7th seed) is a must win game. A win continues propelling the Raiders towards the postseason providing a head-to-head tie-breaker over the Colts and swapping placement in the standings.

Losing won’t necessarily mathematically eliminate them from the playoffs. However, it would be catastrophic to their playoff chances. With another loss, the best-case scenario would be going 10-6 and getting help. What’s more likely to happen, is potentially being a game and a half (tie-breaker) out of the last playoff spot. Thus potentially placing the Raiders in a losing head-to-head scenario against the New England Patriots.

Just Win… by More?

Throughout much of the franchise’s recent history, by this point in the season, many would be talking about draft selections for next year. Instead, Raider Nation is arguing the quality of wins. In direct opposition to “Just Win Baby,” the mantra of the late Al Davis. Jack del Rio said a lot of things, the most important one was this:

Winning is hard in the NFL. It’s so difficult it became a famous line in a Hollywood movie. In the film On Any Given Sunday, you can win or lose. Thus far, the Raiders have won more games than they have lost and have been in contention in every game except for two. Moral victories may not count for much, but an ugly win is still a win.

The Chatter About the Jets Win

Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons, one would hope it would serve as a wake-up call to the Raiders fighting for their playoff life. COVID-19 prevented the Raiders from staying on the east coast for two weeks as they had originally planned. That meant back-to-back weeks of arduous travel to and from Las Vegas.

In the win over the New York Jets, the offense scored 31 points. The offense has scored 30+ points in a win six out of seven times this season. Scoring at least 30 points seven times, and less than 20 twice.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact Derek Carr threw for 386 yards, 3 TDs, and an interception (off a wide receiver drop). On top of that, he scored the only rushing touchdown of the day in the cold on the road and in a different time zone. Whatever happened to not being able to win and produce in the cold?

Jalen Richard at his press conference on Thursday cited the fact the Jets were running nine-man boxes. Nothing good happens in terms of the running game and pass protection when nine men are in the box. All game long the Raiders were under fire. Jets defensive coordinator Greg Williams brought the most blitzes quarterback Derek Carr has seen all season. Meanwhile, Darren Waller had a career day with 13 catches for 200 yards and 2 TDs.

Defense Not Getting It’s Proper Respect

No excuses is the team mantra being echoed all preseason and training camp long. Players are well aware of the fact no one cares about who’s injured. No one cares that the defensive line is getting held and they’re not getting calls. Never mind the fact that they are the third least blitzing team (98) in the league. All that should matter is finishing the game with more points than the other team. For the Raiders’ young defense, it isn’t the barometer that’s used to measure their success or failure.

Las Vegas Raiders Johnathan Abram
Johnathan Abram and the Raiders defense is a work in progress and has shown growth throughout the 2020 season.

Meanwhile, they are starting a rookie, and a second-year player at the cornerback and Johnathan Abram is playing his first full year of action after missing all but one half of his rookie year. Clelin Ferrell has been asserting himself on the defensive line and got his first two sacks of the year, coupling them with forcing fumbles each time.

The Raiders are 4th in hurries with 57, 12th in the league with 38 knockdowns, 14th in pressures with 110, 18th in interceptions with 10, but 2nd in the league with 102 missed tackles and are 28th in tackles for loss with 39, and 29th in sacks with 15. Against the pass, the Raiders have given up only 20 passing touchdowns which are the 18th most in the league, and 3085 yards which are 9th-most. These are not bad numbers, not by a long shot. In my opinion, they are indicative of, a middle of the pack pass defense at this point in the season.

Against the run, the Raiders defense faces challenges at setting the edge and preventing teams from winning games on the ground. The numbers in the running game definitely leave something to be desired despite not being quite as bad as perceived. Allowing the 13th most rushing yards 1453, second-most rushing touchdowns 19, 13th in yards per game at 121.1, and 12th most yards per carry at 4.5.

Missed tackles and an inability to finish the pass rush with the quarterback taking a sack is what’s separating this defense from being a better unit. As a whole, fans have been treated to a middle-of-the-pack team that is a couple of games over .500 and fighting for a playoff spot.

Is This a Playoff Team?

When asking this particular question, one must qualify what a playoff team is. If playoff team is a special squad that’s in the 15-1, 14-2, or 13-3 range then the answer is no. Are they 12-4 good? Clearly not this year having lost five games already. The Raiders are capable of being 11-5, 10-6, or 9-7. Legitimately, only one of those is going to get them into the playoffs. 10-6 is in the hunt, but this year 9-7 just isn’t going to get it done.

As of the writing of this article, the Los Angeles Rams have just defeated the New England Patriots and given them their seventh loss of the season. Once again, while the Raiders are sitting one game out of the playoff seeds and have a chance to elevate themselves by winning against the Colts at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday.

The offense is scoring points, and the defense is holding opposing teams to less than the offense is generating. It is a formula for winning. When the Raiders are at their best, they can beat any team in this league. At their worst they can be challenged and defeated by the worst teams in the league. In order to make the playoffs, they are going to have to defeat the Colts and the Dolphins. If they can do that, they should be able to afford a split between the Chargers and the Broncos.

The Raiders are not a playoff team until they officially punch their tickets, but their offensive and defensive numbers are representative of being a playoff team.