The Las Vegas Raiders win on Sunday was key to a quick start for the young team. With no preseason and the most unusual training camp in league history, the Raiders offense shined and the defense came up big when it needed to.
In a repeat of successful campaigns in 2019, the Raiders rode their workhorse, Josh Jacobs, to victory yet again. The running back was key to the Raiders win. Last season, the Raiders were 4-0 when Josh Jacobs hit pay-dirt so getting him involved- and involved often – is paramount. Jacobs didn’t disappoint in his 2020 debut finishing the game with 29 touches, 139 yards, and 3 touchdowns. However, what stood out most and is a harbinger of good things ahead for the Raiders moving forward was Jacobs’s involvement in the passing game. Jacobs caught four passes for 46 yards, as he already garnered 25 percent of his 2019 reception total in the first game of the season. It’s clear Jacobs’ focus on route running and pass blocking during the offseason bodes well for him having a monster year in 2020.
Depth along the offensive line is key to a successful 2020 for the Radiers. In the Raiders win against Carolina, their depth up front was tested early as both Trent Brown and Sam Young went down with injuries early in the game. Before the Raiders could blink, they were on their third option at the right tackle position. Denzelle Good filled in flawlessly as the Raiders only allowed three quarterback pressures on Derek Carr. In a game where Carr came out untouched, he said he believes “They are the best group in the world.” The NFL as a whole lacks good line play and the Raiders have the luxury of having a dominant one.
Red Zone Scoring
In 2019, the Raiders finished with a 52.8% red zone touchdown rate good for 21st in the NFL. It was the reason an otherwise productive offense struggled to put points on the board. It was a focus of the Raiders offense during the shortened training camp and it appears to be working thus far. In the Raiders win Sunday, the team scored touchdowns on three of their four red zone chances. They added another touchdown just three yards shy of the red zone that won’t show up statistically but it’s a great sign to see this offense finishing drives and not settling for field goals.
The special teams unit was a big question mark for the Raiders Sunday and for every team in the NFL. Without the opportunity to work during preseason games, it figured to be an up-and-down affair early on in 2020. Early on in this Raiders win at Carolina, they looked sluggish from the get-go when the Panthers got a 19-yard return to start in prime field position. The kickoff coverage unit wasn’t much better allowing 27.5 yards a return setting the Panthers up nicely throughout the afternoon. There were some bright areas on special teams including Daniel Carlson nailing a 54-yard field goal and Hunter Renfrow averaging 18.5 yards a return on punts. The Raiders will play around with special teams coverage groups to try and improve in this area. That’s something they usually have the luxury of doing during the preseason.
Blessed with a massive amount of talent, but inexperienced, the Raiders secondary in 2020 will shine at times, and struggle at times. This was on full display Sunday as Jonathan Abram had a stellar re-debut finishing with 13 tackles showcasing why the Raiders selected him in the first round. The young cornerback duo of Damon Arnette and Trayvon Mullen played well considering it was their first live reps of the season in the Raiders win. Arnette made a few rookie mistakes, including biting on a Robbie Anderson fake sparking a 75-yard touchdown to give the Panthers the lead. However, the young corner made some very good plays including a touchdown-saving pass deflection before the half. His counterpart, Trayvon Mullen, made a great man-to-man play in the end zone as well showing why the Raiders are so high on this young group of corners.
Considering the 2020 training camp was short and there was no live-action thanks to the cancelation of the preseason, it may take a while for NFL teams to play into game shape. In the Raiders win at Carolina, the team lost Sam Young, Trent Brown, Nick Kwiatoski, Henry Ruggs and Trayvon Mullen for portions of the game Sunday due to injury. Fortunately for the Raiders, Ruggs and Mullen returned and reports indicate Kwiatkoski’s injury isn’t season-ending. The extent of Brown’s injury is unknown, although team sources indicate the coaching staff and front office are frustrated with Brown’s inability to stay on the field. Overall, what seemed to be a scary day for the Raiders many not be as bad as first thought. Still, heading into Week 2 against the Saints, being without Brown, Young, and Kwiatkoski makes an uphill battle even more difficult.
The most glaring concern coming from the Raiders win on Sunday was the team’s lack of a pass rush. The young group underperformed against a sub-par offensive line. The Raiders generated one sack and added just one quarterback hit. Although many didn’t notice, free-agent acquisition Carl Nassib contributed with two of the team’s three quarterback hurries on Teddy Bridgewater. Frankly, the performance Sunday just won’t cut it in this league. However, the good news is they have a veteran line coach in Rod Marinelli and a group of versatile guys on the line. Las Vegas will need to get creative and get to work this week in order to somehow minimize veteran Drew Brees on Monday. Maxx Crosby, Maliek Collins, Mo Hurst, Arden Key, and Clelin Ferrell will need to show why the Raiders are so excited to have them.
The Bottom Line
The scoreboard won’t show it, but the Raiders dominated Sunday. They were a few plays away from busting the game wide open. This is a sign of a young team with some things to clean and tighten up. As the Raiders move into the really difficult portion of their schedule, they’ll have to continue to succeed on offense and quickly get up to speed on defense to stay in the AFC playoff race.