Defeating the Los Angeles Chargers and achieving a winning record is a momentous step in the right direction. But before we start buying into the sudden shift of narrative on the Raiders we need to pump the brakes.
A few things are true: The Raiders defensive line had a break out game against a woeful Chargers offensive line despite missing two starters and a backup at the tackle positions. Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, according to ESPN’s next gen stats, amassed a whopping 15 QB pressures and three sacks. The Raiders secondary gave a surprisingly elite effort in pass defense against Phillip Rivers limiting him to 207 yards passing and amassing three recorded interceptions. In total, the Raiders had six passes fall into the arms of their defenders, three were called back due to penalties.
Against the stiffest challenge the Raiders offensive line has faced in a defensive front thus far, it took a 60 minute effort, culminating on the last offensive play of the game, to get the running game into the end zone. Quarterback Derek Carr was sacked three times for the first time since Week 3 against the Vikings. Although this offensive line battled through their own injuries, shutting out Joey Bosa, they were challenged by Melvin Ingram.
The flop, despite being dealt a lacking hand in the pocket, has been good to the Raiders, and things continue to break their way. When playing their brand of football, a reliance on the run game complimented by a west coast passing attack, the Raiders are difficult to defeat. Still, they can’t afford to get too high off their own press clippings or fall into playing the schedule game.
At (5-4), considering Pittsburgh’s loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football, the Raiders are currently the 6th seed in the AFC. Consequently, if the season ended today, the Raiders would be in the playoffs. Most importantly, they are a mere half game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West with a head-to-head matchup in two weeks.
The Raiders have caught plenty of breaks to get to this point. They embody, due to their hard work and dedication, the fact that there is no such thing as luck. Luck is merely where hard work meets opportunity. Head coach Jon Gruden has his team in position to worry about handling their own business. Should the Raiders continue winning the chips will fall favorably for them.
Every Game Counts
The AFC has a litany of teams with 4 and 5 losses, the Raiders remaining schedule is all conference opponents: Bengals, @Jets, @Chiefs, Titans, Jaguars, @Chargers, and @Broncos. Out of these opponents only the Chiefs are ahead of the Raiders. The Titans, Jaguars, and Chargers are all in the mix behind the Raiders. Every win and loss is critical to the season as the pack has yet to separate itself from the contenders.
In an optimistic world, Raiders should be able to skate into the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Going 5-2 down the stretch isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but they can’t afford to take any games off.
The Chiefs are getting a lot of their injured players back, and that will have an impact. The easiest path to the playoffs for the Raiders is simply to beat the Chiefs and win their games. Interestingly enough, the AFC South is currently the division with the most representatives looking to get in. Raiders will ultimately catch a break in the standings, because they will all beat up on each other, leaving the Raiders on an easier path.
Trap game is a luxury term applying to a team capable of looking past another team on the schedule. The Raiders haven’t dominated anyone. In fact nearly every ending has been down to the wire. Their defensive play has been shaky to say the least and the offense can disappear for stretches. Neither of these traits are conducive to overlooking anyone.
One week at a time
The Cincinnati Bengals have a rookie at quarterback taking over for Andy Dalton for the rest of the season. Gruden and his coaching staff should be very familiar with Ryan Finley. They coached him up and against him during practices at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Rookie quarterbacks are always a crap shoot in the NFL because there isn’t any film on them.
The Bengals also have a powerful between the tackles runner in Joe Mixon. Throughout most of the season the Raiders have been one of the top ranked units against the run, but lately have shown signs of faltering. Melvin Gordon was just the second runner to crack the century mark against the Raiders. Mixon is shaping up to be the feature of the Bengals offense, stopping him will go a long way towards making a bad team one dimensional.
On offense the Raiders should find plenty of room to get the run game back on track. Bengals run defense is dead last in the league in yards (1557) and yards per attempt (5.2). The Bengals’ 12 allowed rushing touchdowns is second most in the league. Surprisingly they are a middle of the pack pass defense, but without cornerback Dre’ Kirkpatrick they may be more susceptible than usual. The Bengals 8.5 net yard per pass allowed should entice Carr and the Raiders offense to explore throwing the ball.
Raiders should win this game handily, but they are in no position to overlook this bad Bengals team.