The Las Vegas Raiders will travel to the East Coast for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers this Sunday. The Silver and Black will face a team with an entirely new look. While some may overlook the Panthers based on their 5-11 record last season, 2020 is a fresh slate for everyone. The Raiders must accomplish these three tasks if they want to start their season on a winning note.
1. Contain RB Christian McCaffrey
The Carolina Panthers have experienced a complete team makeover since 2019. However, one mainstay is fourth-year running back Christian McCaffrey. The 2019 All-Pro amassed over 1,000 receiving and rushing yards, he is only the third running back in NFL history (Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk) to do so. No matter how brilliant a defensive game plan may seem to be, McCaffrey is an elite player that cannot be completely neutralized. The Raiders must contain him and not allow him to break off big gains. It would be in the team’s best interest to have linebacker Cory Littleton shadow him as he did last season. In 2019’s Week 1 matchup with Los Angeles Rams, Littleton matched up frequently (per Pro Football Focus) against the Carolina back and only allowed four receptions for 19 yards.
Opponents feasted against the middle of the Raiders defense last year. Adding linebacker Cory Littleton in free agency should go a long way toward shoring up that weakness.
Watch Littleton stick with Christian McCaffrey (in a ton of open space) and limit him to minimal gains: pic.twitter.com/Eh1tiNAgpR
— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) March 20, 2020
The Raiders possess the means to contain opposing running backs and tight ends after this offseason. It is up to the coaching staff to manage their personnel properly.
2. Raiders Front Must Generate Pressure and Maintain Discipline
New Panthers starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is an experienced NFL signal-caller. In five seasons, Bridgewater has started 34 total games for both the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. The Raiders must keep this in mind from a defensive standpoint as he was the NFL’s top pass when running play-action in 2019, per Pro Football Focus.
Highest PFF passing grades off play action in 2019:
1. Teddy Bridgewater – 92.9
2. Ryan Tannehill – 92.5
3. Kirk Cousins – 91.1
4. Russell Wilson – 90.7 pic.twitter.com/Q7j0WcemGj
— PFF (@PFF) August 12, 2020
Undoubtedly, the Panthers will be giving Christian McCaffrey a steady rushing workload out of the backfield. The Raiders front-4 must maintain gap discipline on running downs, and be able to take advantage of Carolina’s below-average offensive line. Last season, the unit allowed 43 sacks, three more than the NFL average per Football Outsiders. In conclusion, if the Silver and Black stay disciplined and expose a weak opposing offensive line in passing situations; Teddy Bridgewater will be in for a long day.
3. Establish the Passing Offense Early
Last but not least, setting the passing game is the third key to victory. Last season, media and pundits stated the Raiders needed to establish their rushing attack so it could open the passing game up. The opposite is true this week. The Panthers run defense will more than likely want to establish dominance against the run game. Expect them to flood the line of scrimmage to stop the run and show multiple even and odd front looks in an attempt to find avenues to pressure Derek Carr.
- CB1: Donte Jackson
- CB2: Troy Pride Jr. – Rookie
- CB3: Corn Elder – Entering 2nd season
- Free Safety: Tre Boston
- Strong Safety: Juston Burris
As of now, their secondary is relatively unproven, and it would be in their best interest to mask it with various blitz packages. The Raider offense must take advantage of their aggression early and often in order to not become one dimensional. In addition, the Panthers possess 2019’s worst coverage linebacker in Tahir Whitehead.
Tahir Whitehead, the league's worst coverage LB, in man coverage against the best TE in football through Week 8… Love the call, tbh. pic.twitter.com/m4bIOPPBrE
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) November 2, 2018
In review, if the Silver and Black follow these general keys to victory; the Las Vegas era will begin on a winning note.
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Top Photo by Jeff Chiu/Associated Press