After a 6-3 start, the Las Vegas Raiders were looking like a lock to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, a late-season collapse for the second-straight year has made those postseason hopes into nothing but empty dreams. Still, the team has two more games left to play. They’ll look to at least finish strong and earn their second winning season in almost two decades. On the other hand, the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances are still alive and well. This means the Silver and Black have plenty of players that still need to step up to get a win.
1. Whoever Plays Quarterback for the Raiders
Initial reports were that quarterback Derek Carr could miss up to two weeks due to the groin injury he suffered against the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday night. However, he is doing all he can to suit up and get on the field in Week 16. If he does, he will need to play well despite not playing at one hundred percent.
This is because some fans are already calling for his head after the performance of Marcus Mariota, who came in after Carr was forced out. The former Tennessee Titan gave the offense an entirely new dimension with his threat to run. He was the team’s leading rusher in Week 15, carrying the ball eight times for 88 yards and a score. But that wasn’t it, ‘8’ also did well through the air, completing 17 of 28 passes for 226 yards and another touchdown.
Mariota looked accurate and was able to make some flashy plays while scrambling from the pocket. With the playoffs on life support, many want to see him get the starting nod regardless of Carr’s availability. Then again, Mariota himself has said that this is Carr’s team.
But even if Mariota gets a chance to start, he is going to have to put together an even better game than his last. The Chargers game-planned against Carr, who despite being relatively athletic, is not a mobile quarterback. The ‘Phins’ will scheme for both Carr and Mariota, and their defense is one of the best in the league.
Many also forget that Mariota’s late-game interception almost ended the game before it even hit overtime. Don’t forget he also had another interception dropped during the extra period. Whether Carr and Mariota know it or not, whoever gets the start is playing for more than just beating the Dolphins.
2. Johnathan Abram
It seems like Abram appears on these types of lists all the time. The second-year safety has been a lightning rod for criticism this year due to his style of play. The Raiders drafted him to help Gruden bring the team back to its old school defensive roots. The Mississippi State standout tries to make every single hit appear on the highlight reels. This is both good and bad. In his first and only game as a rookie, he took out his teammate Gareon Conley, and tore his labrum and rotator cuff, landing him on the Injured Reserve list.
Although Abram hasn’t missed significant time in 2020, he has still not been available as much as the team would like. He has appeared in 11 of the team’s 14 games, most recently missing last week for a concussion. There would usually be more sympathy for this type of injury. Unfortunately in his case, it was basically self-imposed, as he launched himself at a Colts player going for a big hit.
But even when ’24’ is on the field, he is often a liability. In addition to missing a lot of tackles by going for the home run hit, he has also been bad in coverage. In fact, he is the lowest-rated safety in the NFL this year according to Pro Football Focus. With many of Abram’s teammates taking to social media to clap back at fans, there is no way he hasn’t seen the criticism directed towards him as well. The second-year safety needs to not only show up this week but also show that he is growing as a player if he wants to keep his spot on this squad long-term.
3. Josh Jacobs
Another second-year player who needs to step up is Josh Jacobs. He was expected to have a huge year in 2020 after a promising first season. Nevertheless, he has underwhelmed in his sophomore campaign. Despite almost 250 carries, ’28’ has failed to crack 1,000 yards rushing on the year and is averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards-per-carry. To put that in perspective, he had 242 total carries in 2019 and rushed for 1,150 yards.
Sure Jacobs has been dealing with injuries this season, and it has been a miracle he hasn’t missed more time, but he needs to do more when he is on the field. In fact, last week against the Los Angeles Chargers was a prime example. The team gave him the lion’s share of opportunities – 26 rushes and 3 targets. And sure, he totaled over 100-scrimmage yards, but he also had one of his worst YPC of the year in a game, 2.9.
He scored one touchdown but had a ridiculous 12 red-zone carries. A lot of criticism will be on Gruden’s play-calling inside the 20. What they don’t remember is that Jacobs got a ton of carries within the five-yard line but couldn’t cash in. There was no reason why he shouldn’t have closed out that game with a touchdown in overtime. Instead, his play forced the team to go for a field goal that let the Chargers get the ball back. If Jacobs isn’t healthy enough to play at the level this team needs him to, he should be on the sidelines.
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