With a decisive 26-17 win, the Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. That gave the Raiders their second win of the season, remaining unbeaten in 2021. The Denver Broncos are the only other undefeated AFC team.
Steel Town Beat Down
The Raiders continue to gain steam one game at a time. They were monsters in the run game and third-downs on Sunday. Defensively, Gus Bradley’s unit played assignment-sound defense at a high level, against a 2020 playoff team, for the second time in six days. Offensively, the Steelers mounted 331 total yards.
Harassing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early and often, he was hit ten times and sacked twice. Solomon Thomas, the former number four overall pick, led the Raiders’ pass-rush with two sacks and another play where Roethlisberger fell forward across the line of scrimmage for a “positive gain.” Through the air, Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense found room to work. He finished the contest with 295 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. Roethlisberger never found his rhythm, and just as suddenly as the run game appeared, it vanished.
NAJEE HARRIS WITH THE GROWN MAN STIFF-ARM 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 19, 2021
Swallowing up all of the Steelers runners, they gained 39 yards on 14 carries collectively. Rookie first-round draft pick Najee Harris delivered one of the most soul-crushing stiff arms to Johnathan Abram’s chest. Harris’s best highlight was carrying the football, taking a check-down route, breaking a couple of tackles, and beating Abram to the pylon. Harris would add a touchdown in the passing game.
In 2020, under former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, the Raiders accumulated ten interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and 21 sacks. Exactly two weeks into the 2021 season, with a 17th game, Bradley’s Raiders have one interception, two forced fumbles, and five sacks. Finally, the Raiders defense is capable of pulling its weight and assisting the offense.
Contract Year Carr
Derek Carr is playing some insanely good football right now. Early in the season, he’s executing this offense his way. Originally billed as a power run team, the offense is having worldly success in the spread. He is getting all of his weapons more involved in the passing game. Pocket presence and awareness, a long-standing issue with Carr, has improved. Watching him climb the pocket, sliding around to keep the play alive is a welcome breath of fresh air. The touchdowns haven’t come roaring in (4), but the 817 yards in the first two games are club records.
The way Derek Carr moves around within the pocket and finds receivers is a skill that came late. Saw it some last year but it's very pronounced through two games this year. Smoother than he's ever been. #Raiders
— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) September 19, 2021
Carr has been phenomenal. To a person not versed in Raiders history, it would be easy to pronounce him a dark horse 2021 MVP candidate. I would challenge you to find a player performing better than Carr right now. After shaking off a lot of the rust in the opener against the Ravens, he was dialed in against a Steelers defense that only gave up 16 points to the Buffalo Bills.
Maybe it’s the hair. Whatever it is, for Carr to reach the promised land and his next big contract, Carr has to keep it up. The last two years started the same way but fizzled out down the stretch. Carr has got to stay locked in through 17 games this regular season and beyond. Why? I’m glad you asked.
The division is officially up for grabs…
According to NFL Network’s Kevin Patra, “for the first time in the Super Bowl era, the Raiders have gone 2-0 versus teams that were both in the playoffs the previous season.” It’s only two games into the season, and between Bradley’s defense and Carr’s MVP-like performances, this team has the air of a playoff team for sure. The run game hasn’t been there for the Raiders in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, Kenyan Drake has produced 101 receiving yards on extended handoffs (swings and flat passes).
Upfront, Andre James has performed admirably in terms of the adjustments he’s made at the line of scrimmage. Keep in mind that James and Kolton Miller were the only projected starters from the beginning of the season to finish the game. While the line has struggled to sustain running lanes in the interior, they have formed up well in pass protection. As long as they can keep Carr upright and healthy, they have a chance to do something special.
As of right now, the Raiders are in first place in the conference and the division. Two conference wins and an undefeated record gives them the tie-breaker over the Denver Broncos, the only other undefeated team in the conference. Will the Raiders go 20-0 this season? It would be a dream, but probably not.
What about the Chiefs?
The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football. Their defense couldn’t follow the Raiders’ blueprint and stop Lamar Jackson when it counted. The Chargers lost another one-score game late in the fourth quarter; stop me if you’ve heard this before. They were unable to stop the Dallas Cowboys’ running attack in a late-game scenario. The funny thing is, that’s supposedly one of the reasons they got rid of former head coach Anthony Lynn.
The Chiefs retooled their offensive line, changing the style of their offense back into a quick passing offense. Their running game has improved slightly with some of the additions they have made. Unfortunately, their pass protection hasn’t. With a defense allowing teams to go 8-8 in the red zone and 6-6 in goal-to-go situations, the division champs suddenly don’t look so scary. Last season, the Carr-led Raiders exercised their Arrowhead demons. Had it not been for a couple of coverage breakdowns, the Raiders would’ve swept the Chiefs.
If, and I do mean if, the Raiders can stay consistent and continue to get production out of their depth, they can win this division outright.
*Top Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post