A week ago, the Las Vegas Raiders were on the brink of collapse. It was an unprecedented situation for the Silver and Black. The leaking of a trail of emails from their now ex-head coach forced the organization to suddenly remove their top man and top voice (or remove himself, if we are being technical).
For a team that was openly lacking an identity, they had become officially and unequivocally lost. Stranded in open water without a boat, free-falling from a plane without a parachute. Stuck in the wilderness with no map or cell service.
Then along came, quite calmly, their savior and interim head coach, Rich Bisaccia. The special teams’ mastermind and football guy of 38 years was now ‘the dude’ for Las Vegas. And to his credit, the team rallied around his presence to beat their division rivals, on the road, in their most impressive and complete game of 2021.
What were the biggest surprises from coach Rich’s debut? Here are the top three takeaways from Bisaccia’s Bronco Beatdown:
1. The Running Game Came Alive
It was no secret the Raiders’ offense was struggling on the ground. The offensive line was getting blown back constantly. Josh Jacobs couldn’t stay healthy. Kenyan Drake was nowhere to be found. Hell, entering Week 6, Peyton Barber was their leading rusher with 143 yards, drastically inflated by his impressive second half against the Dolphins.
Simply put, yikes! For “new” play-caller Greg Olson, this was the most pressing issue to fix in his first game calling the offense. And his solution was quite simple.
First, Drake needed to get the ball more, both on the ground and through the air, where he’s at his best. Barber, a Jon Gruden favorite, could take a seat; quite literally. He was a healthy scratch for the game. And second, the offensive line’s philosophy needed to change. Forget the zone scheme. It was time to shift to more power; a maul-you-over mindset that these linemen are better suited for (specifically their guards).
Both of those plans worked to perfection. Drake ran for a sweet 8.5 yards per carry average and scored two touchdowns in the running and passing games. Meep-meep! The Road-Runner had arrived. As for the offensive line, having guys like Kolton Miller and John Simpson kick around and lead block worked wonders. Disgraced rookie Alex Leatherwood, making only his second start at right guard, put forth easily his best game with a PFF grade of 62.3. He looks far more comfortable inside than out.
Now let’s hope Brandon Parker can at least be average.
2. Greg Olson Was Awesome
Screen-plays? Play-action? Commitment to the running game?! Step aside, Sean McVay, you might have competition for the league’s best play-caller.
In all seriousness, Olson’s simplistic approach to this Raiders offense was much-needed. Carr having more autonomy was a no-brainer. And the game plan was solid, featuring a well-balanced attack, solid aggression, and (finally) some points on their first possession. Also, remember that Olson did this while going against one of football’s top defensive minds.
Vic Fangio may have no clue how to challenge calls or properly call timeouts, but he does know how to disrupt offenses. Even after surrendering the most points they have since Week 15 of 2020, Denver still ranks in the top-5 in team defense.
Derek Carr put it best: “I thought (Olson) crushed it.”
3. The Defense Found A Turnover(s)
Bisaccia was adamant during pressers last week that not much would change in how the Raiders prepare, especially on the defensive side of things. That made sense, as Gus Bradley and his staff, were still employed and doing their thing. However, the previously-employed Gruden was open about the defense’s need to generate a turnover. Before the Denver game, Bradley’s bunch had not forced an offensive mistake since Week 2 in Pittsburgh. While they were still playing at a high level, the defense needed to end that drought ASAP.
They did so, and then some in Week 6. Three interceptions and one forced fumble/recovery helped the Raiders be +4 in the turnover margin, something they had yet to do all season. The unit as a whole, especially the defensive line, balled out; the Broncos’ 24 points were more of an illusion than the true tale of this game. With Javin White and Nicholas Morrow nearing their returns, their secondary (looking at you, Brandon Facyson) finding their footing for now, and Maxx Crosby continuing his tear, this defensive squad is… good?
Holy hell, they’re actually kind of good! What a time to be alive.
It was only one game against an inferior opponent, but Bisaccia truly has a chance to be the Raiders headman beyond this season. His players love him, he is a great communicator, and he doesn’t meddle in business that isn’t his (meaning: he lets his coordinators and staff do their jobs). Oddsmakers have Bisaccia +800 to keep his interim gig, tying him for fourth on a list filled with impressive young names.
If the Raiders continue to play the inspired and clean football we saw on Sunday, those odds will only climb higher as the weeks go on.
*Top Photo: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun