The Las Vegas Raiders are reeling. The Silver and Black need a win on Sunday against the upstart Cincinnati Bengals to keep themselves above .500. Cincinnati, like Las Vegas, has lost two straight, and those losses have been eerily similar: before their bye, the Bengals got smacked at home against a dreaded division rival. The week before that, they went on the road to New York and were upset in close fashion by the Jets, a far inferior opponent.
Any of that ring a bell? Oh, and both these teams come into this week with identical 5-4 records, sitting just outside the playoffs. All this to say: both sides are desperate for a win.
Here are the top three offensive weapons that Gus Bradley and company must focus on:
Joe Mixon, RB
The Raiders have seen solid growth from their defensive unit in 2021, in every way. However, their run defense has still been an Achilles heel. Allowing 129 yards a game, Las Vegas is bottom-five in the league at slowing the ground attack. This defensive line, while great at pressuring the quarterback, lacks a consistent run-stuffing nose guard (You heard me, Johnathan Hankins).
Enter Joe Mixon. The 25-year-old has become one of the league’s best running backs, and it’s showing in the stat sheet. With an average of over 4 yards per carry, eight yards per catch, and nine total touchdowns, number 28 can do it all. Outside of Ja’Marr Chase, Mixon is the focal point of Zac Taylor’s offense.
If the Raiders struggle to slow him down, just as they struggled to slow down some dude named Darrel, they could be in a load of trouble.
C.J. Uzomah, TE
The Silver and Black seem to always struggle against tight ends. This year is no different. Whether it be the absence of Nick Morrow or just poor game-planning, Bradley’s bunch has allowed weekly chunk plays to this position group. To further that point, for all the fantasy nerds out there, Vegas is 31st in tight end points allowed, barely ahead of the Eagles and slightly behind the Texans.
C.J. Uzomah is the Bengals’ biggest and most physically-imposing receiver. Standing at six-foot-six, he’s taller than Travis Kelce. Marked down as 260 pounds, he weighs more than Yannick Ngakoue. The man is an absolute beast, and Joe Burrow knows it. Joey B has made Uzomah his security blanket and will look to him often in the red zone (the Auburn-alum already has two, two-touchdown games this year).
While he hasn’t been as lethal in recent outings, Uzomah still averages around 13 yards per catch, above guys like Darren Waller, TJ Hockenson, and Travis Kelce. Whether it be Cory Littleton, Nate Hobbs, or KJ Wright, whoever Bradley throws at Uzomah will have their hands full.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR
There was a time, recently, where Chase was considered a bust. Dropped balls, fumbles, and a lack of awareness had analysts everywhere worried about the 21-year-old superstar during the preseason. As it turns out, the year Chase took off from football due to COVID made him rusty.
That rust is way gone today. Chase is the unquestioned Offensive Rookie of the Year, having already tallied 835 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in nine games. Just last season, Chase’s running mate at LSU, Justin Jefferson, finished his rookie campaign with 1,400 receiving yards, the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. Chase will likely surpass that with ease.
Not to mention, Joe Burrow trusts no receiver more on this team than his friend and former college teammate. The duo terrorized college football in 2019, and now they’re together again, terrorizing the NFL.
Casey Hayward has been exceptional in his first season with the Raiders, and Brandon Facyson has quickly become a fan-favorite (last week’s clunker aside). But whoever gets the challenge of Chase on Sunday better have some safety help, otherwise it’ll be another long afternoon for the back-end.
Despite their losing streak, it’s no surprise this Bengals team has a winning record. Their offensive talent is tantalizing, and their defense is light years ahead of where it was during their 2-14 2019 campaign. The group as a whole seems to have bought into Zac Taylor’s vision.
The last time the Raiders and Bengals squared off, a young 5-4 Raiders team narrowly beat a 0-9 Bengals group that was starting a rookie, Ryan Finley. Derek Carr threw for almost 300 yards, rookie Josh Jacobs ran all over the place, and rookie Maxx Crosby famously had four sacks.
A repeat effort is needed from that bunch, and Darren Waller will need to be involved. First and foremost, though, the Raiders have to control this potent Bengals offense. Expect another close one like that doozy in the coliseum, just with more points involved. In other words: a shootout on the strip!
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Michael Conroy