Wild Card Saturday: 3 Raiders On Defense That Need To Shine

Las Vegas Raiders’ fans rejoice! The Raiders have made it to the playoffs after a turbulent season. The Silver and Black beat their AFC West rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers, after a dramatic and wild game to end the season and push through to the postseason.

Their reward for an exhausting four-game winning streak and a late-game Sunday night? A matchup with the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals in the first game of the playoffs. These three defensive players need to step up for the Raiders to make it to the divisional round.

Yannick Ngakoue

Ngakoue has been everything the Raiders wanted when they signed him this offseason. Per ESPN, he has contributed 10 sacks, eight tackles for loss, three pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. He has been a vocal leader and, combined with Maxx Crosby, became a feared duo, but in the season finale, Ngakoue did not show up on the stat sheet. To be fair, we all know what Ngakoue does goes beyond numbers; he’s an integral part of the pass rush. Crosby and the rest of the defensive line benefit from his presence alone. That being said, this matchup with the Bengals is big, as if Ngakoue can cause issues upfront and get to Joe Burrow, it could make the dream of an upset a reality.

Solomon Thomas

Thomas has had a solid year for the Raiders. He made many key plays and was a solid contributor throughout the year. With the injury to Darius Philon, he must step up and help to slow the Bengals’ run game down. The Raiders’ defense gave up an average of 114.3 yards per game over the season, but only 78.5 in the last four games, and if they’re able to keep that up and put pressure on Burrow, it would go a long way towards securing a victory.
Thomas is looked at as more of a pass-rushing defensive tackle, but his ability to get through the line and cause issues in the backfield was shown a lot throughout the season. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys. In other words, he’s more than just a one-trick pony. For Thomas, who has had a solid year, now is the time to make some big noise. If he wants to be a part of the team’s long-term plans, Saturday is the time to show why he should be.

Casey Hayward

The veteran corner has helped the young secondary by providing leadership this year. However, that’s not all Hayward brought with him. Many figured upon his signing that he was simply a depth piece. He was possibly the third cornerback behind Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette when training camp began. Instead, Mullen has been plagued by health issues and Arnette isn’t even on the team anymore, which is why Hayward is the de facto number one cornerback. Be that as it may, he’s had an impressive campaign. Hayward continuously makes big plays and helps slow down the opposing team’s passing game.
Last week, he picked up his first interception as a Raider, and he’ll be key against the Bengals and their great passing game. With Hayward helping slow down the passing game in their first matchup, the Bengals were not able to take more chances. It will be key for all three levels of the defense to shine on Saturday. The three aforementioned players are major contributors who can help guide the Raiders to the divisional round.

*Top Photo: AP Photo/John Locher

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