The No. 5-seeded Las Vegas Raiders head to Paul Brown Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round. Luckily, the Raiders have a few paths to victory on Saturday.
Raiders land the 5th seed
The National Football League is better when the Raiders are good. The drought is over. For the first time since 2016, the Raiders are making a playoff appearance. Both head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock stated that the goal for 2021 was to make the playoffs. The Raiders overcame adversity, trials, and tribulations in order to make it.
Led by a pillaging defense and a meat-grinding run game, quarterback Derek Carr has been able to rely on the players around him to make plays. An improbable four-game winning streak has led to the postseason.
The Raiders can’t afford to rest on their laurels, pat themselves on the back, and just be happy to be there. Too much is at stake for too many people. It’s not just win and you’re in; for some, it’s win and you keep your job.
Bengals and the playoffs
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991 and were last in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis in 2015. Current Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is making his first postseason appearance. Taylor is the driving force behind second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and running back Joe Mixon.
In that Week 11 matchup, a 32-13 victory for the Bengals, Mixon was the straw that stirred the drink. His 30 rushes for 123 yards and two touchdowns made up for a subpar passing performance. Nevertheless, Burrow went 20-29 for 148 yards and one touchdown. Chase caught three passes for 32 yards and one touchdown, and Tyler Boyd led all receivers with six catches for 49 yards.
It was a matchup that was won by time of possession (37:20 CIN-22:40 LVR), Bengals +1 in the turnover margin, converting on third downs (Bengals 50%, Raiders 14%), and the Raiders committing seven penalties for 77 yards vs. the Bengals’ one for five yards.
The gameplan on defense
Forecasts call for temperatures of 30 degrees, a wind-chill which feels like 19 degrees, and the possibility of snow. This is absolutely perfect for playoff football. Packing your defense and running game is paramount to winning a playoff football game on the road.
It took the Raiders until the month of December before they locked in and hit their stride. The defense came alive and began shutting down opposing teams on the ground and in the air. Against the Bengals, the number one concern has to be Mixon. Interestingly enough, the Raiders only allowed three 100+ yard rushers in 2021.
Through the air, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 defense stymied Taylor’s passing attack and sacked Burrow a total of three times. Burrow and Chase have been hotter than a supernova as of late, but Burrow was injured on the last snap he played against the Baltimore Ravens.
Some closing thoughts…
With how well the Raiders have been playing defensively, there is little reason to believe anything will be different on Saturday. Styles make fights, or so they say, and the matchup against the Bengals is as favorable as it will get for the Raiders.
The game plan isn’t too fancy; it starts with controlling the line of scrimmage. Limit the cutback opportunities on zone runs and keep over-the-top coverage on Chase, Boyd, and Tee Higgins. Lastly, play a clean game and don’t commit penalties.
*Top Photo: Associated Press/David Becker