In their first playoff game since 2016, the Las Vegas Raiders will be facing one of the NFL’s best young playmakers. That, of course, would be the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase. In order to win this game, the Raiders must keep the potential Rookie of the Year in check.
Putting the NFL on notice
After an illustrious career at LSU, where he won the Biletnikoff Award as a 19-year-old, Ja’Marr Chase sat out the 2020 college football season. Despite this, he was still selected with the fifth overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. Reunited with his college quarterback, Joe Burrow, it was not all sunshine and rainbows early on for the rookie. After struggling with drops in the preseason, many were questioning the pick and his decision to sit out, and they even called him a “bust.”
This notion was dispelled almost immediately, however, as in Week 1 he had five receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. From that point forward he never slowed down either en route to 81 catches for 1,455 yards and thirteen touchdowns. The odds on favorite to win rookie of the year, Chase has established himself as one of the NFL’s best young players. The Raiders cannot let him blow the game open on Saturday.
Saturday will not be the first time the Raiders have faced off against Chase and the Bengals. Having already played in Week 11, Las Vegas has experience here already. Fortunately for the Raiders, they had great success against Burrow and Chase in this game. Chase recorded three receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown. While this was a good performance by the Vegas defense, there was certainly potential for more damage to be done had Burrow and Chase been completely dialed in. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the dynamic duo is 100% locked in as of now.
Without counting the Week 18 game where Chase only played to break records in the first quarter, he has eighteen receptions for 391 yards and three touchdowns in his last two full games. Burrow also has 971 yards and eight touchdowns combined in these games. The biggest reason for this is their connection on the deep ball. Simply put, Chase is the NFL’s best deep threat, and it’s not particularly close. Of his thirteen receiving touchdowns, a staggering eight of them have been on the deep ball, the most in the NFL. He is currently sixth in the NFL in yards per catch.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
As the highlights mount in Cincinnati, the Raiders have quietly built a quality pass defense. Las Vegas finished the regular season ranked 13th in passing yards allowed, 6th in Y/A, and tenth in NY/A. Much of this is due to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme. Consistently willing to surrender passes underneath, the Raiders’ defense is rarely beaten down the field. Rather, teams have to earn every yard. As such, Saturday’s game promises to be a matchup that pits the two teams’ strengths against each other.
How to slow down Ja’Marr Chase
The Bengals’ offense, in its current state, is one of a kind in the NFL. Realistically, it shouldn’t be working as the “go” route is one of the lowest percentage routes that an offense can run. It is a difficult throw for any quarterback, and, oftentimes, the first thing a defense looks to take away. Alas, this has not deterred the Bengals, as Burrow and Chase have run this route with ease in 2021. As the NFL leader with seven touchdowns on “go” balls this season, Chase will put you on a highlight tape if given the chance.
However, as mentioned, the Raiders have a solid pass defense. While players such as Casey Hayward and Trevon Moehrig will be crucial to stopping Burrow and Chase, Las Vegas will also have to hope for the law of averages to take effect. Of course, it seems lame to just hope that the Bengals can’t complete these passes anymore but eventually that is exactly what will happen. The “go” ball is simply too volatile to be completed with this level of success forever. Lastly, the weather should be in the Raiders’ favor on Saturday. With temperatures at/below freezing and the chance for wind up to twenty miles per hour, throwing the ball down field likely will not rank highly on the gameplan.
Riding a streak…
As Chase and Burrow are planning for their first ever playoff game, they do so while riding a hot streak of historical proportions. The chemistry between the two is clearly special. So, it will take a defensive performance equally special to win this game. For the Raiders, this is nothing new. In their last two games, they faced the NFL’s leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor, and perhaps the NFL’s best young quarterback, Justin Herbert. Vegas won both of those games. If they can refrain from chasing Ja’Marr on Saturday, they could very well win their first playoff game since their ill-fated Super Bowl run in 2002.
*Top Photo: Courtesy of Bengals Wire