It’s that time again! The 2022 NFL regular season is finally here. One of the most anticipated seasons in Las Vegas Raiders history is set to take place. There is no better way to get started than with an old rival, the Los Angeles Chargers, and an old friend, Khalil Mack. The game looks good on paper, and with the Raiders ending the playoff hopes of the Chargers last season, it just adds to the intrigue.
The brain trust for the Raiders brought in a new defensive coordinator, formerly of the New York Giants, Patrick Graham, to replace Gus Bradley. With his scheme, the team made some additions and subtractions to the defensive roster. Everyone knows what the offense brings to the table, but the defensive conundrum still remains tough. How will all of the changes come together for Graham against the Chargers? Well, there are a few players that will have some considerable limelight on them as Sin City rolls out its new-look defense.
The new power duo for the Las Vegas Raiders: Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones
Heading into this matchup, you really do have to count both of these Raiders’ defenders as one. The Chargers have Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, and there is no way that Jones and Crosby want to get outplayed by those two. Crosby is coming off a big season that led to a well-deserved contract extension. Jones was signed during free agency following a 10.5-sack campaign.
These two instantly give the Raiders one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league, but in the AFC West, it seems par for the course. If the Raiders are to leave L.A. with a win, Crosby and Jones will need a big game, and that isn’t farfetched. Crosby had a big game against the Chargers in the season finale, and Jones would love to make a statement in his Raiders debut while being guarded by Rashawn Slater.
Is Nate Hobbs ready to take the next step?
The Raiders traded away 2019 second-round pick Trayvon Mullen, and it may place more pressure on Hobbs. The season he put on last year was really good, but it didn’t come without some off-field issues. To Hobbs’ credit, nothing since has transpired, so things appear to be well. The numbers and grades looked good, and his play was good, but he played most of the time in the slot. Moving froward, how will he match up consistently against a number one or two receivers? The matchup against the Chargers will tell a lot, as they have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, two perennial Pro Bowlers, and will give Hobbs all he can handle. If he can produce and improve on a good first season, most nerves will ease, but a struggle can make Sunday afternoon feel like a nightmare.
Will Johnathan Abram finally live up to expectations for the Las Vegas Raiders?
Is it a surprise to see him on this list? Abram has been a question since his first game in 2019. He played one game in his rookie season and made some key mistakes in 2020 and 2021. Afterward, when he was having his best game of 2021, he got injured, and that’s when inconsistency followed. He now has some competition around him, and should he falter, the coaching staff will not hesitate to pull him.
This is the perfect game for him to make a jump and deliver on expectations. To be fair, the ones who set those expectations are now gone. As I stated before, this new coaching staff has no loyalty to previous draft picks. If Abram struggles, there’s someone waiting in the wings.
During this game, he will most likely focus on tight ends and running backs. If he can stop plays in their tracks and maybe force a turnover, the questions about his play may cease. Regrettably, history doesn’t favor Abram, so it’s on him to break the mold of inconsistency. An improvement in play will help the team by leaps and bounds. And not just in Week 1, but for the season.
*Top Photo: Scott Winters/Icon Sports Wire