It’s all hands on deck as the Las Vegas Raiders defense travels to Nashville, Tennessee, to face the similarly 0-2 Titans. After a terrible second half last week against the Arizona Cardinals, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and his team have a great chance to get back on track this Sunday.
The Silver and Black will face off against a former organizational counterpart in Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing in their Week 3 matchup. Similar to his 2017 stint with the Raiders, his unit is struggling to yield positive results this season. Perennial All-Pro running back Derrick Henry has yet to amass 100 yards rushing in the team’s two contests. Without a shadow of a doubt, head coach Mike Vrabel is looking to re-establish their workhorse back. Despite their offensive struggles, the Raider defense must collectively come together. When playing against the best back in the league, there is no room for error. Kicking off this list of x-factors is a schematic concept rather than listing specific players.
X-Factor #1: Beware of the lead blocker
The most crucial point in keeping Downing’s offense bogged down is neutralizing Henry. As of now, Henry is only averaging 3.1 yards per carry. That figure is well below his career average of 4.8. Regardless, the two-time Pro Bowler is still a threat to ruin any defensive coordinator’s game plan with one run. This year, he has unquestionably been at his best when the team employs a lead blocker.
The Titans used a lead blocker on 32% of rushes (8 att).
They averaged 4.9 yards/att with a lead blocker, 2.8 yards/att without one.
I don't have a "Top 5 Fullback 😤" take bc I don't watch fullbacks but Tory Carter has to be up there. pic.twitter.com/ojrbTxHIde
— James Foster (@NoFlagsFilm) September 18, 2022
Fortunately for Graham, he possesses a star counter to any lead blocker in the NFL.
X-Factor #2: Denzel Perryman is one of the NFL’s best run defenders.
Pro Bowl linebacker Denzel Perryman has been a difference-maker since dawning the colors for the Raiders last season. Whether making instinctive plays like this or ensuring the defense is aligned correctly – Perryman is a valuable piece to all things on defense. When it comes to taking on blockers and diagnosing run concepts, he is worth more than words could say.
Denzel Perryman shows elite run instincts here. Bengals run fake jet sweep counter arc. Perryman sees the arc block coming across from WR, explodes thru A gap to chase down Mixon for TFL.#RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/zPCtMgCmaz
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) November 24, 2021
His status for the game is uncertain as he is dealing with an ankle injury that also forced him to miss last week’s contest. If he cannot participate this Sunday, Graham will have to become a little more creative with another player to fill the void potentially.
X-Factor #3: Johnathan Abram can be a difference-maker against the Titans.
Raiders fourth-year safety Johnathan Abram has taken on many new roles in Graham’s defense. More specifically, Abram has aligned at both safety positions, all three corner positions, and has even taken on outside linebacker roles. He is the Swiss army knife in the new defensive scheme, and should Denzel be unable to go on Sunday, it opens up the door for the former Mississippi State Bulldog to thrive. Expect the Raiders to crowd the line of scrimmage and flood the box with defenders in anticipation of slowing down Henry. But, as many know, Johnathan is at his best when he is closest to the action.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) March 3, 2021
While there is a heavy focus on the Titans’ rushing attack, there is still a QB under center. While he may seem pedestrian to pundits, one of his weapons presents a significant threat.
X-Factor #4: Rookie WR Treylon Burks can present numerous mismatches.
Tennessee Titans signal-caller Ryan Tannehill lost his best and most reliable target, A.J. Brown, in a trade to the Philadelphia Eagles this past offseason. His departure left a large void in the team’s receiving room, but a rookie has quickly stepped up to answer the call. Through two weeks of play, he is Pro Football Focus’ highest graded rookie wideout.
— Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge) September 22, 2022
At six-foot-two and 225 pounds, Burks possesses the ideal physical characteristics for a successful modern-day receiver. In addition to his size, the former Arkansas Razorback possesses above-average athletic ability, including excellent agility and change of direction. His physicality is the highlight of his game, with tough catch ability in traffic. Many defensive backs struggle to match up with him, but the Raiders have two starting cornerbacks, Nate Hobbs and Rock Ya-Sin, who can. Above all, the defense can suffocate the Titans’ attack—it is up to them to execute.
*Top Photo: Danny Karnik/Associated Press