One glance at the injury report and you’d think both the Las Vegas Raiders and the Tennessee Titans are battered and bruised teams stuck in the dog days of midseason. But alas, the two AFC squads—which clash this Sunday in Music City—are at the infancy of the 2022 campaign.
Just two games in, both Josh McDaniels and Mike Vrabel must navigate the absence of integral pieces to their Raiders and Titans, respectively. For the Silver and Black, slot dynamo Hunter Renfrow (concussion) and hammerhead linebacker Denzel Perryman (ankle) were ruled out on Friday. Running back Josh Jacobs (illness) reportedly did not travel to Tennessee from Las Vegas on Friday and is questionable. Defensive tackles Bilal Nichols (shoulder) and Neil Farrell Jr. (shoulder), safety Trevon Moehrig (hip), and center Andre James (concussion) are also earmarked as questionable.
For the Titans, stalwart offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (knee), linebackers Bud Dupree (hip) and Ola Adeniyi (neck), and defensive back Ugo Amadi (ankle) were designated out for Sunday’s clash. Linebacker Zach Cunningham (knee) is questionable too, and wide receiver Kyle Phillips (shoulder) is doubtful.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman and receiver Hunter Renfrow were both ruled OUT by the Raiders for Sunday's game at the Titans. null pic.twitter.com/hYM1MrBJEx
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) September 23, 2022
Raider Nation: Who’s going to step up for their respective squads?
Someone is going to step up for both the Raiders and Titans in a battle of the 0-2 teams (I dubbed this sucker the Desperado Bowl). And something’s got to give, too. One of two things will happen: One team gets a much-needed notch in the win column while the other goes back to the drawing board—again—to rectify back-to-back-to-back Ls. If that’s the Raiders, that’s a long ass flight back to Nevada to stew in the stink of sorriness.
“I think our guys, I think our team in general, have had a really good outlook on handling situations like this,” McDaniels said in his Friday media session. “We’ve had a bad practice before; we’ve had a few bad practices during the course of the spring or training camp, and they present opportunities for you to do the same thing. And so, I think our captains have done a phenomenal job of trying to set an example of the way that they want things done. I think their work ethic as a team is great. Our guys come in every day ready to go. They were prepared on Wednesday; they were prepared this morning.”
“So, I think that’s probably a little too much to say it falls on a handful of guys. 53 guys need to do their job and 11 guys on every play, so there’s a lot of people that need to come through for us to have success. But I think our leaders have done a good job of their job, and we all have to do a really important job on Sunday.”
Can Las Vegas slow down, much less stop, Titans phenom Derrick Henry?
The biggest job of all for the Raiders against the Titans relates to No. 22—Derrick Henry. The gargantuan 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back is built to destroy opposing defenses. His 2021 campaign was cut short and limited to just eight regular-season games. Nevertheless, King Henry still ran for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns on 219 carries. His 2022 season has him at 34 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown. Tennessee’s lopsided 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills rendered Henry relatively useless due to the deficit. But the incoming Raiders are likely ripe for the picking.
McDaniels knows merely loading the box isn’t an answer to the Titans’ domineering tailback.
It’s going to more than a stacked box to stop Henry
“No, it is not. I wish it was,” McDaniels said. “I wish it was and you could say, ‘Hey, put the safety down, and then it’ll be all good.’ First of all, his success – he’s a phenomenal football player, I think we all know that. But his success – and every running back would tell you this – is a product of a lot of other people doing a good job at their job as well. A lot of times, I think when runners get success, we kind of forget about the guys that are doing the dirty work in front of them. And their line plays really hard; they compete; they’re physical.”
“We’re going to have to play good run defense from whatever shell we’re going to play it from. And you’ve got to mix it up a little bit, hopefully. They’ve run it well, and nobody sees more loaded boxes than they do. Nobody.”
Just as Henry’s success is a complete team effort, so is the case for the Raiders in their attempts to stymie the bell cow back. The eventual collision between Henry and the Raiders’ hard-hitting safety Johnathan Abram will be glorious, I’ll tell you that much. We’ll see now whether the glory is in Tennessee’s or Las Vegas’ favor.
Can the Raiders’ offense finally sustain momentum for an entire game?
The Raiders’ inability to sustain an offense for all four quarters is a debilitating thing. Just as going dead zone in the red zone. McDaniels noted the Titans are traditionally a tough defense that requires an opponent to have sustained offensive drives.
That still holds true despite the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills being able to score quickly at times. In Week 1, the G-Men had a four-play TD drive that covered 90 yards and a two-play TD drive that covered 64 yards. New York’s last score was a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. In Week 2, Buffalo opened with a 12-play, 75-yard TD drive, then had an 8-play and 7-play TD drive. Before that, a four-play, 51-yard drive for a touchdown.
Now about the offense…
Now flip it to Vegas’s offense. The team’s touchdown drives against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1 were of the 5-play and 7-play variety. In Week 2, the Raiders offense engineered 15-play and 7-play touchdown drives. The team is adept at running long drives that culminate in field goals, though.
“First of all, this defense historically is one of the best in the league at forcing long drives, which means they don’t give up a lot of big plays in general,” McDaniels said of the Titans. “I would say that when we’ve competed against Mike (Vrabel’s) teams and their defenses for a long time now, that’s one of those chores that you just go into the game assuming that you’re going to have to do it. It’s not going to be three plays and score; it’s going to be 10 plays, 11 plays, nine plays, two third-down conversions, something like that.
“We’re going to try to run things we know how to run, keep our eyes open, and if an opportunity presents itself for us to make a big play, then hopefully we can capitalize on it. But I don’t think you can go into this game assuming that those are going to happen, because generally speaking, they don’t give them up very much.”
Raider Nation: The Quarterback Duel
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr boasts a history of success against the Titans. Ditto for Tennessee signal caller Ryan Tannehill when it comes to the Silver and Black.
Carr: 3-1 against Tennessee (24-21 W in 2015, 17-10 W in 2016, 26-16 W in 2017, 42-21 L in 2019). He’s completed 92 of 138 passes (66.67%) for 1,103 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception, and six sacks against the Titans.
Tannehill: 4-0 against Oakland (35-13 W in 2012, 38-14 W in 2014, 28-20 W in 2018, 42-21 W in 2019). He’s gone 79 of 111 (71.17%) against the Raiders for 1,158 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions, and two sacks.
Like defending Henry, something’s got to give here. Either Carr will add a notch to his win column or Tannehill remaining undefeated against the Raiders.
*Top Photo: NBC Sports/Boston