The Vegas Raiders enter the 2022 season in a unique position. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, despite firing their head coach midseason.
Vegas starts this season with a new head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler. Both are cut from the New England Patriots.
McDaniels’ first stint as a head coach in Denver was filled with mix results. Now, he’s tasked with helping this team not take steps back in the league’s toughest division.
They kept the continuity at quarterback by bringing back Derek Carr. The Silver and Black also acquired the best receiver in the game by trading draft picks for DeVante Adams.
Adams and Carr have a historic connection dating back to their days in Fresno. Ironically, they last played together in the Vegas Bowl before entering the draft.
The Silver and Black also re-tooled some of their defense. Raider Nation felt blessed just having a defense that was in the middle of the pack last year. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is suppossed to help them get to the next level with more disguises and different looks. Right now, the defense appears on track with a mix of improved athletes and veterans who kmowcthe scheme.
Can you believe Week One is here already? Training camp is over and the 53-man rosters are complete. The NFL inserted a weird defacto by week for the first time. They cut the fourth week of the preseason after extending the regular season last year. Here is what we learned from this preseason and keys to beating the Chargers in Week One.
What happened to Alex Leatherwood?
Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood flamed out about as fast as possible for a first round pick. Leatherwood was seen as a first rounder due to his physicality and winning-pedigree from Alabama. He played across the line. Many thought he would need some time to develop into a great pass blocker.
The biggest issues were his hand timing and placement. We saw much of that in the preseason and last year. While he looks the part due to his feet and athleticism, he lacks solid strength and explosiveness at the point of the attack to dominate at any positon on the o-line.
Still, it seems at least on the outside that Leatherwood had tools you can buid around. Whatever blockers and issues he dealt with, the Raiders deemed them not worth keeping him around.
They also sent a message to the rest of the roster. Raiders fans know too well that nobody is safe, especially after a regime change. The preseason confirmed a lot about Leatherwood’s flaws but it remains to be seen if it was worth giving up on the 2021 first rounder entirely. He was adequate at guard last season.
Moving forward with tackle Jermaine Eluemunor
Jermaine Eluemonor won’t blow you away with his measurables or NFL resume. However, he knows this scheme and can play across the offensive line. Eluemunor flashed the physicality, balance and athleticism to be a solid starting tackle. He has gotten better since he entered the league. The question is can he maintain that for an entire season regardless who he lines up against. Can he anchor the strong side of a playoff-contending team?
Well he isn’t the same kind of athlete as Raiders right tackles from the past, Eluemunor does bring more balance, hustle and toughness than Brandon Parker or Leatherwood. He will get tested early by a dynamic Chargers pass rush. A good showing versus Los Angeles might give him the confidence to play any other dynamic rush duo.
Personally, I’d still like to see the Raiders add a versatile veteran o-line player like Eric Fisher, Ereck Flowers or Daryl Williams. They might be one injury away from having to make that move. Their backup offensive line has less than a handful of starts combined. To be determined if the Raiders make a move to boister their oline but they do lead the league in cap space.
Saying goodbye to Trayvon Mullen
Speaking of Raiders gone, Vegas shipped out starting corner Trayvon Mullen. The move wasn’t surprising given he needed a new contract soon. Mullen was by far the best corner in years but he battled injuries. The new regime already traded for Rock Ya-Sin and signed Anthony Averett. Mullen was a luxury. In Arizona, he is already expected to miss some time.
The biggest issue with Mullen gettjng traded is the value. There were rumors he could have netted a mid-round pick at the draft. Jaelon Raegor was traded for a higher draft pick despite far less NFL success.
Either way, Mullen’s time with the Raiders was one of the few highlights from the Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock era. Wish him the best and hope he gets healthy.
The Preseason taught us…
The biggest consistent lesson this postseason taught us is that the Raiders finally have some depth and swagger to them. Many key players sat out this preseason but other players stepped up on both sides.
There were many times the Raiders were overmatched with backups versus more experienced players this preseason. The young guys did not back down. They got to the football and made plays.
It makes you confident in the leadeeship and direction of the football team. Like they say you are only as good as your weakest links and the Raiders found some young players who helped them make some tough decisions. That said the team roster looks a lot younger than I would have expected for a playoff contender.
Still, SB Nation put out a poll that said something like more than 90 percent of Raiders fans are confident in the team’s direction. Kudos to this new regime because Raiders fans can hardly agree on anything. Yet, it is exciting to see how hard the roster played throughout the preseason. That sets the foundation for more winning when the games count. They also have the draft picks and cap flexibility to sign a key veteran or make a trade to make their roster even stronger.
Last year, the Raiders’ Los Angeles homecoming was spoiled by a thundery Monday Night. The game was delayed and Vegas’ offense was sluggish. They fought back from a several-score defeceit in the first half but lost in their SoFidebut. SoFi was clearly dominated by Raiders fans, at least from what I can remember.
Now, it’s a regular 1 pm kickoff. The Raiders should be welcomed to LA by the tail end of our heatwave. However, even the hottest days in Los Angeles peril to a normal summer day in Vegas.
The point is, the Silver and Black must do right by winning in L.A. this time. Remind the city what NFL team won a lombardi for them first.
Not the same Chargers
If you read my writing, often times my keys start upfront. This time it is especially true. We know the chaos Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa each bring individually, well. However, can that mesh together?
There’s no reason to believe Mack and Bosa can’t dominate together, especially with the Raiders inexperience upfront. Overall, this is a very talented Chargers team that nearly beat the Raiders for the final playoff spot.
Los Angeles brings their own question marks upfront, particularly on the ride side of the offensive line. Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones make their debut versus an offensive line that features different starts than last year. Rashawn Slater and Corey Linsley are the only proven commodities. Vegas’ pass rush is critcal to containing an explosive Chargers offense led by QB Justin Herbert.
This Raiders secondary faces a true test out the gate. The Chargers also have their own Pro Bowl runner Austin Ekeler, who is among the most versatile in the game. We know how dynamic receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen can be. Both have great catch radius. Williams is the physical and contested receiver to complement One of the best route runners, Keenan Allen. TE Gerald Everett is the x-factor given his athleticism. Everyone has got to be discipline if the Raidees hope to keep up with the Chargers.
Justin Herbert fears no one and this team is looking to redeem itself. Vegas eliminated rhe Chargers from a playoff spot in the final regular season game in 2021.
Raiders keys to beating the Chargers
The Raiders must absolutely rush Justin Herbert. It’s a careful balance from keeping him comfortable but not losing contain. He can scramble and improvise not unlike Pat Mahomes with the Chiefs.
This Chargers offense is too talented. Vegas should be expected to bend but the Raiders will need to find ways to balance that by creating turnovers. The Raiders are playing on the road but a turnover could easily drown out any Chargers excitement early.
Vegas must find their own rythm by establishing the run early and often. That helps neutralizes the pass rush. Plus, the Raiders carry all those backs on their roster for a reason.
Of course, Vegas is also going to have to convert some shots. Getting the run game going creates more play action opportunities. Derek Carr has too many weapons this year to not be a serious contender for MVP. We know he loves Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow in crucial scenarios. Now, he adds Devante Adams who blends what both of those guys do well.
If the Raiders can execute on the fundamentals, they can walk away with a signature division win. They can keep that rolling into the home opener versus the Cardinals. Vegas plays another playoff contender in the Tennessee Titans after Arizona.
A win in Week One prevents what could be a tough start to the Josh McDaniels era. It builds needed momentum for a team that plays in a strong division.
That’s why all eyes will be on the Raiders in Week One. How do they build off last year’s success with new leadership? Will this offense get led by the running game or the dynamic pass catchers? What is the 2022 Raiders’ identity.
All this and more on this week’s NFL Week One! Just win baby!