Bye Week Blues
Every bye week comes and it brings ambitious of catching up on a bunch of articles. Instead, I didn’t finish my separate film article. I’m combining both columns into this week’s preview versus the Texans.
The Bye week always brings a great time to pause and rest as well as reevaluate and reassess. It’s the same thing for the players. Was a week off enough for the Raiders to show fresh legs and adjustments after the Bye Week? Or will we again see an inconsistent Raiders team that is still trying to establish an identity?
Here’s what we learned from the Raiders OL and DL before the Bye Week as well as what we need to do to beat the Texans today.
What Raiders team shows up?
The Raiders got five games to show their heart. They received a bye week to recover from underachieving. How will this team bounce back versus a Houston Texans team with the same number of wins and equal amounts of one-point loses? The Texans aren’t the most talented team but they’re filled with veterans who play hard and young players who are not afraid.
Houston has been floundering since they fired Bill O’Brien a few years ago. His Patriots style and influence ring over the Texans. The Raiders have slowly retooled their roster with Patriots influence since hiring Josh McDaniels.
Houston could be a problem
Lovie Smith picked up the Texans after David Culley was fired after a 4-13 season. Smith is a highly respected coach. He was the defensive coordinator of one NFC Champion Rams and the head coach for the last Bears team that lost the Super Bowl to the Colts. Yet, his legacy as the Texans coach might always be as the one who took over after DeShaun Watson was finally traded.
Vegas needs to stop the bleeding with a win. After this game, the Raiders move on to the easiest part of the schedule. They’ve proven they can play with every team in their division, including the Chiefs.
However, they still need to prove they can play a full four quarters of great football through all three phases of the game. That excuse has been stale for Raiders fans who have watched this for the better part of 20 years. Many great players wore Silver and Black but never sniffed postseason success. Don’t let this team continue disappointing with second half collapses or slow starts.
The Raiders should win this game but the Texans have played close in all their games. Vegas holds more talent top to bottom but they have yet to execute a complete four quarters. At home, the Silver and Black must set the tone by dominating from play one.
All eyes on the offensive line
The Raiders offensive line pushed their double teams better versus the Chiefs. That’s also why running back Josh Jacobs found success running between the tackles.
Vegas decided to move Alex Bars from starting left guard to starting right guard. Bars is still playing too high and getting beat with speed but he showed his size and strength in the run game versus the Chiefs.
Dylan Parham showed he could anchor the left side, even though he did take some lumps. Parham has started at three different positions as a rookie drafted in the third round. That’s incredible four the 6-3 interior linemen out of Memphis.
Kolton Miller had his best game of the season versus the Chiefs, according to PFF. Andre James also looked closer to his regular and consistent form.
It feels like the Raiders are finally steadying the ship at the offensive line. They need to improve their blitz pickup and they do take lumps versus speed in the pass and they struggle getting up to good backers. I’d like to see John Simpson back in the guard rotation as well as an upgrade at right tackle so Eleumunor can move inside to guard again.
Building on a big game
Vegas’ offensive line rotation seems to be finally settling down but that could all change after the Bye Week too. I still don’t think Bars is a starting guard on a playoff team, nor do I believe Jermaine Eluemunor is a starting right tackle for a good team. However, both looked competent and could get better as the season goes on. At the very least, this group has gotten better.
Moving onto the Texans, Vegas will need to keep building on their momentum with a solid effort from their offensive tackles. They helped Jacobs crack over 150 rushing yards with a 7 yards-per-carry average. QB Derek Carr was only sacked twice, not including that Chris Jones strip-sack that got reversed due to roughing the passer.
This week they’ll see one-time Raider Maliek Collins as well as run stopper Roy Lopez. Neither are great like Jeffrey Simmons or Chris Jones who the Raiders already faced, but both are formidable vets with defined roles in the defense.
On the edge, the Texans have enough length and athleticism to give the Raiders some problems. Jerry Hughes is having a resurgence with four sacks already this year. Former Seahawks edge Rasheem Green and former Rams edge Ogbonnia Okornokwo have looked good since joining the Texan’s rotation this year. The Silver and Black need a solid outing from their tackles.
The defensive line still needs help
Again, Maxx Crosby carried the front four with two sacks. Clelin Ferrell did some things to help Crosby but he still has not gotten a sack. Chandler Jones keeps finding himself in the play but he does not have the same explosiveness to make the play like a few years ago. The Raiders again find themselves in the bottom of the league for sacks.
Andrew Billings continued to look good in the interior but he’s limited as a pass rusher. The Raiders relied on Bilal Nichols again at defensive tackle. He’s a decent pass rusher but can get pushed in the run game. John Hankins was also missing from the center of the Raiders run defense.
Despite all the close games Vegas has played this year, they have not found a core-four defensive line players to finish games and win big spots. They still have to pick and choose between players who are solid against the run vs players who can rush the passer. Houston is in the middle of the pack for sacks allowed. The Texans are also in the bottom of the league for rushing yards. This is a matchup the defensive line can win in passing and running situations.
Give the ball to Jacobs
Back to the Patriots influence. The Raiders have been cute with their running back rotation all year. New England loves playing multiple backs and packages. It’s time to give Josh Jacobs the ball.
Jacobs has been the Raiders most consistent threat on offense. What the former Alabama running back lacks in size and speed, he makes up for it with effort and elusiveness. We’d all like to see him pull away a little more but he’s not afraid to finish runs. Jacobs’ cuts look way stronger. He is also being smarter about when to go down and protect his body.
Vegas just needs to give him the damn ball. Jacobs carved up the Chiefs and Broncos. The offense is different when they play with short third downs thanks to Jacobs. Darren Waller is not playing so the Raiders need an extra boost from Jacobs, particularly in the red zone.
Houston’s defense is discipline but they are not particularly strong against the run. The Texans allowed the 6th most rushing yard and they rank in the middle of pack for rushing touchdowns allowed. This should be a solid game for Jacobs and the rushing attack to eat again.
Let Davante Adams take out his frustration
We all saw the video where Adams knocked over a college student on his first day working as a freelance photographer. Adams apologized immediately after, but he still caught a misdemeanor charge and civil lawsuit from the individual he pushed.
It’s hard to blame Adams since he always says and does the right thing. Adams has been noticeably frustrated since coming to the Raiders. The team is 1-5 and his targets have gone up and down like the team’s success.
Still, the receiver registered 124 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns on only three receptions. Adams has always been a game changer so that play-making ability should not come as a surprise.
Vegas needs to again find ways to get Adams the ball early and often versus Houston. They are going to need his presence especially in the red zone since Waller is out again. The Silver and Black struggle in the red zone but hopefully Adams can make a few big plays to help them avoid that strife.
Houston is a middle of the pack pass defense. A big game from Adams should help him put the Kansas City situation behind him. It should also help the Raiders bury the Texans in an insurmountable lead.
It’s not about the Texans
The Raiders need to show a sense of urgency if they want to will themselves into the playoffs. Their chances of making the postseason decreased by a few points even though they did not play last week. They can easily blow out this AFC foe at home off talent alone.
A big win should give this team some confidence and momentum headed into an easy part of the schedule. It should also prove this team still believes in their head coach Josh McDaniels and their QB Derek Carr.
Nonetheless, they could also fall into a defensive battle with the Texans. That’s especially true if Vegas struggles stopping the run or allows big plays in the passing game due to miscues. This is the game for the Raiders to really showcase what they’re capable of for four quarters.
Bury the distractions
We’re all excited about Magic Johnson possibly joining the Raiders ownership. He was an L.A. Raiders fan back in the day and he helped the Lakers, Dodgers, Sparks and LAFC win championships in various roles. Johnson would bring diversity, connections and experience to the Raiders if the team sold a minority stake to him.
There’s been trade rumors about the Raiders exploring deals to bring back Nelson Agholor too. Rumors also surfaced that the team was shopping John Abram and Clelin Ferrell. It makes sense given neither lived up to their high draft status. However, what can you actually get for them and who are you going to play that is better?
None of that off-field conversation matters this season. Vegas will always be surrounded by talk and rumors. The Raiders need to forget all that to dig themselves out of a hole in the AFC West. That starts with just winning now, baby!