Good, Bad and Other Takeaways Before Steal City.

Good news, the Raiders won their opening matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night. It was an official blessing to the Silver and Black’s new home in Vegas.

Bad news, Vegas almost didn’t win. Even worse, Denzelle Good went down with a season ending injury.

Good suffered the injury in the first game of a new deal and role. He really stabilized the unit with his versatility the last couple seasons. The offensive line was also already a shallow group.

That means John Simpson should start again even if Richie Incognito returns. I still don’t know why Brandon Parker hasn’t gotten an opportunity to kick inside. 

Either way, the guards will be tested versus Pittsburgh veterans that include Cameron Heyward. Reviews about new starters Andre James and Alex Leatherwood were mixed. They made plays but also some curcial penalties and mistakes.

Josh Jacobs and Yannick Ngakoue both sustained long-term injuries too. Jacobs will miss this game but Ngakoue is expected to play hobbled in Week Two.

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Week One Flashbacks

Baltimore nearly sealed the game after the Raiders thought they won off a play that was stopped at the one. Carr threw a pick off a receiver a few plays later. There was a lost kicker too. 

Nonetheless, the Raiders won off a Zay Jones wide open catch. I told you these games against Baltimore usually come down to one play or the finish. 

Familiar rivals like Justin Houston and Sammy Watkins made big plays for Baltimore. Raiders fans will remember them from their days terrorizing us with the Chiefs. Latavius Murray also found the end zone after signing with the team just days before Monday Night.

All week since, Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib earned praise after the win. Crosby registered enough sacks and TFLs to earn AFC player of the week. He was a constant force against the run and pass. Nassib helped get the ball back with a strip sack towards the game’s conclusion. Finally some turnovers! 

I’ve been critical of Nassib for a while now. He flashes on a play or two but hadn’t developed the consistency. Same for Maxx who struggled last year with more teams scheming for him. Both showed out when we needed them most. Don’t take away from Nassib making big plays in what was first regular season game since coming out. Nassib got his number called and delivered on the field while making history off the field.

More bad news came from the running game with Josh Jacobs getting hurt. He is ruled out versus the Steelers. That is a huge loss as the Raiders need to control the pass rush and clock with the run game.

Either way, Kenyan Drake earned a big contract for this exact reason. It wasn’t just to be an explosive, change-of-pace and gadget player. We knew a time would come where Jacobs needed rest and getting Drake was great insurance. It’s not like the Silver and Black haven’t employed multiple great rushers at the same time.

I don’t think any of us expected to need Drake this early but it is better than not having him. Hopefully, Jacobs doesn’t turn on too much McFadden PTSD with these lingering injuries. 

It wasn’t a particularly good game for either rusher. The best run play of the night came with Marcus Mariota earning 30 yards from his sub-package. The good news was Jacobs found the end zone a couple of times. 

On the other side of the ball, Yannick Ngakoue also sustained an injury. Many thought it would limit him this week and further. However, he practiced this week and he is expected to play versus the Steelers. 

If Ngakoue can’t go, the Raiders will need Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell was a healthy scratch versus the Ravens. 

The Raiders will need him and Solomon Thomas to prove those top-10 draft grades. Gerald McCoy also went down with injury last week. The vet was just gaining momentum and a role in the rotation. Ferrell and Thomas will be needed both inside and out moving forward.

Old School Rivalry

Every one reading this knows the ball hit the ground. However, many of these players in this week’s Steelers and Raiders showdown won’t remember the Immaculate Deception. In fact, there aren’t many familiar faces since the two franchise faced off in 2018. The most prominent returns are the two quarterbacks.

Derek Carr played well enough last week. He had one part where he had seven in completions. He almost sparked a riot on Raiders twitter after that INT. Carr redeemed himself with the winning TD. Otherwise, it was rewarding to see him take and convert shots down the field. I still don’t think the Raiders will win a Super Bowl if he is forced to through the ball 50 times.

That’s why the loss of Jacobs is pretty huge. The Steelers want to run the ball too. They didn’t complete many big shots versus the Bills last week, despite their slew of explosive receivers. Their offensive line is reloading. Big Ben Roethlisberger played well enough last week. At this point in his career, is Big Ben a game manager?

We will see versus the Raiders. Baltimore isn’t exactly loaded at any skill positions, yet they found success through the air and running the ball. Look for Pittsburgh to try and get their offense in rhythm with the run game and some more deep shots.

If the Steelers can contain the Raiders’ rush, that could spell some confidence for the Pittsburgh passing game. However, they’ll only go as far as the offensive line and run game goes. This should be an old school game with both teams trying to establish the run and dominate the trenches.

Versus the Steelers, the Raiders defensive line faces a cast of new faces. Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Andrew Villanueva once held down this offensive line. All those names are gone from Pittsburgh’s roster. 

Insert Trai Turner, Joe Haeg and JC Hassanauer. All experienced players written off by their former team. The Steelers swung last year’s starting right tackle to the left side. Point is, the Raiders should make Roethlisberger uncomfortable. He was sacked by the Bills twice last week. 

Najee Harris caught the attention of many fantasy owners before the season. However, he underwhelmed in his first game. Harris averaged less than three yards a carry. Pittsburgh should look to get him touches early and often. The Raiders surrendered rushing yards last week.

Pittsburgh rush defense wasn’t much better. They surrendered 65 yards to Devin Singletary. Again, Drake is going to be huge this week. Whatever team can establish the run will win this game.

The Steelers did sack QB Josh Allen three times. Pittsburgh also kept Stefon Diggs and the Bills receivers from scoring or completing a deep pass. This means the Raiders could have trouble completing the deep passes they converted on Monday Night.

The Vegas offense completed several passes over 20 yards to a variety of receivers. Can they do that with TJ Watt rushing on every play? 

The Major Key Versus Pittsburgh

Both teams should make big plays as both defenses can bend. The real test will be which defense lasts the longest and doesn’t break. Double critical that both defenses find a way to create turnovers and get stops in the red zone.

Ultimately, the deciding factor will be the run defense. Both teams have a slew of receivers they want to feature. However, the pass rush from both teams should neutralize that. Both secondaries seemed improved although it is early.

Regardless, the team that can get the run going will get the opposing defense on their heals. That also controls the clock and forces these offenses to take big shots. Well both teams want to convert big plays, I’m not sure either will be comfortable if they find themselves in a situation where they must force big shots if either one is down big.

Instead, I suspect both teams will setup their shots strategically of the run game. Both teams will benefit from protecting a lead and allowing their pass rushers to just get up field and create havoc.

Vegas is on the road though. They’re also down their best back. That means they will rely on big play passing game a bit more.

In the end, we’ll take beating the Steelers no matter what. Let’s protect that 16-13 all-time record. Plus, this game could have potential AFC Wild Card implications given the strength of both divisions and the added game this season.

Whatever quarterback can make a play without costing their team usually wins this game. Big Ben and Derek Carr have both had their shares of comebacks and big plays. They’ve also come up short or turned the ball over in big spots. None of that got anything to do with Sunday so whatever quarterback can balance the game managing with occasional gun slinging will win.

Whichever quarterback can use their run game to control the clock and pass rush will find themselves more easily converting downfield plays too. Coincidentally, an opposing offense playing catch up usually makes it easy on the leading team’s defense.

Bottom line, the Raiders need a win here to make everybody feel a little bit better about barely beating the Ravens. The world was watching and Vegas barely squeezed one out. This time a decisive win over an old rival could get all the haters to see the new commitment to excellence.

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