Raiders Rewind: Despite Injuries, Week 9 Win Over Chargers Keeps Las Vegas In Playoff Mix

Originally published by

Derek Carr, Jon Gruden

How many NFL teams could win a game without two starting tackles and their top two cornerbacks (not to mention a starting guard and defensive tackle as well)? I know every team is battling injuries at this point in the season, but besides quarterback, I’m not sure there are two positions with less league-wide depth than tackle and corner — and yet, after another win for the Las Vegas Raiders, I suppose it’s not really worth arguing about.

Despite the injuries, the Raiders traveled to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon for a 31-26 victory — their fourth road win of the season — moving to 5-3 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. Like any Chargers game, there was some excitement — some of it manufactured by Vegas mistakes — but all in all, this was a pretty solid performance all things considered.

After news broke that right tackle Trent Brown would be out for a month with coronavirus (COVID-19) complications and that left tackle Kolton Miller (who was questionable) would miss the first game of his career, the biggest question for the Raiders was actually on offense on Sunday. Would they be able to protect Derek Carr enough to keep the Charger defense honest with the run game?

After a three-and-out to start, the team’s second possession put all those fears to rest, thanks mostly to the backfield. On the seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive, the Raiders got massive contributions from all three running backs (Josh Jacobs, Devonte Booker and Jalen Richard) as well as fullback Alec Ingold. Jacobs gained 14 yards on the ground, Ingold gained six through the air, Richard gained 19 through the air (on third-and-10) and then Booker got the last 23 yards on the ground.

After a missed field goal on their first possession, the Chargers marched back down and scored a touchdown of their own — a drive which saw the Raiders lose their No. 1 corner, Trayvon Mullen, to a hamstring injury. From there both teams traded punts before the end of the half got rather interesting…

After a run-heavy touchdown drive from the Raiders put them ahead by seven, the Chargers marched 75 yards on 10 plays to tie the game. This drive was particularly painful for the Raiders, as they allowed conversions on third-and-7 and third-and-16 before the Chargers scored with 19 seconds left in the half.

The Raiders got the ball back and tried to be aggressive — a plan that turned out to be a terrible one. After a short pass to Hunter Renfrow (the first catch by a receiver on the day) gained seven yards, the Raiders still hadn’t given up. On second-and-3 with 12 seconds left from their own 32, Derek Carr dropped back to pass before being sacked and fumbling the ball. On the next play, the Chargers would knock home a 45-yard field goal, giving them their first lead of the game just before the end of the half.

How would the Raiders respond to allowing 10 points in 19 seconds? To their own mistakes both in decision-making and execution? Well, it turns out.

The Raiders got the ball to start the half and promptly marched 55 yards in four plays to regain the lead on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Nelson Agholor (on third-and-10).

On defense, they forced a quick three-and-out, getting the offense back on the field — still in a rhythm. Taking over at their own 25, the Raiders — led by the very best version of Carr you’ll ever see — absolutely took it to the Chargers defense.

The first key play was on third-and-4, when Carr was flushed from the pocket and forced to his right. After motioning for Renfrow to break off his route and go deep, Carr dropped a perfect ball (on the run) to Renfrow 53 yards down field.

Three plays later — facing another third down (this one third-and-10) — Carr again was forced from the pocket. This time he decided to tuck it and run, leaping over a defender right at the first down marker for a gain of 12.

Two plays after that, on second-and-goal, Carr saw Waller streaking across the back of the end zone and placed an absolute laser on his hands in a spot where only he could grab it.

Those three plays in any one game would have been impressive, but to put them on tape on one drive — when the team desperately needed it — was remarkable.

Now up by two scores, the Raiders defense was able to hold Los Angeles to a field goal on the ensuing drive, but the offense stalled in Charger territory as the third quarter came to and end. The Chargers would march right back down the field for a touchdown, but a failed two-point conversion left the Raiders up by two (Justin Herbert was injured on the touchdown and forced out of the game for the conversion).

After the Raiders went three-and-out, they caught a break as the Chargers fumbled the punt and the Raiders recovered. Still, the offense which had been running so smoothly, couldn’t put it together — gaining just 18 yards before kicking a field goal to extend the lead.

With 4:37 on the clock, Herbert and the Chargers took over on the drive that would run out the clock — running 15 plays and gaining 71 yards. Unfortunately for the Chargers, that was four yards too few.

After moving the ball to the 4-yard line with six seconds on the clock, the Chargers had two chances to score the game-winning touchdown. The first play call was a fade to jump ball specialist Mike Williams, but cornerback Isaiah Johnson (filling in for the injured Mullen) played it perfectly and used his length (Johnson is 6’2″) to break up the pass at the last minute.

Now with one second left, the Chargers tried the same play in the same spot — this time to tight end Donald Parham. Again, with Johnson in coverage, the pass was broken up at the last minute and while originally called a touchdown, review confirmed that Johnson had broken it up — giving the Raiders their fifth win of the season.

Offensive MVP: Tom Cable

While Carr had some big moments, his overall statline wasn’t perfect — and the stalled drives in the fourth quarter put a bit of a damper on things — so I’m giving this to Cable. When Cable was hired, the selection was mocked on every corner of the internet — but Gruden stood by his guy. On Sunday (and really all season), that loyalty was rewarded.

While the defense continues to make excuses for their poor performance around injuries, Cable continues to plug back-ups in along the line and see his unit perform well. Down three starters, the Raiders still ran for 160 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and allowed just one sack.

Defensive MVP: Isaiah Johnson

While the Raiders had chances to upgrade the secondary over the past month or so, I kept thinking that they wanted to use this season to get a final verdict on young corners like Johnson and Keisean Nixon. Sunday was Johnson’s audition, and it’s safe to say everyone knows why the Raiders feel pretty strongly about him.

Before we get to the final two plays, let me make one other note about Johnson: with the Raiders leading 21-17 following Agholor’s touchdown, the Chargers were facing third-and-6. Williams ran a quick slant, but Johnson came up with a huge tackle a yard short of the sticks forcing a punt. It was an average-looking play, but given the margins of this game, that turned out to be huge.

Of course, the key with Johnson were the last six seconds — when the long corner played the fade as perfectly as possible twice. I’ll give credit to Herbert because both of these passes were absoltely perfect — but Johnson continued to fight all the way to the ground, knocking the ball loose twice.

Random Musings

  • I predicted a big game from Henry Ruggs III and he had….0 catches. I don’t get it. I’d love to go back and watch tape to see where the issue is — can he not get open consistently enough? Is Carr looking elsewhere more often? Obviously the loss of two tackles hurts a deep threat like Ruggs, but I remain baffled as to why he doesn’t get more screen passes, slants, etc.
  • The Raider defensive line had a solid day — albeit against one of the weaker offensive lines in football. Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib both had sacks, while Clelin Ferrell added four quarterback hits as well.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski continues to make the types of plays he was brought in to make — finishing with 13 total tackles on the day. The biggest of them all was on the two-point conversion, where Kwiatkoski met backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor at the goal line and stood him up.
  • Are the Raiders too aggressive or not aggressive enough? The answer, I think, is they’re aggressive in all the wrong spots. After gaining seven yards with 19 seconds left on the clock before halftime in a tied game, running another play (with two tackles who couldn’t pass block, no less) wasn’t aggressiveness, it was stupidity. Likewise, later in the game, the Raiders had fourth-and-2 at the Chargers’ 42-yard line. After passing deep on third-and-2, the Raiders opted to punt in a 28-20 game. Did I mention the Raiders finished the game averaging more than six yards per carry? The Chargers got the ball back and nearly tied the game. Fortunately for Jon Gruden, there were a lot of “nearlys” for Los Angeles in this one.

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