For all the finger-pointing Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler may have done about the state of the roster they inherited, there was always one catch. A $54 million catch, in fact — and its name was Chandler Jones.
Sure, the roster they inherited was the product of a half-decade worth of draft debacles, but when the new regime used the one bullet they had to improve the roster on an aging pass-rusher who had been a non-factor for 11 games, it was harder to be fully absolved from the mess.
But then the Chargers came to town, and on Sunday, that $54 million mess came to life.
Coming into the game, the Raiders defense had just 16 sacks on the year — 10.5 of them from Maxx Crosby alone. On Sunday, they had five (none of which came from Crosby) — and three of those belonged to Jones.
But it wasn’t even just the raw production — it was the timing of his plays that seemed to create oversized importance. His first sack came on 3rd and three on the Chargers’ opening drive. Then there was a fourth-down tackle on a scrambling Herbert on 4th and 2. Then sack number two came on 3rd and 5 inside the red zone. Later in the game, Jones knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage — and yes, once again, it was on third down.
In total, Jones finished with six tackles, three sacks, two tackles for loss, a pass deflection and five quarterback hits. For the season, those numbers represent 20% of his total tackles, 86% of his total sacks, 67% of his tackles for loss, 100% of his pass deflections and 45% of his quarterback hits.
With the win, the Raiders moved to 5-7 on the season — and while unlikely, the playoffs are still technically within reach. With three winnable games over the next three weeks (at Rams, home for Patriots, at Steelers), maybe the biggest question the Raiders will look to answer is this one: was this game from Jones a blip on the radar? Or something he can build on down the stretch?
Offensive Headline: Superstars Carry Vegas Again
What are people supposed to say about Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams that hasn’t already been said?
The league’s leading rusher added 144 yards to his total, including another touchdown (his 10th on the season), while the league’s best receiver hauled in 8 passes for 177 yards and a pair of third-quarter touchdowns that put the Raiders up for good.
For as much as people say that football is a team sport, it’s hard to watch the Raiders nowadays and argue that star power doesn’t matter. Yes, the offensive line has done a good job of blocking for Jacobs, while Derek Carr has put the ball in good spots for Adams — but when the opposing team knows what (or who) is coming and still can’t stop it, that’s pretty special.
Defensive Headline: Is This… Improvement?
The first offensive touchdown the Chargers scored came with 8:34 remaining in the game.
The Chargers’ previously explosive offense had just 13 points through three-and-a-half quarters.
The Chargers were just 5/16 on third downs.
They averaged just 5.2 yards per play.
They gave up five sacks.
They ran for just 72 yards.
They were 0/3 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
I could go on and on, but there’s not really a way to spin what the Raiders defense did on Sunday and not come away incredibly impressed and encouraged.
Coming into Sunday, the Raider defense was 28th in yards per play allowed (5.8), 26th in third down conversion rate (44%), 26th in points allowed per game (24.7) and 28th in sacks per game (1.8).
Like we said with Jones, the question to answer over the coming weeks is whether this is a feature or a bug. The good news? The next three offenses they face are among the worst in the league — and so even if this was a blip, maybe the confidence they have moving forward can be solidified thanks in part to the schedule.
Player of the Game: Chandler Jones
For as much as I’ve dumped on him all season, Jones is the right choice here. Yes — Adams and Jacobs were great — but as I said above, it wasn’t just the production (which was remarkable); it was the timing. It felt like every Chargers drive that stalled did so because of a third (or fourth) down play from Jones.
And yes, the Chargers’ offensive tackle situation might be the worst in the league — but that doesn’t guarantee you anything, so kudos to Jones for going out and getting the job done.
Odds and Ends
- Like Jones, I’ve been rough on the Raiders’ approach to the offensive line this season — but they were once again really good on Sunday. Not only did the team run for 154 yards on 29 carries (5.3 YPC), but they also didn’t allow a sack.
- Carr’s streak of 2+ touchdowns is up to five games, although this one wasn’t his best performance by a long shot. The throws to Adams were good, giving him a “good enough” grade overall — but the pick-six in the first quarter was a brutal mistake, and on the team’s last scoring drive, he threw a ball to Adams on a play when Mack Hollins was running wide open in the end zone. Adams typically comes down with that catch, in which case we aren’t having this conversation, but that would have been the difference between a 14 and an 18-point lead.
- It was nice to have Nate Hobbs back on defense — not only was he good in coverage, but he led the team in tackles on the day as well (8).
- Josh Jacobs lost a fumble for the first time in 259 touches, according to the broadcast, and the fact that the Raiders overcame both that and Carr’s pick-six to still win comfortably makes this game all the more impressive.
- Last one is for laughs: was there any doubt that on 4th and 12 from 35, down by 14 that Justin Herbert was going to find a way to convert? I tweeted that I would have bet my life on a conversion — maybe not a 35-yard strike to the back of the end zone where only his guy can get it — but that felt like the most Raiders play ever. Thankfully, it didn’t matter.