At 3-1 and coming off their first loss Monday night on the road to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Las Vegas Raiders have numbers more reflecting a 1-3 team.
They've given up too many rushing yards consistently and have run for too few yards. They've committed far too many penalties, ranking fifth in flags and sixth in penalty yards. Yet, they've defended the pass well and Derek Carr has passed spectacularly until Monday night's 28-14 loss.
The Raiders have a knack for playing in games with wild swings, and it's something the Bears should remember well from their 2019 game in London.
Bears linebacker Alec Ogletree touched on why this trend occurs when talking about the Raiders offense.
"They have guys that play well together, they fight really hard," he said. "Obviously, when you put pressure on anybody, teams have to adjust. I think they do a decent job of adjusting and keep doing what they want to do as far as their game plan goes, so it'll be a good challenge for us to see what we can come up with and be able to do against them."
Even in Monday night's loss, the Raiders were dominated the first half before suddenly catching fire for a little more than a quarter and then losing.
When the Bears lost to Vegas in 2019, they were mauled from the outset, recovered and led, then lost in overtime. The Raiders this year have been involved in two wild overtime games and won both, 33-27 over the Ravens and 31-28 over the Dolphins.
Not much has changed, with the nature of their team even playing now in a different and unique location. The steady part remains Carr and his passing. He had 357 yards or more in each of the first three games.
It's here where the Bears could have their great problem matching up in coverage, or they could dominate with a pass rush that has the potential to beat up a struggling offensive line.
The one way the Bears can avoid the explosive nature of the Raiders passing game is by refusing to let Jon Gruden get his running attack going. Josh Jacobs is an outstanding all-purpose back who has had some ankle injury issues this year but is getting healthy again. The Raiders managed to bully the Bears on the ground first in 2019 with Jacobs and power running against a defensive front that didn't include Akiem Hicks, and then they were able to throw at will. They didn't have nearly the speed at receiver then that they now possess, so allowing this Raiders team to run first would be total disaster.
It's unlikely the Bears will have Hicks again for this game and they'll need to rely on nose tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Bilal Nichols to stop up the running game.
Here are the matchups where the Raiders pose the greatest threat to the Bears.
Bears DB Duke Shelley vs. Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow
In the Monday night loss, ESPN focused much of the time on Renfrow and his double or triple moves. As much as they made of him, Renfrow hasn't been much more effective than Anthony Miller was as slot receiver for the Bears in his production. However, Renfrow is quite the technician and if Carr is given time or buys time with his feet, then the possession receiver can make the plays to extend drives. Renfrow has 22 catches for 249 yards. Of those, 12 have gone for first downs. He had 49 and 50 receptions in his first two seasons. The fear the Bears should have is the matchup because Shelley hasn't been effective in actual coverage, although he usually manages to drag the receiver down. He has given up 16 completions in 19 targets (84.2%) according to Sportradar, the official stat partner of the NFL. His passer rating against when targeted is 104.6. Shelley is coming off one of his better games since taking over this nickel back slot from Buster Skrine. The Bears have to hope it was a sign of progress. Some slot receivers pose great speed or size disadvantages for Shelley, who is 5-foot-9, 176 pounds. But Renfrow isn't one of those at 5-10, 185 and with 4.59-second speed in the 40. It's the route running where he specializes.
Bears S Tashaun Gipson vs. Raiders TE Darren Waller
The Bears are predominantly a cover-3 or quarters zone defense and so individual matchups with tight ends only really exist when they have to match up in passing situations or when teams go with four- or five-receiver sets. But when offenses do this, it's usually not with an emphasis on the tight end. In fact, they might not even have a tight end on the field. It's different with the Raiders because Waller is out there always as their best target. Just like last week for the Bears with Detroit's tight end T.J. Hockenson, Waller will be catching throws all over the field and not just short areas. The Bears will have to defend him in their zone everywhere. When they do match up, Gipson could draw Waller and this is a mismatch. Gipson is coming off a hamstring pull and is 31 years old. Waller has struggled over the last three games after getting off to a spectacular start against Baltimore with 10 catches for 105 yards, after he made 197 catches over the past two seasons. The Bears were one of the few teams able to cover him well in 2019, as they allowed him only four receptions for 39 yards. But that was when they had either Ha Ha Clinton Dix or Eddie Jackson covering Waller. One possible play might be to put Jackson on Waller all over the field on third downs, but then they'd be left with Gipson covering the deep middle coming off an injury—probably not a good situation when Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs was the fastest man at the 2020 combine. Another danger the Bears have is in their short zones, Waller could get matched up instead on Shelley and this would also be a problem in numerous ways.
Bears LT Jason Peters vs. Raiders DE Maxx Crosby
If Pro Football Focus is to be believed, Crosby is the best edge player in the game now. He is rated No. 1, a position Khalil Mack had last year. Yet, Crosby has just two sacks. He does generate pressure and has 13 quarterback hits. At 6-5, 255 pounds, Crosby has good speed (4.66) for someone his size, and he plays to the echo of the whistle. His pressure often comes from not quitting. Peters is 39 and had real problems in the last Bears road game trying to handle Myles Garrett, who is graded behind Crosby by PFF. Grading Crosby better than Garrett really requires some imagination. Crosby doesn't have the kind of speed Garrett has and this could allow Peters to make use of his hands in pass protection and prevent a rush from far to the outside, which is where he has had his problems. Last week Peters showed you don't need to be young to run block. He put on a clinic in the first half with his ability to use his size and leverage to overpower. He'll need to do something like this again against an edge who isn't necessarily at his best using his strength. Peters has been anything but a disappointment as PFF gives him the eighth-best grade average among tackles but he has looked bad on occasion against the Rams and Browns, both in road games.