While there are plenty of problems for the Las Vegas Raiders to fix on both sides of the ball, it’s pretty obvious that the defense has been mostly responsible for losses to the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills in the last two weeks.
Coach Jon Gruden knows the Raiders (2-2) have to fix those things quickly as they prepare to face quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s 2018 MVP, and the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
And they will have to again play without starting quarterback Damon Arnette, who is on Injured Reserve because of a broken right thumb that required surgery.
“I think we played pretty good (without Arnette),” Gruden told reporters in an early-week press conference. “We just have to eliminate the mistakes.
“The first touchdown pass, we’re in a man-to-man coverage and we have a couple of guys who don’t play man-to-man. It’s not that hard. That’s very correctable and it’s going to get corrected. If we eliminate the mistakes, we can be a whole lot better.”
Through four games, the Raiders have allowed 257.8 passing yards per game (ranked 16th in the NFL), a 66.4 completion percentage (17th), and 7.3 yards per passing attempt (25th).
Yes, the Raiders’ defense ranks in the lower half of the league, but it’s not only the coverage that has been lacking, as the pass rush has been non-existent at times. Las Vegas has made only four sacks (tied for 29th in the league) and 21 quarterback pressures (also 29th) in four games.
Quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater of the Carolina Panthers, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, Cam Newton of the New England Patriots, and Josh Allen of the Buffalo usually had all day to pass in the first four games against the Raiders.
“It’s never good enough, your pass rush is never good enough,” Gruden said. “And right now, ours is not good enough. We’re going to continue to work at making it better. I’ll say this, (against Buffalo) we did a lot of things to control the pocket to keep Allen from scrambling. That’s where a lot of their big plays had occurred (in the first three games).
“Our guys did a good job of being disciplined and not letting the quarterback escape and create second-reaction scramble plays. So that was a reason why I think that the (pass) rush wasn’t as good as perhaps it could’ve been because we wanted to be careful in containment of the quarterback.”
Forced to stay in the pocket, Allen completed 24-of-34 passes for 288 yards without an interception and threw touchdowns of 26 yards to rookie Gabriel Davis and 11 yards to Cole Beasley to build a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, and the Raiders never caught up.
Allen averaged 7.9 yards per pass and set up the Bills’ other scores in a 30-23 victory with passes down the field, as the Raiders had only one sack and two quarterback pressures.
Again, injuries played a role, and not only the absence of Arnette, who was replaced in the lineup by veteran cornerback Nevin Lawson, with second-year corners Keisean Nixon and Isaiah Johnson also available.
One of the biggest plays came after slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner left the game briefly in the first quarter because of an injury and rookie cornerback Amik Robertson, who was inactive for the first three games, replaced him for his first NFL play.
On third-and-one from the Raiders’ 26, Robertson lined up opposite Davis in the slot, and when the Bills ran a fake handoff, the rookie bit, and Davis sprinted past him down the middle, where Allen hit him with that 26-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0.
Safety Erik Harris also went for the fake and fellow safety Johnathan Abram raced across the field, but couldn’t catch Davis.
The Raiders can’t afford to make any such mistakes against Mahomes and the Chiefs.
How to watch or listen to the Las Vegas Raiders versus the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday?
Radio: Raider Nation Radio
Odds: Las Vegas Raiders +11.5
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