Plenty of blame to go around after a tough loss
Well, it had to happen some time, but it certainly sucks – for lack of a better term – that the Las Vegas Raiders’ first loss of the season came against a division rival, as the Los Angeles Chargers bested the Raiders 28-14 on Monday Night Football.
Starting the game off slow finally came back to bite Las Vegas, however, they put together a strong second half and there were plenty of individuals that had solid performances along the way. So while there’s plenty of blame to go around, there’s also plenty of positive notes to talk about as well.
WINNER: Hunter Renfrow
Speaking of being positive, let’s start with the biggest star of the night for the Silver and Black, Hunter Renfrow.
Offensively, Renfrow did what we’ve all grown to expect from him. He was Derek Carr’s security blanket, catching six of eight targets for 45 yards, a touchdown, two first downs and a passer rating of 127.6 when targeted, per Pro Football Focus.
That brings the slot receiver’s touchdown total up to two for the season, already matching his total from last season and putting him on pace for about eight for the year, which would be a career-best and double the four he had as a rookie.
As far as first downs go, the Clemson product is up to 12 on the campaign and that’s a top-25 mark among wide receivers, as he’s currently tied with a few notable names like DeAndre Hopkins and Robert Woods.
But it wasn’t just what Renfrow did on offense that made his night so special. On a punt return where the Raiders missing a vice/corner, he recognized they only had 10 players on the field and moved up from his returner position to come up and drop a hit stick on the Chargers’ gunner/receiver to break up a pass and thwart their fake attempt.
HUNTER RENFROW HIT STICK TO PREVENT THE FAKE PUNT COMPLETION
— ESPN (@espn) October 5, 2021
I hate to use such a generic and trivial term, but it’s these types of plays that just make Renfrow a “gamer.” He’s not a defensive back yet came up and made a play like one and at the end of the day, he’s just a guy the team can count on no matter what the situation is.
Hell, the Raiders might need him to play some defensive back next week with all these injuries and honestly, I don’t think there’s any reason to think he wouldn’t get the job done. For what it’s worth, the wideout was the team’s second highest-graded defender on Monday night, per PFF. Granted, it’s a small sample size of just one play.
LOSER: Jon Gruden
Is it easy to pick on the head coach after a loss? Sure, but it is his primary responsibility to win and Monday night was an atrocious outing for Jon Gruden.
He started the game out calling two running plays that netted three yards and put Las Vegas in a third and long while also facing an early seven-point deficit. At the surface level, that strategy isn’t terrible but adding the context of the situation changes the evaluation of that decision.
Running back Josh Jacobs was banged up and a game-time decision to even suit up, so Gruden started the game off by giving the ball to a guy who wasn’t even fully healthy. Plus, the Raiders have a patchwork offensive line that has struggled to run block all season. With the combination of an injured ball-carrier and linemen that haven’t played well, it begs the question of what did Gruden think was going to happen?
Now, if the Silver and Black’s offense just struggled on the opening drive, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. However, out of the team’s seven first-half drives, four were three and outs, one went for four plays and a failed fourth-down conversion, another was a six-play drive that still ended in a punt, and then the final two plays before the end of the half.
What’s frightening about that is it included the scripted or predetermined plays that the coach thought would have worked.
On top of that, it seemed to me that the Chargers’ defensive-minded head coach Brandon Staley out-coached Gruden. Staley kept bringing blitzes to isolate and give his pass rushers one-on-ones against the Raiders offensive linemen, specifically Joey Bosa and Alex Leatherwood, and Gruden didn’t seem to have an answer.
Los Angeles registered 22 total pressures on 57 opportunities – Bosa had seven on 47 – so a rate of about 38.6 percent as a team, which is a season-best for them so far. For comparison’s sake, the Bolts recorded team pressure rates of 25.5 percent, 19.4, and 31.6, respectively, in their three previous matchups.
Between some questionable play-calling early on and an inability to give his struggling offensive line some help, it was a rough primetime performance for Gruden.
WINNER: Amik Robertson
As referenced above, Las Vegas had some terrible injury luck at defensive back this week. Starting cornerback Trayvon Mullen left the game early on with a foot injury and his backup, Damon Arnette also went down and didn’t return with a groin injury.
That meant the team had to dive deep into the depth chart and play the only other healthy and dressed corner, Amik Robertson, next to Casey Hayward and Nate Hobbs. Playing a fourth-string defensive back against an offense that includes wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams isn’t exactly ideal, but given the situation, Robertson flourished.
The 2020 fourth-round pick drew Williams in coverage often and at 5’8”, he was giving up nearly a foot in height to the 6’4” receiver. However, the latter still only managed to have one catch on two targets for 11 yards, and both passes thrown his way didn’t even come with Robertson in coverage.
Allen and Williams combined for 12 targets with eight receptions for 47 yards, no touchdowns and only two first downs. This was not only the first time all season that those two wideouts were held under 50 yards individually but collectively as well, which the second-year corner played a big factor in.
What makes Robertson’s night most impressive is that he was likely practicing with the scout team more than the starters all week. Depending on Mullen and Arnette’s health, Robertson should expect to get more reps with the first-team moving forward, and he may have taken the latter’s spot on the depth chart.
LOSER: Raiders’ Offensive Line
I thought about picking a few offensive linemen to point out, but the truth of the matter is it was a collectively bad night up front for the Silver and Black.
Carr was sacked four times against the Chargers, bringing the total up to 12 through four games this season and that’s tied for the fifth-most in the league. Out of the six offensive linemen that got playing time, Kolton Miller was the one to record an above-average PFF pass-blocking grade, and as previously mentioned, the Bolts had a season-best pressure rate.
To his credit, Miller did have an impressive game in pass protection. He earned an 82.4 grade in that realm, sixth-highest qualifying offensive tackles, and only allowed one pressure.
However, Miller’s slightly above average 61.1 run-blocking grade still left something to be desired, but sadly, still led the team. Jermaine Eluemunor, John Simpson and Jordan Simmons all graded out in the 50s, while Alex Leatherwood and Andre James finished in the 40s.
Hence why the Raiders only averaged 2.7 yards per rush against a team that allows the third-most ypr at 5.3. Then again, that’s not far off from Las Vegas’ season average of 3.3 rushing yards per attempt which ranks second to last in the NFL, so I guess the lack of success on the ground should have been expected.
There’s no getting around it, it’s going to be difficult for the Raiders’ offense to have success throughout the 17-game season if the offensive line doesn’t improve. Whether a trade, free agent signing or reshuffling of the depth chart in the trenches happens, I’d expect some changes are coming.
WINNER: Tre’von Moehrig
Tre’von Moehrig has been relatively quiet to start his NFL career, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a safety. However, he made some noise on Monday night, and in a good way.
Moehrig was thrown at twice and allowed just one reception for four yards and a passer rating of 56.3. He also recorded his first pass breakup as a professional, which came in a huge moment on third down at the start of the fourth quarter to give the team the ball and a chance to tie the game. It’s those types of clutch plays why the team spent a second-round pick on him, and why he was considered a first-round talent.
The rookie also set a couple of personal bests with five solo tackles and a respectable 66.4 run defense grade from PFF. Monday night was also the second game in a row that he didn’t have a missed tackle, which was a small issue for him in the first two weeks of the season.
Over the last two weeks, Moehrig has earned an 82.1 overall PFF grade which not only leads all rookie safeties by nearly 30 points during that time frame but also ranks second among safeties as a whole.
The TCU product is starting to get more comfortable in the NFL and is blossoming in front of our eyes.
LOSER: Nick Kwiatkoski
It’s been a rough season already for Nick Kwiatkoski. He’s battled a few injuries and lost his starting spot to Denzel Perryman, who the organization didn’t acquire until the very end of training camp. In fact, Kwiatkoski’s role has been diminished so much that he only registered 14 defensive snaps on Monday night.
Now, you might be asking yourself “how can he be a loser if he barely played?”
Well, during those 14 plays he managed to miss two tackles and earn a 29.2 run defense grade, which is supposed to be his calling card. That’s the primary reason why Perryman has taken his spot, as the former has only missed three tackles on the entire season and holds a 65.7 grade against the run.
I said the same thing about Damon Arnette after the Pittsburgh game a couple of weeks ago. When you’re a player that’s getting limited reps, you have to make the few reps you do get count otherwise, you can’t expect anything to change and that’s the exact situation Kwiatkoski finds himself in right now.
Both Nick Morrow and Javin White are expected to return from injured reserve sometime soon, which means the Raiders’ linebacker room is going to get even more crowded. If the six-year veteran doesn’t turn his play around soon, he could easily be looking for a new home in the near future.