While a full slate of regular season football begins today, the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders await their matchup on Monday night football. To preview the matchup, Matt Holder of Silver & Black Pride joined me for a small Q&A.
1. What is the current state of the Las Vegas Raiders’ offensive line? I’ve seen tweets regarding offensive lineman Richie Incognito not practicing. Is this a concern?
Incognito missed practice again today, so it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll play. A lot has been made about the Raiders’ youthful offensive line this offseason and now with Richie out, they’ll be even younger upfront. However, they played most of last season without Trent Brown and Richie Incognito, and with an average performer in Gabe Jackson - three of the four linemen they lost this offseason - and the offense was far from the problem in 2020.
Losing Rodney Hudson is a blow, but the organization obviously believes in Andre James after already handing a three-year contract extension. Denzelle Good filled in for Incognito and Brown a year ago, and he played his way into a starting role as a guard. Second-year guard John Simpson will likely fill in for Incognito on Monday and there’s a lot of belief he can take over the role in the future, and of course, rookie Alex Leatherwood will make his debut at right tackle.
I don’t think the Raiders’ offensive line is as much of a concern as some have made it out to be, but there are definitely a lot of question marks.
2. How is quarterback Derek Carr looking? Has there been developments with his ability, or the Raiders’ offensive scheme that’s something of note?
To be honest, it’s hard for me to answer that question. Reports are the Carr has played well in training camp, but he didn’t take a snap in the preseason and I’d hope he’s tearing it up in year eight against the Raiders’ porous defense. Now that this is Carr and Gruden’s fourth season together, I’d expect them to keep expanding the scheme as that’s been the trend. The more time they spend together, the deep they dive into Gruden’s playbook.
There are also rumors of a package designed for Marcus Mariota, but again, we didn’t get to see that in the preseason since Nathan Peterman took all the snaps.
3. Where do you see the Ravens attacking this Raiders defense? Where might they find success, and what should be an area of concern?
I think the Ravens are going to try and test linebacker Cory Littleton with Mark Andrews over the middle early. Littleton was signed as a free agent to take away tight ends last year, which has been an issue for the Raiders for years, but he struggled and ended up being part of the problem. A lot of people feel that was because of former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme, so Monday Night will test that theory. If I’m Greg Roman, I’ll make Gus Bradley prove he can take my best weapon away, especially given the running back situation.
Las Vegas is also really young at safety with rookie Tre’von Moehrig and third-year player Johnathan Abram, who missed his rookie season and was terrible last season. Especially against Abram, I think Baltimore will test their discipline with some play-action, motions, misdirection and what not.
I do like how the Raiders’ run defense matches up with the Ravens’ offense, though. Obviously, Lamar Jackson is tough for any defense to stop, but the Raiders have improved their linebackers with the addition of K.J. Wright a couple of weeks ago, and Nick Kwiatkowski last offseason. And if Littleton can put it together, that’s a really solid group. Plus, Denzel Perryman will mix into the rotation too.
The defensive line is also full of good run defenders with Jonathan Hankins, Gerald McCoy, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. Ferrell will come off the bench in favor of Yannick Ngakoue, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrell gets a good amount of playing time.
4. The Raiders added K.J. Wright recently. Should we expect to see him Week 1? Why did the Raiders need him and what are you expecting from him this season, if not Week 1?
Yes, he’s going to play.
The Raiders had a couple of injuries at linebacker with Nicholas Morrow, who was the team’s best defender last year, starting the year on IR and same with a young and promising player in Javin White. When those two went down, Gruden and Mayock got aggressive in the open market for linebackers because they had a few guys in Divine Deablo and Tanner Muse who were safety converts and learning the position. So, they felt the team needed a ready-to-go starter and traded for Perryman, and had been talking to Wright for a while and finally got the deal done.
I’d expect Wright to be pretty much what he has been over the past few years, a good all-around linebacker who can help set the edge and make plays against the run as a SAM, and to help control the middle of the field in the passing game. He’s played under Bradley before and talked about how simple the scheme is, and he’s basically played in it since his rookie year, so I don’t think there will be much of a learning curve for him.
5. Give us two players (one offense, one defense), Ravens fans should be concerned about as the “X-factors” of making this game go in the Raiders’ favor?
Slot receiver Hunter Renfrow on offense and defensive end Clelin Ferrell.
With Marcus Peters going down, Baltimore will obviously be short-handed in the secondary. If Tavon Young slides to the outside to fill Peters’ role, then Renfrow could wreak havoc as he’s been one of the team’s most productive wideouts since joining the team and has become Carr’s security blanket. Even if Young stays in the slot, I like that matchup for the Raiders since he hasn’t really played in two years.
I mentioned above that Ferrell will likely come off the bench, but I think his skill set could be a good match against the Ravens. Run defense has never been his problem and as a pass rusher, he can collapse the pocket with power which could be beneficial to keeping Jackson contained. Ferrell would be my “under the radar” guy who could have a big impact in the game.