It seems that every year, the Raiders struggle in the games that would potentially catapult them into the playoffs. The way this season is heading, it will be exceptionally hard to predict what is going to happen. The possible lack of/reduction of fans in stadiums means that more than ever it will be the match up on the field that matters. This article will break down the Las Vegas Raiders toughest games in 2020 and how they can win them.
Las Vegas Raiders vs New Orleans Saints (Week 2)
The Raiders first game in Las Vegas is a difficult one against Super Bowl contenders the New Orleans Saints. The Saints had an impressive 2019 season, finishing 13-3 on the year. They went on to lose against the Vikings and for a third straight season crashed out of the playoffs.
The Saints will be looking to improve on this in the 2020 season, and have had a solid offseason. They spent the offseason improving around an ageing Drew Brees, who signed a new two-year contract worth $50 million in March. They signed veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to give Brees some extra help in the passing game, while spending a first round pick on Michigan centre/guard Cezar Ruiz.
New Orleans have one of the strongest depth charts in the NFL, and finding a weakness will be hard. They have elite talent all over the field, and this will be a great test for Paul Guenther’s defense.
Michael Thomas is arguably the best wide receiver in the league and has hands like glue. Along with this, former Raider Jared Cook and versatile “quarterback” Taysom Hill give Sean Payton many options to exploit an oppositions defense.
Alvin Kamara had a reduction in performance last season as he went from an elite overall PFF grade of 89.2 in 2018 to just 70.0 in 2019. However, he still has the elite talent to change a game in one play. Drew Brees throws a lot more short completions than he used to, getting the ball out quicker to compensate for his declining physical skills. His longest completed throw last season was just 42.8 yards, the shortest in the NFL. This means the Raiders new linebacker core will have a lot of work to do in pass coverage against the elite talents of Kamara and the Saints tight ends.
The Saints defense will be difficult to break down. One thing that may offer up some opportunities is to target the ageing safety Malcom Jenkins. He has been a great player for a long time, but in the last season his production dropped. In 2018, he had an elite PFF rating of 79.2 which dropped to 67.2 in 2019. The Saints new signing will have his work cut out for him especially with a shortened offseason and the Raiders should take advantage of this.
The Raiders must keep up with the firepower the Saints offer. With new offensive weapons to play with, the Raiders have a much better chance to win this game than in 2019. The key to success may be attacking the middle of the field deep and often to put strain on the slower secondary starters with the speed of the rookies and the middle of the field dominance of Darren Waller.
Las Vegas Raiders vs Buffalo Bills (Week 4)
The Bills have done a great job at building a team to compete over the last couple of seasons. After taking over in 2017, Sean McDermmot has spent his time in Buffalo building an elite defense that’s difficult to break down.
In 2019, the Bills ranked third in the NFL in total defense, yards and points allowed per game. Strangely, the Bills did this without a single all-pro player or a top 10 ranking in sacks and PFF’s coverage grade. They play as a well oiled unit, which is where the difficulty in breaking them down comes in.
The Bills spent a second round pick in 2020 on relentless edge rusher A.J. Espensa out of Iowa. He will add some pass rushing ability to an already strong Bills defensive line. The Raiders offensive line is going to be tested in this game, and protecting Derek Carr is essential.
Josh Jacobs may have a difficult task ahead of him against the Bills linebackers, but this game may revolve around the running backs. Paired with Richard and Bowden Jr, the Raiders have the players to break down the Bills in the running game. The Bills allowed 103.5 rushing yards per game in 2019 and this can be exploited as one of the only cracks in an otherwise sturdy defense.
Keeping Diggs quiet
If the Raiders are to win this one, they need to keep the new additions on the Bills team quiet. In March, the Bills traded their 2020 first pick for Stefon Diggs, an elite wide receiver from the Vikings.
This was their biggest need going into 2020 and the strong arm of Josh Allen should give Diggs many opportunities. Raiders new safety Damarious Randall will have to be on the top of his game to keep Diggs quiet.
This will be a tough game to grind out, but if LV can keep the ball and limit the Bills offensive opportunities then the Raiders could take the win.
Kansas City Chiefs vs Las Vegas Raiders (Week 5 & Week 11)
The Chiefs topped off a formidable offense by drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a versatile running back out of LSU, in the first round of the 2020 draft. They have incredible speed and having Mahomes behind centre to utilise this is nearly impossible to defend.
The Chiefs have the ability to change the game in a single play, and regularly put up huge points – FAST.
To win the game, the Raiders will have to take advantage of the Chiefs starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opting out of the 2020 season. They can do this by bringing consistent pressure up the middle of the line and forcing Mahomes out of the pocket into positions where it’s more difficult to make the throw (assuming Mahomes HAS a spot where he finds it difficult).
Do the Chiefs actually have a weak defense?
Kansas City often get chastised for having a weak defense. However, they improved greatly over the season. Between weeks 11-17 of the 2019 season, the Chiefs ranked first in the NFL in points allowed per game at 11.5. They have a strong coverage unit and paired with some decent pass rush, they can be difficult to break down.
The way to come out with a win here is what the Raiders offense is built around. Derek Carr will need to throw short passes and rely on the receivers to do the work. This tactic, coupled with Josh Jacobs getting 20+ touches and pounding the ball at the KC LB’s to keep them honest will keep the Raiders in this game.
If everything goes to plan, beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead this season becomes a distinct possibility for Derek Carr. Usually, this would be a case of the fixture at KC being tougher than the one at the Allegiant stadium. However, with the stadiums likely set at most 20% capacity and the Chiefs infamous “home field advantage” gone, the Raiders have never been in a better position to grab a win at the home of the Chiefs.
Las Vegas Raiders vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 7)
PFF ranked the Bucs as the best wide receiving core in the league. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both elite receivers, the crowded but talented TE room and the promising young running back corps provide Tom Brady with weapons he hasn’t had for a decade. To pair with this, the Bucs have their own answer to Rodney Hudson in the form of Ryan Jensen. Jensen is an elite centre and it will be difficult to break down the Bucs offensive line because of him.
Young and dangerous
After a shaky start to 2019, the Buccaneers defense had a very strong finish to the season. They were ranked by Football Outsiders as a top five defense in 2019.
Their run defense is elite, allowing just 73.8 yards per game – the lowest in the NFL in six seasons. However, the Raiders signed former Buccaneer Karl Nassib this offseason which leaves a surprisingly big hole in their defensive core to exploit.
The Raiders will need to capitalise on the Bucs coverage weaknesses. The young secondary in Tampa allowed 270.1 yards per game to opposing receivers last season. Besides drafting saftey Antione Winfield Jr out of Minnesota in the 2020, they didn’t address this need and are trusting their young bucks (sorry) to step up.
This means that to win this game, the Raiders should scheme the game around Carr and his passing ability. Gruden will be itching to unleash his new weapons and this seems like the perfect opportunity. Relying on the run game could be a mistake against the elite front seven in Tampa and Jacobs could have a quiet game.
The Raiders have some difficult games in 2020, which may only be made more difficult with the current pandemic. The fans in the Black Hole are infamous, and provide an atmosphere that is difficult to replicate. Crowdless games may make a greater impact of the Raiders than most.
Therefore they will need to rely on some good coaching to get the best out of the players and combat the difficulties laid out above. The rookie class should contribute immediately, with Ruggs, Bowden and Edwards opening up a reserved passing game.
Compared with the last couple of seasons, it’s looking extremely positive for the silver and black. Even if they can’t win these games, it will be exciting to see them compete for a change. Bring on 2020.
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