Canton, OH – The wait is finally over. After a sixth-month Hiatus, NFL football has returned.. Or at least the preseason has. On Thursday, the Las Vegas Raiders opened up the 2022 NFL [pre]season with a contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Canton, Ohio.
Here, we saw the first-overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft get a sack, Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacob run through tacklers, and two quarterbacks giving it their all on the turf.
Football is back, baby.
The Raiders got the ball on the opening drive, wasting no time to get into the Red Zone. Unfortunately for Las Vegas, this drive stalled, and the field goal unit came out. 3-0, Raiders.
Jacksonville’s first possession was miserable, as Las Vegas’ defense forced a three-and-out. The Raiders got the ball back and were able to march deep into Jacksonville territory. Suddenly, just like the first time their offense touched the ball, all momentum stopped and the team once again settled for 3.
Las Vegas would go on to score 3 touchdowns, all on the ground; One by Ameer Abdullah, another by Jarrett Stidham, and the final coming from Austin Walker. On the other side, the Jaguars scored a touchdown of their own from the hand of Kyle Sloter.
For the Raiders, there was a lot to take away from this 27-11 victory, and we’re going to cover the biggest three.
3 Biggest Takeaways From The Las Vegas Raiders’ Preseason Opener
3. Jarrett Stidham is much better than his numbers indicate
Stidham absolutely played better than his 8-for-15, 96-yard performance may suggest, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
The former Patriot has thrown 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions throughout his career, completing only 50% of his passes with a quarterback rating of 46.6. You don’t have to be a diehard fan to know these numbers are, to be blunt, pretty terrible. On Thursday night, Stidham showed us he’s much better than a player with these numbers.
It’s almost impossible to find a play where Stidham didn’t make the right move, even with pressure in his face majority of the time. The 25-year-old was outstanding, and showed why Josh McDaniels gave up a draft pick to bring him to Las Vegas.
The Jaguars rested 21 players on Thursday, but only six were on the defense. Of those six, only four are projected to start. Bottom line – Stidham went up against an NFL defense, that included the first-overall pick from the 2022 NFL Draft.
Stidham is well on his way to earning the QB2 job in Las Vegas, and while Raider Nation hopes no.4 doesn’t miss any snaps, it’s always good to know the team will be in good hands should the unexpected happen.
It’ll be interesting to see if Stidham can build on this performance, but the Auburn alum showed off his potential nonetheless.
2. Defensive scheme versatility
The Raiders changed their defensive sets frequently, and boy was it refreshing.
In 2021, no team ran the same defensive set more than the Raiders under Gus Bradley. During weeks 1 and 7, the team was a play or two away from exclusively running the same set the entire way.
Las Vegas ran more cover 3 zone than any team in 2021, and ran it the same way all season long. Not only was their defensive set predictable, but so was what they were going to do. In addition to running more of the same defensive set than any other team, they also blitzed less than any team, sending pressure only 12.1% of the time.
To put this number into perspective, the next lowest blitz rate was over 4% more.
On one hand, it’s easy to be annoyed at the lack of versatility in your defensive calling. On the other, why change it?
Despite blitzing less than any other team – And by a significant amount – the Raiders recorded the third-most quarterback hits league-wide, hitting opposing quarterbacks on 114 occasions. Per Pro Football Focus, Maxx Crosby led the NFL in pressures, and Yannick Ngakoue logged double-digit sacks.
Maxx Crosby: 101 QB pressures this season
1st among all defenders ☠️ pic.twitter.com/CZsjyb0zaJ
— PFF (@PFF) January 14, 2022
On the coverage side, nickelback Nate Hobbs seemed unbeatable. Not only was Hobbs the highest graded ’21 fifth-round pick, and not only did he post the lowest total yardage in man coverage among rookie corners, but the former Illinois defensive back was the highest-graded cornerback when lined up in the slot.
While this scheme made the most sense for the ’21 Raiders, it’s still refreshing to see Las Vegas change it up here and there. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has spent the offseason preaching versatility, and Raider Nation got to see it first hand on Thursday.
1. Offensive line struggles(?)
Is it really fair to say the Raiders have offensive line problems? Yes, the team gave up 5 sacks against Jacksonville, and yes Nick Mullens and Jarrett Stidham were constantly under pressure. However, a large portion of this came from Brandon Parker, who played left tackle as veteran Kolton Miller sat out.
The reason I question if this is an offensive line problem or not is Brandon Parker won’t be a starter on the line in ’22, unless he beats out Alex Leatherwood for right tackle. After Thursday, the chances of that happening are slim to none, albeit there’s plenty of time left.
The interior of the line played well, particularly the starting three, who surrendered a combined 0 pressures. Leatherwood had an alright showing himself, although there’s still clear room to improve.
In saying all of this, the truth is only the right tackle position is a question mark. Kolton Miller, who received a grade of 84.0 in ’21 will be fine. The [starting] interior all took care of business of well.
While he’s falling behind, Brandon Parker is still in the race for the right tackle job, and that’s worrisome in itself. For now though, despite giving up 5 sacks, there isn’t too much evidence that the starting offensive line will struggle in 2022.