We are officially back into the swing of things as we wait for our Minnesota Vikings to take the field again after their bye week. As we always do, it’s time to talk to the folks who run the SB Nation site of the Vikings’ opponent for the week in the hopes of gaining a little more insight into their side of the action.
This week, yours truly got to exchange some questions with Matt Holder of Silver and Black Pride, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Las Vegas Raiders. You can see the answers to the questions Matt sent over to me right here, and below are the answers that Matt provided to the questions I sent over to him.
1) The Josh McDaniels era in Las Vegas lasted about a season and a half before the Raiders decided to move on and put Antonio Pierce in charge. Do you think Pierce has a shot at keeping the job long-term or will the Raiders go another direction this offseason?
Pierce has a shot to earn the full-time job as he’s done a great job of motivating and getting buy-in from the players. He has the respect of the locker room, which McDaniels didn’t, and has done a good job of getting the team ready to play. I also think the decision not to hire Rich Bisaccia and hire McDaniels after Bisaccia’s tenure as interim head coach a couple of years ago will weigh on Mark Davis’ mind and Davis won’t want to make the same mistake twice.
However, Pierce’s inexperience has shown up over the last two games, hurting the team with questionable clock management and fourth-down decisions. Now that the honeymoon is over, the Raiders have lost back-to-back games and their two wins with Pierce have come against two bad New York teams. So, I think he has to win more and the team has to finish around the eight- to nine-win mark for him to be retained.
2) Speaking of changes, this season the Raiders had Jimmy Garoppolo behind center to start with but have since handed the reigns to rookie Aidan “No relation to Kevin” O’Connell. How has the offense changed with O’Connell at the controls and is it better or worse than it was with Handsome Jimmy?
The offense was a complete disaster with Garoppolo. Defenses didn’t respect his arm and stacked the box, so it was difficult to run the ball. On top of that, he was leading the NFL in interceptions with poor decisions. In other words, they couldn’t push the ball down the field and were still turning it over, which is a rare and terrible combination.
O’Connell hasn’t been bombing the ball down the field or anything like that, but he has been much more accurate on the short to intermediate throws than Garoppolo was to keep the offense on schedule. Then, when O’Connell is at his best, he’ll catch the defense sleeping with a nice deep pass to create an explosive play. It’s also no coincidence that Josh Jacobs’ three most productive games this season have all come with the rookie at the helm as defenses now have to respect Las Vegas’ passing game more than they did at the beginning of the season.
3) This week, the Vikings will once again have the services of star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who hasn’t played since his hamstring injury back in Week 5. Do the Raiders have a particular cornerback that you think will shadow Jefferson defensively or will they employ a different strategy to try to slow him down?
That’s a good question because the Raiders cut Marcus Peters during the bye week and Peters had been their No. 1 corner all year. That’s a loose term though as the position is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses right now, and his effort—or lack thereof—was a major issue all year.
Las Vegas recently claimed Jack Jones off of waivers after he was let go by the Patriots. He hasn’t played much in the two games he’s been on the Raiders’ roster but did fill in for Peters after the latter was benched two weeks ago. Ideally, Jones steps up and at least shows promise to be a starter moving forward.
The Raiders other starting outside corner is Amik Robertson, who has been a career backup but got elevated to the starting lineup after rookie Jakorian Bennett struggled to begin the year. Robertson is exactly what you’d expect from a second-stringer, he’ll make a few nice plays now and again but is also susceptible to getting beat.
The other option is Nate Hobbs who normally covers the slot but has been used outside more lately since the team is so thin at cornerback. Hobbs is a good nickel because he’s physical, but he typically struggles to cover deep routes.
Honestly, I don’t have much confidence that the Raiders will be able to slow down Jefferson or the Vikings’ passing game, especially now that Jordan Addison has emerged as a threat. The only reason for optimism in Las Vegas is Minnesota’s shaky quarterback situation, but Jefferson and Addison should be able to get open if someone can get the ball to them.
4) Give us one player on each side of the ball for the Raiders that you think will play a role in their success on Sunday.
Maxx Crosby is the easy choice defensively. He’s been a wrecking ball this season and is by far the team’s best player. I know the Vikings have a couple of good offensive tackles but Crosby has been excellent all season even when he goes against top competition. The only thing that has slowed him down is a knee injury that limited his effectiveness in the Raiders’ last game, so that will be something to monitor. But if he’s healthy, he’s someone who commands double teams every play.
Offensively, I’ll go with Josh Jacobs. Ideally, the offense runs through him and, as mentioned above, he’s starting to look like the same guy who was the rushing champ a year ago. I know Minnesota’s run defense has been good this season, so it’ll be fun to see who gives in first.
5) The folks over at the DraftKings Sportsbook have set the over/under for this one at a not-terribly-robust 40.5 points. Do you see this one as a low-scoring affair or do you think at least one of these offenses will break out on Sunday?
I’d lean toward low-scoring. Even with O’Connell at quarterback, Las Vegas’ offense has struggled to put up more than 20 points per game this year, and Minnesota’s instability at quarterback should keep the scoring pretty minimal. If you’re going to bet on the total in this game, the under is the way to go.
In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t put the “under the radar” stipulation into Question #4 like I do most weeks, and that was my mistake. I didn’t want to make Matt go back and re-answer the question, so that’s why that one looks a little different than it does most weeks.
Thanks to Matt for answering our questions for this week!