Though the Raiders’ offense has struggled this season, one part of it could pose a challenge for the New York Jets
The narrative is pretty well set: if the New York Jets want to win another game in 2023, it will need to come via their defense.
You’d think that this would bode well for their matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders. After all, here is a synopsis of the Raiders’ offensive futility this season.
- Points scored: 27th (after having spotted 30 on the Giants in Week 9)
- Passing yards per game: 23rd
- Rushing yards per game: 31st
- Yards per pass attempt: 20th
- Yards per carry: 31st
- Total offensive DVOA: 29th
- Offensive pass DVOA: 28th
- Offensive rush DVOA: 27th
It should be a snap for this Jets defense, right?
Not so fast. Despite their lackluster numbers, the Raiders actually have one relatively strong part of their offense that could potentially buoy them against the Jets. With renewed energy under interim head coach Antonio Pierce and replacement quarterback Aidan O’Connell, they may be able to capitalize on their offensive talent that has been sorely wasted until now.
The Raiders have a good offensive line
Rarely do you see a team with a strong offensive line have its general manager, coach, and offensive coordinator fired in the middle of the season. These teams are usually competing for playoff spots. Technically, the Raiders aren’t out of a playoff spot in the AFC, although they’d need to surpass many teams to get there.
Still, no one takes Vegas seriously. Their victories this season have come against the Broncos, Packers, Patriots, and Giants. They were manhandled by the Bears 30-12 in Week 7.
Despite that, any team with a strong offensive line is dangerous. If they can protect their quarterback and open up running lanes, the opportunities for yardage and points will likely be there. With Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Josh Jacobs, and even Michael Mayer, the Raiders will always have the potential to put up big numbers if their blocking is good.
In his first start since taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo, O’Connell enjoyed some of the best pass protection a quarterback will ever see. He saw pressure on just four of his 25 dropbacks, a 16% rate that was the second-lowest of any starting quarterback in Week 9.
It’s not terribly surprising that the fifth-round pick had 8.4 yards per attempt, the seventh-highest mark. He was able to spread the ball around, completing a pass to eight different receivers despite hitting none more than four times.
All five of the Raiders’ offensive linemen have pressure rates that are better than average. In fact, four of them are in the top 10 at their positions. The only one who isn’t is right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, who ranks 26th out of 69 tackles.
In total, Raiders quarterbacks have been pressured on just 25% of their dropbacks. That would rank as the second-lowest rate among starting quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus ranks the Raiders’ offensive line as the fifth-best pass-blocking unit in football; while I have my doubts about PFF’s grading, in this case, the numbers match the grade.
Based on the Raiders’ rushing totals, you’d think that their run-blocking is subpar. After all, Josh Jacobs has just 3.2 yards per carry this season, tied for the third-worst rate among 46 running backs with at least 50 carries.
Surprisingly, all five Raiders offensive linemen are also above average in PFF run-blocking grades for their positions. PFF ranks them as the 12th-best run-blocking unit. That likely falls into the category of my suspicion about PFF in general.
Still, the Jets’ run defense has had some issues this season, although they’ve held D’Andre Swift, Saquon Barkley, and Austin Ekeler under 4.0 yards per carry in their last three games. The Raiders will likely seek to run the ball and take pressure off their young quarterback, so the Jets need to be prepared.
How the Jets can respond
The weakest link in the Raiders’ pass-blocking is Eluemunor, while the strongest link is left tackle Kolton Miller. The Jets could approach this in a few ways:
- Line up Bryce Huff against Eluemunor to give an added advantage to their best pass rusher.
- Line up Jermaine Johnson there on passing downs to give Johnson an easier matchup while trusting Huff to win the tougher matchup vs. Miller.
- Switch the two players around, as they’ve done often this season.
The Jets will most likely go with the final approach. With John Franklin-Myers playing on the left edge on many running downs, Johnson can occupy the other side. On passing downs, depending on the specific call, they’ll move both Johnson and Huff around while sliding Franklin-Myers inside.
The bigger key is to let their best pass rushers get more snaps. Micheal Clemons is getting 37% of the defensive snaps, which is actually higher than the 29% he received in 2022. However, he has a 6.7% pressure rate and a 3.9% run stop rate, down from 9.0% and 8.1%, respectively. He’s basically been a waste of space this season (which is possibly related to his weight gain during the offseason).
Why should Clemons be getting 37% of the snaps? He’s not bringing any impact in the run or passing games. If the Jets want to use him in their rotation, fine, but why not give at least 10% of those snaps to Huff and Will McDonald? Huff’s run defense has been similar to Clemons’ (58.8 PFF grade vs. 62.8), while his pass rush is at the top of the NFL. McDonald hasn’t done much this season, but he’s also barely played (16% of snaps), and he has far more upside than Clemons.
The elephant in the room
The Raiders’ offensive line includes one familiar face for the Jets. Their starting right guard is none other than Greg Van Roten, a name that shall live forever in infamy.
Van Roten’s statistics are excellent this season. His 3.27% pressure rate allowed is the 10th-best among guards, and his PFF run-blocking grade is 13th. That seems hard to believe for a player who allowed a 7.81% pressure rate with the Jets in 2021.
The Jets should put that to the test, though: is Van Roten really as improved as PFF seems to think? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but I’m suspicious.
From a glance at a few games of film, it appears Van Roten has been doing a better job in pass protection, while his performance in the run game is up and down. That’s consistent with what I would expect from a run game that has struggled to get going: offensive linemen who just can’t put it all together in sync.
From a pass protection angle, Van Roten played well in the games that I watched. Still, I noticed that he rarely had to pick up well-designed stunts. There were some that he stymied immediately, but that was often because the defenders did not time their movements properly.
Van Roten’s worst game of the season came against the Bears. In that contest, he struggled on two stunt pickups, leading to pressure on the quarterback. Here are some reps of his against stunts; you can see the difference in the movement that made it easier or harder for Van Roten to pass off the stunt.
Van Roten plays right guard and wears No. 70 for the Raiders.
The Jets are generally pretty good at designing stunts. They should try them on the left side of the defensive line, especially on third down with Johnson and Franklin-Myers.
Here are other creative ways the Jets can use Johnson against Van Roten, just as they did against the Chargers. Johnson’s 34-inch arms give him an instant advantage against Van Roten, whose arms are 32 5/8 inches.
The pressure is on the Jets’ defense
As in 2022, there is almost no margin for error for the Jets’ defense. They need to will this team to victory, not just by minimizing points allowed but also by scoring points themselves as much as possible. That’s a tall task to put upon any defense, no matter how dominant.
The stage is set for an interesting battle between the Jets’ defensive line and the Raiders’ offensive line. That may not be the only factor to decide the outcome of the game, but it will likely be one of the leading narratives.
Next Article: NY Jets’ time for a QB switch has come — but which one?
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