The Los Angeles Rams have lost six-straight games and hope to avoid dropping a seventh as the Las Vegas Raiders roll into town. Injuries have piled up for the Rams all year long and that has contributed to their first losing season since 2016. LA hasn’t won a game since mid-October when they defeated the Panthers before heading into their bye week.
While LA’s playoff chances are gone, the Raiders’ hopes are still alive as they attempt to run their winning streak to four. To gain more insight into L.A.’s opposition on this short week, I spoke to Matt Holder from SB Nation’s Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride.
Q - The Raiders started the season 2-7 and were seen as massive disappointments following their unexpected playoff run in 2021. Since the dismal start, LV has won three-straight and are making another postseason push. How have the Raiders rebounded from their poor start?
A - Honestly, the best way I can sum it up is it’s just been one of those very weird seasons in Las Vegas. Probably the best example of that is they’ve managed to go on their run without two of their best offensive players from the past couple of seasons, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller.
After the Raiders lost to the Jeff Saturday-led Colts in Saturday’s first game, Derek Carr got emotional during his post-game press conference and basically called out the team for not putting forth enough effort in practices and buying in. I got a chance to talk to Waller last week and he told me that there was a discernible difference in the team’s mentality as a whole since then, and they’ve won every game after that teary-eyed presser. By the way, Waller also told me he’s hoping to return this Thursday.
On the field, the Raiders’ success offensively has been directly tied to Josh Jacobs’ production. When they feature Jacobs in the offense, they can be hard to stop because as soon as teams start bringing an extra safety in the box, Carr is going to take shots with Davante Adams in one-on-one coverage all day. The downside of that though is the Raiders need to be playing from ahead or can’t fall too far into a hole in the first half to where the flow of the game will force them to get away from the running game. They got off to some terrible starts at the beginning of the season and that’s why Jacobs’ numbers weren’t as impressive.
The Raiders have also done a much better job of playing complementary football during the win streak too, which has been another big difference from a few months ago.
Q - During that miserable opening stretch, Josh McDaniels was squarely on the hot seat and the fanbase was calling for his job. Now that his seat has cooled, what differences have you seen in McDaniels’ coaching in the first nine games compared to the last three?
A - The fanbase was calling for McDaniels’ job at 2-7 but owner Mark Davis never wavered. On several occasions, Davis publically backed McDaniels and even said the coach was doing a “fantastic job” (direct quote) when the team was five games below .500. To the owner’s credit, his patience is certainly paying off over the last three weeks.
I think the biggest difference in McDaniels is tied to your last question. Far too often in the first few games of the season, he was getting away from the running game early and that took the ball out of their best player’s hands. And yes, Jacobs is the Raiders’ best offensive player right now, including Adams.
It feels like McDaniels has changed his approach to keep the running game as an option in the second half by making sure the scoreboard is at least within one possession at halftime. Then, he’s stuck with it even when they’ve been down and that’s helped the offense be more efficient and eventually take the lead. Also, and I don’t have hard numbers for this, but I feel like he’s been taking more risks lately by getting creative with his play-calling and going for it more often. Playing with nothing to lose might have helped with the latter.
Q - Of all the years Josh Jacobs decided to go on a tear, it had to come after I quit drafting him in fantasy. Jacobs has been incredible, having a total of five games with 150+ yards and a touchdown. Vegas declined his fifth year option but they might decide to re-sign him once the year’s over. What has changed in his play compared to previous years and what are the odds of the Raiders giving him an extension in the offseason?
A - The Raiders giving Jacobs a new contract is currently one of the hottest topics of debate within the fanbase and will be until March. He’s earned a new deal that’s worth top dollar for the position, but with Carr, Adams, Waller and Renfrow also under big contracts, it’s going to be hard to justify spending $15-plus million on another offensive skill player, let alone one that plays the least-valuable position on the field. Plus, the defense needs playmakers outside of Maxx Crosby and the offensive line could still use some work, so I’d say the odds are Jacobs plays somewhere else, barring some sort of cap wizardry by general manager Dave Ziegler.
As far as what’s changed in Jacobs’ play this year compared to previous seasons, honestly, not much. He’s always been one of the most elusive backs in the league and can make something out of nothing, he’s just finally been able to stay healthy (knock on wood). Granted, Jacobs has been questionable with a calf injury for the last two games and still managed to put up 453 total yards. So, I’d say the difference in him this season is he’s gotten better at what he was already good at, has stayed relatively healthy and is getting featured more in the offense, especially as a receiver.
Q - The Raiders’ defense has been troublesome all year long yet on Sunday, they held the Chargers to a single touchdown while sacking Justin Herbert five times. Despite the win, they’re still one of the worst defenses in football. What is the unit’s biggest weakness and how could the Rams best exploit it?
A - Well, I have bad news for you. As you pointed out, the Raiders sacked Justin Herbert five times and that was because their defensive line has come on lately and they were able to take advantage of a shaky Chargers offensive line that has been dismantled by injuries, sound familiar?
Maxx Crosby has been having [another] monster season and has been great all year long. But Chandler Jones has finally started to break through, highlighted by three sacks last week after managing just a half in the first 11 games of the season. Vegas has also gotten a boost in pass rush production from their defensive tackles ever since Jerry Tillery was claimed off of waivers.
With Nate Hobbs back in the fold, the Raiders’ secondary will also get a boost so I think the Rams need to try and exploit the Raiders’ linebackers, especially in coverage. Outside of Denzel Perryman, they’re pretty weak on the second level and if Sean McVay can dial up some passes for running backs and tight ends in the passing game, that might be the best and most efficient way for the Rams’ to move the ball.
Q - According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Raiders are six-point favorites with an O/U of 43. What is your prediction for Thursday’s game and how do the Raiders run their winning streak to four?
A - I like Las Vegas to win and extend the streak, but six points seem like a lot for a team that has played in nine one-possession games this season. So, I’ll take Los Angeles with the points and the under. I don’t even know who is starting at quarterback for the Rams and I think the Raiders will just try to get a big lead and sit on the ball to get out of a short week with a victory, meaning I don’t anticipate a ton of scoring.
The silver lining for Rams fans here is I’m absolutely terrible at predicting Raiders games this season — I think I’ve only gotten two right, win or lose, that’s how crazy this season has been — so this is probably a good sign the Rams come out and dominate, lol.