The Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders are both trying to turn things around before it is too late this season. Both of these teams have dropped their last two games, and they’ve gone from looking like AFC contenders to being close to being on the outside looking in when the postseason comes around.
Given how big this game is, we decided to catch up with Matt Holder from Silver and Black Pride to get his perspective on this matchup.
Patrick Judis: It is hard to talk about the Las Vegas Raiders right now with all the off-the-field issues that have surrounded this season. How has the team performed with all of this going on?
Matt Holder: It’s definitely been hard to talk about. The race, gender and LGBTQ issues that came with the Jon Gruden situation are always topics that are difficult to talk about, and the Henry Ruggs tragedy has been one of the toughest stories for me to cover emotionally since it involves a loss of life.
As far as how the team has performed, I think they handled the Gruden scandal well. The Raiders won the first two games without him in dominating fashion, but the Ruggs situation has been a different story. The offense hasn’t quite looked the same without him on the field and has had two of its worst outings of the season without him in the lineup.
PJ: Derek Carr has had some ups and downs so far this season. Is there anything that you’ve noticed from games where he struggles compared to games where he looks unstoppable?
MH: It’s been said about a lot of quarterbacks this season, but Carr is at his best when he takes what the defense is giving him. The perfect example of that is the Eagles game. He completed 90 percent of his passes that game by taking the short stuff and picking and choosing when he throws the deep ball and ended up going 2-2 on passes of 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage while playing one of the best games of his career.
Carr gets in trouble when he tries to play hero ball and that’s really been the case over the last few weeks without Ruggs and the offense struggling as a whole. I think part of it is he feels the need to overcompensate when the game isn’t going as well, especially now that the team is short-handed at receiver, but when he stays cerebral, he can be lethal.
PJ: One of the biggest things I’ve seen overlooked about this Raiders team is their pass rush. Can you talk a little bit about what makes it so special?
MH: I think part of it has to do with the scheme. As I’m sure you and everyone else reading are aware, Paul Guenther, the Raiders’ previous defensive coordinator, is a run-first defensive coordinator and I think that played a big factor in the defense’s inability to put pressure on the quarterback. With Gus Bradley at the helm, it’s the opposite, his scheme is predicated on getting after the quarterback with four rushers and worrying about the run is secondary.
That’s helped unlock the talent of a guy like Maxx Crosby, who Bengals fans should know well from his four-sack performance from a couple of years ago :-)! Crosby has always been a really good athlete on the edge, but the combination of more experience and system that allows him to just get off the ball and go after the quarterback rather than having to play the run first has really tapped into his potential.
Las Vegas also invested a lot in its pass rush this offseason. Yannick Nagkoue was their biggest free-agent signing, and he’s just behind Trey Hendrickson with 41 pressures on the year as the team’s No. 2 rusher. Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas were also brought in during free agency and have been able to get after the quarterback.
PJ: Who is one player you think doesn’t get enough national attention?
MH: Kolton Miller.
I don’t think he gets as much love because the Raiders offensive line as a whole stinks, but Miller has been a stud left tackle this year. He’s only allowed one sack on the year and currently has the fourth-highest PFF pass-blocking grade among tackles this year. It’s been awesome to see his growth over the years since his rookie year he led the league in sacks allowed, now it’s just a matter of getting Miller the recognition he deserves.
PJ: What is your prediction for Sunday and possible X-Factor?
MH: To be honest, I’m not confident at all in the Raiders after the last couple of games and I don’t like that the Bengals are coming off a bye week. So, I think it’ll be a high-scoring close one, but I’ll say Cincinnati 31-28.
It’s kind of funny that you ask for an X-factor because I actually write a column every week where I outline five potential X-factors. If I had to pick one though, it’d be cornerback Brandon Facyson.
I’m very afraid of Cincinnati’s passing attack with all of the weapons they have a wide receiver. Facyson is Las Vegas’ second starting corner, but he’s only in the lineup because Trayvon Mullen is injured, and Facyson wasn’t even on the team until about mid-October. He’s played well and been a quality second corner for the majority of the season, but he’s also coming off his worst game of the season against the Chiefs. I think his play, good or bad, against Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.
Thanks again to Matt Holder. If you’d like to check out more of his work and Raider coverage check out Silver and Black Pride.