The New England Patriots are still very much alive in a tight race for the AFC playoffs, but a win on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders would still be crucial: New England cannot afford to drop any more games before a challenging three-game stretch to close out the regular season.
In order to get a better understanding of who the Patriots will be up against in Week 15, we exchanged questions with Matt Holder of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Silver And Black Pride — the SB Nation community for all things Raiders.
Here is what Matt told us about the upcoming game.
1. The team seems firmly behind Josh McDaniels despite giving up several multi-score leads in the second half of games this season. Where are the bright spots on this team and how can they improve going forward?
I wouldn’t confidently say the team is firmly behind McDaniels. Owner Mark Davis is, but the players seem pretty dejected and tired of losing which can make things tense in the locker room really quickly.
There really only are three bright spots in Las Vegas this season; Josh Jacobs, Davante Adams and Maxx Crosby. While Jacobs has been phenomenal, it almost makes it more frustrating that he’s playing so well and there’s a chance this could be his last year as a Raider since McDaniels and Dave Ziegler chose not to pick up his fifth-year option. So, part of how they can improve moving forward is figuring out how to pay Jacobs about $16 million per year after handing out a few big contracts to other offensive skill players last offseason while also improving a defense that desperately needs playmakers.
Adams and Crosby have both been two of the better players at their positions and luckily, they’re under contract for a few more years. Building around them will be key moving forward.
2. Has Derek Carr taken a significant step forward now that he has a top-tier receiver in former college teammate Davante Adams? If not, where does he need to improve?
No, and at this point, Carr is who he is. He’s an above-average to good starting quarterback who you can win with but not because of. When the rest of the roster or the players around him are strong, he’ll play well and help the team have success. But when the situation isn’t perfect — or as close to it as possible — he’s not good enough to overcome the flaws on the roster like some of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league. Expecting him to climb into that category in Year 10 is really just a pipe dream.
I’ve been saying this for a while, the Raiders can do better than Carr but they can also do worse, and the fear of the latter is part of what keeps him around. In a sense, I think Carr and Kirk Cousins are pretty comparable.
3. How have teams managed to contain the dynamic ability Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs present? Is it more of a pick-your-poison situation or has a certain strategy worked for both?
Stopping Jacobs should be every defense’s primary focus this season. He’s the key to the Raiders’ offense this season and just about all of the team’s high-scoring performances can be directly tied to a big game from Jacobs. However, there have been a handful of instances where Adams has played well but it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard because the offense was too one-dimensional.
I guess in a sense, there is a little bit of a pick-your-poison situation because either Adams or Jacobs are bound to put up some numbers. But for the ultimate goal of keeping the Raiders off the scoreboard, stopping the running game has proven to be an effective way to do that.
4. Old friend Chandler Jones has cranked it up lately and the Raiders’ secondary seems like a competitive group. How has this defense found success lately and where have they been exploited?
Las Vegas’ secondary and linebackers are pretty beat up and lack talent. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has been solid but missed last week with a knee injury and hasn’t practiced yet this week, and linebacker Denzel Perryman has shown flashes but has also been hurt this season and is primarily a run defender. The defense’s top corner, Nate Hobbs, started the year hot until he went on injured reserve and hasn’t looked the same in his first two games back.
The key to the Raiders’ defense and success is the pass rush. As you mentioned, Jones has finally come alive over the last month or so, Crosby has been a beast all year and they’re starting to get more interior pressure since the arrival of defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. Tillery’s presence has also helped free up fellow DT Bilal Nichols, whose pressure numbers have also been up lately, which has helped mask some of their issues in the secondary. Long two-minute drills will help slow down their pass rush and expose their secondary, which is how Baker Mayfield found success at the end of last week’s game.
5. Our pals at DraftKings have the Patriots as 1.5-point underdogs on the road this Sunday. How can they pull off an upset in the desert?
I was honestly kind of surprised by that line, especially after what happened in Los Angeles last Thursday...
I’ve kind of outlined the Patriots’ keys to victory in my other answers, stop the run and keep Mac Jones clean to pick apart the defense. If New England can do that, especially in the first half, Las Vegas won’t have many counterpunches.
The only thing that could change is if tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow get activated before Sunday, both returned to practice this week, as that might help Carr spread the ball around. However, Waller and Renfrow were both non-factors when they were healthier earlier in the year.
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