Ballers & Busters for Raiders Wild Card Playoff vs Bengals

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·15 min read
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For just the second time in the history of Ballers & Busters, I was able to put the word “playoff” in the title. But unlike the other time, the word signaled the Raiders played up to the level of a playoff team. Not being forced to give a rookie QB his first-ever start helped with that.

In what proved to be easily the most competitive game of the Wild Card weekend, the Raiders and Bengals spent a good portion of this game one score away from each other.

That’s the positive news. The glass-half-empty look is the Bengals took the lead on their first drive of the game and never let go of it.

The Raiders’ biggest problem was that they would go on a long drive only to stall in the red zone. In five trips into the red zone, they came away with just one touchdown. And unlike their win in the season finale, they went away from Josh Jacobs entirely in the fourth quarter in an attempt to quickly score twice. But appropriately enough, it was two more failed trips to the red zone that did them in.

Ballers

CB Nate Hobbs

The standout rookie showed up big time on the biggest stage for this team. He made the first tackle of the day as the gunner on special teams. The Bengals would drive for a TD on their first drive, but none of the catches given up were by him.

After a Derek Carr fumble gave the Bengals the ball at the Vegas 15-yard-line, the defense stiffened with Hobbs in tight coverage on third down to force Burrow to throw the ball away. It limited the damage on the turnover to a field goal which was a big win in the early going.

Early in the second quarter, Hobbs once again showed his gunner prowess, making the stop on the return at the 18-yard-line. He then made the second tackle of the possession on a four-yard run that was stopped short of the marker to bring up third and one.

The Bengals converted, but a few plays later they were again in third-and-one. This time Burrow tried Hobbs and he knocked the pass down to force them to go for it on fourth down. They would convert and finish it off for a TD, but Hobbs did his part to not make it easy.

The Bengals got the ball to start the third quarter and were moving into scoring range again. They were lined up at the 34 on first down and Hobbs had tight coverage to force an incompletion and two plays later, on third and 15, he made the tackle short of the sticks to force another field goal.

The biggest possession of the game for this defense came with 3:34 left. They needed a quick stop in order to have any chance to win it. Down seven, with no timeouts, even one first down would mean an almost certain end to their hopes. Two run stops brought up third and 11. Burrow completed the pass to his tight end and Hobbs teamed up with KJ Wright to make the stop short of the first down to keep the Raiders’ hopes alive.

RB Josh Jacobs

I mentioned in the opening that the Raiders went away from the ground game entirely in the fourth quarter. They were down ten and switched to the pass to move the ball quickly. Much the same way Justin Herbert led two touchdown drives to send the season finale to overtime.

That game plan was a real shame because Jacobs was really starting to pick up steam, just as he did in overtime of that Chargers game.

Early in the second quarter, Jacobs broke off his longest run of the season, streaking 35 yards to put the Raiders at the Bengals’ 12-yard-line. His efforts were somewhat squandered with consecutive incompletions leading to a field goal.

Late in the third quarter, Jacobs started picking up yards in chunks. On four consecutive players, he ran for eight, seven, five, and seven yards. The drive would end up in first and goal from the nine-yard line.

On second down, they ran it up the middle and for a moment it looked like the Raiders would be lining up in third and goal from the one, but Jacobs’s run was courtesy of a John Simpson hold and two plays later the Raiders again lined up for a field goal.

To play what-if for a second, had that Jacobs run counted, the Raiders may have stuck with him on third and goal from the one and may have scored. If that had happened, it would have been a 23-20 game instead of 23-16.

And, again, if all other things were the same, the Bengals add a field goal to make it 26-20. In a six-point game, the Raiders may not have gone away from the run as they did. Not that they had a legit excuse to completely shut down the run game, but that’s the decision they made.

Even still, Jacobs became a weapon in the passing game. He caught a pass for 13 yards on the first drive for a field goal and a 15-yarder to lead out the final drive.

Despite only getting 13 carries in the game, he ran for 83 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and put up 127 total yards on 17 touches.

DE Maxx Crosby

Midway through the third quarter, the Bengals had yet to punt in the game. They had scored on every one of their drives with two touchdowns and three field goals. That streak ended when on third and 12, Crosby came up the middle on a stunt and flew in to wrap up Burrow for the sack.

The Raiders’ final defensive stand to maintain a shot at driving for the tie was led by Crosby. He teamed up with Carl Nassib to stop the run for a loss of two on first down. Then on the sweep to Jamarr Chase on second down, he stayed with it to make the stop for one yard to bring up third-and-11. The Bengals couldn’t convert and the Raiders offense got the ball with 1:51 to work with.

TE Darren Waller

Welcome Waller back among the Ballers. In just his second game back after missing five weeks to injury and COVID, Waller looked much more in sync with the offense. The false start that helped stall the first drive notwithstanding. Waller also had a seven-yard catch on third and three to keep that drive alive, so there’s that.

The Raiders’ first touchdown of the game came in the final seconds of the second quarter. On third and six from the 25-yard-line, Carr found Waller for an 11-yard completion. Two plays later, Carr and Zay Jones hooked up for the score to make for a more manageable 20-13 halftime deficit.

Down ten with 6:41 left in the game, the Raiders needed to score quickly. A touchdown would have been preferable, but a field goal was vital. The first big play was a 13-yard completion to Waller. The drive would reach the ten-yard line. And on third and three, Waller broke open out right, Carr saw him and threw it only to have the pass be a bit too low and bounce off Sam Hubbard’s helmet. Big missed opportunity on what looked like a sure first down and a possible score.

With one more shot to score, the Raiders started moving. They got a big assist from a terrible roughing the pass penalty on the Bengals that added 15 yards to a 15-yard Jacobs catch and run. A sack on Carr threatened to spoil the gift, but on third and 17, Carr threw an absolute laser through a defender and Waller made the seemingly improbable catch with the defender blocking his view for 23 yards. That set the Raiders up at the 19-yard-line.

From there, unfortunately, Waller was not targeted again and the Raiders were unable to finish off the drive.

K Daniel Carlson

The Raiders scored 19 points with 13 of them off of Carlson’s leg. He nailed all four of his field goals, including a 47-yarder. He did this in the season finale, but that was at home in a dome. This was on the road in a cold outdoor stadium. Same result. Money.

DT Quinton Jefferson

With a second straight Raiders possession ended in a sack that had AJ Cole punt out of the back of their own end zone, the Bengals would once again take over inside Vegas territory. Once again the defense stiffened and on third and goal from the four-yard-line, Jefferson sacked Burrow to force them to settle for another field goal.

LB Denzel Perryman

Perryman joked in his season-ending press conference about how everyone gives him crap about his coverage abilities. But he was actually pretty great in his coverage duties in this game. In the first play of the game, he put a hit on Bengals star receiver Jamarr Chase to knock the ball out incomplete. Later in the drive, he had a run stop too, which is what he is more known for.

The longest catch of the day Perryman gave up went for seven yards. He also made a stop on a five-yard Chase catch. Again, no small thing for Perryman to be making stops on a wide receiver the caliber of Chase.

Early in the fourth quarter, when a Bengals TD would have basically killed the Raiders’ hopes, he made a run stop short of the sticks to bring up third and one. And then had containment on the outside to keep Joe Mixon from getting the edge and he was stuffed for no gain by Johnathan Hankins. The Bengals would settle for a field goal.

And speaking of things Perryman is known for, he also led the Raiders in tackles (9) and solo tackles (6).

Honorable Mention

CB Casey Hayward — Had tight coverage on several incompletions as well as a pass breakup. And had the presence of mind to call a timeout when the Raiders had 12 men on the field.

LB Divine Deablo — Finished second on the team in tackles despite not playing the second half due to a concussion.

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Busters

RT Brandon Parker, RG Alex Leatherwood, C Andre James, LG John Simpson, OLC Tom Cable

Once again, this young offensive line made life difficult for Derek Carr and the offense. I don’t normally put position coaches in the Ballers & Busters, but Cable is the one who blew up this once-dominant unit, thinking he was such a mastermind that he could spin silk from hog bristle.

False starts had already disrupted the Raiders’ first two drives. The third drive Parker made it three for three. This after giving up a run stuff on the first drive. Then on third and four from their own seven-yard-line, Andre James gave up the sack on Carr, who was just barely able to stay out of the end zone or it would have been a safety.

In the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Alex Leatherwood gave up a run stuff for a loss. The possession ended in a punt.

The next drive saw Andre James join the list of Raiders offensive linemen with a penalty when he was flagged for holding on a run play. The only guy not yet penalized was John Simpson. Later in that drive, he would rectify that.

On second and goal from the nine, Simpson held his man on a Jacobs run. I’ve seen people say it was ticky-tack, but it really wasn’t. It backed the Raiders up to the 19 and they settled for a field goal.

The Raiders’ final scoring drive looked like it started with a 19-yard screen pass to Josh Jacobs but it was wiped off the board due to Leatherwood being flagged for being illegally downfield.

The final drive got a big boost with a 30-yard play on a 15-yard dump pass plus a roughing the passer penalty. But two plays later Leatherwood and Parker didn’t properly switch off on a stunt and Carr was sacked to bring up third and 17.

Sometimes the Raiders were able to overcome the penalties and mistakes by this bunch, sometimes they weren’t. But they always seemed to make everything a little harder than it had to be.

S Tre’von Moehrig

Whether you want to fault Moehrig or not, he was the one in coverage on both of the Bengals’ touchdown passes in this game.

The first TD pass went to tight end CJ Uzomah and Moehrig were right there. He swiped down as the ball arrived, but it was too late. The ball was caught for the score.

The second TD was the most controversial play of this game. Joe Burrow ran out right toward the sideline and as he was jumping out, he threw for Tyler Boyd in the back of the end zone. The whistle blew just before the ball arrived. You can say the play should’ve been blown dead, and you’d be right, but had it been blown dead would only have screwed over the Bengals. Boyd was open and it wasn’t because Moehrig eased up after hearing the whistle.

Having the play blown dead because of the inadvertent whistle would only have bailed the Raiders out. It should never have happened, but just imagine if the tables were turned and the Raiders had a touchdown they rightfully scored taken off the board because of it. Just imagine.

DE Yannick Ngakoue

A major issue in this game was the overall lack of pressure that was being put on Joe Burrow. And it’s because the Raiders sack leader was completely taken out of the game. He had one late pressure on a play that led to a coverage incompletion. Other than that he was invisible.

The only other time I even noticed him was when he missed a tackle on a run that went for five yards. He had no stats of any kind despite playing 48 snaps (77%). And Joe Burrow picked the Raiders apart like a boiled chicken carcass.

RB Peyton Barber

It was already 10-3 in the first quarter after a long touchdown drive and a field goal off the Derek Carr fumble inside his own 20. On the ensuing kickoff, Barber was back to field it and had a savvy idea. The kick was headed toward the left corner and if he put a foot out of bounds before touching the ball, it would be a penalty on the Bengals that would put the ball at the 40.

Raiders fans will remember Dwayne Harris executing this maneuver to perfection a few years back. Well, Barber’s move was…less than perfect. He touched the ball first, then stepped out. That’s not a penalty. That’s just dumb. The result was the Raiders starting their drive at the two-yard line.

The terrible field position would nearly lead to a safety and a punt out of the back of their own end zone. Even with a 58-yard punt, the return had the Bengals starting their drive at the 45 and they would score again to make it 13-3. The Raiders never really recovered from that early deficit.

OC Greg Olson

These red zone failures are a big problem. The last two red-zone failures were examples of just how clunky this offense can be. And how seemingly incapable it is of executing in the hurry-up when it needs it most.

The Raiders had just over six minutes and they needed two scores. One had to be a TD. Ideally, you’d get that TD on the first drive, so that the final drive just needed to reach scoring range.

The Raiders offense has relied upon the run game late in games a few times recently and it has served them well. They abandoned it entirely in the fourth quarter, making a 10-point deficit seem like a 14-point lead or more.

In addition, the first drive saw the Raiders end up in fourth down twice because it took too long to get the play in, forcing them to call a timeout, leaving them with just one timeout left, which they used on the Bengals possession.

This meant they had to go their entire final drive in 1:51 with no timeouts. They moved to the nine-yard-line, but instead of either having a play in their back pocket to run quickly or having a timeout they could burn there, Carr came up and spiked it. There were still 30 seconds left on the clock, which is plenty of time to come up to the line and run a play, but no, the decision was to spike it which gave them just three shots at the end zone instead of four.

That’s just not a well-oiled machine and they needed it to be if they hoped to tie this one up and send it to overtime. They were sent home instead.

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