The Las Vegas Raiders traded for Davante Adams with the intention of expanding the potency of their pass attack and creating more mismatches across the offense.
Throughout most of their Week 1 matchup, the Los Angeles Chargers had an answer for Adams and the rest of Derek Carr’s weapons despite missing one of their key defensive pieces.
Star cornerback J.C. Jackson was declared out for the game Sunday morning. Jackson continues to rehab from preseason ankle surgery, and he was listed as doubtful ahead of the game. The accomplished cover agent was handed an $82.5 million deal in free agency to lock down Adams and the NFL’s best wide receivers.
Instead, the Chargers had to find other ways to blanket Adams and stop the All-Pro. Second-year cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. looked quick and confident in coverage. Samuel wasn’t a true shadow on Adams, but the pair got well-acquainted across multiple snaps. Derwin James, Michael Davis, and Bryce Callahan also took reps in man coverage against Adams.
Samuel typically lined up in off-man coverage with five to seven yards of cushion, or press coverage with a safety over the top. He guarded Adams exclusively on the outside with Byrce Callahan in the slot.
Samuel had a few good press coverage reps on the first drive. He made solid contact on his jam during the release phase then squeezed Adams to the sideline, disrupting the timing of the route. Carr’s throw ended up too far in front.
The Chargers forced 3rd and 16 and showed a Cover 2 high press man look that ended up rolling into zone coverage with James in a STAR backer role. Samuel did his best to slow down Adams as much as he could on the route stem, but Adams wiggled free on a pocket fade and got open for Carr before Alohi Gilman could close on the ball. The play resulted in a 21-yard first down.
Samuel didn’t line up in front of Adams for the rest of the drive. With the Raiders marching into the red zone, the Chargers opted for height over athleticism due to the shortened field. The plan didn’t work out when Adams slipped by Michael Davis on slant using an outside release to bring the offense inside the 10-yard line. Davis made up the mistake, however, with tight defense on a fade ball the next play.
The Chargers opted to have Derwin James playing down low for the most part on Darren Waller and Nasir Adderly as the single-high safety. The Chargers did not want to give up plays over the top of the secondary. Naturally, Samuel had to be cautious with his depth. Carr and Adams took advantage of this, using a quick out on the next drive for an easy completion. They linked up in a similar fashion against James for a five-yard pickup on the drive after that.
However, Adams didn’t find much success after that. Frustration even boiled over halfway through the second quarter Adams and Samuel put extra vigor into their blocking assignments on a run by Ameer Abdullah. Both players got fistfuls of the other’s jersey and had some choice words to share.
It was clear Samuel, along with the rest of the secondary, did not back down from the challenge.
When the second half began, the Raiders made it a priority to get Adams involved and trusted him to find separation in one-on-one matchups. Adams gained a first down on a comeback route with Samuel. Adams did well to box out Samuel at the catch point and not allow him a window to the ball.
Samuel never followed Adams into the slot, mostly guarding him on the outside. Adams deked Samuel inside on a long out route on the second play of the half, turning the cornerback’s hips by selling his head and shoulders inside. The Raiders picked up 41 yards on the play then scored moments later in the drive.
But Samuel responded when he took the field next with a clear head and primed instincts. Adams shook him again on a comeback route on 2nd and 25. Samuel recovered and dove across Adams for the breakup.
The Raiders realized Samuel wasn’t following Adams, so they dialed up a deep shot from the slot on the next drive. Samuel was in man coverage against Hunter Renfrow on the play, but abandoned his man once he realized Adams was loose. He flipped his hips and closed on Adams, ending up floating in front of the wide receiver for the interception. The ball was short and behind from Carr, and the Chargers capitalized on it.
Samuel battled against Adams for the rest of the game. Adams ended up scoring his first touchdown as a Raider on him, a perfectly thrown ball that Adams reeled in by his fingertips on short out in the end zone. On paper, Samuel and the Chargers secondary lost the matchup. Adams went over 141 receiving yards on 10 catches. The 41-yard catch by Adams was probably the best route ran by a receiver on Sunday, and Samuel had plenty of moments where he was out-finessed by the Raiders’ No. 1 target.
But the important takeaway is Samuel held his own and rebounded with a fresh mentality every play, a necessary trait to exhibit when guarding the best receiver in the league. He was picked on during certain plays, but he did not allow those moments to spiral him. Samuel picked himself up and contributed his share of highlights and key defensive moments in the 24-19 win.
Staley’s decision to award the game ball to Samuel should tell fans everything they need to know about how impressive the cornerback was. When Jackson returns to complete the secondary, he should be even better.