Raiders Week 17 Ballers & Busters vs Broncos

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Levi Damien
·13 min read
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Even with the Raiders’ playoff hopes dead and buried, they were looking to finish the season on a high note. To do that they need only take out the rival Broncos in Denver — something they hadn’t done since Jon Gruden returned as head coach.

Despite the fact that the Broncos do not have much in the way of an offense, they still put up 31 points in the game. Mostly it was thanks to the Raiders turning over the ball four times.

As was the case in their last two games against the Dolphins and Chargers, it was a tight game that came down to the final drive. But this time the Raiders were able to hold on for the win.

Top Baller: DE Maxx Crosby

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 29: Defensive end Maxx Crosby #98 of the Oakland Raiders tips a pass to the ground thrown by quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on December 29, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Mad Maxx had his mits all over this game. And they ultimately saved the day, blocking Brandon McManus's 63-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds to preserve the Raiders' 32-31 win. But that was just the cherry on top. He was disrupting things all day. That wasn't even his only blocked field goal of the game The Broncos haven't scored a TD on their opening drive all season. And it was looking like that might change in this one. They drove to first and goal at the nine and Crosby got pressure on Drew Lock to force an incompletion. Two plays later, Jeff Heath broke up a pass to force them to settle for a field goal. With the Raiders up 17-10 late in the second quarter, the Broncos lined up to attempt a 70-yard field goal. As improbable as that. attempt might be, Crosby made it impossible by getting a hand on it for the block. To begin the third quarter, the Broncos again drove into scoring range. They were in first and ten from the Las Vegas 22-yard-line and Crosby stopped them in their tracks. First, he ran down Melvin Gordon from behind on a run that looked like it might go for a touchdown but instead was stopped at four yards. Then on third and six, Crosby got pressure on Lock to force an incompletion and again they would settle for a field goal. Crosby would get pressure to force another incompletion on the next drive that led to another field goal. A fumble and a broken coverage would lead to two late Broncos touchdowns and a 31-24 lead. Crosby would keep them from scoring again. He would sack Drew Lock and two plays later teamed up to make the tackle short of the first down. This gave the Raiders offense time to make what would be the game-winning drive. It was the game-winner in part because Crosby secured it with his block at the end.

Ballers: QB Derek Carr, TE Darren Waller

DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 03: Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders catches a pass for a touchdown against Will Parks #27 of the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Empower Field At Mile High on January 03, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

I must admit that prior to that last drive, neither of these two looked headed for the Baller list. Carr had thrown two interceptions and Waller had fumbled the ball away. But that final drive was something to behold. The Raiders got the ball down 31-24 with 1:47 remaining. On first down, Carr found Zay Jones for 37 yards to put them in Denver territory at the 40-yard-line. On the next play he completed a 10-yard pass to Waller. The next pass went to Waller for 21 yards to put the Raiders in first and goal from the nine-yard line. Neither of these passes gave Waller the record, he had just caught his 105th pass of the season on the previous drive. These targets were because he's unguardable and the Raiders' best hope for scoring. For that reason, after the Raiders did score the touchdown on a one-yard run by Josh Jacobs, they went for two to win it instead of sending the game to overtime. Carr knew where he would be going on that pass. To his elite tight end, making Waller's final catch of the season the one that gave them the go-ahead score. Don't get me wrong, here, that drive wasn't the only time Carr and Waller made big plays in this game. They hooked up for a gorgeous 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter that tied it up at 10-10. And Carr would also find Bryan Edwards for a 26-yard touchdown on the next drive to make it a 17-10 game at the half. Carr would finish 24 for 38 for 371 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and in so doing would surpass 4000 yards on the season. Waller would catch nine passes for 117 yards and a touchdown and in so doing set a new franchise record with 107 catches on the season. He also surpassed his 2019 yards total (1145) with 1196 yards on the season. Oh, and his 107 catches passed up Travis Kelce on the season, to make Waller the leader in receptions in the NFL among tight ends.

Ballers: LB Cory Littleton, LB Nicholas Morrow

Based on what we saw from Littleton in this game, it's possible the primary issue he was having this season was with the defensive playbook. Former linebacker Will Compton recently said Guenther's playbook was exceedingly complicated as was how to deploy

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 06: Nicholas Morrow #50 of the Oakland Raiders rushes the ball during the NFL match between the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 06, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)

it on game day, thereby preventing the linebackers from playing fast. We saw a version of Littleton in this game we hadn't seen all season long. Yes, I realize this isn't the first game since Rod Marinelli replaced Paul Guenther as DC, but these things don't happen overnight. Morrow has been the best linebacker on the field for the Raiders all season, which could very well be because he's the only starter who was on the roster last season. Even with Nick Kwiatkoski missing the game on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Littleton and Morrow held it down. Morrow led the team with ten tackles and Littleton was second with nine combined tackles. Among those tackles included Littleton making consecutive stops short of the sticks on third down in the second quarter. The first one Broncos would fail on the fourth down attempt to turn it over on downs, the second they punted it away. He and Morrow both made tackles on the Broncos last ditch failed attempt to add a score before that half. In the third quarter, Morrow sacked Drew Lock on third down. It was Morrow's third sack of the season, which moved him to second on the team behind Maxx Crosby (seven). Late in the fourth quarter, the Broncos were looking to put the game away. And it may have only required one first down to do it. They were stopped by the Crosby sack in which Littleton was in tight coverage on Lock's only chance at getting rid of the ball. The next two plays, Morrow was in on the stop to force a punt.

Baller: P AJ Cole

Las Vegas Raiders punter A.J. Cole (6) had a social justice message on his helmet during an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

With the game tied at 10-10 in the second quarter, Cole tipped the field for the Raiders, punting a ball that stopped dead and was down at the 4-yard-line. He added a 59-yard boot in the third quarter and when the Raiders needed it late, he put a 46-yard punt on the 10-yard-line. He finished the day averaging 49.8 yards on four punts with two stopped inside the 20. And, of course, his holding duties as well.

Baller: RB Josh Jacobs

It was a rough first half for Josh Jacobs. He was averaging two yards per carry with just 12 yards on six carries. And his next carry went for...two yards. Jacobs needed 24 yards in the game to hit 1000 on the season and it was looking shaky whether he would get that. Then when the Raiders took the field again midway through the third quarter, Jacobs broke through. He broke a tackle the line and went for 18 yards, going over 1000 yards on that run. Something clicked at that point, because the next thing you knew, he was unstoppable. His first carry of the fourth quarter went for 16 yards. His next carry went for four yards on third and one. A few plays later on that same drive he found room on the left side and sprinted for a 28-yard touchdown. By that, he was averaging over six yards per carry. He would have one more run and it went for one yard. It came on fourth and goal from the one and it was a touchdown. The Raiders added the two-point conversion for the go-ahead score. Jacobs finished with 89 yards on 15 carries (5.9 ypc) and two touchdowns. Easily his highest yards per carry average of the season and his highest yards output since the Raiders' previous meeting against the Broncos in week ten.

Honorable Mention

DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 03: Bryan Edwards #89 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrates a touchdown catch against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Empower Field At Mile High on January 03, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

WR Bryan Edwards -- At the tail end of a disappointing rookie season, Edwards gave everyone a taste of what he is capable of. He had a gorgeous leaping 26-yard touchdown catch and later made a 25-yard catch over the middle. Both were longer catches than any he had had coming into the game and it was his first career touchdown. DT Johnathan Hankins -- Finished third on the team with seven tackles, three of which were for no gain. FB Alec Ingold -- He had a few great hole clearing blocks in the game, including the Josh Jacobs one-yard touchdown at the end of the game, and a block on third and one on the Raiders' previous TD drive.

Top Buster: S Johnathan Abram

Aug 15, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Johnathan Abram (24) warms up prior to a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

One of the keys to this game was seeing some discipline from Abram. His lapses in that area cost the Raiders a few times in this game. Abram gave up a 14-yard catch on the first drive that put the Broncos in first and goal at the nine. Lucky for the Raiders, Abram's fellow safety Jeff Heath stepped up to make the stop to hold them to a field goal. To begin the third quarter, the Broncos went on another drive which included Abram allowing a 12-yard catch that put them in Raiders territory. Once again, the drive stalled with a field goal. The Raiders would hold a slim 17-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the Broncos were setting up in first and goal from the ten-yard-line. In the next play, Melvin Gordon ran around the left side and found pay dirt with Carl Nassib and Abram missing tackles along the way. The Broncos would convert on the two-point attempt to take a seven-point lead. The Raiders came right back to tie the game 24-24. But on three plays, the Broncos would retake the lead. Really, it was one play. They were stopped on the first two plays and on third and ten from their own eight-yard-line, Abram was caught freelancing, allowing a wide-open catch by Jerry Jeudy who was gone for a 92-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 31-24 lead. Giving up 31 points to the Broncos is no small accomplishment. They'd only scored over 20 points once in the second half of the season and had scored over 30 points three times. Proof that the moment you start trying to do someone else's job, even the worst NFL offense will make you pay for it.

Buster: CB Nevin Lawson

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 22: Cornerback Nevin Lawson #26 of the Las Vegas Raiders reacts to a defensive stop during the second half of an NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The very first time the Broncos converted on third down, it was to Nevin Lawson's man. They lined up in third and ten on their second drive and Lawson gave up a 17-yard catch. Later in the drive, Lawson would give up a 29-yard catch that put the Broncos in first and goal at the eight-yard-line. A few plays later, they punched it in for the first touchdown of the game. Lawson was victimized on two third down conversions in the second quarter as well, one giving up an eight-yard catch, and the other getting flagged for pass interference. Though neither possession led to a score and he made up for the PI by helping make the stop afterward. The biggest play on the Broncos' opening drive of the third quarter was a highly questionable pass interference penalty on Nevin Lawson. Hard to fault him too much for that one, honestly. But there's more. Holding on to a 17-13 lead, Carr threw an interception that gave the Broncos the ball close to field goal range. It became definite scoring range when Lawson gave up a 20-yard catch that put them at the 15-yard-line. Another turnover on a Henry Ruggs III fumble again gave the Broncos the ball in Las Vegas territory. On the third play, Lawson surrendered a 10-yard catch that put them at the 12-yard-line. They scored the go-ahead TD two plays later, but wanted to make it a seven-point game, so they went for two. Lawson gave up the catch.

Buster: RT Sam Young

Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders offensive tackle Sam Young (70) blocks for quarterback Derek Carr (4) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Young got the start in place of the injured Trent Brown. The veteran swing tackle would get some good news for this game as Bradley Chubb was inactive for the game. Von Miller also wasn't playing, having missed the entire season. That made Young's life much easier. But it wasn't enough. On the first drive, Young gave up a run stuff for no gain on third and one that forced the Raiders to go for it on fourth down. Then in the second quarter, on third and ten, he was flagged for a false start to make it third and 15. Lucky for him, Carr threw the TD to Edwards on the next play. Twice in the fourth quarter, Young gave up a pressure that resulted in an incompletion. The second one was a QB hit on first and goal from the nine.