No question, the Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) have a long road ahead in turning this season around. The team lost the season-opener to the division rival Los Angeles Chargers 19-24, while then blowing a home-opener 20-0 halftime lead–ultimately losing to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime 23-29.
The team is down 0-2 but that’s not to say they won’t bounce back under new head coach Josh McDaniels.
Coach McDaniels has faced adversity before.
How his team responds to the 0-2 adversity will ultimately be a thing to watch, as they face a tough intra-conference squad in the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans also enter the matchup down 0-2. They look to get back on track after losing their season-opener, being up 13-0 at halftime to the New York Giants while then getting blown out on the road to the Buffalo Bills, 7-41 on Monday Night football.
When evaluating the current week’s schedule, the good news for the Raiders is that the team had an extra day to prepare, while the Titans are coming off a short week, playing on Monday Night.
In the game of football, it’s all about playing chess not checkers, and that extra day of prep could prove to be the difference maker in this highly anticipated defensive struggle, in which the Raiders are favored by 1.5 points.
Where matchups are key in winning or losing the game, one dominant player who continues to grab my attention since entering the league back in 2019 is Titans fourth-year DT Jeffery Simmons.
I asked Coach McDaniels for his thoughts on facing the All-Pro interior lineman and some of the challenges he brings to the table:
Coming off an All-Pro season, Simmons is arguably the best interior defensive lineman not named DT Aaron Donald.
I grade players much like PFF on a snap-by-snap, game-by-game basis but use my own grading system.
Last year, Simmons finished the 2021 campaign with a Pro Bowl grade of 6.5 out of 10–only Rams DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh Steelers DT Cam Heyward, Indianapolis Colts DT DeForest Buckner and Washington Commanders DT Jonathan Allen received higher grades from the interior.
Still, no player outside of Donald, created more splash plays or jumped out on film more when evaluating coaches film.
Fast forward to 2022, and Simmons is once again on the fast track to All-Pro success.
In the season-opener, Simmons racked up 1.5 tackles-for-loss for minus 7 yards, while doubling up those gains in the pass rush department, by forcing a strip sack on one play and racking up a 1.0 sack on another.
In all, Simmons single-handedly amassed 19-yards of hidden yardage.
The Raiders will surely look at Simmons’ play and know he’s no child’s play.
During Wednesday’s open locker room period, I caught up with rookie G/C Dylan Parham and asked him for his thoughts on the Mississippi State product:
No secret, the Raiders Achilles heel is their inexperienced offensive line. The team drafted Parham with their first pick of the 2022 NFL draft while “waiving” last year’s first-round pick OT Alex Leatherwood.
An already thin offensive line, as the team opted to keep 8 instead of the standard 9 on the initial 53-man roster, the loss of starting C Andre James (concussion) has abruptly created a game of musical chairs up front, as the team fields “the best five.”
No offense to the Raiders starting offensive line but outside of LT Kolton Miller and Parham, who else do we have absolute conviction about as the team’s future starters?
And while I do believe rookie OT Thayer Munford can be the future, the verdict is out on whether he can tackle the horns on the strong side, in this, his rookie season.
Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi shed some light on how Munford fared last week, citing growth.
“Again, the two penalties were killer in terms of when you’re trying to evaluate the game because those are obviously things we are trying to eliminate. But Thayer’s doing a very good job. Obviously, playing right tackle is a little different than playing a receiver position as a rookie. Things happen faster, you have to be physical, you have to be ready to go.”
I also caught up with the promising rookie last week to gather his thoughts on self-assessment and although he was prepared for the NFL speed, he did openly admit that Week 2 was a “learning experience,” for growth, citing the need to get stronger in the weight room.
Through the first two games of the NFL season, the Raiders have recorded a combined 144 rushing yards on 34 carries–ranking 30th in the NFL.
- 13 carries for 64 rushing yards (4.9 avg.) | Los Angeles Chargers
- 21 carries for 80 rushing yards (3.8 avg.) | Arizona Cardinals
Both the Cardinals & Chargers operate from a 3-4 odd-man front just like the Titans.
The Titans run a two-gap system under defensive coordinator Shane Bowen and will certainly apply the pressure keying on Simmons to hold the POA (point of attack).
Not to mention, defensive line coach Terrell Williams will certainly draw a few tackle/end stunts and twists to challenge the Raiders inexperienced line, don’t overlook the two-man game up front, as that will be a thing to watch, once the game unfolds.
The Raiders counter the two-gap system with a power-based rushing attack. The scheme is predicated on winning one-on-one battles while down blocking the nearest defender.
The Raiders will count on the quartet of C Andre James, Parham, OG Jermaine Eluemunor, and OG John Simpson to get the job done. Matched up against Simmons–no easy task.
On Tuesday, coach Lombardi revealed a brief scouting report on the All-Pro interior force down in the trenches:
Whether the Raiders can contain Simmons remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, if the Raiders are to come out on top, stopping Simmons is going to be a POE (point of emphasis), as he works the interior how he sees fit.
In 43 career games, Simmons has racked up 88 solo tackles, 15.5 sacks, and 13 pass break-ups.