The nonsense is out there, and it’s unstoppable. Even analyst Boomer Esiasion of CBS, who should know better as a former NFL quarterback and one-time MVP, seemed to be suggesting the New York Jets lost to the Raiders on purpose.
“I have a headache thinking about this…the fact that Gregg Williams would play that coverage in that situation? It’s almost like the Jets drew that up to lose the game,” Esiason said Sunday in the aftermath of a 31-28 win by the Raiders on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III with five seconds remaining.
Social media went further. A tank job. Losing for Lawrence. Tanking for Trevor. That would be Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback and alleged sure thing in the NFL draft.
Why else would the Jets send the house when all they needed to do was keep the Raiders from crossing the goal line?
Neither Williams, the Jets defensive coordinator, or head coach Adam Gase are that diabolical. If they were that smart, they wouldn’t be 0-12. To buy the tanking B.S., you’d have to believe:
The Jets would coach their guys all week into playing with heart, all-out effort and more intensity than an opponent fighting for a playoff berth.
That they would let those players fight and scratch for a 28-24 lead by playing old-fashioned football and running it down the Raiders’ throats.
That they would make sure there were offsetting penalties on a potential Raiders go-ahead touchdown to Hunter Renfrow within the final two minutes, then take possession of the ball.
That they would then purposely fail to gain yards after running it successfully all day (206 yards rushing) so they would have to punt.
That they would give the Raiders the ball back with 35 seconds left, and after Carr narrowly misses Agholor for a game-ending touchdown, have Williams call for an all-out blitz that left Ruggs one-on-one with undrafted free agent Lamar Jackson.
That they knew in advance Carr would change to a maximum protection that would even include Darren Waller staying in to block, and be confident the Raiders quarterback would step into the breach and loft a perfect touchdown strike without having set his feet.
Damn, that’s clever.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) December 6, 2020
Or maybe it went something like this:
The Raiders got the ball back at the end of the first half with a chance to score after a strip sack by Clelin Ferrell and recovery by Maxx Crosby. Williams sends pressure on the last two plays and gets two sacks of Carr to prevent more points from being scored.
After the Agholor near miss while playing softer coverage, Williams tries to close out the game the way he did the first half. Only this time, he’s more bold. What the hell, we’re 0-11. Send everyone.
Hate to introduce logic, but sounds more like a bad coaching decision than “Tanking for Trevor” or “Losing for Lawrence.”
It was also an equal amount of Carr being clutch not only with his throw, but with how he read the defense and made sure the blocking scheme was adequate to create the time he needed.
With that out of the way, five things to keep in mind with four games left and the Raiders still in position to make the playoffs at 7-5:
1. Reinforcements are on the way — hopefully
Right tackle Trent Brown could be back this week to start against Indianapolis. It was at least a mild surprise when Josh Jacobs and Johnathan Abram didn’t make the trip.
Brown is a difference-maker, and the Raiders are in need of some juice up front. They haven’t run the ball effectively for three games and Carr is getting pressured more often.
You’ll never convince me the Raiders gambled on sitting Jacobs and Abram with Indianapolis in mind, because Gruden doesn’t think in those terms and it is his call. But it if both are anything approaching full strength, the Raiders are a much better team against the Colts than they were against the Jets.
Ferrell played for the first time since missing two games with COVID-19, and in terms of pressuring the passer, it was his best game.
Cornerback Damon Arnette getting his second concussion in two games is a concern, more for his own health than the Raiders on-field needs.
2. A 9-7 record probably isn’t going to do it
The Raiders own wins over three teams with nine or more wins — New Orleans, Kansas City and Cleveland. All were no-doubters. They were the best team on the field on game day against all three.
Still, their margin for error is razor thin. The Browns (9-3), Colts (8-4) and Miami (8-4) are all in front of them. The Baltimore Ravens are 6-5. That the Raiders need to beat the Colts and the Dolphins is obvious and far from a sure thing. That they can ill afford to lose to AFC West opponents (Chargers and Broncos) is also true.
Without delving in to the myriad permutations that exist with four games to play, they’ve got a real good shot to get in with 10 wins. I’m not sure this looks like a 10-win team at the moment, but I’ve been wrong before.
3. Balance needs to be restored
The Raiders beat the Jets by throwing 47 passes and running the ball 25 times. Any time you see that kind of ratio, go ahead and assume they’re in trouble that day.
When the Raiders got up 24-13 after their first possession of the third quarter — the only time they were consistent running the ball — it was time to take control. The Raiders, the way they’re built, take control through physicality. They had two consecutive three-and-outs because they couldn’t run the ball, and it turned the game on its head.
Whether it’s Brown and Jacobs returning or simply doing it with what they’ve got, the Raiders aren’t going to the playoffs as a pass-heavy team.
4. More big plays from Waller and Ruggs
For all the catches Darren Waller has this season, his yards per catch of 8.5 going in to the game was curiously low. That changed in a big way against the Jets, who single covered Waller enough to get burned for 13 receptions, 200 yards and two touchdowns. He’s up to 9.6 per catch now with 77 receptions for 742 yards and seven touchdowns after having just three a year ago.
As Carr noted, you can’t beat throwing a simple hitch and having it turn into a 38-yard touchdown. Perhaps Ruggs’ big game means more big plays as well. He’s gradually starting to get more looks, and bounced back from having a ball glance off his hands for an interception as well as a costly fumble.
Ruggs’ game-winner was his second touchdown of the season, and he’s averaging 19.8 yards on 20 receptions. Ideally, he’s targeted four or five times per game the rest of the way. Haven’t seen a fly sweep in awhile either.
5. More pass rush
The season-long broken record. But pressure has gotten better of late, even in the Atlanta game. Ferrell’s pass rushing seems to come and go, and they need him to be more consistent in that regard.
They got a handful of snaps from Vic Beasley, and it was interesting to note that Ferrell said his strip sack that resulted in the Crosby recovery came on a stunt suggested pre-snap by Beasley.
Abram’s return could also help fortify the rush, and Nicholas Morrow has proved adept at getting to the quarterback on occasion.