8:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: Raiders -3, Over/Under: 54
Classic Franchises clash tonight in the Nation’s Capital as the surging Oakland Raiders battle the Washington Redskins in a rare inter-conference meeting at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Through two games of the 2017 campaign, it’s hard not come away impressed with the Raiders (2-0, 1st in AFC West), who have been deadly explosive on Offense, and remarkably improved on Defense. Granted, victories over the likes of the young Titans (26-16) and the inept Jets (45-20) is far from a murderer’s row, but in the case of Jack Del Rio’s charges, it’s how they’ve gone about winning these games. In the Season Opener at Tennessee, the Defense was by far and away the top story, particularly after looking like a sieve throughout the Preseason; Oakland routinely stiffened in the Red Zone, permitting just one Touchdown, with the hosts settling for three Field Goals, and corralling one of the better rushing attacks in the league to a modest ninety-five Yards on twenty-one carries (4.5 Y/A). Against the Jets, it was the Offense that commanded the headlines, accounting for six Touchdowns in the Home Opener. Derek Carr (75.0%, 246.0 Y/G, 7.74 NY/A, 5 TD, 0 INT), who was lost for the Playoff Run last year after breaking his leg in the penultimate week of the season, was surgical in carving up New York’s beleaguered Defense, completing 23-of-28 Passes for 230 Yards and three Touchdowns, all of which went to Michael Crabtree (12 REC, 163 YDS, 3 TD), whose Hat Trick serves as proof that last year’s revival was no fluke. However, this wasn’t just a case of slinging the ball all over the field, for the hosts did plenty of work on the ground, rushing for 180 Yards and three more scores on twenty-seven Carries. Jalen Richard broke a 52-Yard Touchdown early in the Fourth Quarter, with Cordarrelle Patterson breaking through the middle of the Line for a 43-Yard Touchdown in the third stanza, while Marshawn Lynch (30 Car, 121 YDS, 1 TD) rumbled into the End Zone for the first time since coming out of retirement as member of his hometown Franchise. Indeed, Beastmode was so hyped by the performance that he took to dancing on the sideline in the Fourth Quarter, turning the crowd into a frenzy. With all that said, the unit that must not go unnoticed is the Offensive Line, which is among the best groups in the NFL. In an era where so many teams are suffering from poor play in the trenches, the Raiders are absolutely thriving. Led by an outstanding interior trio consisting of All-Pro Guard Kelechi Osemele, Pro Bowl Center Rodney Hudson, and Guard Gabe Jackson along with veteran Left Tackle Donald Penn, these guys are massive, powerful, and violent, mauling opponents in the run game and keeping Carr clean in the Pocket. Last season, No. 4 was sacked just sixteen times, and through two weeks has been dropped for a loss twice, allowing him to average a hefty 7.7 Net Yards per Attempt (5th Overall). In terms of the ground game, the Big Fellas have paved the way for the league’s fifth-best rushing attack (144.5 Y/G), averaging 5.2 Yards per Carry (4th Overall) despite only running the ball twenty-eight times a game, twelfth-most in the NFL. Continuing their torrid start to the campaign will be key for these guys, for the scheduling gods were a bit quirky when putting together Oakland’s path; Del Rio’s charges play three out of their first four games and three out of their last four tilts all on the road, meaning that the middle of their schedule is largely at home, with six out of eight contests being played in the Black Hole, including a pair of three-game homestands. If these guys can carry their early momentum into that stretch, then look out NFL, for the Silver and Black are finally back.
Meanwhile, after an Offseason littered with exits and contract disputes, 2017 is shaping up to be a very important one for the Redskins (1-1, 2nd in NFC East). Indeed, 2015’s Division Title seems like ancient history at this point, for through two games this team hardly resembles it’s counterpart two years prior. Quarterback Kirk Cousins exploded with a career-year, earning star status in the Nation’s Capital, but the Franchise’s persistent reticence in signing him to a long-term deal has created a black cloud over the team, as their most important player has been performing on back-to-back Franchise Tags, which is unheard of at the Quarterback Position. It’s almost as if Management is looking for a reason not to pay, eventually setting him up for failure so that they won’t have to do so, which could be potentially where they’ve arrived in 2017. Needless to say, Cousins’ Supporting Cast has undergone a huge overhaul over the last nine months; Receivers Desean Jackson (56 REC, 1,005 YDS, 4 TD in 2016), Pierre Garcon (79 REC, 1,041 YDS, 3 TD in 2016) left in Free Agency, while Tailback Matt Jones (99 CAR, 460 YDS, 3 TD) was released in the Preseason. Furthermore, Tight End Jordan Reed, who led the team with ten Touchdowns a year ago, has been plagued by a nagging shoulder injury that has kept him from performing at the level that made him such a lethal target to begin with. However, the biggest defection has to be that of former Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay, who at thirty-one years of age became the youngest Head Coach in NFL History after the Rams made him their new leading man. In addition to being a solid playcaller, McVay was an integral part in Cousins ascent to stardom, with his absence being felt in the passing game as the Quarterback has looked out of sync with so many new faces in his Supporting Cast. Thus far, No. 8 has seen a steep statistical decline across the board, completing 61.2% of his Attempts for an average of 209.5 Yards per Game (4.88 NY/A), with two Touchdowns and an Interception. Look no further than their sudden inability to stretch the field for proof of their struggles; In 2015, Washington averaged 7.0 Net Yards per Attempt (6th Overall), and in 2016 they racked up an even better 7.6 Net Yards (2nd Overall), but have since seen that figure plummet to 4.9 (27th Overall). This is a case of Quarterback who simply isn’t comfortable with his Receiving Corps, which made headlines in the Offseason when they acquired Terrelle Pryor (77 REC, 1,007 YDS, 4 TD) in Free Agency. What seemed like a match made in Heaven has been anything but for Pryor, who a year after emerging as a playmaker with the Cleveland Browns has only managed to reel in eight Receptions for ninety-seven Yards in the Burgundy & Gold. The story hasn’t been much better on Defense, where Jay Gruden’s charges continue to struggle, yielding 25.0 Points per Game (27th Overall) on 344.0 Total Yards (26th Overall), while failing to keep the opposition off the field with any consistency, permitting a dreadful 50.0% conversion rate on Third Down. Furthermore, injuries aren’t just taking a toll on this group, but the team as whole, with a litany of players at the least Questionable to even take part in tonight’s affair; leading rusher Robert Kelley (Ribs), Safety Deshazor Everett (Eye), Cornerback Josh Norman (Shoulder), Linebacker Mason Foster (Shoulder), Tackle Morgan Moses (Ankle), and the aforementioned Reed (Shoulder) have each occupied the Training Room this week, while Sophomore Linebacker/Safety Su’a Cravens has been placed on the Non-Football Injury List, as the Franchise has lost patience with his pondering of retirement.