Well, it was Mission: Accomplished for the Las Vegas Raiders this past week vs. the San Francisco 49ers, virtually dominating both joint practices in Las Vegas and topping it off with a dominant 34-7 drubbing at Allegiant Stadium Sunday afternoon. The defense played dominant, inspired football, getting to the quarterback four times and causing two turnovers, while the offense played efficient, turnover-free football, led by rookie quarterback Aiden O’Connell, who had an eye-popping game, throwing for 141 yards on 15/18 completions and a touchdown.
The Raiders’ next test begins Wednesday, where they meet with the Los Angeles Rams for joint practices and an exhibition game on Saturday at Sofi Stadium. The Raiders and their young corps get a first taste of the road this season and take on a Rams team, fresh off a disappointing 5-12 campaign in 2022 and looking to redeem themselves.
Let’s take a deeper look into what to expect from the Rams this week:
The Rams offense is virtually conducted by highly heralded head coach Sean McVay. McVay runs primarily an 11-personnel look (single back formation with one right end and three wide receivers) and likes to dial up the boot-action to put safeties and linebackers in compromising positions in the passing game. To sum it up, McVay runs more of a spread/west coast offense hybrid type of offense, which is highly effective when the running game gets going, utilizing the play action to take deep shots downfield.
Expect the Raiders to play primarily in a nickel scheme, with possible cut candidate Amik Robertson starting at the nickel. Linebackers Luke Masterson and 6th-round rookie Amari Burney will likely be named the starters, which will present a big test in pass coverage to the youngsters. Additionally, expect to see the continued camp competition for likely the final spot at defensive end between Jordan Willis and 2021 3rd-round pick Malcolm Koonce, who will likely be the starters on Saturday at defensive end. We will also likely see a solid rotation in the interior between John Jenkins/Adam Butler/Isaac Rochell/Byron Young/Neil Farrell Jr, while Duke Shelley and 4th-round rookie Jakorian Bennett hold down the boundaries at the cornerback position to kick things off vs. Rams rookie quarterback, 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist Stetson Bennett.
During joint practices, expect a bigger challenge at the quarterback position this time around, as veteran Matthew Stafford enters his 3rd season under McVay’s offense. This will present a bigger challenge for Marcus Peters, Nate Hobbs and the rest of that secondary, as he will look to go vertical to find All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp, young receivers Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, and tight end Tyler Higbee early and often. A Kupp vs. Bennett matchup sounds intriguing, as it gives the young rookie the opportunity to see elite competition for the first time.
The Rams defense, led by 3rd-year Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris, runs an aggressive 3-4 scheme that calls for a high volume of blitzes. Led by future Hall of Famer, Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams look to redeem themselves from a disappointing outing, and revive that defense back to elite form where they took home the Lombardi Trophy in the 2021-2022 season.
Look for the Raiders to attack early and often, testing the young outside linebackers rookie Byron Young and Michael Hoecht with an O’Connell to Fotheringham connection often. Also, expect to see the Raiders attempt to establish the run game early with Zamir White. Ideally, due to his struggles vs. true nose tackles, we would see center Andre James in for one series, but it is unlikely. Expect to see backup Hroniss Grasu in for the majority of the game. Lastly, expect to see numerous attempts to establish the screen game with running back Ameer Abdullah as an answer to the Rams’ heavy blitzing tendency.
During the joint practices, keep a lookout on how Andre James fairs vs. the nose tackles, as it has been his glaring weakness. Additionally, an Aaron Donald vs. Dylan Parham, if healthy, would give the 2nd-year guard a great look and an opportunity to self-assess and improve. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will also get an opportunity to take advantage of a young defensive corps for the Rams, as I expect a Hunter Renfrow/Jakobi Meyers sighting in the end zone early and often.