The Las Vegas Raiders hit the road to the Midwest this week to begin a two-game road trip, where the Chicago Bears await them. The Raiders, winners of two straight, look to ride the hot hand, led by Maxx Crosby, versus a struggling Bears team who are down many players due to injury, particularly their starting quarterback Justin Fields. 2023 Undrafted Free Agent Tyson Bagent will likely get the nod to be the starter for the Bears on Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders offense continues to struggle, scoring just 19 points on six red zone trips versus the Patriots last week. They still have yet to score 20+ points in a game. To make matters worse, starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been ruled out for Sunday’s game due to a back injury. Head Coach Josh McDaniels calls upon his grizzled veteran, Brian Hoyer, to take the reins under center this time around, as opposed to 2023 4th-round pick Aiden O’Connell. Hoyer, in relief, went 6-10 for 102 yards in the 2nd half, with a QBR of 94.0, which are serviceable numbers coming off the bench. Hoyer is looking for his first win as a starter since 2016, where his teams have lost 12 consecutive games with him under center.
The Hoyer-Bagent matchup isn’t necessarily a blockbuster worthy matchup, nor is it one that we would have presumed we would see when the schedule hit the streets in May. However, there are many intriguing matchups and developing storylines that may ensue upon Sunday’s week-7 tilt that will play a huge factor into who will come out with a victory. Listed below are FOUR KEY MATCHUPS that we should be keeping a close eye on this Sunday.
MAXX CROSBY vs. DARNELL WRIGHT
To say that Maxx Crosby has been on a relentless tear this season is an understatement. Crosby, fresh off earning AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week-5, topped his performance with an incredible assisted sack for a safety (Bilal Nichols) in crunch time to ice the game vs. the Patriots, solidifying his case, arguably, as the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner. Crosby’s 38 pressures are tops in the league, his 5.5 sacks ranks tied for 7th, and eight TFLs rank tied for 4th in the league.
Maxx Crosby has another golden opportunity to place his stamp on the season, when he faces 2023 10th-overall pick out of the University of Tennessee, Darnell Wright. Wright, who has been a bright spot for the Bears this season, has earned a 69.6 overall PFF grade in 379 snaps at right tackle and a superb 78.2 run blocking grade. He has his toughest task of his young career in attempting to stifle a relentless Crosby, who would love nothing more than to give the rookie his “welcome to the NFL” moment on Sunday. This can very well happen early and often, as Wright has earned a 62.5 pass blocking grade in 226 passing snaps, which won’t get it done against a hungry Crosby. Look for the Bears to utilize 12-personnel, with Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan, to slow down the Crosby pass rush. This can also put the rookie quarterback at ease for the Bears, as he enters Sunday’s game as a starter for the first time in his career.
AMIK ROBERTSON vs. DJ MOORE
With rookie Jakorian Bennett and young veteran Nate Hobbs ruled out for Sunday’s game, Amik Robertson likely has the tall task of covering Bears star wideout D.J. Moore for the entirety of the game. Moore, this season has played well, despite the Bears’ woes on offense, snagging 32 balls for 582 yards and five touchdowns, which does not bode well for Robertson.
Expect Patrick Graham to dial up help for Robertson, as bracket coverage will very well be on the menu for Moore, with Tyler Hall and Tre’Von Moehrig on the assignment. In addition, heavy pressure and exotic blitzes on Tyson Bagent will likely force the rookie to throw errant passes, and if Robertson is advantageous, this can translate to him having a career day. Robertson has shown throughout his young career that he can make the big play when needed, and this Sunday presents a golden opportunity if properly executed.
DAVANTE ADAMS vs
KYLER GORDON/JAYLON JOHNSON
Davante Adams wants the ball. Simple and plain. If Josh McDaniels doesn’t find a way to get this done versus the Bears, Adams’ complaints will reach a fever pitch at the next press conference– especially if they fail to take advantage of the matchup against Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon, who is listed to start in relief of Tyrell Smith. Gordon, this season, has earned a 57.6 overall PFF grade, with a 62.0 PFF coverage grade, which is highly problematic.
I presume that Kyler Gordon will not be getting that assignment to cover Davante Adams, as it will be given primarily to cornerback Jaylon Johnson (and others who will be assigned to bracket Adams). Johnson has played very well for the Bears, earning an 80.9 PFF coverage grade, but will arguably face his toughest task in defending one of the premier receivers in the game.
I expect Hoyer and this Raiders offense to test the Bears secondary early and often, utilizing the vertical game, and it will be led by the Hoyer-to-Adams connection. The presence of the vertical game, in turn, will open up the run game, as defenders will have to respect 11-personnel, 3-receiver sets on the fear of getting burned by the big play downfield.
KOLTON MILLER-DYLAN PARHAM MUST ESTABLISH THE PACE
Speaking of the run game, if the Raiders’ offense want to find their mojo from last season when it comes to toting the rock with Josh Jacobs, the movement must be spearheaded by Kolton Miller and Dylan Parham. Miller and Parham will be primarily across Bears defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and interior defensive lineman Justin Jones, who have not been great stopping the run. According to PFF, Ngakoue has earned a 49.0 run grade, while Jones has earned a 48.8 run grade, which the Raiders should take advantage of when they are on the field together.
Look for the Raiders to attempt to run the ball out of the aforementioned 11-personnel, 3-receiver sets– off the left tackle or through the interior on the left side, taking advantage of the glaring weakness on that side of the Bears’ defense. The biggest problem, however, is being able to block at the second level, as the Bears have two studs at the linebacker position, T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds, who have played the rushing attack very well this season. If the Raiders are successful at establishing the run, this can set up play action to the tight ends. Seems like a tall task for the Raiders, considering their struggles at attempting to establish the run, but a task that is not insurmountable due to the subpar play of the Bears defensive line this season.