Six days from their resilient overtime victory on Thanksgiving, the Las Vegas Raiders are preparing to take on the Washington Football Team this Sunday.
This game for the Raiders should be another tight contest, having to host a Washington Team that has picked up the pace of late. After surviving injuries to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chase Young and Montez Sweat, their unit has won three straight games – one of those wins coming against the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Washington has strung together these victories in part to their stingy defense led by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and the backfield tandem of Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.
Here are this week's key matchups to follow:
Johnathan Abram vs. Antonio Gibson
When Johnathan Abram has been used properly in Gus Bradley's defense, he's done great things. A big indicator of that came against the Dallas Cowboys.
The strong safety has been featured heavily in the box this season as a run stopper and in man coverage on running backs. That's where his skillsets best suit him, almost as if he's another roaming linebacker and not a safety. Abram led the Raiders in total and solo tackles on Thanksgiving Day, while also only allowing 14 receiving yards on him in coverage.
Abram is going to have to keep that same energy against Antonio Gibson. The second-year running back out of Memphis is WFT's most versatile weapon in their offense. Gibson leads his team in yards from scrimmage (905) with six total touchdowns. In their Monday Night Football victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Gibson had 111 rushing yards on 29 carries with 35 receiving yards on seven catches.
"They're really running the ball well, obviously Gibson is getting better each week playing running back in the league," Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia said Wednesday.
In short, Washington is going to try to put the football in Gibson's hands as much as possible. Abram will need to continue to fulfill his role of making plays in the backfield for the Raiders defense to succeed Sunday.
The Silver and Black vs. Washington's momentum
Even with injuries and early season setbacks, the Washington Football Team is on three-game winning streak – with momentum dripping off of them following their primetime win.
After going 2-6 in their first eight games, they've now inched their way back into contention for the playoffs. They are now two games behind for the lead in the division, with a little help from the Silver and Black who defeated the NFC East-leading Cowboys on Thursday. Even with the obstacles WFT has had to face, they've been extremely resilient and have gained a lot of momentum moving into the end stretch of the season.
That sounds a little familiar doesn't it?
While the Raiders haven't won three straight games recently, the Thanksgiving Day win has given the team enough momentum to push forward for a playoff spot. The 6-5 team is one game behind for the last wildcard spot in the AFC. While there might not be over 38 million viewers watching the Raiders from home this Sunday, they're still under extremely bright lights and pressure against a team reaching their peak this season.
Andre James vs. Jonathan Allen
Both Raiders center Andre James and Washington's defensive tackle Jonathan Allen have been having very underrated seasons.
After having early struggles with penalties, James has turned it up to another level in the later part of this season with several solid performances, and has yet to surrender a sack this season.
"I think some of his one-on-one blocks, you see some improvement," Bisaccia said regarding James' play this season. "We left him on the island a little bit versus some big noses where he's had to reach or be able to play backdoor on some of those as well. He's real athletic when he gets on the second level, but I think at the point of attack, he's starting to improve there and do a better job with his hand placement and being left on an island."
This Sunday, James will be on that island against an impressive defensive tackle in Jonathan Allen. The WFT's interior defender has 23.0 sacks and 238 tackles in his five-year NFL career with no Pro Bowl selections. So far this season, Allen has six sacks with a 91.1 PFF grade.
With injuries sidelining Washington's top edge rushers in Chase Young and Montez Sweat, Allen has had to pick up the slack on the the defensive line. The overall defense's pressure on Derek Carr will be imperative for their success. James will have to be on his A-game this Sunday, which it seems like it has recently.