The Raiders started off the season hot at 3-0, and while there have been an obstacles to clear, the team seized momentum again en route to a 5-2 record at the bye. From the offense firing away to the stout defensive pass rush to the success on special teams, all three phases have been on point for the Silver and Black.
Now is the time to rest up, reflect and turn eyes toward the New York Giants – and we're doing the same.
Raiders.com's Levi Edwards, Eddie Paskal and Rachel Gossen weigh in on the Silver and Black through the first seven games of the season.
What has been the biggest surprise about the Raiders through seven weeks?
LE: It wasn't a surprise to me, necessarily, because I've had the pleasure of seeing him grind since OTAs, but few in the NFL could've expected Nate Hobbs to play as well as he has this quickly. The fifth-round pick out of Illinois has carved out role for himself at nickel cornerback and hasn't looked back since winning the job. Hobbs is fourth on the team in total tackles (32) and didn't allow a catch against the Philadelphia Eagles. Additionally, he's only allowed 153 yards on 255 coverage snaps with no touchdowns this season. His 78.6 overall PFF grade is the highest among rookie cornerbacks this season. This young man has truly impressed me – and could be considered a dark-horse candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year if he turns it up yet another notch moving forward.
EP: For me, it's just how quickly Gus Bradley put his imprint on this defense. Coming into 2021, we knew that if the Raiders wanted to make any type of legitimate noise in the division, the defense had to be better. I think it's fair to say we had a good idea of what to expect from Derek Carr & Co., on offense, but the bulk of our questions regarding the team sat squarely on the defensive side of the ball. Well, consider most of those questions answered because Gus Bradley has essentially transformed the Silver and Black's defense into the best group – from top to bottom – that I can remember since I started covering this team. From Gus, to his position coaches, and the players, there are a lot of folks who deserve credit for the resurgent Raiders defense this year.
RG: Not a what, but a whom. And it is, hands down, Denzel Perryman. From joining the team at the tail end of preseason to leading the league in tackles, the linebacker is bringing exactly what the Raiders needed and has become a standout in the defense. It's equally surprising the Raiders acquired Perryman for a sixth-round draft pick and in return received a seventh-round pick alongside him. Through just seven games, he's played lights-out and racked up 81 total tackles – eight more than his career-season-high of 73 that he recorded in his rookie year – as well as two fumble recoveries, which is also a career-high. Reuniting with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has worked wonders for the seventh-year vet.
Which player will break out in the second half of the season?
LE: I'm coming out of left field on this one, but I think it could be Richie Incognito. The Pro Bowl guard and team captain has been out of action since injuring his calf during Training Camp. Multiple coaches have stated that Incognito has been progressing with his recovery and could return soon after the bye week. If he does, it will be a huge lift to the O-line. While the Raiders offensive line didn't surrender a sack in their past two games, Carr has been sacked 17 times — tied for eighth most in the league this season. Incognito, even at 38 years old, brings a toughness and veteran presence to the line that should continue to propel the offense as a whole to the next level.
EP: I'm going with Kenyan Drake. Over the past two weeks – both Raiders wins, by the way – Drake has tallied 152 total yards and three touchdowns, and that's after not finding the end zone in his first five games as a Raider. The version of Drake that we've seen as of late is exactly the version of the dynamic running back we thought we'd see after he was signed in free agency, and if he keeps playing at this level, the dynamic duo of Josh Jacobs and No. 23 is going to be tough for any defense to slow down. Also, big shoutout to Greg Olson for finding creative ways to get Kenyan rolling in the past two games.
RG: Maybe not a breakout, per se, but I expect a continuation of success for Henry Ruggs III. He's playing at a higher level, and you can see the connection between him and Derek Carr strengthening. You can definitely see it on those "moon balls" Ruggs always seems to haul in. Considering he's already surpassed his rookie year receiving yardage and total touchdowns, it's only up from here for the wide receiver.
What questions/concerns linger for the Raiders?
LE: Probably the Raiders' run defense. The defense has played much better than they have in years past, in part due to Gus Bradley's new scheme and free-agent additions to the defensive line. However, the D-line's biggest strengths are predicated more toward pass rushing than run stopping. There have been times where linebackers have missed gaps and have just been collectively been thrown off guard when teams run the ball. While the pass defense has been outstanding, their run defense has allowed a total 919 rushing yards through seven games – the fifth-most in the league. While players rest up and get healthier, they'll get back some pieces to potentially play a big factor in the run defense past the bye week.
EP: Don't get confused — life is good at 5-2 — but all the same, there are still questions surrounding this Raiders team, and for me, my biggest one surrounds the offensive line – mainly, can the group keep trending in the right direction over the next 10 ballgames? It's no secret it took the big fellas up front some time to really gel and play a quality brand of football, but if the past two weeks are any indication, they're a group headed into the right direction. Credit to Tom Cable for staying nimble and not being afraid to mix up his starting lineup; if Kolton Miller and the rest of the linemen keep stacking bricks and improving game after game, I really like the outlook for the rest of 2021 for the Raiders.
RG: I think the biggest question will be, can the Raiders sustain the momentum they had before the bye week? Carr has been playing his best football yet – ranking second in the league in passing yards – and based off what we saw in the victory over the Eagles last Sunday, the O-line looks like its finding its footing. Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia said Monday that the team has discussed getting rest in, but also staying focused and ready to prepare for the Giants when they return to work. There's also the question of health. Of course, that's a huge question mark across the league for every team, but important for the Raiders who had their depth tested early after they were hit with injuries at key positions like linebacker and cornerback. Hopefully, as Levi noted, after the bye, the Raiders will get some of their pieces back that will only make them stronger and not lose anyone else in the process.
Which game on the schedule are you most looking forward to?
LE: I'm looking forward to a Thanksgiving feast in Arlington, Texas. The Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys are both at the top of their respected division and have high-octane offenses with multiple weapons. This will be a shootout for sure, as both Carr and Dak Prescott are currently top-10 in the league in passing yards. A big-time primetime game with two teams on track to make the playoffs? Sign me up.
EP: The easy answer is Sunday Night Football against the Chiefs, right? Well, just to keep it spicy, I'm going to go with the Week 11 clash against the Cincinnati Bengals. At this point in the season, I think it's fair to say that both the Raiders and the Bengals have been pleasant surprises in the AFC, and if you take a look at the playoff picture as it stands now – and yes, I know it's still late October – you'll find both these squads listed on that bracket. Joe Burrow is quickly becoming one of the more exciting young signal-callers in the game, and if both these teams keep playing good football, Week 11 will be a great barometer for both of them to see where they stack up against other top foes in the conference. I also think this is a big game for the Silver and Black, because they'll head to Dallas just a few days later to play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
RG: I'm probably not alone in how excited I am for the Raiders-Chargers rematch in Week 18 at Allegiant Stadium. After a rough loss in Week 4, there's no doubt the Raiders will be fighting tooth and nail for the W, especially as it's the last game of the season and could potentially hold some very big playoff implications if both teams continue to feed off their successful starts. Add in the high-caliber play of Carr and Justin Herbert, this will be a fun one.
View team photographer Matt Aguirre's best photos from Allegiant Stadium's catwalk during the Las Vegas Raiders' Week 7 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.