As Week 1 of the NFL season gets underway in the era of COVID-19 including playing in front of empty stadiums, Las Vegas travels east to face the rebuilding Carolina Panthers and we take a look at three keys to a Raiders win on the road.
The Las Vegas Raiders will play their first-ever game representing their new home on the road against a Carolina Panthers team with lots of holes, youth, and a talented but first-time NFL coach in Matt Rhule. Here are three keys to a Raiders victory at Carolina on Sunday.
#1 Key to a Raiders Win: Josh Jacobs Gets Off to Fast Start
While this could be a key to a Raiders victory just about every week of the 2020 NFL season, getting the talented young Josh Jacobs going early is important for this team perhaps even more than last season. With young wideouts, and facing a defense beset by holes and it’s own youth movement, getting Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense going with a pounding running game is key on Sunday.
The Panthers will start four rookies on defense and gave up a league-worst 143 yards rushing in 2019 and don’t expect to be much better this season. Although Carolina invested heavily (every one of their draft picks this year came on the defensive side of the ball) on their defense, they aren’t nearly competitive enough to stop Jacobs.
Expect the Raiders and Gruden to “pound the rock” with Jacobs getting the ball at least 15 times and breaking the century mark rather early. If he can do that in Game 1, the path to a Raiders victory is clear.
#2 Key to a Raiders Win: Raiders Defensive Backs Gel Quickly Against Subpar Opponent
While it’s true you want your defense to perform well against good teams like New Orleans and Kansas City, for young defensive backs like Damon Arnette, Amik Robertson, and Trayvon Mullen, building confidence is important early in this strange start to the season.
In the Carolina Panthers, the Raiders defense won’t get a stout test on the backend despite the talent and steadiness of new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Lacking a ton of weapons, the Panthers will live and die on the shoulders of running back Christian McCaffery.
Outside of McCaffery, the Panthers aren’t scary vertically and with a new offense, new quarterback, and a so-so receiving corps, the Raiders win opportunity is good and their young defensive backs can get their feet wet before facing future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in Week 2 at home.
If the reformulated defensive backfield can build confidence, and play well, a Raiders victory is likely.
#3 Key: Advantage, Jon Gruden
Matt Rhule will enter his first season as the Panther’s head coach but he’s also in his first year as a head man in the NFL. Making the jump from college to the pros isn’t as easy as some would make it. It will take time and Rhule, who should be one of the next class of up-and-coming NFL coaches, will struggle at time. Facing Gruden and his experienced staff will be a tall task for the energetic Rhule.
Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the clear advantage in experience throughout the entire Raiders coaching staff, and the differences are stark. Not only is Rhule a first-time pro coach, but several of his key assistants are too. They didn’t have the time nor full preseason to learn on the job and Gruden and his staff have been through the battles. This means the chances of a Raiders win are far greater than if they faced an older, crafty, experienced coach. That’s not to say Rhule isn’t smart or talented, but in professional football, experience matters.
Game planning will be hard for everyone in 2020 but Gruden’s experience will mean a Raiders victory coming off the most unusual offseason in league history.