Raiders Stats and Storylines: Week 3 Edition

What a start to the season. The Raiders are undefeated, have already won two overtime games, and are the first team to start 3-0 with each of their wins coming against a team that won 10+ games the year before. 

How have they gotten here?

Let’s take a look at ten emerging storylines and the stats behind them. 

1. Derek Carr Playing at MVP Level

Stop me if you heard this already, but Derek Carr is playing good football. He currently leads the NFL in the following:

  • Passing Yards
  • Big-Time Throws*
  • 20+-yard pass attempts
  • PFF grade on 20+-yard passes

Carr is pairing league-leading aggression with pinpoint accuracy and that combo is the main reason the Raiders are undefeated.

*A PFF metric that is a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window

2. Gruden Giving Carr the Keys 

The Raiders are passing at the sixth-highest rate in score-neutral situations and fourth-highest on early downs:

Jon Gruden is one of the league’s best playcallers and is living up to that reputation this season. Simply put, passing on early downs is easier. And putting that trust in Derek Carr has resulted in a top offense. 

3. Arsenal of Wide Receivers Making Plays

PFF’s Mike Renner has a great breakdown of how the Raiders offense has evolved to mimic the Chiefs. Of course, all offenses would like to look like the Chiefs, but that’s only possible if you have the playmakers at wide receiver. 

Which the Raiders now do, with each on pace for one-thousand yards and each filling a defined and unique role:

  • Henry Ruggs, field-stretcher
    • Among WRs with a minimum of ten targets, Henry Ruggs (21.5) ranks third in the NFL in yards per reception.
    • Ruggs’ 16.6 average depth of target is T-8th in the league.
    • He’s one of only 11 players with a 100% contested catch rate.
    • His 7.0 yards-after-catch per reception is 4th in the NFL among WRs with at least 10 targets.
    • Add it all together, and you have a receiver who is going deep, coming down with the football and making plays with it. 
  • Bryan Edwards, possession receiver
    • In Week 3, Bryan Edwards’ average separation of 0.8 was the lowest in the NFL, yet he’s making plays due to his physicality.
    • He’s T-8th in contested catches with 4.
    • He is routinely catching passes with a low completion probability, such as his OT catch against the Dolphins, which had a completion probability of 23.6%, according to Next Gen Stats
    • He’s making plays with the football after the catch, too, with his Week 3 yards-after-catch average of 11.2 ranking second in the NFL. 
  • Hunter Renfrow, trusted playmaker
    • Renfrow is the highest-rated Raider receiver with a PFF grade of 80.6, which is good for 8th in the NFL.
    • He’s a dynamo in the open field with 4 missed tackles forced, which is tied for fourth in the NFL among WRs.
    • He’s run the most routes from the slot (63) and is the best Raider receiver against zone defense, where he’s caught 7 of 7 targets for 3 first downs.

4. The Raiders Offense is Rolling Despite Below-Average Offensive-Line Play

The Raiders made the offseason decision to blow up their offensive line. Let’s start with the data and then make a surprise determination off it:

The obvious: the offensive line has struggled.
The surprise determination: Despite these struggles, it appears the Raiders made the correct decision.

And, like so many things in life, the reason it was the correct decision comes down to money.

The 2020 Raiders spent 20.85% of their cap space on the offensive line and ranked tenth in points per game. The 2021 edition is spending 13.73% of its cap space on the offensive line and ranks sixth in points per game.

Or to put it another way: The scoring has increased, while the reduced OL spending gave the Raiders the cap space to acquire players like Casey Heyward, Yannick Ngakoue et al.

That shrewd use of resources allowed the Raiders to improve the defense — at no detriment to the offense — and is a major reason the Raiders are 3-0.

5. Nate Hobbs Quietly Putting Together Stellar Rookie Season

The preseason star has yet to make any regular-season splash plays, but he continues to play well nonetheless:

  • His 76.8 PFF grade is second-best among Raider cornerbacks.
  • That PFF grade is the best among rookie cornerbacks, with Patrick Surtain second.
  • His yards allowed per reception is a minuscule 4.8, which is good for second in the NFL among corners who’ve played a minimum of 100 snaps.

With his physical talent and preseason tape, one has to imagine the splash plays are coming, but in the meantime he’s been an asset even without them. 

6. Alex Leatherwood is Doing the Opposite

Despite the Raiders’ team success, there’s no way to sugarcoat Leatherwood’s individual performance. It’s been bad:

  • He’s allowed the most sacks in the NFL with 3.
  • He’s had the second-most penalties in the NFL with 4.
  • His 13 pressures allowed are the seventh most.
  • Among rookie offensive lineman, he’s the worst in all the above.

He’s a great physical talent, and Tom Cable is among the best line coaches in the NFL, so there’s a path for him to become an asset. Currently, however, he’s a liability and one that could easily cost the Raiders a game.

7. Peyton Barber Capably Holding Down the Fort

If you’re a “runningbacks don’t matter” disciple, Peyton Barber is your latest exemplar. He was signed off a practice squad, thrust into the lineup and he’s excelling. Not quite at Josh Jacobs’ level, but not far off, either:

  • Barber had the most rushing yards over expectation in Week 3 with 42, per Next Gen Stats
  • And, per PFF, Barber’s 99 yards after contact led the NFL in Week 3. 
  • He also had the most runs that resulted in a first down. 
  • He’s shining in pass protection, en route to the second-best PFF pass-blocking grade among RBs in Week 3. 
  • On his 27-yard run in OT, Barber reached a speed of 19.88 mph, per Next Gen Stats, which was 20th best in Week 3.
  • Through 3 weeks, Peyton Barber’s 0.86 rushing yards over expected per rush ranks sixth in the NFL among RBs with at least 25 carries. 

With the Raiders soon facing a decision on Josh Jacobs’ contract, it’s easy to imagine the team making the same cost-cutting choice they did with their offensive line. Saving money at running back, so they can spend it at more important positions would be a similarly shrewd move.

8. Maxx Crosby: Defensive Player of the Year Candidate 

I touched on this in last week’s betting column, but it’s time for Crosby to be mentioned as a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Consider the following:

  • He’s first in the NFL in pressures with 25 – which is five more than second place.
  • He’s first in the NFL in QB hits with 10 – which is four more than second place.
  • He only has two sacks thus far, but pressures predict future sacks better than sacks do. Or in other words: the sacks are coming. 
  • He’s the linchpin in the NFL’s top-rated pass-rush defense and the star defender on a 3-0 team.

Add it together and Crosby could be on his way to a truly remarkable season.

9. Gruden’s 4th-Down Aggression

For two consecutive weeks, Jon Gruden has made better 4th-down decisions than the opposition. 

  • In Week 2, Mike Tomlin lowered the Steelers’ Win Probability by 5.6% by punting on 4th and 1 while down 23-14.
  • In Week 3, Brian Flores lowered the Dolphins’ Win Probability by 8.6% by declining to go for a 4th down.
  • Meanwhile, although the playcall was underwhelming – especially given the Raiders’ inability to runblock – Gruden’s decision to go for it on 4th and 1 against Miami was the correct call, as it increased the Raiders’ Win Probability by 5.1%.

Gruden’s offensive play-calling already gives the Raiders an edge over most opponents. If he continues to couple that with fourth-down aggression, the team will have a coaching advantage in nearly every game they play. 

10. Chargers and Raiders: More in Common than their Division

The Raiders have the fifth-hardest schedule remaining, according to PFF. Kicking off that stretch is a Charger team that is eerily similar to the Raiders:

  • Chargers (5th) and Raiders (3rd) are both in the top five of PFF’s pass offenses.
  • Justin Herbert (5th) and Derek Carr (2) are both in the top five of PFF’s quarterback rankings.
  • Chargers (8th) and Raiders (1) are both in the top ten of PFF’s pass-rush rankings.

The Chargers are currently a 3.5 favorite. Stay tuned to the betting column later this week for analysis.

Twitter: @TravisGilkeson


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