Raiders Stats and Storylines: Week 4 Edition

Four games was traditionally the quarter pole in the NFL season. With the addition of an extra week this year, that’s no longer the case. It remains, however, a good time to take stock of emerging trends.

By and large, Raider fans should like what they see.

The Raiders are off to their best start since 2002, have a share of first place in the AFC West and the strength of its team is on… defense. A strange phenomenon for this franchise. And a fitting storyline to begin this week’s article.

1. Best Raider Defense in Ages

The Raiders lost their first game last week, but unlike in the recent past it wasn’t the fault of the defense. Instead, the defense kept them in it:

Eric Eager 📊🏈 on Twitter: “If you’re a #Raiders fan you have to be encouraged by how the defense played last night. Not perfect, of course, but in previous seasons that game is 49-14. / Twitter”

If you’re a #Raiders fan you have to be encouraged by how the defense played last night. Not perfect, of course, but in previous seasons that game is 49-14.

If it feels like it’s been a long time since a Raider defense was this good, to borrow a phrase from Boston: it’s more than a feeling. This is a franchise that has averaged an overall ranking of 26th in PFF’s defensive rankings over the last decade.

Take a look at where PFF currently ranks them after four games:

  • Pass Rush: 1st
  • Coverage: 2nd
  • Overall: 3rd

If Gus Bradley’s unit maintains this play, it could be the best Raider defense of many fans’ lifetimes, mine included.

2. Offensive Line’s Historically Bad Start

The Raiders offensive line is off to an historic start of their own. Unfortunately, it’s in the other direction:

  • The Raiders’ PFF team run-blocking grade of 34.2 would be the lowest in NFL history if it holds, “besting” the 2019 Dolphins who ended the season with a grade of 43.7
  • Alex Leatherwood has allowed the most sacks, QB hits and has the most penalties among all offensive lineman and the worst PFF grade among tackles with at least 100 snaps
  • Andre James has the most penalties, fourth-most hurries and lowest PFF grade among all centers with at least 100 snaps
  • John Simpson has allowed the thirteenth-most pressures and has the eighth-lowest PFF grade among guards with at least 100 snaps

Having the worst-graded center, tackle and run blocking is obviously less than ideal. The fact that the players are young and ostensibly developing makes it more tolerable. And, as the old saying goes, winning cures all.

That said, the development of this year’s first-round pick is slower than many fans want to believe.

3. Leatherwood & Miller: Similar Athletes, Different Rookie Seasons

A popular narrative is that Kolton Miller struggled just as badly in his first four games as Alex Leatherwood has.

While four games does not a career make, that narrative is simply incorrect. 

Kolton Miller graded as an average tackle in his first four games whereas Alex Leatherwood is grading as the worst tackle in the NFL:

Kolton Miller’s First-Four Games vs. Alex Leatherwood’s First-Four Games

Kolton Miller
Alex Leatherwood
Sacks Allowed14
QB Hits16
Pressures Allowed1218
PFF Pass-Blocking Grade71.028.1
PFF Run-Blocking Grade61.153.9
Overall PFF Grade65.531.1
PFF Ranking*37thLast

*Ranking is among Offensive Tackles with at least 100 snaps.

One area Miller and Leatherwood do compare favorably is athletic testing. The pair are two of the most athletic tackles to enter the league:

It’s reasonable to assume Leatherwood will improve — and he has the athletic profile to be elite — but currently he’s the starter with the biggest liability, not only on the offensive line but on the team. 

4. Backup Plan at Right Tackle?

Reports from practice are that the Raiders may try a new approach with their offensive line and Alex Leatherwood:

Tashan Reed on Twitter: “Alex Leatherwood is working at right guard today for the #Raiders. Brandon Parker is at right tackle. / Twitter”

Alex Leatherwood is working at right guard today for the #Raiders. Brandon Parker is at right tackle.

The idea of easing Leatherwood into the NFL with a less-taxing position makes sense. Or, perhaps, he ends up like Mo Collins: another tackle a Jon Gruden-coached Raiders team selected in the first round and ultimately moved to guard.

Either way, a backup plan at RT that doesn’t involve the oft-beat Brandon Parker would make some sense.

The Raiders do have a tidy $4.6M in cap space and some attractive RT options on the open market.

Available Free Agents at Right Tackle

Sacks Allowed321
Overall PFF Grade73.074.777.0
PFF Ranking*35th30th25th

*Ranking is among Offensive Tackles with at least 100 snaps.

In a perfect world, Leatherwood improves as he becomes more comfortable at right tackle. But we don’t live in a perfect world and a playoff contender relying on Brandon Parker is suboptimal.

5. No Matter the Runner, There’s Nowhere to Run

There is no shortage of stats that rank the Raiders run-blocking poorly. Perhaps the most straight-forward, though, is Expected Rushing Yards.

As the name suggests, Expected Rushing Yards is defined as “how many rushing yards a ball-carrier is expected to gain on a given carry based on the relative location, speed and direction of blockers and defenders.”

In layman’s terms, it’s a measure of how good the run-blocking is for a given player. And for any Raider it’s bad. Three of the lowest six Expected Yards belong to Raiders:

Players with Lowest Expected Yards Per Rush

PlayerTeamExpected Yards
Phillip Lindsay HOU2.04
Kenyan DrakeLV2.32
Malcolm BrownMIA2.47
Cordarrelle PattersonATL2.86
Josh Jacobs LV2.87
Peyton BarberLV3.00

Unsurprisingly, with run blocking that poor, when the Raiders do run, the results are poor:

It doesn’t matter the back, the result is the same: the Raiders have one of the lowest success rates on run plays.

6. Pass Blocking Not as Big an Issue… Thanks to Derek Carr

Unlike the run game, the passing game is rolling, ranking high in both success and explosiveness:

Raiders Pass Ranking in NFL

CategoryNFL Rank
Pressure Rate11th
Pass Success Rate6th
Explosive Pass Rate1st

The obvious question: Why is the run game so negatively affected by the offensive line but the pass game isn’t? The answer: Derek Carr.

Carr is being pressured on 34.2% of his dropbacks, which is 13th highest in the NFL. On these dropbacks, Carr has done the following:

Derek Carr Under Pressure

StatGradeNFL Rank
Big Time Throws46th best
Yards Per Attempt7.68th best
PFF Passing Grade66.89th best
Turnover-Worthy Plays211th fewest

Carr’s ability to create big plays under pressure — while limiting turnovers — is masking some of the offensive-line deficiencies and keeping this offense afloat.

7. Should an Already Pass-Heavy Team Pass More?

Having established that the offensive line is inhibiting running but not passing, it makes sense that the Raiders are the least-efficient run offense and tenth-most efficient pass offense:

An easy takeaway is that the Raiders should pass more. But they’re already passing 64.77% of the time, which is the fifth-most in the NFL and nearly 10% more than the past two seasons.

Whether or not Jon Gruden leans into his most efficient offense — and against his previous tendencies — will be a fascinating subplot to the season.

8. Henry Ruggs Playing Like a Top Draft Pick

One of the best storylines this season resides in the passing game: the emergence of Henry Ruggs.

His selection was quickly panned as a reach and the sentiment was validated by a lackluster 2020 campaign. 2021, however, has been a different story.

Here’s how Ruggs compares to the rest of the 2020 WR draft class after 4 games, last year and this year:

Henry Ruggs First-Four Games in 2020 vs. First-Four Games in 2021

Receiving Yards5915th2972nd
Yards Per Reception14.88th21.22nd
Yards Per Route Run1.2312th2.341st
Contested Catches0T-10th3T-4th
QB Rating When Targeted74.512th116.17th

*Rank among the 17 WRs drafted in 2020 with at least 8 targets through first 4 games
**Rank among the 21 WRs drafted in 2020 with at least 8 targets through first 4 games

Not only has he emerged as one of the top WRs from his draft class, but his role as a vertical threat is pivotal to the Raiders’ offense.

All in all, a year later his selection appears smart and, rather than a bust, he could be the best first-round pick of Jon Gruden’s tenure.

9. Challenging Rest-of-Year Schedule

The good news: The Raiders are 3-1, having beaten three teams who won 10+ games last season.

The bad news: The schedule only gets tougher.

Below are rankings of the Raiders’ remaining strength of schedule by three outlets, all of which rank it as one the most difficult:

Clearly the road to the playoffs won’t be an easy one.

10. Playoff Odds Lowered after First Loss

Due to that schedule — and playing in the best division in football — the Raiders’ playoff hopes are essentially a coin flip:

Additionally, at Draft Kings the Raiders are +110 to make the playoffs, which means the implied odds are 47.6%:

In a division as competitive as the AFC West, Sunday’s game against Chicago will have a significant impact on the Raiders’ playoff hopes. Stay tuned to the betting column for analysis on that game.

Twitter: @TravisGilkeson


4 thoughts on “Raiders Stats and Storylines: Week 4 Edition

  1. Kolton Miller played right tackle his senior year in college, he was drafted to be switched to left tackle. Alex Leatherwood played left tackle his senior year in college and was drafted to play right tackle. Why do the Raiders pull this switcheroo? Can someone please educate this weary old Raiders fan why Gruden thinks it’s smart to increase a player’s level of difficulty during the transition from college to pro???

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