The Las Vegas Raiders were supposed to face a murderers' row of defenses out the gate in 2021, as they were tabbed to face 2020's sixth (Baltimore Ravens), second (Pittsburgh Steelers), and seventh (Miami Dolphins) ranked defenses in EPA per play. If the Raiders were to stumble out the gate on the offensive side of the ball, no one would have been terribly surprised.
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Through two games, however, it’s been the opposite, as they’re averaging 29.5 points per game while quarterback Derek Carr ranks sixth in EPA per dropback.
The Raiders are 2-0 and sit atop the AFC West. While we still have 15 games to go, the Vegas preseason win total (7.5) for the Raiders looks all but a force majeure away from hitting the over. With the Kansas City Chiefs faltering on Sunday night to a team the Raiders beat last Monday, the AFC West may be tougher than previously thought.
With a head coach who has been no stranger to criticism in three seasons without a playoff birth, how did we get here? To answer that, one needs to look no further than the division rival Las Vegas has to face twice a year. As the old saying goes, “if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em.” And it’s become abundantly clear the Raiders are executing the Chiefs' offensive blueprint more closely than any other team in the NFL.
Waller’s emergence as a do-it-all tight end in 2019 was the very first piece of the puzzle. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder possesses one of the rarest skill sets in the NFL: tight end size with receiver-esque route-running. Outside of Waller, Kelce and George Kittle, you’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in recent memory. It’s why the Atlanta Falcons were willing to draft Kyle Pitts fourth overall over more accomplished true receivers such as Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith, as the Wallers and Kelces of the world don’t get treated like true receivers. They get guarded by linebackers and safeties. And in the NFL today, modern offenses are all about one thing: mismatches.