Raiders hope for strong fan backing in opener vs. Ravens
For the second consecutive season, the Las Vegas Raiders open their home schedule with a Monday night contest. But there will be one big difference when they take the field at Allegiant Stadium to face the Baltimore Ravens this time around.
For the first time since moving into their new $1.9 billion home, the Raiders will play a home game with fans with a sellout crowd of 65,000 expected to be on hand.
How the atmosphere in Las Vegas matches up with the old Black Hole in Oakland remains to be seen. But the new stadium, with its shiny all-black exterior nicknamed “The Death Star” by strong safety and obvious “Star Wars” fan Johnathan Abram, figures to feature a raucous atmosphere.
“It’s go time on Monday night,” Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, wearing a T-shirt with the word “FINISH” on the front, said Thursday. “I don’t know how noisy this one is, but we’ve played in a noisy atmosphere before. It will be another game against a great all-around team. We’re going to have a Monday night fight. How about that? That’s what it’s going to be.”
Unfortunately for the Ravens, who are 5-0 and have outscored their opponents 177-26 in their past five season openers, they will be lacking some serious offensive punching power.
After already losing starting running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) and backup Justice Hill (Achilles) to injuries during fall camp, the Ravens had to cut practice short on Thursday when new starting running back Gus Edwards as well as cornerback Marcus Peters both sustained what appeared to be significant knee injuries.
If Edwards is sidelined as expected, the Ravens likely will turn to 2020 undrafted free agent running back Ty’Son Edwards to make his NFL debut with Le’Veon Bell and free agent signee Trenton Cannon, both of whom practiced with the team for the first time on Wednesday, among the other possibilities. Baltimore also signed veteran free agent running back Devonta Freeman to the practice squad on Thursday afternoon, according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus.
“Yeah, I think there’s a chance (Bell could play Monday),” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said before Thursday’s injury-riddled practice.
Bell, 29, rushed for just 328 yards and two touchdowns on 82 carries last season with the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs. He has 6,453 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns in his career and had three seasons with 1,200-plus yards while playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the running back situation unsettled, it puts even more of a bull’s-eye on Jackson. The 2019 NFL MVP rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns on 159 carries last season while also completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The Raiders brought in Gus Bradley to rebuild a defense that allowed 29.9 points per game and produced just 15 takeaways during an 8-8 campaign. Among the notable defensive newcomers are defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebackers K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.
The offense will once again be led by quarterback Derek Carr (4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns, nine interceptions last year), tight end Darren Waller (107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns) and running back Josh Jacobs (1,065 yards, 12 TDs).
The Raiders have made the playoffs just once (2016) since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season.
“We need to be a playoff team this year,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “We think we are going to be a good team. We’re not running from expectations.”
However, head coach Jon Gruden downplayed Mayock’s comments in an interview this week with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about the playoffs,” said Gruden, who is entering the fourth year of his second stint as the Raiders’ head coach. “I’m going to talk Baltimore. They want to go to the playoffs, too. … I’m not going to get into that B.S. I’d be very, very upset if we weren’t very confident.”
Despite defeating the New Orleans Saints 34-24 last year in their Monday night home opener, the Raiders finished just 2-6 on their home turf, dropping their last four contests in Las Vegas.
Carr is 4-2 as a starter on Monday nights, including wins in his past three Monday starts.
–Field Level Media