The 2020 NFL season saw the Las Vegas Raiders fall short of their postseason goals. Looking for a fresh start, the Raiders made polarizing off-season moves. Both sides of the ball look very different, as do the personnel. A tough division and tougher schedule present clear challenges for Las Vegas’ players and coaches. Eager to thwart AFC West foes, the Raiders must focus on these keys to success if they are to reach the playoffs in 2021.
2021 Las Vegas Raiders: Keys to Making the Playoffs
Improved Play on Defense
It’s no secret that the Raiders defense in 2020 didn’t perform well. The unit ranked 26th in the NFL last season. However, coordinator Gus Bradley and veteran additions look to turn the young core around. Signing edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue bolsters a group that has struggled to reach quarterbacks. Bringing in Ngakoue makes the edge arguably the strongest group on defense. Inking another deal with veteran corner Casey Hayward has brought life to a raw defensive backfield as well.
Coach Jon Gruden also addressed defensive woes in the NFL draft. Second round selection Trevon Moerig adds a single high presence at safety. Most likely a day one starter, Moerig joins a young unit that struggled in coverages. Linebacker Tanner Muse is also returning from injury, and looks to finally showcase his NFL transition. If the Raiders are to defeat the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, it starts with the defense playing at a high level.
Utilizing Every Offensive Weapon
Off-season moves by the Raiders didn’t only retool the defense. Signings like John Brown and Kenyan Drake give more depth to a versatile Vegas offense. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs has established himself as a talent, however, adding Drake could see them both make the most of each rep. Both backs will be led by a very different offensive line in 2021. No matter who is out in front, Jacobs and Drake could be an exciting duo this year.
While accurate, Derek Carr continues to receive criticism for his conservative play. With playmakers like Darren Waller and Henry Ruggs hauling in passes, Carr must look further downfield. Other players like Bryan Edwards and Willie Snead have possession skill sets for red-zone and third down plays. If the Raiders offense is to succeed, Carr will have to trust his receivers on every type of throw.
Overcoming a Tough Schedule
Competing in the AFC West has been no easy task in the last decade. The Kansas City Chiefs have maintained elite play, while the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers pose viable threats too. Planning against Andy Reid, the Mile High atmosphere and an upstart Charger team will each test the Raiders twice in 2021.
A week one matchup against the Baltimore Ravens could set the tone for the whole season. Led by Lamar Jackson, the Ravens offense has many moving pieces to account for. Another AFC North opponent looking tough is the Cleveland Browns. After a postseason victory, Baker Mayfield and the Browns have the pieces to make a Super Bowl run. Contests against the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys could be trying for the Raiders as well.
Maintaining consistency throughout should be a focus for Las Vegas this season. Recent years have seen a Raiders strong start fizzle out. Starting out well demands the team end the season on a winning note as well. New faces on and off the field have fans hopeful for success this upcoming year. To reach the playoffs in 2021, the Raiders must play a complete season focused on the keys to success. In what is sure to be a chaotic NFL season, look for Gruden and the Raiders to be hustling for a postseason appearance.
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