The Las Vegas Raiders have started their 2021 season 3-0, their best start to a season since 2002. Carried by a red-hot Derek Carr and a potent offense, the Raiders have produced one of the league’s best offenses thus far. However, the key difference in their start has been the elite pass-rush that has been on display.
Although they haven’t faced a top offensive line in the league yet, the Raiders are getting immense pressure on the quarterbacks in 2021. The Raiders defense is getting off the field at a great rate, allowing the offense to succeed. The defensive line and pass rush are huge reasons for this.
The Raiders Defensive Line Has Been Key to their Hot Start
The Leader – Maxx Crosby
Raider fans are disappointed that former number four overall pick Clelin Ferrell, has been a non-factor in 2021. However, the breakout of third-year edge defender Maxx Crosby has helped ease the pain some. Crosby is the league’s leader in quarterback hits and pressures through three weeks.
While he has had a decent career so far, he is on pace for an all-pro caliber season, something not many saw coming. Part of the reason for the uptick in Maxx Crosby’s play is his healthier lifestyle off the field.
Crosby admitted to partying way too much in 2020 and is now clean and sober and it’s showing on the field. Crosby is beating offensive lineman like a drum with power, and finesse. Garnering rave reviews from Ben Rothlisberger in week 2, where Maxx Crosby was haunting Big Ben most of the afternoon.
On the field, his play is great. The Raiders need Crosby to continue his dominance to win in 2021, but his leadership is a huge part of all of this too. Crosby has shown he is a leader on and off the field for the Raiders, and his energy has the whole defensive line humming.
The Surprise – Interior Pass Rush
The Raiders ousted defensive tackles David Irving and Maurice Hurst right before training camp started, a shock to fans. With the additions of Darius Philon, Solomon Thomas, and Quinton Jefferson the Raiders felt they had enough upside to move on from disappointing players from years past. Even though it’s early, through three weeks, the Raiders seem to have nailed their interior defensive line personnel.
Solomon Thomas, an ex-first round castoff from San Francisco, has terrorized quarterbacks so far in a limited role, registering 2.5 sacks. The combination of Thomas and an explosive Darius Philon has helped the interior pass-rush immensely.
For the Raiders to continue their winning ways, the interior pass-rush will need to help their defensive ends throughout the season. The group of Jonathan Hankins, Solomon Thomas, Darius Philon, and Quinton Jefferson seems to be working so far. It will be interesting to see how the reps get handed out as the season progresses, but the Raiders have gotten everything they’ve hoped for from this group so far.
The X-Factor – Carl Nassib
Carl Nassib had a fairly disappointing season in 2020, his Raiders debut. A healthy scratch in 2 games, leading to a 2.5 sack campaign. Even with the disappointing season, Nassib was the Raiders most talked about player in the off-season. Not for football reasons, he became the first openly gay NFL player.
Personal life aside, Nassib has completely turned around his Raiders career. A key cog in the opening night victory, where Nassib forced a strip-sack fumble on Lamar Jackson to ultimately lead to the Raiders winning drive.
Nassib has flashed in all three games as a rotational player and was the first one to see more snaps when Yannick Ngakoue left with an injury. Nassib looks to be forming into the player that the Raiders thought was worth the contract he received in 2020, in large part due to a better schematic fit under Gus Bradley. With Nassib as an x-factor, the Raiders have a trio of pass-rushers that can compete with anyone in the league.
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