Las Vegas @ Cincinnati
Power rankings: Las Vegas 20, Cincinnati 13
When Las Vegas has the ball:
The Raiders on offense are 19th in DVOA and 20th in EPA/play. Among 39 qualifiers, Derek Carr finished the season 12th in PFF passing grades (76.6), completed 68.4% of his passes, and gained 7.7 yards per attempt. He plays behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, as a unit they rank 21st in ESPN's pass block win rate and 31st in run block win rate. Although LT Kolton Miller has been one of the better tackles in football this season, the other four starters are a collection of revolving doors. Carr ranks 11th in aDOT (8.4) and is 18th in time to throw (averaging 2.72 seconds) -- given the poor line and preference to push the ball down the field, you'd think Carr would be under pressure more often than any QB in the league -- but his rate under pressure is 34.8%, 16th least in the league. His top receivers by projected targets: TE Darren Waller, slot man Hunter Renfrow, and outside receiver Zay Jones. Waller came back last week from a knee injury that had sidelined him since week 12, but he wasn't limited in the slightest, playing on 62 of 80 snaps and running routes on 41 of 46 dropbacks. Both Jones and Renfrow stepped up considerably since Henry Ruggs decided to get himself thrown in jail, giving the Raiders respectable options at receiver. Josh Jacobs handles the RB carries with Peyton Barber occasionally chipping in. Jacobs is a solid back -- he finished 11th in PFF rushing grades and 3rd in missed tackles forced, but the offensive line is the biggest factor, leading to the Raiders rank of 25th in rush offense DVOA. The passing game ranks more favorably at 17th, which factors into their pass first mentality -- the Raiders rank 9th in the NFL in situation neutral early-down pass rate. On defense, the Bengals are 19th in DVOA and 11th in EPA/play. The defensive line ranks 25th in both pass rush win rate and run block win rate. Trey Hendrickson (76 pressures) is their best pass rusher, but he does typically line up on the left hand side, where he'll face off against Kolton Miller. If the Bengals are smart, they'll flip him over to the other side of the field, but I won't pretend to be able to predict such coaching decisions. DT DJ Reader is solid against the run and should have a field day with the Raiders interior line, but the rest of the front 7 is below average or flat out bad. The secondary consists of two strong corners (outside man Chidobe Awuzie and slot man Mike Hilton) as well as a do-it-all strong safety in Vonn Bell. Awuzie in particular is worth highlighting as he finished 2nd in PFF grades among all corners. CB Trae Waynes is the weak point in the secondary -- QBs have a 140.7 rating when targeting Waynes this season. The Bengals defense has been better against the run (13th in DVOA) than the pass (24th). Despite the poor offensive line, Carr should be able to keep somewhat clean and find holes in the Bengals secondary. The Bengals are also 24th in DVOA against tight ends, which should help Waller find his form.
When Cincinnati has the ball:
The Bengals offense is 18th in DVOA and 11th in EPA/play. One thing that stuck out to me when reviewing this game is the differences in DVOA and EPA/play for the Bengals -- the two stats tend to be correlated, but with the Bengals, EPA/play is far kinder to them. Aaron Schatz, creator of DVOA and EIC for Football Outsiders, did an excellent deep dive on this article that explains most of it. I highly recommend reading through it, but the highlights are:
- Specifically for the offense, the Bengals have had an incredibly easy schedule (2nd easiest per Football Outsiders). DVOA is opponent adjusted while EPA/play is not.
- EPA/play includes penalties, while DVOA does not (Schatz explains that he excludes penalties because they are not predictive). The Bengals have been fortunate with penalties on offense and defense.
- Big plays. To quote Schatz, "DVOA starts to reduce the value of each additional yard on a long play over 40 yards." EPA/play does not. The Bengals are 2nd in the NFL with 16 plays of 40 or more yards.
I've always felt it was necessary to review both DVOA and EPA/play, and that's why I include both in my articles. In general, my feeling is DVOA is superior due to some of these nuances, but this is a side rant that belongs in another article. Back to the matchup:
Joe Burrow finished the season 1st in PFF passing grades (91.2), completed 70.4% of his passes, and gained 8.6 YPA. He plays behind an offensive line that ranks 30th in pass block win rate and 10th in run block win rate. They're solid on the left side (LT Jonah Williams and LG Quinton Spain are both above average players), but struggle at C (Trey Hopkins), RG (Jackson Carman), and RT (Isaiah Prince, who is stepping in for an injured Riley Rieff). Burrow will rely on one of the better receiving trios in football: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. Generally speaking, Chase and Higgins line up on the outside while Boyd takes the slot. Chase is the deep threat, Higgins has the intermediate routes, and Boyd has the shorter options. Joe Mixon, consistently one of the better running backs in football, is the workhorse back. The offense is better passing (15th in DVOA) than running (20th). They prefer a balanced attack, ranking 13th in situation neutral early-down pass rate. The Raiders on defense are 17th in DVOA and 25th in EPA/play. The strength of the front 7 is the pass rush, ranking 8th in pass rush win rate, featuring Maxx Crosby (101 pressures) and Yannick Ngakoue (62). 101 pressures led the entire league for Crosby, who lines up over right tackles and is in position to take advantage of Prince. They generate pressure 24.5% of the time, 15th most in the league, which is impressive considering they essentially never blitz (their blitz rate of 12.1% is dead last, the Eagles are 2nd to last at 16.4%). Burrow does get rid of the ball quickly (2.63 seconds on average, 11th fastest) and as such isn't under pressure as much as you'd expect with a bad line (33.3% of the time, 22nd most). He also has the 7th best PFF grade under pressure, but does take far too many sacks -- Burrow's pressure to sack ratio of 26% was 4th worst in the league. The Raiders front 7 is also strong against the run, ranking 9th in run stop win rate. The secondary features strong play from outside corner Casey Hayward, slot man/rookie Nate Robbs, and FS Trevon Moehrig. The weakness of the bunch is CB Brandon Facyson -- QBs have a 105.7 rating when targeting him. The Raiders play a bunch of cover 3 zone, and as such are far better against deep passes (12th in DVOA) than short passes (27th). The combination of never blitzing and preventing deep passes is exactly what I'd like to see in a defense against Burrow -- he was the best QB this year against the blitz by PFF grades and prefers deep passes, ranking 9th in aDOT and 11th in deep passing rate. That all said, it's not as if Burrow can't do well in this matchup, the Raiders defense is just 21st in DVOA against the pass. They're a far better 10th against the run, given them an advantage in that phase of the game.