Monday night tilt betWhen the Ravens and the Raiders brought about one of the most outrageous endings to a game we’ve ever witnessed. There were last minute field goals to send the game into overtime, some heroic acts by catcher Bryan Edwards late in the game, a touchdown called back and placed at the 1-yard line, an end zone interception for keep the game going, a fumble from the team that made the interception to practically give their opponents victory, and a touchdown on and off. I can only begin to imagine the roller coaster of emotions that various Ravens and Raiders fans went through in the final minutes of that game. However, the most surprising thing to come out of that game was a victory for the Raiders.
Not only did the Raiders clinch the win, they made Lamar Jackson look like an average NFL quarterback. Pressure from the Raiders forced several missed shots from the former MVP and limited Jackson to just one passing touchdown, all while recording three sacks and six quarterback hits. Yeah, that’s a lot of pressure the Raiders were putting on Jackson. It’s a bit ironic. During the broadcast, the announcers made a little mock of the Raiders’ defensive woes in the Gruden era. They even had an animated graphic ready to let everyone know how bad the Raiders have been on defense.
Interestingly, the Raiders forced multiple turnovers after that graphic aired. Talk about an announcer spell. Those turnovers were one of the main reasons the Ravens left Las Vegas with the ‘L’.
However, the performance of a Maxx Crosby, or should I say the low performance of an Alejandro Villanueva can be even more guilty.
Raiders running back Maxx Crosby was pretty solid Monday. He recorded two tackles for loss along with two sacks. He was a regular in the Ravens backfield and an absolute threat on the right side of the Ravens line. He earned it AFC Defensive Player of the Week grant.
That right side of the line is where the recently acquired Alejandro Villanueva theater plays. Villanueva was hired by the Ravens after trading their two-time Pro Bowler tackler, Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs. Villanueva had a productive 2020, but fought in the racing blocking department, and his age has clearly set him back a step from where he was several years ago. Crosby is a good pass rusher, but he’s not exactly the fastest or strongest guy out there. He plays with a lot of heart and seemingly never gives up on a certain play, which is obviously a great personality trait, but he’s not the most talented running back in the AFC. That distinction belongs to TJ Watt or Myles Garrett, and you wouldn’t know … they both play for teams in the Ravens division.
I don’t want to overreact to what we saw on Monday. It was Villanueva’s first game in a new system and in a new position than he had played his entire career. Hopefully, you’ll be able to better learn the position before you have to face any of the game’s elite pass-rushers. However, if we’ve learned anything this offseason regarding offensive line play, it’s that switching from one side of the line to the other is a lot more difficult than it sounds.
Take Penei Sewell, for example. Sewell was one of, if not the most, most hyped linemen in the most recent NFL draft. He was selected seventh overall by the Detroit Lions and was asked by his new team to switch from left tackle to right. That ended up being a lot bigger problem than initially anticipated. On the offensive line, when you have conditioned yourself to step back with your right foot and establish yourself from that position, you are comfortable using that foot and setting yourself up that way on each protection pass. That’s a big reason why Sewell continued to fight at right tackle, but as soon as he was traded back to left tackle after Taylor Decker injury SaturdayEven though Sewell made very few plays on training ground at left tackle, Sewell looked the way we all expected him to. He was preparing quickly and constantly beating strong edge runners like Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. Sewell didn’t win every snap, but he stood his ground, and that’s very promising.
The same is true of Villanueva, and perhaps to a greater extent. While Sewell is a rookie with plenty of time to develop, Villanueva has already gone through his development process. He has been a left tackle since joining the Steelers in 2015, and it may be too late for the Ravens to transfer him to the opposite end of the line. After six years in the NFL, he trained to protect the quarterback’s blind side. You are comfortable standing on your left foot. Now, he’s being asked to throw all of that out the window, and that could lead to serious difficulties in the Ravens’ passing game.
I still love the Ravens. I think they are tremendously talented and have a great chance to win their division, but if Villanueva doesn’t solve his problems at the correct tackle position, the AFC North will probably fall into the hands of the Browns or Steelers.