Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 | 2 a.m.
If there was one aspect of the Raiders’ Week 1 performance that was unrecognizable from last year—in a good way—it was the consistent pressure applied by the team’s pass rushers.
After Las Vegas ranked 30th in both sacks per game and sack rate in 2020, the defensive line turned in a collective star turn on Monday Night Football, harassing the elusive Lamar Jackson all night and sacking him three times in a 33-27 overtime win.
The game-turning play came courtesy of defensive end Carl Nassib, who strip-sacked Jackson to set up the Raiders’ walk-off touchdown.
Now the key will be keeping up that level of pressure for an entire season, starting on Sunday when the Raiders travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in a battle of 1-0 teams.
Already, challenges are beginning to mount. The Raiders brought in veteran pass rushers Gerald McCoy and Yannick Ngakoue in the offseason and both contributed on Monday, but McCoy was felled by a knee injury and will miss the rest of the season. Ngakoue suffered a hamstring injury and was a limited participant at Wednesday’s practice.
The good news is that third-year defensive end Maxx Crosby is healthy and coming off the best game of his professional career. Crosby was everywhere against the Ravens, logging 62 total plays from scrimmage (91% of snaps). In that time he registered six pressures, five quarterback hits and 2.0 sacks.
Head coach Jon Gruden praised Crosby for turning in a big game on a big stage.
“Maxx backed it up,” Gruden said. “You do it day after day after day and then you get an opportunity in primetime to show where you are, and I thought he showed some things tonight.”
For his effort Crosby was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. And after terrorizing the Ravens, he figures to spend most of Sunday’s game lined up opposite Pittsburgh right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, who struggled in Week 1 (earning an abysmal pass-blocking grade of 16.1 from Pro Football Focus).
Crosby is focused on maintaining his high level and elevating the rest of the defensive line.
“That’s something we’ve struggled with in the past, getting off the field on third downs,” Crosby said. “Obviously seeing that in Week 1 was awesome to see, but consistency is everything. It’s one game. We’ve got to bring it this week and do the same thing and be even better.”
Once Crosby and the rest of the pass rushers get past their blockers they’ll have to deal with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who even in his 18th season remains one of the most difficult QBs to bring down. Roethlisberger checks in at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, and still has one of the fastest time-to-throw track records in the league.
What Roethlisberger is not, however, is as fast or agile as Jackson. Pressuring and sacking him will require a slightly different approach, but Crosby said the basics will be the same—this week and all the way through the rest of the season.
“Obviously he’s not as athletic as Lamar Jackson,” Crosby said. “Lamar is kind of an anomaly in a way, but Big Ben is a great quarterback. We talk about it in the D-line room all the time, it’s about us at the end of the day. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, no matter who we’re playing. It all starts with get-off, playing with crazy energy, running to the ball, causing turnovers. That’s never going to change.”