Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Tyler Conklin emerged as the Jets’ most efficient weapon against the Raiders in last Sunday’s game at Allegiant Stadium with seven catches on seven targets for 70 yards.
But the veteran tight end felt like he could have done even more in the passing game according to in-game conversations between himself and Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby.
“That’s my guy, I’ve been playing versus him ever since he was at Central Michigan,” Crosby, a rival Eastern Michigan graduate, laughed after the game. “So, he was just messing with me like, ‘Bro, you’re not letting me run routes tonight. I’m just staying in and blocking.’”
The 26-year-old Crosby has become such a force in his sixth NFL season that opponents have to alter their entire game plans to account for him. Few if any defensive players in the NFL require as much schematic attention on a weekly basis as Crosby, and it still hasn’t halted his overall production much at all.
He leads the league in pressures (with 58), sits second in tackles for loss (13) and third in sacks (9.5).
It’s a resumé that should put him right in the thick of the competition, if not lead the race, for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Only that hasn’t happened.
The unofficial midpoint of the NFL season passed after Week 9 a week and a half ago, which meant approximately 500 pieces of writers sharing their midseason awards. I must have read 250 of them — it’s essential if you want to handicap awards markets — and it was alarming how many made no mention of Crosby at all.
At most, he got a cursory nod as someone who could draw fourth- or fifth-place votes.
The betting market concurs as Crosby is priced as the fifth choice at 20-to-1 at Caesars Sports. He’s behind Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett (+150, i.e. risking $100 to win $150), Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt (+230), Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parson (+240) and 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa (16-to-1).
The odds aren’t wrong as they’re a reflection of the public sentiment and bets forecasting the tendencies of voters.
Perception is where there’s an imperfection. Most seem to think there’s a clear top tier of NFL pass rushers consisting of the defending DPOY Nick Bosa, Parsons, Garrett and Watt with Crosby in the group closely behind.
But Crosby doesn’t deserve to sit behind anyone, as the 16-10 victory over the Jets showed despite it being one of the lesser statistical games of his season.
He didn’t have any sacks, but he was constantly chasing Zach Wilson out of the pocket, including memorably on the final play of the game to add a degree of difficulty to the Jets’ last-ditch Hail Mary attempt.
Conklin might have been complaining about his matchup with Crosby, but it was his fellow tight end C.J. Uzomah who got the worst of the assignment. The entire result of the game could have been different if Crosby didn’t beat Uzomah off the ball on a play at the goal line in the second quarter where Breece Hall initially appeared to score a touchdown.
The six points were wiped off the board, however, because Uzomah earned a holding flag by tackling Crosby from the shoulders in a desperate attempt to stop him from affecting the play. The Jets were also knocked out of field goal range the drive before when Uzomah held Crosby.
None of it slowed Crosby, who played every defensive snap for the sixth time in the last seven games. On the one exception (in a Week 7 loss to the Bears), Crosby missed one play.
The last time he was off the field for more than one defensive play was in Week 3 against the Steelers.
No one else vying for the Defensive Player of the Year award carries nearly that high of a workload.
“You get nervous, you always wonder if he’s going to burnt out, but he’s not,” Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce said. “I’m going to continue trying to match his energy, but at a game, on that field, on that grass, you saw the effort. The way he plays is reckless. He gives up his body for his team… All 11 need to match Maxx Crosby. Our staff, our building needs to match his purpose, his why, his energy, his effort. And if we do that, we’ll have winning performances.”
Winning performances by his team are what’s missing from Crosby’s DPOY case. Although the award is supposed to go to the most outstanding defender, it’s traditionally been saved for someone on a team with one of the top records in the league.
The Raiders aren’t going to get there, but they could at least stay in the wild-card hunt longer than anyone expected if they keep building on the two-game win streak under Pierce since the firing of coach Josh McDaniels.
Perhaps Crosby’s visibility will boost if Las Vegas pulls a major upset by either beating Miami on the road this Sunday or Kansas City at home next weekend. It would take a great defensive performance to enable either to happen, and there will be no great defensive performance from the Raiders without Crosby.
With all due to respect to the incredible talents ahead of him by the odds and voters, that’s not necessarily true for those candidates. They’re all surrounded by talent on some of the top defenses in the league.
A few other Raider defenders have stood out this year — led by linebacker Robert Spillane and safety Tre’von Moehrig — but Crosby is the only one performing on an All-Pro level. There’s a good chance the Raiders would have the worst defense in the league without Crosby.
It’s a good thing he never comes off the field. Crosby’s teammates realize they’re witnessing something rare and spectacular with the way he’s played this season.
“I’ll stand up and I’ll watch him on the sideline when they’re out there,” wide receiver Davante Adams said of Crosby. “It’ll give me some juice, just seeing how hard he plays. For him to be as good of a player as he is and have that motor and that type of tenacity and intentionality with what he does, I mean it’s really unheard of. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.”
It would be nice if everyone else came around too.