Raiders’ second-year players step up in Vegas’ season-opening win

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) celebrates after scoring during the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

The linchpin to the Raiders’ rebuilding process under coach Jon Gruden are the team’s three first-round picks from 2019.

So perhaps it was fitting they all played such key roles in the team’s first win since moving to Las Vegas.

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Josh Jacobs ran for 93 yards and three touchdowns, Johnathan Abram provided a team-leading 13 tackles and energy on defense and Clelin Ferrell made the key fourth-down stop that sealed Las Vegas’ season-opening 34-30 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

When Gruden arrived with a 10-year contract in 2018, he traded away two of the team’s biggest stars the first year in Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper to get extra first-round picks.

That led to a big draft haul in 2019, with the Raiders taking Ferrell fourth with their own pick, Jacobs 24th with a pick from Chicago in the Mack deal and Abram three picks later with a pick from Dallas for Cooper.

While Jacobs was the only one to star last year when he set a franchise rookie record with 1,150 yards rushing, Abram played only one half before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury and Ferrell struggled at times.

They all came through in the season opener, with Ferrell’s stop of fullback Alex Armah on fourth-and-1 sealing the win.

“We are going to live and die with our young guys,” Gruden said. “And we’re going to have some growing pains at times, but today was a great day by everybody to find a way to win.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Red zone offense. The Raiders moved the ball well last year but struggled to score, in part because of poor performance in the red zone. That was an emphasis in training camp, and the results looked good in Week 1. The Raiders scored three TDs on runs by Jacobs and one field goal when they got inside the 20, averaging 6 points per trip. Last season the Raiders ranked 26th in the league with 4.49 points per red zone drive.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Defense. Coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense allowed the third most points in the NFL since he arrived in 2018 and didn’t look much better for most of the day against Carolina. The Raiders allowed the Panthers to score on all four drives in the first half and then get two TDs in the fourth quarter to take the lead briefly. The defense will need to be better if the Raiders can stay with better teams coming up on the schedule in the next few weeks.

STOCK UP

Henry Ruggs III. The Raiders used the 12th pick in this year’s draft on the speedy Ruggs, hoping he can deliver big plays to the offense. Ruggs caught a 45-yard pass to set up Jacobs’ first score and finished with three catches for 55 yards and two runs for 11 yards. He was mostly a decoy in the second half, while playing with a banged-up knee.

STOCK DOWN

Damon Arnette. The team’s other first-round pick didn’t fare as well. Arnette had a missed tackle on Christian McCaffrey that helped set up a field goal at the end of the first half and then got beat by Robby Anderson for a 75-yard TD that gave the Panthers a 30-27 lead in the fourth quarter.

INJURED

Starting right tackle Trent Brown played one series before leaving with a calf injury. Backup Sam Young left in the second quarter with a groin injury. LB Nick Kwiatkoski left in the second half with an injured pectoral muscle. Gruden had no updates on their status, although he acknowledged being concerned about Brown after he was held out of most of training camp because of the calf.

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KEY NUMBER

3 — The Raiders’ offensive line played extremely well despite losing two right tackles. Denzelle Good, who usually backs up at guard, stepped in and did an admirable job in an emergency. The Raiders allowed only three quarterback pressures all day, according to Pro Football Focus. Derek Carr also wasn’t sacked or hit once in the game.

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