Raiders

Five Raiders to watch in Week 10: Maxx Crosby must slow Chargers' run game

Five Raiders to watch in Week 10: Maxx Crosby must slow Chargers' run game

The Raiders didn’t have much time to celebrate a dramatic victory over Detroit in their return from a five-game road trip. They immediately moved on to a Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Chargers, played on a quick turnaround that players and coaches hate.

It’s another unwelcome scheduling quirk for the Raiders, but they haven’t used any of them to excuse a poor performance. They seem determined to overcome such obstacles and show toughness and resilience that has become this season’s signature trait.

They’re a bit banged up at important spots, but the Raiders will try to improve their playoff standing against an AFC West rival with plenty of firepower and similar aspirations.

Here are five Raiders to watch heading into the final (scheduled) primetime game at Oakland Coliseum:

DE Maxx Crosby

The Raiders are a little light at defensive end with Arden Key recovering from foot surgery and Josh Mauro out with a groin issue. The fourth-round draft pick was playing a ton already but should be a three-down player against an opponent with dynamic backfield talent.

He must help slow Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler in the run game and find a way to impact quarterback Philip Rivers.

The longtime Chargers signal-caller has owned the Raiders in his career but is a pure pocket passer prone to aggressive mistakes. Putting him under duress helps coaxed him into making some that could turn tides.

Crosby is relentless and must stay vigilant going against a Chargers right tackle spot that has been substandard no matter who plays.

LT Kolton Miller

The Raiders left tackle has been excellent this season. He and Richie Incognito have paired well together blocking for the run, and he has deflected pressure as well as any NFL left tackle. He’s bigger, stronger and healthier this season, with increased confidence providing wind at his back.

Miller has parried tough pass rushers before, and must deal with a pair of excellent ones who move around the formation. Joey Bosa is on a tear and Melvin Ingram’s having another solid all-around year playing a number of different positions.

There will be times Miller has one of them straight up, and he must win as he has against other top players coming off the edge. He’s prepared for that challenge and could get some help with Trent Brown apparently healthy and ready to anchor the right tackle spot.

The Raiders need another strong, mistake-free day from their left tackle to stay engaged in what should be a close contest down the stretch.

WR Tyrell Williams

Players always relish playing an old team. Williams admits there will be extra juice in this one after spending his previous four NFL seasons with the Chargers.

Williams’ case of plantar fasciitis is largely behind him, setting the stage for a big performance against defensive backs he practiced against for years.

It was always clear Williams would leave the Chargers in free agency – they couldn’t have paid his open-market freight – but he’ll still want to prove to his old team that he’s a true No. 1 receiver capable of taking control of a game especially if tight end Darren Waller remains a defensive focal point.

Williams has done damage downfield, with Carr well protected and comfortable working the ball downfield. Taking big chunks is possible if Carr has time. If not, Williams needs to be an available intermediate route runner to keep the Raiders on schedule and prolonging drives.

DT Johnathan Hankins

The Raiders don’t want to face a balanced Chargers attack. That one’s dangerous. They need to create long third downs and obvious passing situations to increase the odds of creating stops and takeaways.

That effort starts in the middle with Hankins and the Raiders run defense.

CB Daryl Worley

Worley survived a scare this week, when an MRI showed no tearing in his strained Achilles’ tendon. That makes him a go for Thursday night, an important fact for a struggling Raiders pass defense that made a few key stops Sunday against the Lions.

Worley’s acrobatic, one-handed interception in the end zone was a real highlight, especially after he got beat several times earlier in the first half.

The Raiders need him to be consistently reliable from his outside cornerback spot, where he has played despite talk he could operate some from a safety spot or a rover in the secondary.

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This finally might be a game where he plays such a role, with big-bodied tight end Hunter Henry always being a threat inside the numbers. The Raiders have struggled against tight ends and Worley could help there, or he could stick outside and deal with Mike Williams and Kennan Allen when they’re on his side.

Either way, the Raiders need Worley to provide stable, quality coverage to minimize the damage done by the Chargers' potent air attack.

Why Nick Kwiatkoski thought Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Why Nick Kwiatkoski thought Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t have a massive social media following, but a tweet the veteran linebacker sent out on March 16 quickly went viral.

It didn’t include a single word. It contained a picture of Allegiant Stadium and nothing more, but it was a clear sign that the Las Vegas Raiders had landed their first unrestricted free agent while representing their new market.

Sources later confirmed Kwiatkoski agreed to join the Silver and Black on a three-year, $21 million contract, showing the Raiders were serious about upgrading a long deficient linebacker corps.

The deal came together quickly, on the first day of free agency’s open negotiating window, because Kwiatkoski loved what the Raiders had to say. He would join the Raiders as a full-time, three-down middle linebacker.

“I felt that I’ve earned that spot, and that’s something I looked for in free agency,” Kwiatkoski said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, available in its entirety on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “When they told me that, it was very appealing.”

That wasn’t the only reason the former Chicago Bear signed with the Raiders.

“They called very early and, when I spoke to them, it was very clear there’s an excitement around the whole organization with the move to Las Vegas,” Kwiatkoski said. “That was one of a number of reasons why I [made my decision]. When we played them in London last year and I just loved the mentality they brought to the game where they come right at you. With their defensive scheme, I thought I’d fit right in. I gave it some time and took some other calls, but I ended up thinking the Raiders were the best fit for me.”

There was some thought he’d fit in well as the Bears’ middle linebacker, but that prospect was eliminated when Danny Trevathan signed a contract extension on March 9. Kwiatkoski proved worthy of a starting gig after taking over following Trevathan’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 9.

There was no going back after an excellent eight-game stretch that included 58 tackles, two sacks and interception. Especially, not with teams ready to court him on the open market and make him a major player.

While those numbers look solid, the clip below shows exactly what the Raiders are getting in Kwiatkoski, and he doesn’t even record a stat.

Kwiatkoski put Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook on his back during a Week 4 win over the Vikings, blowing up a play with raw power and aggression.

“That’s an example of how I enjoy playing. I like being physical, going downhill,” Kwiatkoski said. “That’s how I have always played, and I plan on continuing to do that.”

He’ll do that with the Silver and Black, while paired with fellow free-agent addition Cory Littleton.

“He’s a great linebacker,” Kwiatkoski said. “To be able to line up with him and call him my teammate is going to be fun.”

The former LA Ram is a true sideline-to-sideline presence and an excellent coverage linebacker, a perfect complement to Kwiatkoski’s strength going downhill as a run defender and blitzer. The former high school safety, who converted to linebacker at West Virginia, also is confident in coverage and running a defense from the middle linebacker spot.

[RELATED: Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Chicago’s fourth-round draft pick back in 2016 always has worked hard and capitalized on opportunities when presented, helping him earn a lucrative deal with a Raiders team counting on him to be a consistent playmaker. Earning this opportunity certainly is a point of pride as he moves on to the next chapter of his career.

“There were definitely times where I got down on myself after certain things happened, but to see how it has all played out … for me, no matter what my role was or what the situation was, I just put my head down and kept working,” Kwiatkoski said. “For that to all payoff is really gratifying. You can only control what you can control, and that’s what I focused on. I never lost sight of my goals. No matter what my role was, I was determined to work like a starter and play each day like it’s my last. For it to work out the way it has, with this new opportunity, it’s really gratifying.”

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

The Raiders took on a bit more salary in free agency than they were legally allowed, but restructured center Rodney Hudson’s massive contract to get back under the NFL salary cap.

The team’s cap and contracts people got creative with the deal, obtained by ESPN on Wednesday morning, to provide relief in 2020 and push increased cap hits down the road where they have more flexibility.

The Raiders converted $11.6 million of Hudson’s base salary into a signing bonus, freeing up $9.28 in cap space for 2020. His cap hits will go up $2.32 million in subsequent seasons, which includes two voidable years at the end of the deal to spread out his cap hits.

The Silver and Black had to do that now to get Carl Nassib’s deal in while staying under the cap. He’s set to make $25 million over three years, with a $7.75 million cap hit in 2020, per OverTheCap.com.

After factoring in the Nassib deal, the Hudson restructure and some other small additions, OTC reports the Raiders have $5.214 million in cap space. They might have to make another cap adjustment down the road, with $9.408 million required to pay their draft picks as currently slotted. They won’t have to make that move until later in the spring and summer, when they start signing draft picks.

[RELATED: Ranking Raiders' offensive players ahead of 2020 NFL draft]

The Raiders own the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections, with three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Hudson signed a long-term contract extension last season worth $33.7 million over three years, with $24.4 million guaranteed. Moving money around helps the Raiders stay right with the cap without hurting future standing and keeping all the talent the Raiders currently employ.