Raiders' Maxx Crosby becoming everything Jon Gruden thought he'd be

Raiders' Maxx Crosby becoming everything Jon Gruden thought he'd be

ALAMEDA -- It's not often a team gets immediate impact from a fourth-round draft pick, especially a defensive end from a MAC school. 

When coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders selected Maxx Crosby out of Eastern Michigan, most experts assumed the 6-foot-5, 256-pound defensive end would be a back-end depth player or special teams contributor in the NFL. Perhaps he could be a situational pass rusher at best in Year 1 in silver and black. He needed to get stronger, quicker and develop better technique. 

So much for that. 

Ever since starting to get more playing time in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts, Crosby has been a key member of the Raiders' front line. His steady improvement, along with that of fellow rookie Clelin Ferrell, has helped the Raiders defense elevate its play despite the rash of injuries they've endured. 

In the Raiders' Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Crosby had his best game to date. He terrorized Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley all day long, totaling five tackles, four sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in Oakland's 17-10 win at the Coliseum. Crosby was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort. 

"It's just a start," Crosby said Wednesday of the award. "It's awesome to get the awards and all that stuff, but we're in the mix of trying to make the playoffs. So that's what's most important now, so we're just going to stay focused."

His stellar play hasn't been a surprise to Gruden. He raved about Crosby's energy and relentless from almost the moment he arrived. The skepticism of the fourth-round pick's ability to be an immediate contributor remained, but it's gone now. 

"We pretty much saw it in training camp," Gruden said of Crosby's ability. "We'd go back to the hotel at night and watch the training camp tape. He was going up against Kolton Miller and Trent Brown every day and he struggled at times, but he never backed down, had some really great second effort plays and he's developed rush. We saw it from the very beginning. Happy for his award and happy for his success. Hopefully, that continues." 

The uptick in Crosby and Ferrell's production has coincided with the Raiders' three-game win streak in which they knocked off the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers and Bengals at home to surge into playoff contention. The Raiders are plus-five in turnover differential in those three games, forcing seven takeaways over that span. 

That starts up front with Crosby and the pass rush, as their pressure is key in forcing opposing quarterbacks into rushing throws and making mistakes the Raiders' opportunistic secondary can take advantage of. 

"We have a lot of guys back there that can make plays," Crosby said of the Raiders' secondary. "It comes down to us making the quarterback get rid of the ball. So that's what we've been doing. We just got to keep improving, keep learning -- you know we have new guys like Dion Jordan who had a great first game. 

"We just got to keep it rolling. Yeah, I'm excited." 

[RELATED: Gruden enjoying Jacobs' success after Mack trade criticism

If the 6-4 Raiders are to make the playoffs or perhaps steal the AFC West from the Chiefs, the pass rush will have to maintain the form it has shown since the Silver and Black returned home from its five-game road odyssey. Crosby will be a key to that. As will Ferrell, Jordan and Benson Mayowa. 

Putting your faith in a rookie fourth-round pick might raise some eyebrows, but Crosby has rewarded the Raiders' faith in him so far this season. 

"Mad Maxx" has been exactly what Gruden thought he would be. 

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

ALAMEDA -- Ryan Tannehill is receiving credit for Tennessee’s recent resurgence. That’s appropriate given how well the former backup quarterback has been playing during a 5-1 stretch since becoming the starter.

Let’s not forget who’s really driving the Titans' offense. That’s the 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train coming out of the backfield.

Derrick Henry has been a monster this season, proving as tough to take down as ever. He has 1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, currently on a run of three straight games with at least 145 yards and a touchdown.

A repeat performance on Sunday against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum would make Henry the only player to do so in four straight games.

The Raiders would like to prevent that and are armed with the No. 12-ranked run defense. They’ll try to slow a back that never seems to wear down.

“The secret sauce in Henry is he’s got all the talent, and size, and running instincts, but he never tires,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He does not get tired. He’s a machine, man. This guy wears you down -- physical -- he can wear you down. You’ve got to gang tackle him. He’s a better-than-advertised receiver, but he just never tires. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets. It’s an impressive human being.”

Tannehill obviously benefits from Henry’s threat and a balanced offense that has the Titans going strong. Stopping the run, or slowing it at least, will be key for the Raiders' defense in this important game. It will not, however, be easy.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know it’ll be a challenge dealing with Superman Derrick Henry,” defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. "... He’s a great back. He’s big. He’s fast. He sheds tackles like there are kids trying to tackle him. I think, overall, we have to do a good job of keeping him in the backfield and not giving him open lanes or creases to work. We also need to hit him as much as we can, because he’s a big guy. Overall, I think we’re ready for the challenge. I’m excited for this game.”

[RELATED: Raiders' offense takes big hit with Brown out vs. Titans]

It’ll take the entire defensive unit playing disciplined football to slow Henry down. Give him an inch of space or leverage or poor tackling technique and he’ll take chunk yards by the mile.

“I just think you’ve got to be in good position,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. You’ve got to play the blocks. First and foremost, you’ve got to be in the right spots, play the block, and then when he gets through there you’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. He does a good job of trying to get extra yards, so we’ve got to put hats on him wherever he is, on his body as he’s trying to get those extra yards. We’ve got to make sure we get eleven to him.”

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have launched a campaign to help running back Josh Jacobs become the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

They have opened a website extolling his virtues. They have passed out buttons. They even have fullback and "chief of interior transportation" Alec Ingold giving a fireside chat about how awesome Jacobs has been in 2019.

The promotional materials may draw some extra attention, but Jacobs’ case is easy to make.

He has smashed every Raiders rookie rushing record. He exceeded 1,000 yards in his 12th game and will have huge totals even if he isn’t able to play Sunday against Tennessee. He’s formally questionable with a fractured shoulder he's been playing through since trucking Green Bay safety Adrian Amos in Week 7.

His numbers are pretty awesome. Jacobs has 218 carries 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s 4.9 yards per carry, and he ranks fifth in the NFL in total rushing yards. He also has another 18 receptions 146 yards.

The competition must always be considered, but he has to be the frontrunner after winning back-to-back rookie of the month awards.

Arizona's No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray is certainly a candidate, but the Cardinals don’t have many wins. Washington receiver Terry McLaurin and Baltimore wideout Marquise Brown have had good seasons, but they shouldn’t be considered serious competition here.

The Raiders haven’t had an offensive rookie of the year since Marcus Allen won it in 1982, and Jacobs has smashed Allen’s records from that strike-shortened year. Charles Woodson was the last rookie of the year on either side of the ball, winning the defensive award in 1998.

[RELATED: NFL prospects for Raiders to watch on Championship Weekend]

Jacobs’ shoulder injury could hurt the campaign more than anything, especially if he misses a few games or gets shut down for the rest of the season if the playoffs become a distant pipe dream.

Outside of that, he should be the favorite to win the award heading down the stretch.