Raiders

Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

crosbyusa.jpg
USATSI

Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

ALAMEDA – Eastern Michigan’s football program certainly was interested in Maxx Crosby. He had a stack of recruiting letters to prove it.

That didn’t immediately result in a scholarship. It came with an invitation to the Eagles’ annual prospects camp. If Crosby wanted his first and only Division I offer, he had to go earn it.

The Crosbys packed up the car and drove the roughly 1,200 miles from Colleyville, Tex. to Michigan, a well-worn path made annually to visit family. This one, however, had big stakes.

“I knew I had to kill it, and I feel like I did,” Crosby said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “They ended up offering me and my best friend right after the camp. It was crazy, and an awesome experience.”

Crosby got his scholarship. Great. Now he had to do something with it. He parlayed his one shot at D-I football into a professional one with the Raiders, who selected Crosby in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.

“My goal out of high school was to play D-I, and they were the school to offer me,” Crosby said. “I was going no matter what. I wanted that opportunity and took advantage of it. It’s just like this year. I knew whoever took me, it was going to be the right fit. The Raiders believed in me and are letting me play my game. Now it’s up to me to take full advantage.”

Crosby’s getting good at capitalizing on golden opportunities. He got another one in Week 4 when Benson Mayowa was unavailable. Crosby had four quarterback pressures, two big run stops, two batted passes and a forced fumble in a career-high 44 defensive snaps. That’s worth a high factor grade, which Raiders coaches value nearly above everything else.

That led to more and more snaps and now Crosby’s a full-time, three-down player operating well in all aspects of the game.

“He has a relentless playing style that we like and I talk about factor grades more than sacks,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “A lot of people count sacks out there. Sacks, I put them on a reel: ‘Who’d you sack? When did you sack them? And who’d you beat and how’d you beat them?’ Crosby is batting down passes, he’s getting pressures. I know it doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sack ledger, but he’s impacting the game and that’s the big thing we want from all of our defenders.”

All that from a kid expected to be a situational pass rusher this year. He shed knocks from his pre-draft profile, that he was a small-school kid who wasn’t strong enough and needs to improve against the run. He was someone NFL.com expected to be a backup or a special teams player.

“I had production the last two years of college, a lot of it,” Crosby said. “When I came to the NFL, I knew that I could get it done. They break down small pieces of your game before the draft, some that don’t even matter, and I just used that as another chip on my shoulder. I’m very confident in my abilities. I really don’t listen to outside noise. I just do what I do, and it has been working.

“I feel like I’ve always been slept on and overlooked, but that’s just more motivation.”

Crosby is impacting games, like he did in last week’s victory over the LA Chargers. He had just a half sack but led the team with seven pressures and forced two errant throws that became Raiders interceptions.

[RELATED: Jordan ready to reach full potential with Raiders]

Fans love sacks, but Crosby simply is interested in making plays everywhere on the field and capitalizing on every chance to make contributions to a team that believed he could be something special.

“Sacks come in bunches. They will be there if I keep playing hard,” Crosby said. “Personally, I can’t worry about sacks and trying to get them If you’re thinking too much and getting sack happy, you’re going to do things the coaches aren’t going to be happy about. Just do your assignment and go 100 mph. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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.