Benson Mayowa

Benson Mayowa's steady pressure helps raise status of Raiders pass rush

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Benson Mayowa's steady pressure helps raise status of Raiders pass rush

ALAMEDA – Benson Mayowa doesn’t play a ton, roughly 30 percent of Raiders defensive snaps. The veteran has capitalized on opportunities received as a situational pass rusher, getting after the quarterback at a cruelly efficient clip.

Mayowa’s creating pressure on a whopping 11.5 percent of his pass-rush snaps, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus. That ranks third among NFL edge rushers with at least 20 percent of the highest pass-rush snap count, just behind Clay Matthews and Nick Bosa.

He has seven sacks, a quarterback hit and 13 hurries, getting home regularly when given the chance. That sack total’s already are a career-high, with seven games to increase that sum.

“He’s got more sacks than a lot of the great sack artists that’s out there,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I think he’s got seven sacks if that’s what we’re measuring the great ones by. I’m really happy to have the guy. I mean, he’s a guy that not only can rush the passer, but he’s Benny and the Jets I call him. You know, he brings the jets. He really energizes the room. He brings a certain type of energy level to our defensive line that I really enjoy being around. I’m happy for his success. Hopefully, he can continue to get home.”

Mayowa paces a young crop of edge rushers coming into its own. The Raiders had just three ends last week against the L.A. Chargers but still managed to sack Philip Rivers five times. Mayowa and rookies Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby are chiefly in charge of creating quarterback pressure with Arden Key placed on injured reserve last week. Dion Jordan arrived Tuesday as reinforcement, but there’s no telling whether he’ll be ready Sunday against the Bengals. The pass rush still has to show up and continue a solid run that includes 10 sacks in the past three games.

They are, Mayowa believes, commanding respect. 

“They have to account for us now,” Mayowa said. “They can’t just say, ‘Oh, they don’t have a pass rush.’ We can get to the quarterback, so they have to game-plan it. That’s going to take away from other assets in their game. As long as we get to the quarterback, that’s going to help us as a whole.”

So will balanced pass-rush productivity. Mayowa’s numbers have garnered extra attention, getting him chip blocked more often than ever. That means Crosby and Ferrell must re-balance offensive focus and keep getting to the quarterback.

Mayowa is responsible for helping the rookies' progression, though he’s admittedly not much of a talker or a rah-rah guy. He wants to set a proper example for the young guys, who have progressed well due to a variety of factors.

“They are coming along,” Mayowa said. “Everybody wants to write guys out, but you saw the game last week. [Ferrell] did his thing. He just has to stay on the road that he’s on. He has to keep doing what he did. For Maxx, he shows up and shows out. He needs to keep doing his thing. We need them both.”

While Mayowa’s season will be judged on tape over the stat sheet, high sack totals are worth premium dollars. He signed a one-year deal here, and a double-digit sack total certainly could help his bottom line. He isn’t playing for numbers, sack totals or otherwise, but there are personal goals out there to attain. Wins, however, make everything bright.

“It’s good, but you want the Ws,” Mayowa said. "When you do that, it’s going to open up everything. If we get a lead in a game, they’ll have to pass to catch up and we can get after it. It’s a good goal, but that’s all it is.”

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He’s surpassing expectations thus far this year, though Mayowa doesn’t consider 2019 a breakout season.

“I think it’s the opportunity,” Mayowa said. “I’ve been doing it, but the numbers are better. If you’ve been watching I’ve been doing it, though the numbers haven’t always been there.

“It has been a long ride in the NFL, but I have shown flashes. This has been a good year for me. I credit that to the rest of the guys.”

Raiders' relentless pass rush hounds Philip Rivers in win vs. Chargers

Raiders' relentless pass rush hounds Philip Rivers in win vs. Chargers

OAKLAND – The Raiders defensive line was woefully thin entering Thursday's game against the Chargers. The rotation was down to seven with Arden Key recently placed on injured reserve and Josh Mauro out with a groin injury. The edge rushers were so depleted the Raiders had linebacker Kyle Wilber rushing in some cases.

Most of the work fell to rookies Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, and veteran Benson Mayowa.

Those three got after Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throughout the Raiders' 26-24 victory at Oakland Coliseum.

They brought pressure all game long, from opening snap to a final and failed comeback attempt by the Chargers. While complete pressure numbers won’t come until Friday morning, we do know Raiders sacked Rivers five times and hit him 10 times in total.

“We started getting pressure on him right from the start of the game, and that was it,” Ferrell said. “We knew they were going to be passing the ball and they weren’t going to have much time, so we pinned our ears back and went after it.”

That was a marked difference from most weeks, where the Raiders pass rush showed improvement over last year’s 13-sack disaster but generally lacked production creating havoc in the pocket.

Crosby and Mayowa have been relatively steady but Ferrell had a breakout game. The No. 4 overall draft pick was awesome, totaling eight tackles, 2.5 sacks, two other tackles for loss, three total quarterback hits and a pass defensed.

“He’s a tough, gritty football player who works really hard,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Tonight, he was rewarded.”

So was the entire defense. Rivers is prone to making aggressive mistakes, throwing into tight windows or taking deep shots even while under pressure. Those throws can turn into picks.

That happened several times on Thursday night, with pressure involved in the three interceptions that counted and two others negated by penalties away from the play. Mayowa also forced a fumble, though the Chargers got it back.

“He’s a great quarterback,” Crosby said. “The thing with him is that you have to be in his face all game and try to get him flustered. I thought we did a good job of that. We kept coming all game, until the final whistle blew. It was huge.”

The edge rushers worked over a pair of backup Chargers tackles – starting left tackle Russell Okung got hurt and didn’t return – but that shouldn’t negate an excellent all-around defensive performance. Pressure mostly came from the outside, but interior contributions shouldn’t be ignored. Maurice Hurst had two quarterback hits and Johnathan Hankins had another.

“Any time you face a good quarterback like Rivers or Matt Stafford (on Sunday) and you let them stand there, you’re in trouble,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “I thought we had a good rush and great energy.”

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That part was impressive considering this was the second game in five days and the Raiders were down two defensive ends.

“It was a lot of heart,” Crosby said. “It was hard, especially with the quick turnaround, but we just had to keep going and keep coming after him. Their offensive line was out there a ton, too, but we feel like we’re in better shape. We just kept bringing it until the game was over.”

Five Raiders to watch in Week 9 vs. Lions: Where will Richie Incognito play?

Five Raiders to watch in Week 9 vs. Lions: Where will Richie Incognito play?

The Raiders haven’t been favored to win a game in quite some time. Oddsmakers expect the Oakland will beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum, but they also expect a close contest.

Those forecasts should run true.

The first home crowd since Sept. 15 should give the Silver and Black a lift in a crucial game that starts a run of easier opposition, but make no mistake: the Lions are no slouch. It will take the Raiders’ best to beat them.

Here are five players key to a win the Raiders need in order to snap a two-game slide.

OL Richie Incognito

See the position just to the left of Incognito’s name? It should say “LG” for left guard. We had to leave it generic this week because there’s legitimate uncertainty surrounding where he’s going to play.

The Raiders would prefer he stays put. Incognito has been solid this year and has formed a great partnership with left tackle Kolton Miller in the running game. Incognito might have to slide over to center if starter Rodney Hudson and backup Andre James can’t play with ankle sprains. Both guys are formally questionable after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. Incognito took snaps in their place and has played center before, but is clearly Plan C.

James is most likely of the two centers to play, though Hudson’s so tough he can never be ruled out. Keep an eye on where Incognito lines up, though the Raiders need him to be awesome playing in either spot.

WR Tyrell Williams

The Raiders unquestioned No. 1 receiver rarely posts on social media, but he tweeted this week a vow to be after two ill-timed, game-changing drops in his return from a two-game absence last week against the Houston Texans. Expect him to be.

Williams is a reliable downfield target who should rebound well against the NFL’s worst pass defense. Cornerback Darius Slay can play, but there should be openings deep and short for Williams to have a big day and continue his steady scoring. He has five touchdowns in as many games and should see more favorable coverage with the receiver corps whole with Zay Jones up to speed.

Williams must be productive and threat who creates space for others. He’s the catalyst for other aspects of the passing game and must play well for the air attack to function at a high level.

DE Benson Mayowa

The Raiders' most experienced and efficient pass rusher must continue solid play against quarterback Matt Stafford, who can beat anyone if allowed to operate from a clean pocket. Mayowa has made them dirty this year, with a team-high 5.5 sacks in six games.

The 28-year-old was a surprise scratch against Indianapolis but has been an agitator in every other game. Mayowa's primarily a situational pass rusher, so solid run defense could get him on the field in position to cause havoc.

The Raiders have matched their sack total from last year but still rank just 25th in that category. Mayowa must breathe life into the pass rush and start a game-long trend of hounding Stafford.

LB Tahir Whitehead

The Lions average just 3.6 yards per carry, but they run a ton. They run more than pass despite relative inefficiency and continued to do so even after feature back Kerryon Johnson was lost for the season.

The Raiders' run defense has been effective most of the season, and while it takes all 11 to shut opponents down on the ground, Whitehead leads the effort as a field general. He thrives in that role, which he had last year and assumed once again after Vontaze Burfict was lost for the year. Getting guys in the right gaps and then surging forward to make strong tackles will be key against a Lions team so committed to running the football.

This is also Whitehead’s first regular-season game against the team that drafted him in 2012 and employed him six seasons before he became a Raider. This is a big one for Whitehead and the Raiders need him at his best.

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WR Zay Jones

Jones makes the list for a third consecutive week as he continues to increase his snap count while adjusting to a new offense. He played 22 snaps in his first Raiders action last week, only half of which were passing plays. Coach Jon Gruden gave him a pair of easy, seemingly designed opportunities and he caught both targets for 27 yards. Eventually the Raiders have to let him loose despite inexperience in the offense in order to get his obvious talent on the field more often. This seems like a golden opportunity, against a struggling pass defense.

Jones has the ability to make big gains and prove he can be more efficient than his numbers with the Bills suggest. A big game would help get him into the offensive flow, diversify the Raiders' passing game and allow it to find a solid rhythm throughout the pattern.