The Raiders head into Sunday’s matchup against Washington shorthanded at receiver. Entering the season, Las Vegas seemed to have a deep group at wideout, but it has thinned. Veteran Willie Snead IV was released before the Raiders’ bye week, and, most notably, 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III was released in early November after he was charged with driving under the influence and causing a fatal crash.
Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was still complimentary of the receiver group that remains, noting that DeSean Jackson, whom the Raiders signed Nov. 8, helps fill some of the gaps.
“Jackson adds some speed over the top that they lost with Ruggs,” Del Rio said. “DeSean has been a good player for a long time in this league. You look at [tight end Darren] Waller or you look at [wide receiver Hunter] Renfrow, they’ve got some weapons.”
Waller — the team’s second-leading receiver and quarterback Derek Carr’s go-to target — was sidelined in the second half of last week’s win against the Dallas Cowboys with a knee injury and on Saturday was ruled out; Jackson’s status (calf) for Sunday is questionable.
With Renfrow (the team’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns), Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones, the Raiders still have the ability to stretch the field with speed. And Carr is having one of his best seasons, leading the league with 3,414 passing yards.
“He’s having a good year, probably as good a year as he’s had since year two of our time being there when he really tore it up,” said Del Rio, who was the Raiders’ coach from 2015 to 2017. “So he’s doing a nice job directing the offense, making a lot of throws, and he’s got some good weapons and they’re doing a nice job with him.”
“We don’t want anybody to catch a long one,” Del Rio said before laughing. “We recognize that they have several players that are capable. Edwards gets vertical. I mean, Jones gets vertical. They’ve got a good group, and they got a quarterback that’s getting the ball to them, so we got to be on top of it.”
Taylor Heinicke says his biggest improvements as a quarterback have been his decision-making and an ability to avoid big sacks. During Washington’s three-game winning streak, Heinicke has thrown just one interception. That pick, in Monday’s win over Seattle, was a risk worth taking, Washington Coach Ron Rivera said, and the outcome was the result of a great play by Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.
But overall, Heinicke isn’t trying to force the big play; he is instead settling to check the ball down and drain the clock with long drives and first downs. The formula has been working, and the offense has been following his lead.
“It’s just the more reps you get in games, the more comfortable you get,” Heinicke said. “And again, you start to progress, you understand the game better, and the game kind of slows down for you a little bit, and you understand what needs to happen.”
Offensive line coach John Matsko has made an impact on his group beyond the football field. Matsko, who has been on Rivera’s staffs since 2011, has had a meaningful influence on the offensive line.
Away from the field, Rivera said, Matsko has taught his players valuable lessons about life and football, especially through books he assigns the players to read before each season. On the field, offensive coordinator Scott Turner relies on him heavily for decisions on the running game and maintains high expectations from his position group.
“He’s the guy that gets it going,” Turner said. “He coaches those guys and puts a lot of pressure on them and holds them accountable.”
Injury report: Washington will be without three key players in Collins, running back J.D. McKissic (concussion) and guard/center Wes Schweitzer (ankle). Offensive linemen Ereck Flowers (foot) and Tyler Larsen (knee), wide receiver Curtis Samuel (groin) and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (hip) are all questionable.
For the Raiders, Waller, defensive end Carl Nassib and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor won’t play. Jackson (calf) is questionable, along with running back Josh Jacobs, cornerback Keisean Nixon and Nick Kwiatkoski, who are all battling ankle injuries.