Raiders hope for strong fan backing in opener vs. Ravens

Field Level Media

September 13, 2021 at 9:37 pm.

For the second consecutive season, the Las Vegas Raiders open their home schedule with a Monday night contest. But there will be one big difference when they take the field at Allegiant Stadium to face the Baltimore Ravens this time around.

For the first time since moving into their new $1.9 billion home, the Raiders will play a home game with fans with a sellout crowd of 65,000 expected to be on hand.

How the atmosphere in Las Vegas matches up with the old Black Hole in Oakland remains to be seen. But the new stadium, with its shiny all-black exterior nicknamed “The Death Star” by strong safety and obvious “Star Wars” fan Johnathan Abram, figures to feature a raucous atmosphere.

“It’s go time on Monday night,” Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, wearing a T-shirt with the word “FINISH” on the front, said Thursday. “I don’t know how noisy this one is, but we’ve played in a noisy atmosphere before. It will be another game against a great all-around team. We’re going to have a Monday night fight. How about that? That’s what it’s going to be.”

Unfortunately for the Ravens, who are 5-0 and have outscored their opponents 177-26 in their past five season openers, they will be lacking some serious offensive punching power.

The Ravens lost running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee), Gus Edwards (knee) and Justice Hill (Achilles) to season-ending injuries before the season even began. Baltimore will go with Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon on Monday night, choosing not to activate recently-signed Le’Veon Bell or Devonta Freeman.

Baltimore instead activated defensive back/linebacker Anthony Levine Sr. and defensive tackle Justin Ellis from the practice squad.

“(Bell) has to get his sea legs a little bit, football-wise,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on Friday. “Football shape does mean something.”

With the running back situation unsettled, it puts even more of a bull’s-eye on Jackson. The 2019 NFL MVP rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns on 159 carries last season while also completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Raiders brought in Gus Bradley to rebuild a defense that allowed 29.9 points per game and produced just 15 takeaways during an 8-8 campaign. Among the notable defensive newcomers are defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebackers K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.

The offense will once again be led by quarterback Derek Carr (4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns, nine interceptions last year), tight end Darren Waller (107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns) and running back Josh Jacobs (1,065 yards, 12 TDs).

The Raiders have made the playoffs just once (2016) since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season.

“We need to be a playoff team this year,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “We think we are going to be a good team. We’re not running from expectations.”

However, head coach Jon Gruden downplayed Mayock’s comments in an interview this week with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“I’m not going to sit here and talk about the playoffs,” said Gruden, who is entering the fourth year of his second stint as the Raiders’ head coach. “I’m going to talk Baltimore. They want to go to the playoffs, too. … I’m not going to get into that B.S. I’d be very, very upset if we weren’t very confident.”

Despite defeating the New Orleans Saints 34-24 last year in their Monday night home opener, the Raiders finished just 2-6 on their home turf, dropping their last four contests in Las Vegas.

Carr is 4-2 as a starter on Monday nights, including wins in his past three Monday starts.