Off to a 2-0 start, the Las Vegas Raiders must take down the New England Patriots in order to remain undefeated. However, Jon Gruden’s team just lost their $16 million key to scoring an upset over Bill Belichick’s squad. With speedy receiver Henry Ruggs injured, the Raiders’ quest to move to 3-0 just became much more difficult.
Can Derek Carr overcome the loss of one of his top weapons? Or will New England’s defense rediscover its dominant form? Let’s take a closer look at the impact of Ruggs’ absence and how it changes the entire dynamic of the showdown between Gruden and Belichick.
The Patriots struggled to defend the pass in Week 2
In 2019, the Patriots fielded the NFL’s top-ranked defense. A front seven anchored by Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins put tremendous pressure on quarterbacks. Stephon Gilmore won NFL Defensive Player of the Year as part of a star-studded secondary.
However, Bill Belichick’s elite unit suffered critical personnel losses this offseason. First, Van Noy and Collins departed in free agency. Hightower and fellow veteran Pat Chung opted-out of the season. Plus, Duron Harmon, Elandon Roberts, and Danny Shelton also found new NFL homes.
Even after giving Gilmore a $5 million raise, Belichick’s defense has struggled to defend the pass this season. Even in Week 1, the Miami Dolphins connected on a few big plays, including a 20-yard catch by Preston Williams against Gilmore.
Of course, Russell Wilson took things to another level in Week 2. Despite an excellent performance from Cam Newton, the Patriots lost to the Seahawks due in large part to a poor night from their secondary. Wilson shredded the unit to the tune of 288 yards and five touchdowns.
DK Metcalf burned Gilmore for a 54-yard TD in the second quarter. David Moore hauled in a 38-yard score from Wilson just five minutes before Freddie Swain scored from 21 yards out. New England forced Seattle into third down just seven times, which speaks to the Seahawks’ ability to keep the chains moving with chunk plays.
Overall, the Patriots struggled to defend the pass in Week 2 after keeping some of the league’s best passing attacks in check last season.
Raiders lose their $16 million key to upsetting the Patriots
While the Patriots split their first two games, the Raiders won their first two matchups because of their offense. In Week 1, exciting rookie Henry Ruggs led the Raiders with 55 receiving yards, including a 45-yard strike from Derek Carr. He also added 11 rushing yards on two carries.
In their Week 2 upset against the New Orleans Saints, Gruden’s team once scored 34 points for the second straight week. Carr finished the afternoon with 284 yards and three touchdown passes. Though Ruggs did not factor heavily into the win, he still looked like a potential problem for the Patriots heading into this week.
However, on Friday, the Raiders announced that their top draft pick will not play on Sunday. Instead, the rookie with a $16 million contract will sit out due to knee and hamstring injuries. With Ruggs unavailable, the Raiders just lost their biggest key to scoring an upset.
While Darren Waller represents a massive matchup problem in his own right, Ruggs’ elite speed forces defenses to provide safety help over the top. Even an elite corner like Gilmore would have a tough time contending with Ruggs in a one-on-one scenario on deep routes.
Now, though, the Patriots no longer have to worry about getting beat deep. Instead, Belichick can use a safety to help corral Waller—an elite pass-catching tight end capable of taking over a game himself. Ruggs’ absence makes the Raiders far less dynamic on offense, which significantly hurts their chances of scoring an upset on the road.
The Raiders offense does not look nearly as potent without Ruggs
Henry Ruggs’ unavailability completely transforms the outlook of Sunday’s matchup. The Raiders will have to find another way to generate points without their explosive rookie receiver. New England’s defense can also play more aggressively now that it does not have to worry about Ruggs and his big-play ability.
Instead, Las Vegas will have to run its offense through Waller and Josh Jacobs. However, with highly-paid right tackle (and former Patriot) Trent Brown also out with an injury, that could make Jacobs’ job much more difficult. It would not be surprising to see Belichick stack the box to take Jacobs out of the game and force Carr to beat the Patriots through the air without his talented first-year wideout.
But with Gilmore, the McCourty twins, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, and promising rookie Kyle Dugger on the back end, the Patriots can impose their will against a group of rather underwhelming wideouts.
Hunter Renfrow has caught just five passes this season and does not threaten defenses deep. Bryan Edwards may become a star one day, but he has two games of NFL experience under his belt and will face a veteran-laden secondary. Zay Jones and Nelson Agholor joined the Raiders after failing to live up to expectations with the Bills and Eagles, respectively.
Ultimately, Henry Ruggs’ rare speed could have presented a major problem for the Patriots. But with the former Alabama star sidelined, the Raiders no longer have their $16 million key to scoring an upset in Foxborough.