After last week’s game, where Muhammad Wilkerson had probably his quietest game of the season and the Raiders were able to neutralize him by running away from him and hitting him with double teams, it was important for him to make more of an impact this week to demonstrate that you can’t take him out of the game and prove that he isn’t wearing down late in the season.
Wilkerson served early notice that you can’t keep a good man down with a spectacular play on the first series. Finding his path into the backfield blocked by tight end Greg Olsen, Wilkerson just lowered the boom, shoulder-barging Olsen over and then engulfing Cam Newton for a three yard loss as he tried to run up the middle.
Wilkerson ended up with a modest six tackles and got into the backfield to pressure Newton twice, although he tripped on one of these plays. However, he did blow up a handful of runs, including a couple near the goal line, and also displayed impressive lateral pursuit to chase two plays out to the sideline.
Wilkerson has gone three games without a sack and the run defense has given up a lot of yardage over the last two weeks, dropping them to third in the league, but it was good to see him getting back to making impact plays and the fact he’s down in 6th place in Pro Bowl voting remains one of the biggest farces in recent memory.
At nose tackle, Damon Harrison did his usual solid job. He was in on four tackles, all on running plays stopped for four yards or less, and blew up another run by getting good penetration near the goal line. He also got some good pressure to hit Newton’s arm as he threw and force an incompletion and was only caught inside twice on runs.
Backing him up – and often working with him in tandem – Kenrick Ellis had a season high snap count and, although he wasn’t credited with any tackles, he got some good penetration on two plays, stood up his man twice, drew a holding penalty and chased Newton out of the pocket once. He was driven off the line by a double team on one play though.
Rookie Sheldon “The Blast Chiller” Richardson seemed to get the better of fellow defensive rookie of the year candidate Star Lotulelei, further enhancing his credentials. Loutlelei only had two tackles, but did get some impressive penetration. However, Richardson had twice as many tackles and, in the first half, was as disruptive as he’s been all season as a pass rusher. He beat his man a handful of times to pressure Newton in that first half, leading to a sack and an attempted 3rd down scramble where Richardson himself spectacularly brought Newton down from behind. He also blew up a run with penetration. Aside from his offensive exploits, Richardson had a quiet second half, but he did a good job of showcasing his versatility.
Finally, Leger Douzable continues to make contributions off the bench. He broke into the backfield and almost sacked Newton, drawing a hold. Douzable did get forced inside on one run.
Next up…some disappointing signs from the linebacking corps.