They were drafted, at No. 4 overall and in the fourth round, respectively, to help improve the Oakland Raiders‘ woeful pass rush of 2018, a season in which the team had a league-low 13 sacks. Or 17 fewer than the team with the next lowest.
Thursday night, Ferrell and Crosby were the Raiders’ starting defensive ends for the second time in five days and made a habit of holding rookie D-linemen meetings in the Los Angeles Chargers‘ offensive backfield. More specifically, in Philip Rivers‘ lap. When not putting him on his back.
“Clelin Ferrell and the pass rush showed up,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said after Oakland’s 26-24 defeat of the Chargers improved its record to 5-4. “He does a lot more than just rush the passer; he made some great plays against the run. It was a signature game for him, obviously, but it’s great for him to get some sacks.”
With criticism of his lack of production growing louder by the game, Ferrell had a breakout night with 2.5 sacks (his first sacks since the season opener) and eight tackles, becoming just the fourth rookie since sacks became an official stat in 1982 to get those numbers in a game. The others? DeMarcus Ware for the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, Kevin Williams for the Minnesota Vikings in 2003 and Justin Smith for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001.
Plus, his 2.5 sacks were tied for the second-most in a game by a Raiders rookie since Greg Townsend sacked the New York Giants‘ Scott Brunner three times in 1983.
“Clelin needed that,” Crosby said. “A lot of people have been saying this or that but it doesn’t matter. Clelin came out, he balled out. Did what he was supposed to do. It was huge for us.”
And Crosby, well, all he did was get 10 pressures on Rivers, per NFL Next Gen stats, the most by a Raiders defender in a game since 2016, and forced two interceptions from pressure.
“Salt and pepper, baby,” Ferrell said. “The game needs flavor so we had to bring it to them, baby. That’s it.”
Longtime, decidedly hopeful Raiders fans will see a certain Townsend and Howie Long flair to Ferrell and Crosby, with veteran Benson Mayowa playing Lyle Alzado — minus the “Three Mile Lyle” outbursts but with the production, as Mayowa has seven sacks on the season.
And yes, that’s wishful thinking and especially unfair to the rookies, who get a 10-day break before playing host to the Bengals to close out this three-game homestand. Think about the three offsides penalties the duo had by lining up in the neutral zone (Ferrell was flagged twice and Crosby’s negated an end zone interception by Erik Harris. The Chargers scored a touchdown right after).
But as a team, the Raiders have 20 sacks on the season, even with veteran Josh Mauro out against the Chargers with a groin injury and second-year defensive end Arden Key lost for the season with a broken foot.
“It’s a lot of heart,” Crosby said. “It’s hard. It’s a quick turnaround. We had to keep going. The [Chargers] O-linemen are out there as long as we are. I feel like we’re in better shape. We just keep coming until the game is over.
“The thing with [Rivers] is you have to be in his face all game to try to get him flustered. I felt like we did a good job of that.”
And then some. Even as a dehydrated Ferrell left the game for a series to head to the locker room for an IV bag.
It’s not just that the Raiders won, but it was how they won. The defense stepped up — pressure (five sacks) and coverage (three interceptions) working in concert.
“It took a step up,” Ferrell said. “Now we know that we can play with anybody in our division.”
With a pair of pass-rushing rookies with flavor coming off the edge.