Harnessing the two-minute, late-game determination and tenacity the Las Vegas Raiders exhibited on offense and playing that way all the time. Just how much better would have the 2021 season been if that happened?
Vegas was a team to be feared when quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders offense were given a one-score last gasp. Their six walk-off victories were a testament to that. The four overtime victories, yet another. The defense got the stops to give the offense one final go and Vegas produced. But the crunch-time magic did eventually evaporate, in the NFL Playoffs, no less.
Why do the Raiders appear to be a completely different animal late and in those clutch moments? That particular question is both impressive and disappointing for a team that not only swam against the current but didn’t get scuttled by the myriads of issues that could have.
The team finishing 10-7 and getting in the playoffs is a resounding success for a tumultuous year. That can’t be denied. But what also can’t be refuted is Raiders owner Mark Davis’ desire for more than just playoff appearances but postseason victories. The dismissal of Mike Mayock as team’s general manager is part of that. Davis is slated to hire a new personnel specialist and a make a move at head coach, too (either making interim Rich Bisaccia the full-time head honcho or hire a new one).
From the Raiders’ red zone woes, resolve in the face of adversity, aggressiveness and passiveness, Davis’ choice(s) must solve or sustain all next season.
Aggressiveness and Passiveness
Carr challenged defenses with the longball this past year as the quarterback truly let ‘er rip. DC4 finished with a career-high 67 completions of 20 yards or more, throwing it back to the vertical Raiders offense of yester yore.
Vegas’ air attack was supremely impressive early in the year but trailed off — largely due to missing deep threat Henry Ruggs III and all-world tight end Darren Waller. But Carr showed the league what he could do if given a lid-lifting wide receiver who can not only torch defenses with pure speed but has the ball-tracking skills to run under the throws for receptions. Another receiving option with the ilk of Ruggs could be quite the boon for the offense.
The aggressiveness was not without it’s drawback, however. The big plays needed time to develop forcing Carr to hold onto the ball much longer to take risks. That resulted in the quarterback committing a career-high 19 turnovers. It gets even more cringy when you take into account the Raiders as a whole had 24 turnovers on offense.
Striking the balance will be crucial in 2022.
Then there’s the matter of passiveness. Bisaccia is a conservative coach and leans more towards the man who hired him, former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Risk-averse is a Gruden staple and it wasn’t surprising to see Bisaccia, a coach who has strong history and ties to Gruden to be of similar though. Remember those numbers above regarding turnovers? Gruden seeing his quarterback account for 19 turnovers would drive him mad.
While Rich B did become more of a risk taker in that final stretch of Vegas’ season, he’s an older cat at age 61 and tigers don’t change their stripes.
On too many drives, the Raiders curiously went from hyper-attack to pensive and deliberate, leading to punts and forcing a defense to stay on the field for much longer than the offense could. That aspect of the Raiders game needs a complete overhaul. And like with Carr finding balance in his aggressivness, Vegas needs to be just as steady with play calling.
The Dead Zone
Las Vegas could move the ball well, but when it came to the red zone, it might’ve well been the dead zone. The Raiders offense produced touchdowns on only 51.7 percent of their red zone visits and helped kicker Daniel Carlson point total as the team settled for the second-most field goals in the money zone this season.
Similar issue for the Vegas defense. The team managed to make yards gained difficult, but once opponents entered the red zone, the Raiders resistance was meek. Opponents scored a touchdown on 81.4 percent of their money zone trips.
The inability to score touchdowns and prevent them in the red zone is going to be mission-critical for the coaching staff in 2022.
Overcoming adversity gave Vegas the drive and will power to win four straight in the final four contests and punch their postseason ticket. The team was able to catch lightning in a bottle and the confidence they could win must carry on next season.
Coaching change and roster additions and subtractions will always be the variable and somethings don’t tend to translate well from year-to-year. Still, the core group of Carr, Maxx Crosby, Hunter Renfrow, Josh Jacobs, and Johnathan Abram have tastes success and are likely wanting a whole lot more.
The Raiders would do well to find consistency as the team had too many peaks and valleys over the course of the year. What’s likely working in the team’s favor is they won’t see the set of circumstances in 2021 in 2022. If the Raiders do, then they’re truly hexed.