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Josh McDaniels hired by Raiders: Raising the dead

Raiders need every bit of McDaniels’ offensive genius to give life to impotent red-zone attack

NFL: New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals
Josh McDaniels’ wizardry on offense will be thoroughly tested with the red-zone ineffective Las Vegas Raiders.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Davis probably didn’t need much convincing to make Josh McDaniels his new head coach. Not after the Las Vegas Raiders owner watched his football team go flaccid numerous times in the red zone in 2021.

With McDaniels orchestrating the offense, the New England Patriots finished 11th in the league in red zone percentage — the amount of times a team reaches the money zone and the end result is a touchdown — with a 61.9 percent clip this past season. Davis’ Raiders dragged themselves across the finish line with a 51.7 percent red zone percentage, good enough for 26th in the league.

Las Vegas could move ball all over the yard but couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most under offensive coordinator Greg Olson — who is likely on his way out. And that’s where McDaniels comes in. A creative play caller who stresses attention to detail — the little things — the 45-year-old coach must do a very big thing: Raise the dead and make the Raiders red zone offense an asset and not a liability.

Reportedly, McDaniels will deploy a common-sense approach with his Raiders offense. Let tailback Josh Jacobs use his vision and power, use tight ends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau, and lean on Carr’s efficiency and intelligence.

That approach must’ve made Davis’ ears perk up over the course of the weekend when McDaniels was in Vegas for a sit-down with Raiders brass. While personnel most definitely changes from New England to Las Vegas, Davis must’ve been thinking to himself: “If Josh can do what he did with Drew Bledsoe 2.0 (Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones), imagine what he could do with Derek? He’d make my Carr go from a lemon to a Lamborghini.”

There’s good reason to believe McDaniels can help resurrect a Raiders offense that was very good late in games but was hit-or-miss during the majority of contests in 2021. Under his charge, the Patriots offense finished sixth in total points scored (462) and 15th in yards gained (6,008). The run game — ranked eighth in attempts and yards gained (489, 2,151, respectively) — was the backbone of New England’s offense as the team finished with the second-best 24 rushing touchdowns. In comparison, the Raiders were 26th, 28th and 18th in attempts, yards gained and rushing scores.

The biggest difference McDaniels will experience in the desert, however, is having a veteran quarterback at his disposal in Carr. While the Raiders rushing attack was run of the mill, the air attack finished seventh and sixth in passes thrown and yards gained (628 and 4,808, respectively) but 16th in touchdowns (23). Carr finished 2021 completing 68.4 percent of his passes for 4,804 yards with 14 interceptions. He did display more willingness to take deep shots which should blend well McDaniels’ penchant to dial up play action.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Derek Carr provides Josh McDaniels an accurate and efficient quarterback in Las Vegas.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Not to mention the other integral parts of the Raiders air attack, tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. McDaniels has a strong history of making tight end a focal point of his offense and having one that runs routes like a wide receiver (with similar speed to boot) and a wide catch radius like Waller is a boon. Then comes the route-running, toughness and football intelligence of Renfrow. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Renfrow is the prototype receiver for the Patriots’ offense and now the Raiders have the architect of that system as their head coach and play caller.

Let this marinate: McDaniels’ Patriots offense was ranked 10th in third-down conversions at 43.5 percent. Imagine that number with third-and-Renfrow at his disposal?

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) is the prototype Josh McDaniels’ wide receiver.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Yet, there’s good reason to reserve judgement on McDaniels and be skeptical, too. How he assembles the staff helping him will be just as critical to brining life to the Raiders offense. First and foremost, offensive line boss. Vegas’ offensive line began to gel towards the end of 2021, but a new scheme and set of beliefs may put the group influx — for better or worse. Trench warfare is often the determining factor for success and failure in the NFL and shoring up the offensive line play goes a long way in determining if McDaniels can raise the dead.

Also, McDaniels will be without the defensive genius of Bill Belichick in Vegas. While McDaniels did have the Patriots offense rolling, Bill The Butcher’s defense was ranked second in points allowed (303) and yards yielded (5,284). New England was fourth in passing touchdowns allowed (21) and racked up the second-most interceptions (23). The team also allowed the second-least rushing touchdowns (nine). In the red zone, Belichick’s defense was stingy as a team could get with the second-best red zone percentage of 47.9 percent. The Raiders, in comparison, had an atrocious 81.4 percent clip defensively (by far the league worst) in the red zone. That meant a team that got into the money zone was about near-guaranteed to score a touchdown.

McDaniels is getting as far from the comfortable shade of the Belichick tree as you can get by going West to the desert. At least the Raiders new head honcho will have Dave Ziegler accompany him to Vegas. Ziegler, the de facto general manger in New England, and the chief personnel man for Belichick, was hired by Davis to be the new GM in the desert.