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Raiders’ bye week focus: Closing games out

There’s no excuse for Las Vegas not to come out sharp against Houston Texans

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) was once called “the closer” as the offense put the burden of finishing games on his capable shoulders, once upon a time.
Jay Biggerstaff -USA TODAY Sports

Proponents of self reflection speak highly of of its effects, namely becoming more self-aware. That awareness can lend itself to more creativity and confidence, researchers and practitioners of self reflection say.

It’s a good thing the Las Vegas Raiders are on their bye week. At 1-4 overall, the Silver & Black need a healthy dose of creativity and confidence, the byproducts of self reflection. And the initial rest is a welcome respite, too.

“I think whenever we have the bye, whenever they give it to us, it’s always the right intentions to just, ‘Hey, take your mind and get it away from football for a few minutes here, a few days, and try to regroup and get ready to go.’,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said of the team’s mindset heading into the bye week. “Obviously, we’re going to have a long stretch here when we come back. So, that’s really going to be the goal; find some things we can do better, get our minds off of football for a little bit, allow the players to kind of rest and recover, and then get ready to go and try to play our best football as we go forward.”

The ready to go part when the Silver & Black recommence with practices and team activities is mission critical. As one of the four NFL teams heading into this weekend’s games in the league cellar with 1-4 records, there’s no rest even for the weary Raiders. Not when expectations — whether external or internal — and reality are two distinctly stark comparisons. For all the talk about Las Vegas being close, a team is what the record says it is and the Raiders have only won one game and lost four.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
The inability to finish has Mack Hollins and the Las Vegas Raiders trying to figure out what they’re doing wrong.
Jay Biggerstaff -USA TODAY Sports

“Close” is hope eternal. But, unfortunately for the Raiders, it’s also loser talk.

Which brings us to the biggest bye week focus for the Silver & Black: Closing games out. Let’s outline how McDaniels and his team can go about doing that, shall we?

Jump On Josh Jacobs’ Capable Shoulders

Running back by committee the Raiders offense is not — and that’s a good thing. Jacobs is the unquestioned bell cow back and is running with authority and vision. In their last two games, the Raiders gave Jacobs the rock 20-plus times and he’s produced: 298 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries. That’s the production synonymous with trench domination.

Jacobs adopted the moniker “closer” during the prior Raiders coaching regime for his ability to sustain the punishment on opposing defenses. He could churn out the tough yards and move the chains allowing the Raiders to dominant time of possession when it mattered most — the fourth quarter — and bleed the clock.

If Las Vegas can continue to build a lead and learn how to maintain it, the team needs to hop on Jacobs’ capable shoulders and let their power back path find the way to victory. Even if they can’t maintain the advantage, lose it, and play catchup, give Jacobs the rock, too.

Build Upon The Trench Work

The musical chairs at offensive line is dwindling and the the only revolving occurring is relegated to right tackle. While the team still must come down to a choice there — rotating in Jermaine Eluemunor for Thayer Munford and vice versa is... interesting to say the least — the group of (from left tackle to right) Kolton Miller, Alex Bars, Andre James, Dylan Parham and Eluemunor/Munford is the best.

That group helped power the run game and kept quarterback Derek Carr relatively upright and clean. A solidified front five allows the unit to generate even more vital cohesion as they get comfortable to the strengths and areas of opportunities they all offer.

“I really think they’re battling, giving Josh (Jacobs) the opportunity to get started,” McDaniels noted. “Some of the plays — we always talk about keeping the line of scrimmage clean and getting the back an opportunity to hit the hole and have an entry point. And I thought that was some really good blocking done up front. I would add Jakob (Johnson) in there, I would add the jumbo tight end did some really good work for us there.”

Red Zone Woes

At this point, the Raiders struggles to get into the end zone and prevent the opposition from doing so inside the 20-yard line is well-documented.

To summarize, McDaniels’ offense visited the red zone 19 times and came away with a touchdown only nine of those occasions (47.4 percent). Patrick Graham’s defense, on the other hand, pitted itself against the opposition entering the money zone 17 times and on 14 of those occasions, yielded a touchdown (82.4 percent).

In league-wide terms, Las Vegas’ offense is ranked sixth overall for red zone visits but 18th in touchdowns scored. The defense is ranked 13th in opposition red zone visits but dead last in touchdowns allowed.

But here is where it gets a bit wild: The only team worse in red zone defense are the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs (4-1). They’ve allowed teams to get inside the 20-yard line 16 times and on 13 occasions, the Chiefs defense gave up touchdowns. Perhaps proving a good offense is the best defense.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
While the Raiders have given up the most red zone touchdowns, the Chiefs defense is right behind them allowing 13 red zone touchdowns to Las Vegas’ 14.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Attention to Detail

Avoiding end-game collisions notwithstanding... forget that. The Raiders need to ramp up the tiny details to no longer run into one another to kill comeback attempts. This is the new era of the Las Vegas Raiders where doing all the little things right (should) lead to big things.

Doing just that is likely going to ramp up the Raiders’ ability to play complementary football — they’ve done that in instances but not consistently enough.

Ditto on defense. It was a sad sight to see the 33-year-old Travis Kelce (Kansas City’s ultra-productive tight end) simply gliding past Raiders defensive backs — namely safety Tre’Von Moehrig — en route to four touchdowns. Yuck.

Football Jones

Finally, what ever happened in practices leading up to the Chiefs tilt this past Monday night with Chandler Jones, the Raiders must continue that.

The 32-year-old has yet to register a sack, but he was very disruptive against Kansas City and moved quarterback Patrick Mahomes off his platform and running for his life. Jones was able to beat the lineman in front of him, around the corner, and burst towards the quarterback.

Maxx Crosby has been on quite the tear, but getting Jones in the sack column will only help.