Compiling yards against the Houston Texans is relatively easy with the team ranking 31st in the league in yards given up (2,071 total yards; before Thursday night’s game). Thus, the host Las Vegas Raiders, armed with the 10th-ranked offense (pre-bye) in yards gained, shouldn’t have issues racking up yards.
Yet, where the Texans are the most stingy is inside the 20-yard line. Lovie Smith’s squad is apt to slam the door shut on opposing offenses in the red zone like folk tend to do to door-to-door sales people. Of the 18 trips opponents have taken to the red zone, only seven result in touchdowns. That 38.9 percent conversion rate gives Houston the fourth-overall red zone defense in the league. Whatever the opposition is selling, the Texans aren’t buying.
That compounds the Raiders’ known red zone issues. Despite owning the sixth-ranked scoring offense (pre-bye) in the league, Las Vegas has only scored a touchdown inside the 20 nine out of 19 attempts — a paltry 47.4 percent rate. That’s good for 25th in the league. Las Vegas’ ranking would be even higher if the team scored more than just nine touchdowns in those 19 red zone trips.
Houston being such a red zone curmudgeon is a task Las Vegas must accomplish in this Sunday afternoon clash.
Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi is well aware of the Texans’ pinchpenny exploits inside the 20 and praises it. But he also provided how the Raiders will combat it — focus on themselves.
“Very tough. It’s a very good red zone defense,” Lombardi said of Houston. “They were a good red zone defense last season. I think it goes back to the fundamentals. They really play their scheme very well. And really, at the end of the day, when it comes to situation football for us — no penalties, taking care of the football and executing your assignment. So, I think if we do those three things, no matter what scheme we call or play we call, we have to make sure we do that on third down, in the red area, and in two minute and four minute.
“And if we focus on our job and our assignment, then we’ll be okay and we’ll be fine. And I think that goes back to focusing on us in terms of our assignments; situation football as opposed to the opponent. Because if we take care of our job, and what our job is, we should be just fine.”
“If” and “should” are the operative words, here. If the Raiders were thriving in the red zone scoring touchdowns instead of struggling, they should have a much better record than 1-4. Yet here the Silver & Black are.
Flip it to the Texans (1-3-1) offense and it’s a group with struggles, too. Before Houston went on its hiatus, it held the 30th ranking in yards gained (1,456) and 26th in points scored (86). Where they haven’t struggled is their small sample size in the red zone. Out of 10 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Houston has scored touchdowns on six of them. Good for a 60 percent clip and 10th in the league.
For as much as attention to detail and execution is important to the offense, the same self reflection is critical for the Raiders defense, too. When pressed about Las Vegas’ defensive performance in the red zone — of 17 trips inside the Raiders’ 20, opponents scored touchdowns on 14 of them (league worst 82.4 conversion rate) — Graham had this to say:
“Again, I’d say starts with me in terms of I got to coach it better, in terms of getting the guys prepared better there,” Graham began. “I’m sure there’s a few calls I wish I had back and everything like that. But, again, the beauty of this league and why I love the challenge of it, is that nothing you did last year or even last week really matters. So, the biggest thing is the challenge for this week. I think Houston is ranked 10th in the red area because they got a running back that can run the ball in. I mean, that’s one thing. Quarterback makes smart decisions down there.
“So, we’re getting back to the drawing board. Probably start a little early on red area and try to get it fixed. I know during the bye week you know, Josh [McDaniels] talked about us going back through things, self-scout like all teams do, and that was part of it. And just try to get better and try to improve. But fortunately, unfortunately, I love the challenge of this league and it doesn’t matter what we did in the past.”