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Raiders’ Week 9 Focus: Early Down Success

Las Vegas avoiding negative plays a must against talented Jacksonville Jaguars pass rush

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) will need to be in tip top shape in terms of adjustments at the line of scrimmage against the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

A quandary that plagues the Las Vegas Raiders just doesn’t want to go away despite the entire team — players and coaches — harping about. And last Sunday’s debacle in the Big Easy only magnified the issue.

Despite seven games in, it’s plain as day, the Raiders have an uncanny ability to not execute. And heading into this Sunday’s tilt against the host Jacksonville Jaguars, execution remains the focus. That’s not something you’d expect to read about a football team heading into Week 9, however, here we are nonetheless.

The Silver & Blacks’ 24-0 blanking at the hands of the New Orleans Saints forces that issue. And it’s was a heavy topic of conversation during this week’s Raiders media sessions. The lack of execution, coaches say, was the main culprit as drive killers as it created pretty much insurmountable negative plays and long down and distance.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) was corralled last Sunday. If the Raiders don’t execute, the talented tailback could be stymied by the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

“So, you get a negative play on first down, and then you’re in a ‘get back on track situation’. And you don’t execute well on get back on track, and then you’re obviously in third and long, which you try and stay away from,” Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi said. “I think we had six third-and- 10 pluses in the game, or in the first three quarters. Which obviously, when you have that many third-and-10 pluses, your success rate for third down goes way down. And you obviously try to stay in the 50 percent range on third down to try and win the game, and we weren’t really good enough at doing that.

“So, we want to try and avoid ‘get back on track situations.’ We want to try and move the chains, get going.”

Those dire ‘get back on track situations’ against the Saints is a microcosm of the Raiders season so far. Las Vegas is trying to get back on track after a disconcerting 2-5 record and the team hopes the East Coast stay from New Orleans to Florida (the team didn’t return to Las Vegas after the Week 8 defeat) helps the Silver & Black get back on track. While Lombardi noted player execution is paramount, he’s not obtuse in that he knows coaching must step up, too. Raider Nation surely agrees.

“And again, whether it’s execution, whether that’s penalties, or whether that’s fundamentals, they’re all encompassing in terms of not being successful on first and second down. We’ve got to do a better job of that,” Lombardi said. “And obviously we need to do a better job as a coaching staff of getting together a better plan in terms of how we can guarantee that we’re going to have positive plays on those two downs. So, we’re hard at work at doing that this week.”

Las Vegas, which had success running the football on the capable shoulders of running back Josh Jacobs before the Saints debacle, needs to reignite that dominate flame. The lack of a must-stop rushing attack allowed New Orleans to pin its ears back and get after Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr (sacked three times and under pressure constantly). The praise the Raiders offensive line received during Jacobs’ impressive three-game stretch evaporated quickly as a result.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) was under duress constantly last Sunday. That could happen again this Sunday against the Jaguars if Las Vegas isn’t dialed in.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

And, if Las Vegas isn’t dialed in this Sunday, Jacksonville could be the latest team to exploit the Raiders offensive line.

“We tried to execute to the best of our ability, but if we go out there and we’re putting ourselves in I would say some penalty situations — not coming off the ball, not getting aligned, not doing our assignment correctly, or just not communicating on a play-to-play basis — we’re going to struggle,” Lombardi noted. “They really are a talented group. Josh Allen is a very good pass rusher on the edge. (Folorunso) Fatukasi on the inside, we’ve played him numerous times in his time with the Jets. They’re big, they’re long, they’re powerful and they’re strong, and they make a lot of negative plays in the backfield. And they do a good job against the run. They can rush the passer.”

How do the Raiders combat a Jaguars defense that can defend multiple scenarios as Lombardi described?

“So, we’ve got to focus our fundamentals this week, for sure, big time,” he said. “Whether it’s hand placement, whether that’s punch, and whether that’s our sets. We’ve got to make sure that we’re really good fundamentally moving forward and be consistent with it, because if we’re not on Sunday, then obviously that front is where they can make us pay.”