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Raiders’ Week 16 Focus: Staying on schedule

Avoiding falling behind in down and distance key for Las Vegas in final three-game stretch

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Continued offensive line synergy and avoiding pre-snap penalties is a Las Vegas Raiders focus as the team embarks on its final three games of the 2022 season this Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL coaches across the board loath penalties — especially the pre-snap variety. Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and his staff are no different in that regard.

Pre-snap infractions was one of McDaniels’ talking points both post game and in his victory Monday press conference and it was no surprise to hear his offensive coordinator echo the sentiment. So much so, that when Lombardi was queried about the lack of offensive punch in the second half of the Raiders’ 30-24 win over the New England Patriots last Sunday, pre-snap lapses came up.

“I think every game is different. And whether that’s third down execution, whether that’s pre-snap penalties — which I think was a big issue on Sunday,” Lombardi said during his media session on Tuesday. “Going back to getting aligned, making sure we’re locked in at the end of the call, getting in the huddle, all those types of things. And when you fall behind in down and distance, I think I mentioned that numerous times before, falling behind in down and distance, whether it’s pre snap penalties, or negative runs, or it’s sacks.

“Whatever it is, when you fall behind in down and distance, it’s tough to get a drive going. And I think that’s been our main issue in those type of I would say lulls, and that was our issue on Sunday.”

Thus, staying on schedule is a Raiders focus from here on in as the team embarks on its final three games of the 2022 slate. First of which is a road trip to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, an AFC North squad that sees itself at 6-8 just like the AFC West Raiders.

Las Vegas committed 13 penalties which resulted in total loss of 90 yards in their Week 15 win and lessening or eliminating those types of infractions looms large if the Silver & Black have intentions of winning out the rest of the way. Lombardi said it, it’s difficult for the Raiders offense to regain lost ground, especially when pitted against a disciplined defensive group. Compounding matters, of course, is the injury bug filtering itself around the offensive line room.

With starters Alex Bars and Dylan Parham missing Week 15 or only playing in a handful of snaps before going down, the Raiders had to plug-and-play with replacements. Hroniss Grasu took over for Bars at right guard while Jordan Meredith stepped in for Parham at left guard. It’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s next man up mentality — at the fullest. Bars and Parham didn’t practice in the early portion of the week and may or may not be suited up in Pittsburgh.

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders guard Jordan Meredith, right, blocks New England Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. during last Sunday’s game.
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The ability of both Grasu and Meredith to step in — both were far from perfect but performed the best they could — left Lombardi impressed, nonetheless.

“Saturday evening, I was coming back from night meetings and Jordan’s in there watching tape, getting ready to go and he was just preparing like he was going to start. And sure enough, he went in there in the second quarter and had to play,” Lombardi noted. “So, I think that speaks volumes to the type of character we have in the offensive line room. They’re a tight knit group and they all depend on each other. I think they have the mentality of next man up and we will all play as one collective unit, which I think really carries over as you see that on Sunday and that carried over in those situations.”

Ground Delivery

Staying on schedule isn’t relegated to just the Raiders offense. Las Vegas’ defense was susceptible to the run against New England yielding a staggering 206 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries (6.4 yards per tote average). That’s way too much, especially considering Patriots power back Rhamondre Stevenson provided the bulk of that output with 172 yards on 19 carries (9.1 average).

Najee Harris awaits the Raiders defense in Pittsburgh and he’s equal parts power and speed at 6-foot-1, 232 pounds. While his 2022 output is below his rookie season production (790 yards on 211 carries and six touchdowns rushing, 40 catches for 164 yards and two scores, so far), Harris provides another big challenge for the Raiders defense.

“I mean, he’s a big man. This is a very big man. I mean, just on the tape it seemed like he was bigger,” Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said of Harris. “I haven’t seen him in person before, so I’m looking forward to it. I get excited about these big backs like Derrick Henry, those guys. But he’s a big man, it’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a challenge for everybody, it’s not going to be a one man show to tackle this guy. He has a stiff arm, he’s elusive, he has good speed, he has great vision. And it’s going to be a tough matchup.”