His new starting quarterback versus the NFL’s top-ranked defense? Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels wouldn’t have it any other way.
With the team deciding to bench former starter Derek Carr for the remainder of the season — he left the team with permission to avoid distractions — Jarrett Stidham is the new No. 1 and assumes the role owned by No. 4 the past nine seasons. Stidham’s first opponent: The stout San Francisco 49ers.
This is Stidham’s first start as an NFL quarterback in his career. He’s completed 32 of 61 passes (52.5 percent) for 342 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in eight very limited appearances in three seasons. If there’s anything that’s in his favor, Stidham is steeped in McDaniels’ scheme and system.
“Yeah, I mean this is a big test,” McDaniels said when asked about Stidham’s first start against the league’s stingiest defense. “So, I think anytime you get to compete and challenge yourself against the best, I think that’s a great opportunity for you individually and for our team collectively.”
McDaniels, who’s had Stidham under his tutelage since the New England Patriots selected the quarterback in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft (133rd overall), had an optimistic tone during his media session on Thursday speaking highly of Stidham’s approach to practice and being ready to go.
“He attacks practice. Those are his days, and he’s prepared against our first defense, all year long,” McDaniels said of Stidham. “I promise you, nobody has thrown with more guys around him and in his face in practice than he has this year in the NFL, because [Maxx] Crosby buzzes the tower on almost every play, and so do some of those other guys. So, he’s had some really great weeks of preparation against our defense, not that everything went perfect, which that’s a good thing for our team, but he’s seen as tough as it can be in terms of looks, speed, rush, coverage, variations, and he approaches those periods like those are his games.
“But I expect him, like I said, to prepare like he always has and with the intent on going out and playing well.”
Attacking the 49ers will be something to behold. San Francisco is firing on all cylinders having won eight-straight games since Week 8. Kyle Shanahan’s offense scored 230 total points during the win streak while DeMeco Ryans’ defense allowed only 97 points. (For reference in the last eight games, Las Vegas scored 183 points while yielding 176 in a similar eight-game span).
Much like offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi, McDaniels could only speak glowingly of the 49ers defense based on the group’s production. Which exacerbates Stidham as the area of concern for the Raiders this Sunday.
“Like I said, they’re as good as a group as we’ve played,” McDaniels said. “The front is exceptional, (Nick) Bosa, (Arik) Armstead, I mean you can go down the line, they’re all very talented — (Javon) Kinlaw. They all make plays, they’re very disruptive. Their linebacking core is as good as there is in the league. Their secondary is very opportunistic, they turn the ball over a lot, create a lot of negative plays, very good on third downs, especially third and long.
“So, this is a big challenge. It’s a good opportunity for us as a team to prepare to get ready to play a team like this who’s really on a roll, playing as good right now as probably any team we’ve played.”
Stidham’s teammates, who all had varying reactions to Carr’s departure from the team, are all rallying around the new starting signal caller — to no one’s surprise
“I think he’s ready, and I think he’s going about it in a way that’s unique to him,” Raiders tight end Darren Waller said during media availability Thursday. “He’s not trying to be anybody else or be too rah-rah or too loud. He speaks when he thinks he needs to and jokes with guys, picks them up. He has the personality to go out there and do well. I see him locked in, as he has been throughout the season. Makes a lot of good throws, and guys have been excited for him and his overall knowledge of the system.”
Las Vegas fullback Jakob Johnson, who joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2019, is eager to see what Stidham makes of this opportunity.
“The kind of growth I’ve seen him go through has been cool, so I’m excited to see him get this opportunity,” Johnson said. “He’s a great guy. Family man, great teammate, great leader. He’s always bringing the energy to practice. He always enjoys going out there and busting up our defense even when he was the scout team guy.”