“Learn” is the operative word for the Las Vegas Raiders. Learn how to win, learn how to play aggressive, and learn how to avoid franchise-first type face plants. A day after his team’s 29-23 overtime loss to the visiting Arizona Cardinals, Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels reviewed the film and the L word is ever-present.
“We have to learn how to play aggressively with a lead. That’s a mentality,” McDaniels said during his Monday media session. “It’s like a boxing match, you are ahead on points after six rounds, you can’t stop throwing punches, you got to keep fighting. And sometimes when you get your team into that mindset that they can maintain their aggression and not put themselves at risk, which that’s totally doable, then they play better, and you just keep the pressure on the other side.”
“You can’t ever feel like, ‘Well, it’s their turn to apply pressure on us and we can’t do anything about it.’
Unfortunately, for anyone that watched this past Sunday’s debacle, they saw a Raiders team that couldn’t do anything about the Cardinals’ furious second-half comeback. Arizona applied the pressure and, despite Las Vegas’ best efforts, the Silver & Black fell. And it’s back to the drawing board for McDaniels’ group. That mean’s the entire team from coaches and players. Which beckons more film study, review what went wrong and right, take the harsh lessons learned, and apply them to Week 3 against a Tennessee Titans squad that’s also sporting a disconcerting 0-2 record after the first two weeks of football.
For McDaniels, the offensive play caller, it means striking a balance between aggressiveness and risk. With lead in hand, questions rightfully were asked why didn’t he play it safe by running the ball and chewing away at the clock? Bell cow tailback Josh Jacobs was getting progressively stronger as the game went on and his punishing run style is perfect for grind-it-out mode. Instead, McDaniels chose aerial bombardment that was thwarted by Arizona’s defense. It got to the point of comedic tragedy when three passes were dialed up — all were incomplete and taking mere seconds off the clock — which gave a determined Cardinals offense the ball again.
“A lot of people will say it was just passing the ball with a lead. I think that’s maybe part of it,” McDaniels begain, “But I think maintain your aggressiveness in terms of opportunities to make plays, as opposed to taking too many things out of the offense that you feel like gives you that opportunity. I think sometimes you battle that. You battle it as a play-caller, you battle it as a player. It’s human nature. You have a lead, you want to try to protect it, and sometimes the feeling would be, ‘Well, if we just don’t risk anything, then maybe we’ll be okay.’ I’ve never felt that that’s really the right thing to do because the other the other side, they’re still playing too. And so, even though you have a lead offensively, it doesn’t mean you have enough points.”
The Raiders head coach added no matter what play he dials up, his players still need to execute — which is a fair point. Execute the plays and if they work and move the chains, no one is griping about if it was a pass or run.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to our overall execution, whether we’re running it, throwing it, drop back play action, tossing the ball, draw; whatever the play is, if we execute it well enough, we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity,” McDaniels noted. “And we had plenty of them, we had plenty of opportunities to win the game in both phases, really. The kicking game was a little less as the game wore on, but offensively and defensively, we had plenty of opportunities. We’re just going to have to make one more than they do.”
New Year, New Team
A pointed follow-up question arrived in Monday’s media session after McDaniels referred to learning how to play aggressively with a lead: Is the coach surprised that a 10-win team last year has to learn that?
“No. I mean, I think that’s something that each team … every year, every team is different,” McDaniels answered. “ here is no team that is the same from one year to the next, so whether it will be or somebody else, or these guys, or another team that we’re talking about, each team has to learn how to continue to play and do the right things over and over and over again. The teams that win at the end have to go back through that process. That’s been clear every year. The two teams that were in the championship game last year, they are 1-3 right now. It is what it is, that’s the nature of this league and you don’t ever get a pass like, ‘Hey, we’ll just graduate last year’s process to this year’s process.’ You got to go back through and earn it again, and it starts with me. I don’t get any points for what I’ve done in the past, neither does anybody else and we are going to have to go through these growing pains together and that’s part of the National Football League regular season.”
Chandler Jones, Where Art Thou?
Pay no mind to the zero in the Raiders pass rusher’s sack statistics. The veteran is doing exactly what Las Vegas wants him to do, according to McDaniels.
“We had to rush a different way yesterday. That’s clearly one thing we needed to do, and we tried to keep him (Kyler Murray) in front of us. He’s a very difficult guy to play against, we talked about that last week. When you rush him, and you rush him over-aggressively, bad things can happen.
“But no, I’m not worried about that. Chandler — this isn’t the first time he’s gone two games without a sack.”