Explosive plays are few and far between for the Silver & Black and that is often pointed to as a reason for the sluggish offense through six games. Yes, the side of the ball McDaniels directly oversees has yet to generate more than 20 point this season. When the Raiders did finally surpass the 20-point plateau, it was the defense that scored the two points (a safety) get to the team over that hump.
But the absence of explosive plays hasn’t stopped the team moving the ball to the red zone — the opponent’s 20-yard line to the end zone. And that’s the area Las Vegas needs to address the most. By rolling snake eyes in the money zone and not getting touchdown, the offense is leaving points on the field. And that’s the biggest area of concern for the the Raiders (3-3 overall) as they face the Bears on the road this Sunday.
Case in point: Week 6 against the visiting New England Patriots. Of the Raiders nine drives — technically eight since the final drive was three-straight kneel downs to end the game — the team visited the red zone six times. Only once did they get a touchdown — a Jimmy Garoppolo 12-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers. Four fields and an interception were the results of the other six money zone trips. That abysmal performance inside the 20 gives McDaniels’ group a tally of 22 red zone trips and only nine touchdowns for a 40.9 percentage. That’s good for 25th in the league.
For a group where points seem to come at a premium, a complete about face in the red zone is mission critical. The long drives culminating in only three points (none in one instance) has unfortunately become the norm for the Raiders. The team hasn’t been a Top 10 group in the red zone since the 2017 and 2014 seasons, where it ranked seventh (58.8 percent) and first (72.4 percent), respectively, in the league, but both incarnations finished 6-10 and 3-13 those season.
“There’s no disconnect,” McDaniels confidently answered during his early-week media session when asked if there’s sever in the offense based on long drives that don’t result in touchdowns. “To me, it’s when you get down there, there’s a premium on everything we do. And so, we had multiple penalties down there that cost us. We had two holding penalties and an offensive pass interference that puts you now in first-and-20 orsecond-and-20 in an area where that’s really difficult to overcome. And then we missed some opportunities.
“We had opportunities whether it was the running game or the passing game, we just didn’t quite capitalize on them. And again, down there it’s all about details and execution. There’s very, very little margin for error. And when you make an error, it usually is exacerbated, and it ends up in either a negative play or you’re kicking field goals.”
McDaniels’ offensive coordinator, Mick Lombardi, was in lock step with the head coach when asked about the red zone woes and what the team has to do better.
“First of all, we can’t commit turnovers, that’s one. And the second one is, we can’t commit penalties,” Lombardi said during his mid-week media availability. “You look at the first drive in the game, we’re down there and we have a third-and-one on the nine-yard line, and we pop a run to the four (yard line) with JJ (Josh Jacobs). First down on the four yard line and we get a holding penalty. That’s unacceptable.”
Execution is definitely a culprit. Players need to be in sync and operating at maximum efficiency. But the coaches need to implore more discipline in the red zone. Accountability is a two-way street.
“So, obviously we have to do better. I have to do a better job of trying to get us to play penalty free and be able to capitalize on the opportunities that we have,” McDaniels said. “The good about that is, is you play good enough to get it down there as many times as you do. Now, let’s fix that. Let’s fix that area of the field and let’s play our best football down there going forward.”
Las Vegas gets the opportunity to showcase an improved all-around effort in the red zone against a Chicago team that is the second-worst squad defending in the money zone. Teams have had the ball at or inside the Bears’ 20 19 times this season and out of those trips, 15 have resulted in end zone visits. That 78.9 percentage is ranked 31st in the league.
Where do the Raiders’ rank in defending the red zone, you may be curious? Out of the 20 visits in the money zone, the Raiders have yielded 14 touchdowns and that 70 percent rate is 29th in in the league.
Moore Or Less
The one player the Raiders defense must have a keen eye out this Sunday is Bears wide receiver DJ Moore. The talented 26-year-old is by far the most explosive weapon on Chicago’s offense with 582 yards and six touchdowns on 32 catches. He’s two games removed from a blistering eight-catch, 230-yard, and three-touchdown evening against the Washington Commanders in Week 5 before being limited to five catches for 51 yards and no scores against the Minnesota Vikings last week.
If there’s one prime area of concern for Las Vegas with Chicago, it’s Moore. And this is regardless of undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent being the starting quarterback in starter Justin Fields’ stead this Sunday. Moore is a threat to take the ball to the house on any touch he gets.