One of the early turning points of the Las Vegas Raiders’ Week 4 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers came at the beginning of the second quarter when defensive tackle, and former Charger, Jerry Tillery hit quarterback Justin Herbert as Herbert stepped out of bounds.
The sideline official immediately threw his flag into the air and a mob of powder blue jerseys swarmed Tillery, many of whom he was teammates with at this time last year.
The defensive tackle’s unnecessary hit not only cost the Raiders 15 yards but also led to his ejection and Los Angeles went on to score three plays later to make it a two-possession game. They scored once again on their next drive, giving the team enough points to eventually hold off Las Vegas’ comeback.
Naturally, head coach Josh McDaniels was asked about Tillery’s lapse in judgment during his post-game press conference.
“Yeah, I talked to [Tillery] about it,” McDaniels said. “We specifically discussed it. I thought he was making a great effort to get over there. And as we saw later on – Herbert, he’s a big guy that when he chooses to keep running and go down the sideline and all the rest of it, he can actually make some yards and he’s a problem when he has the ball in his hand.
“So, I give Jerry credit for the effort. At that point, the burden is on the defense, you know what I mean? And so, if the player steps into the white, you got to not hit him. So, that’s always a potential to come up when the runner is on the sideline, and we just have to pull off at the last second and not hit him and not make contact.”
In recent years, the NFL has placed a big emphasis on eliminating these types of plays, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. So, it’s not surprising that Tillery was flagged as the replay showed that Herbert was giving himself up by veering toward the sideline and even had a foot out of bounds when the defensive tackle initiated contact with him.
However, the ejection was a bit shocking as plays like this happen frequently but rarely result in an ejection. According to The Football Database, unnecessary roughness has been called 44 times through the first four weeks of this season (pre-Monday Night Football) but only two players have been disqualified from the game; Tillery and the Denver Broncos’ Kareem Jackson in Week 2, per Quirky Research.
The NFL’s rulebook states; “For unnecessary roughness: Loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant.” So there is ambiguity when it comes to removing a player from the field and it’s up to the Zebra’s discretion.
When asked about his thoughts on the decision to eject Tillery, McDaniels replied; “That’s not my call. I understand the penalty. I don’t make the decision on the ejection, so that’s for them to decide.”
But Tillery wasn’t the only Raider to draw a flag on Sunday. In fact, he was just a small portion of that problem as the team was penalized eight times for 80 yards in total. Some calls were fair while others were questionable but regardless, that obviously played a significant factor in how the scoreboard looked at the end of the game.
“Not really. I mean, you saw them, it wasn’t like it was seven offsides penalties or seven offensive holding penalties, or anything like that,” McDaniels explained when asked if there was a common theme with the penalties.
“The Tillery play, like I said, it was one step on to the white, so that is what it is. The [Jakobi] Meyers play was a tight coverage play. There were a couple of guys back there and I thought he made a really good play on the ball, but they called some contact there in that situation. The [Robert] Spillane (penalty) on the interception, that was kind of – we understand the rule, I think all our guys do. It’s the force, it’s the force that you do it with that creates the contact. It wasn’t one penalty that kept showing up.”
For context, Meyers was flagged for offensive pass interference on the play below which wiped out a 50-yard completion that would have put Las Vegas in field goal range right before halftime. He was also called for a “crackback block” while making contact with the defender’s chest (also seen below).
Jakobi Meyers should get suspended and fined for this egregious OPI pic.twitter.com/LgckQYoCgp— RanDynasty (@ran_dynasty) October 1, 2023
Spillane’s flag was much less ambiguous, however. Also, it wasn’t nearly as impactful since it came on an interception return and the Raiders were still able to get into scoring position until the Meyers crackback penalty and one of Khalil Mack’s six sacks forced them to punt.
“Again, the best thing we can do is keep educating, keep coaching it, keep talking about it,” McDaniels continued. “I think our guys want to play penalty-free. They’re not trying to commit penalties, I know that. We just got to make better decisions in certain situations. There’s going to be a few every week where it might be a bang, bang play and you’re trying to do the right thing, but you get called and I understand those. So, we’ll continue to coach off of what we saw.”
Las Vegas is tied for the sixth-most penalties (28) and the third-most penalty yards (267) so far this season. Hopefully, that changes soon.