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Raiders-Chiefs Week 12: The complementary football conundrum

Antonio Pierce having the same issue as his predecessor did

NFL: New York Jets at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce is battling the same complementary football issues that plagued his predecessor.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Turns out, the preseason filled forced turnovers by the Las Vegas Raiders defense wasn’t an anomaly. It just took a little bit of time to translate it to the regular season. But in seemingly ironic Silver & Black fashion, the team has gone from a drought of takeaways to an evaporation on offense.

What a turn of events for the Raiders.

Once pegged as the Achilles heel of the team, Patrick Graham’s defense is clear strength in Las Vegas as the group notched 14 takeaways through 11 games. The Raiders are tied for fourth in the league in interceptions with 10 (five other teams have notched the same picks), sixth in fumble recoveries with four (eight teams have same number), eighth in forced fumbles with seven (six other team have same amount).

As a result of that, the Graham orchestrated Las Vegas defense is ranked 13th in the league in points allowed (225, an average of 20.45 points per game) and 21st in yards allowed (3,765, an average of 342.27 per contest). The unit is also ranked 12th in the league in sacks with 27 (tied with the San Francisco 49ers).

The Raiders high water mark in takeaways this season are a trio of three-forced turnover matchups: Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, Detroit Lions in Week 8, and most recently against the Miami Dolphins in Week 11. Las Vegas only won one of those three games, however, a 17-13 nailbiter against the Pack. And it just goes to show, that while Graham’s unit has been a revelation in 2023 for the Silver & Black, the offense hasn’t had the same success.

NFL: New York Jets at Las Vegas Raiders
Linebacker Robert Spillane (41) leads the Las Vegas Raiders with three interceptions on the season. Add in his fumble recovery and he leads the team with four takeaways.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

And it’s that complementary football (where offense, defense, and special teams thrive on each unit’s big plays) conundrum that interim head coach Antonio Pierce needs to solve if he has intentions of shedding that “interim” in front of his title.

It won’t be easy.

Not with two rookies in key positions in quarterback Aidan O’Connell and his play caller interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree. With six games left on the slate, however, Pierce and company have no choice but to elevate the offense to the defense’s level as their playoff hope at 5-6 overall depend on it.

One of the biggest ways Las Vegas can get the offense going is giving running back Josh Jacobs not only the opportunities to tote the rock, but the room to operate, too.

“Obviously, we don’t want those touches to be at that 14 mark, that’s not our number,” Pierce said during his Monday press conference. “Our magic number is 20 plus, and we got to stay with it. It’s not always pretty, there was a one-yard or two-yard there, but yesterday there were some fives, some eight and nines. And we just got to remember that as we’re calling it and stick with it. And I give Josh a lot of credit, he’s very patient, frustrated like we all were with the result yesterday. And obviously, I’ve said since I’ve gotten here, it will run through Josh Jacobs.”

Pierce went on to note that a productive effort from Jacobs has a ripple effect for the entire offense as it helps the offensive line and the aerial attack get on track.

“So, that’ll be the plan. Everybody knows, there’s no hidden agenda,” Pierce added. “We’ve got the best running back in football, and we’re going to use him, and we need to use him.”

Las Vegas faces quite the challenge on both sides of the ball this Sunday with the incoming Kansas City Chiefs (7-3). The AFC West leading squad boasts the 14th-ranked offense in points scored (225) and eighth-ranked group in yards gained (3,654). The team also boasts the third-ranked defense in points allowed (164) and fourth-ranked unit in yard yielded (2,832). Where the Chiefs are susceptible is on the ground where they’ve given up the 18th most rushing yards (1,124).

NFL: New York Jets at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce would like to see quarterback Aidan O’Connell (4) hand the ball off to running back Josh Jacobs (8) 20 times or more against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday.
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Sounds like a potential get-right game for Jacobs, and by extension, Las Vegas’ offense. And we’ll see if Graham’s defense can stymie another defense — much like it did to the league’s best offense in the Miami Dolphins last week.

“There’s no moral victories, but we know as a defense we’re going in the right direction,” Raiders sack leader Maxx Crosby (10.5 sacks) said after the loss to Miami. “We know offensively we’re only going to get better. So there’s no moral victory, but at the end of the day we took a lot of positives from it. We just got to watch the film and keep moving forward.”

The Raiders have shown spurts of playing complementary football this season and in seasons past, however, it’s been a long-term issue that’s plagued Pierce’s predecessors from Josh McDaniels on back. The last true sign of the Raiders playing that type of football was the 2016 squad that forced 30 turnovers in 16 games and had an offense that took advantage of change in possession and scored points (seventh overall in the league with 416 total points).

Scoring just six points off of the three takeaways last week against Miami reeks of the McDaniels-led Raiders scoring just three points off the turnovers against Green Bay and seven against Detroit.

That’s not good enough.

And Pierce and Las Vegas to break out of the cluster and ascend to not only .500 but surpass the second-place Denver Broncos in the AFC West, the team needs to play consistent complementary football.

The Raiders have squandered enough opportunities and the margin for error is slimmer by the week when it comes to the team’s postseason aspirations.