While the bar isn’t Mike Kafka low, it’s not a high and precarious one for new Las Vegas Raiders play caller and interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree to traverse. Kafka, of course, is the chief architect of the league’s worst offense while Hardegree assumes the mantle of the 30th-ranked unit in the league.
And, lo and behold, who does the new Silver & Black play caller draw in his first-ever stint of calling plays? Kafka and the New York Giants this Sunday inside Allegiant Stadium.
Despite the G-Men’s struggles to generate offense, New York does boast a bona fide pass rusher in outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux (8.5 sacks on the year, three of which came in the Giants’ loss last weekend). And that’ll test Hardegree’s mettle as the interim offensive coordinator. He’ll not only be calling plays for an entire football game, but he’ll do it with fellow neophyte Aidan O’Connell getting said calls.
Rookie play caller and quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see if the combo can eclipse the 21-point high water mark. O’Connell isn’t naive to the pair’s relative newness heading into the Week 9 matchup at home.
“Yeah, I think it’ll be new for both of us. Obviously, I haven’t played a lot in this league and it’s Bo’s first time really calling plays, and so it’ll be a new adjustment for both of us that we’re obviously working on in practice,” the starting quarterback said. “He is my position coach, so I obviously communicate with him a lot. I know what he’s thinking on a lot of different things. It’s been helpful, even if it’s not at practice, just to be able to communicate with him and hear what he’s thinking.”
Speaking to the media for the first time as the Raiders offensive coordinator on Friday, Hardegree mentioned changes would be difficult to implement with the short week. But he did harp on something the former head coach Josh McDaniels and he former offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi stressed.
“The most important thing is our players, and we just have to execute better,” Hardegree noted. “And I’ve got to give them the ability to do that, each and every guy. They’ve got to gain my trust, and I trust all those guys, and I’ve just got to put them in a good situation. And I really believe it, it’s all about execution. The answer is sitting in those chairs in there.”
The “e” word is something interim head coach Antonio Pierce mentioned when asked what he wants to see different from the offense this Sunday against the Giants.
“I want to see us finish. I just want to see us strain, compete every play, speed, effort, physicality,” Pierce said. “Bo calls the plays, players make plays. Players execute the play, and that’s what we need more of.”
In order for the Raiders offense to execute, it’ll need a collective effort from the offensive line to generate momentum in both the ground game and aerial attack. In O’Connell’s only start this season — a 24-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers — the rookie quarterback was sacked seven times and threw a game-sealing interception in that Week 4 matchup. Pierce noted in his introductory press conference earlier this week the team must protect O’Connell much better to have any sustained success offensively.
That likely means putting an emphasis on getting running back Josh Jacobs rolling early and often, which isn’t a bad idea against a Giants defense prone to allowing a healthy 4.8 yards per carry to opposing running backs. Pounding away at the New York’s defense and running right at Thibodeaux can help dwindle the defenders effectiveness over time. And an effective ground game can help Hardegree mix up the play calls and take opportune shots in the air — as long as the protection holds up.
Hardegree wasn’t one to spill the beans on his gameplan during his media session. Instead he sounded a lot like McDaniels.
“I’ll just keep it at what I’ve been saying as far as that is just execution. I just want to give these guys the ability to go out and be confident and execute the offense,” Hardegree said. “Because it is, it’s about the players. It’s about the confidence they have in the game plan and in themselves, and just go out there and let them do their thing.”
Wide receiver Davante Adams is eager to see what Hardegree cooks up and if the Raiders offense can properly execute.
“I don’t see us reinventing our offense, I see us just maybe expanding on some more of our playbook and tweaking a couple of things based off what we see on tape,” Adams said. “But for the most part I like what we have in right now, and I can get behind Bo any day. He’s a good, smart football mind out there, and obviously being led by Josh you’re going to learn a lot of things and be able to understand how to call the game. So, looking forward to it for him for sure.”