The Las Vegas Raiders underwent a handful of significant changes last week, one being the firing of head coach and offensive play-caller Josh McDaniels and subsequently promoting quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree to interim offensive coordinator.
That move ended up paying immediate dividends as not only did the Raiders’ offense have their highest-scoring game of the season with Hardegree at the helm, but they also scored more than 20 points for the first time all season.
So, what changed with the team’s play-calling compared to the rest of the year? Obviously, the sample sizes will be different, but this does give us a general idea of the shift in philosophy as well as what to expect for the rest of the year.
Josh Jacobs’ lack of success this season has perplexed a lot of people as he was averaging just 51 yards per game (ypg) and 3.1 yards per attempt (ypa) in Weeks 1-8 a year after winning the rushing title. But against the Giants last Sunday, Jacobs seemingly returned to form with a season-high 98 yards on 26 carries for an average of 3.8 ypa.
A big reason for that was the offense’s shift from a gap-heavy scheme to a zone-run-based system. Under McDaniels in 2023, Jacobs had 43 attempts on zone runs and 79 attempts on gap runs or a one to 1.84 ratio, according to Pro Football Focus. However, those numbers flipped with Hardegree; 17 to nine or a 1.89 to one ratio. That also seemed to fit better with the offensive line’s collective skillset as Jacobs went from having 1.04 yards before first contact per rush to 1.68.
It’s also no coincidence that Jacobs’ previous season high for rushing yards came in Week 7 with 77 yards against the Patriots when he was given 16 carries on zone runs and nine on gap runs. Clearly, a zone scheme is best for the Silver and Black moving forward.
Obviously, the switch from Jimmy Garoppolo to Aidan O’Connell impacts the Raiders’ passing game as much as the play-calling does, but there was a significant shift in the latter with Hardegree, even when comparing O’Connell’s two starts together.
In Weeks 1-8, Las Vegas’ quarterbacks as a whole ran play-action on just 17.9 percent of their dropbacks, per PFF. That figure more than doubled last week as 36 percent of O’Connell’s dropbacks came with a run fake. For another comparison, in the rookie’s first start, he only ran play-action 6.8 percent of the time.
The offense also used play-action to push the ball down the field more frequently last week. The Raiders’ quarterbacks had an average depth of target (ADOT) of 8.6 yards off play-action under McDaniels but that figure was up to 14.2 with Hardegree calling the plays.
Granted, that could have more to do with the quarterback change as O’Connell did have an ADOT of 18.5 yards heading into last weekend while Jimmy Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer were both under eight.
Unsurprisingly, the Raiders also attempted a higher rate of deep passes last week, going from 8.8 percent of attempts to 12.0 percent. Specifically looking at O’Connell, he had an increase of a little more than eight percent compared to his previous two outings when factoring in all of his throws and not just the ones that came off of play-action.
What’s surprising about that is his average time to throw (ATT) actually dropped by nearly a half-second; 2.59 seconds in two games with McDaniels to 2.11 seconds with Hardegree last week. For comparison’s sake, Hoyer’s ATT this season is 2.24 seconds and Garaoppolo’s is 2.75.
So, Hardegree used more play-action, allowed O’Connell to push the ball down the field more frequently, and made sure the rookie wasn’t holding onto the ball too long in the pocket than McDaniels did, and the results were reflected on the scoreboard.