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Raiders 2023: Continuity is nice; results are better

Systems in Las Vegas remain in place for Year 2, but will that translates into more wins?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham heads into Year 2 with the Silver & Black. Will continuity on defense translate to better results?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At this stage of the offseason, NFL teams are knee-deep in building chemistry. With the influx of new teammates that arrived via both free agency and the NFL Draft, building rapport and familiarity with one another is a critical component of OTAs and minicamps.

Ditto for the player-coach relationship.

Fortunately for the Las Vegas Raiders, continuity is helping facilitate the process. As the Silver & Black transitioned from OTAs to mandatory minicamp this week, the team embarks on Year 2 of the respective schemes of head coach and offensive play caller Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and special teams coordinator Tom McMahon.

Each has assistant coaches installing philosophy and scheme, too.

Familiarity with the schemes should help incumbent Raiders develop and engage with new teammates. It’s something veteran pass rusher Chandler Jones spoke about during his post OTA media session last week.

“I feel like it’s very important in times like right now. This is where you get that chemistry, quarterback to receivers, defensive tackles to defensive ends,” the 11-year veteran said when asked about the importance of continuity heading into another season. “You want to have the chemistry where I look to the guy next to me, and I won’t have to say anything, I can just give them a head nod and he knows exactly what that means. That’s exactly the kind of things that you need to build around this time, because you won’t get that showing up in the fall. You have to do it now.”

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Tennessee Titans
Veteran pass rusher Chandler Jones notes offseason OTAs, minicamps, and practices is where much-needed chemistry and team building amongst players and coaches is a must-do.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

But as it goes with chemistry, there’s volatility — which in the world of science describes how readily a substance vaporizes. That certainly applies for the Raiders, because despite the attempt at chemistry in Year 1, synergy vaporized and resulted in a disconcerting 6-11 record for McDaniels’ desert marauders.

As such, continuity is nice to have. But a respectable win-loss record this coming season is a must-have. Coaches and players alike are well aware of this. Graham, who heads the much-maligned Raiders defense, noted he’s all ears after self-evaluation of a tumultuous first season in Las Vegas.

“Continuity, again, it starts with me in terms of the defensive philosophy. It’s listening to the people that are here, whether it’s the players, the coaches,” Graham said. “Especially after last season, doing a lot of self-evaluation, making sure I’m listening. Sometimes you get in this role and one of the things that you could fall on the trap of is not being a good listener.

“And so, I had to listen, ‘Ok, you know, figure out what do we need to do for us this year. What’s going to be the best thing.’ And then to build that continuity, you got to put in work. No different than with my wife. We’re going on year 14, it still takes work. You got to put the work in, and we’re putting the work in right now. And then hopefully we see the rewards of that.”

Improving upon the league’s 26th-ranked defense in terms of points scored and 28th-ranekd unit in terms of yards allowed is paramount. As is flipping the 26th-ranked defense in third down conversions given up and 29th-ranked red zone percentage as Graham’s defense allowed a staggering 64.8 percent of red zone visits by the opposition to result in a touchdown.

Much has been said about the Silver & Black defense floundering, but the same can be said about the offense.

Flip the coin over to McDaniels’ offense and while the Raiders did rank 12th in both points scored and yards gained, Las Vegas was 26th in red zone touchdowns with a 47.9 percent conversion rate.

Of the Raiders total 359-point output last season, kicker Daniel Carlson accounted for 137 (38.16 percent) of the points scored. Reliable and trusty, Carlson is an excellent weapon but getting into the end zone holds more value.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Josh McDaniels Las Vegas Raiders offense must may end zone trips a frequent thing when in the red zone. The team converted only 47.9 percent of red zone trips into touchdowns, good for 26th in the NFL in 2022.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the splits by scoring differential charted by Pro Football Reference, and McDaniels’ unit must play sharper and be more productive with a lead in hand. While the team did churn out 699 yads and four rushing touchdowns when ahead, the passing attack was middling compiling five touchdowns with five interceptions and a QBR of 77.7. Compared to when the game is tied (seven touchdowns, four interceptions, 90.3 QBR) and when trailing (16 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 89.7 QBR) McDaniels must orchestrate an offense that is productive and stacks points on leads instead of pulling a mysterious disappearing act.

Especially in the second half. Of the 43 total touchdowns the Raiders scored in 2022, 21 were in the second half. Of those, 15 came in the fourth quarter or overtime (and include defensive scores: a 73-yard interception return by Duron Harmon and the wild 48-yard fumble return by Chandler Jones). That total of 43 also includes the 68-yard scoop and score by Amik Robertson. In comparison, the Raiders defense allowed 48 total touchdowns, 26 of which were second-half end zone visits. A similar 15 came in the fourth quarter or OT, including a 59-yard fumble return by the Arizona Cardinals). Also included in the total of 48 are a pair of first-quarter pick sixes returned by the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots.

Perhaps continuity with coaches and scheme help the Raiders flip the script this coming season. But like in 2022, the proof will be in the pudding in 2023. And we’ll find out during the course of the coming season if having the same system in place translates into more wins.