Following a brutal 24-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Las Vegas Raiders find themselves on the brink of missing the playoffs entirely in a deep AFC. The Raiders went 1-12 on third down and 2-6 in the red zone in their loss to the Titans, and the loss prompted a closed door meeting between head coach Josh McDaniels and owner Mark Davis. One again, this happened in Week 3!
The Raiders spent a lot of money in the offseason to have the same amount of wins as the Houston Texans through 3 weeks. Let’s take a look at what’s gone wrong in Vegas.
Offensively, the Raiders are 24th in DVOA and in the dropback passing game their EPA/play is worse than the Seahawks. However, when you watch their game against the Titans, there really isn’t much wrong with Las Vegas schematically. There’s a lot of the McDaniels Patriots type of run game with heavy I-formation and runs between the tackles, and in the passing game they seem to know what they’re doing, with a QB who knows what he’s seeing on a down to down basis.
The offensive line is an issue, but considering they both knew this would be a problem coming into the season, and started rookie Thayer Munford at RT on Sunday, that’s a larger discussion for how this team was built, that we’ll have at the end of this.
The Raiders biggest issue, and one that popped up in their loss to the Titans, is their situational play, mainly on third down and in the red zone. Through 3 games, Las Vegas is 26th in DVOA on third and fourth down, and according to StatMuse, only converting on 35.3% of their third downs.
Against the Titans, they only converted one first down, and that was at the beginning of the game. Looking back on the game, they consistently shot themselves in the foot, putting themselves in pass only situations with a bad offensive line. For example, on a third and four from the Titans’ 9 yard line, they get a penalty for a false start. Moving them into a third and nine from the 14 yard line, when Denico Autry does this:
On a third and 13 later in the game, the Raiders get a delay of game, putting them even further behind the sticks and they have to throw a screen pass which goes for a two yard loss. The Raiders aren’t helping themselves or their offensive line by putting themselves in obvious passing situations behind a patchwork offensive line that played their seventh different OL group this season.
This is on a third and four, and Munford gets crushed on a speed rush to the outside by Curtis Weaver. The Raiders have got to help their line out, either with chip help by a back or TE, or keeping an extra guy in.
What also intrigues me is the Davante Adams usage in these critical situations. According to Sports Info Solutions, Adams has four targets on third down over three games, and a yards per route run number of 2.7 yards. The Titans had a great gameplan for Adams, practically having two pairs of eyes on Adams at all times. McDaniels tried getting Adams open from the slot for a majority of his routes run on third down on Sunday, but the Titans bracketed him, forcing Carr to go the other way.
In some ways, they were just unlucky. Carr targeted TE Darren Waller twice on third down on Sunday, but they resulted in an ugly incompletion and an INT in the red zone. The incompletion was bad, because the Raiders got the look they wanted, but couldn’t finish. This should be a catch and a big gain.
Ultimately, the Raiders are staring at an 0-3 hole in an AFC that is loaded with contenders. In reality, jumping on Las Vegas as an immediate playoff contender might have been a mistake. If you look at their roster, glaring holes on the offensive line and on defense were noticeable in the offseason, and have been their biggest issue through three games.
The rotating door up front hasn’t helped, but their inability to win on third down and constantly backing themselves into a corner is on coaching. Josh McDaniels has to prepare his team better for those situations, and they simply can’t turn the ball over in the red zone.
Through the first three weeks it just seems unlucky, but time will tell if it’s a trend or not.