Mired in frustration, winless after three games as the lone 0-3 squad in the NFL despite considerable star power and searching for concrete answers, the Las Vegas Raiders followed an old NFL tradition after their latest setback against the Tennessee Titans.
New coach Josh McDaniels — determined to install his shared vision for how to run a football team along with his friend, general manager Dave Ziegler, after their success with the New England Patriots — met privately with owner Mark Davis following the game.
But that’s not all. Players, led by Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby, veteran quarterback Derek Carr, and other team leaders, held a players’ only meeting, according to league sources.
Why the Las Vegas Raiders are 0-3
After three games, the Raiders are taking stock and hoping to engineer a turnaround. Figuring out why they’re off to such a disappointing start, multiple sources emphasized: “It’s complicated.”
One source characterized the issues as more about personnel than any culture clash.
They’re a product of the Raiders’ regime shift that ushered out successful interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who led the AFC West franchise to a playoff berth after the ouster of coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock after several poor personnel decisions and Gruden resigning under pressure after old racist and misogynistic emails surfaced.
There has also been an ongoing workplace human resources investigation and upheaval at team president. It’s the personnel issue that has impacted the losing more than anything, though, according to one source.
The Raiders don’t lack top-end talent, spending lavishly on Crosby, quarterback Derek Carr, former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones and tight end Darren Waller.
But several sources noted the constantly-shifting offensive line is a mess after multiple draft mistakes by Gruden-Mayock. Plus, there isn’t enough depth in the trenches or skill in the secondary, with the exception of former Illinois cornerback Nate Hobbs, who has excelled as one of the highest-graded defensive backs in the NFL.
“This team, if you look really closely, is not set up right to succeed,” a league source said. “It’s going to take time and patience and getting more of the players that Josh and Dave want in there before they can really be competitive. They’re in a loaded division that has great quarterbacks and they inherited a mess. There are a lot of good reasons why Mayock and Gruden are no longer there. This is a heavy lifting job for Josh and Dave. It’s not a quick-fix situation. The owner, Mark Davis, understands that and is on board with what they’re doing. It’s hard to watch right now, though.”
There are a lot of causes behind the 0-3 sputtering start.
The offensive line, the secondary, linebackers, and other aspects of the team were frequently singled out by sources familiar with the Raiders’ personnel situation.
And McDaniels was accountable about the issues facing the Raiders after a narrow loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday lowlighted by a slow start in Nashville.
“There’s a lot of things we have to do better as coaches and players and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” McDaniels said during a press conference. “Losing gets old, fast. These guys, they compete hard. They play hard and coaches coach hard, but you have to earn it. We’ve got to learn how to start well, play well in the middle and finish well, and right now we’ve not figured out that formula yet.”
The Raiders looked terrible early, falling behind 24-10 at halftime against the Titans before rallying back only to lose by two points as a Carr two-point conversion attempt to Waller was deflected in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Raiders didn’t get Adams as involved as they hoped for as wide receiver Mack Hollins picked up the slack with eight catches for 158 yards, including a touchdown catch that closed the gap to 24-22.
Adams was held to five catches for 36 yards and one touchdown. He excelled in the first game with 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. Since that game, he has seven receptions for 48 yards and two scores. He has been targeted a total of 17 times in the last two games after being so heavily involved in the opener.
“I am frustrated and angry,” Adams said after the Titans game when asked about the state of the team. “I expect more. It’s not easy to win in this league, we know that … but we expect more and we’ll do it better as we move forward. We can’t be flat early.”
Adams is correct, but it’s not just on the offense.
The Raiders allowed three long scoring drives engineered by Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill during the Titans’ first three possessions. He went 14 for 17 for 195 yards in the first half overall to help build a commanding lead, and there was a lot of shoddy tackling by the defense against powerhouse running back Derrick Henry. Not having linebacker Denzel Perryman in the game due to an injury hurt the Raiders’ cause, and Hobbs is in the concussion protocol.
The Raiders also went 1 for 12 on third down and all six penalties were committed by the lowly regarded offensive line.
“That’s so below the standard you need,” a source said.
“We’re playing a lot of zone early in the game and trying to focus on the running game,” McDaniels said. “Then they were dumping the ball down there too when we were playing zone. I thought Tannehill made a few good reads just to give him the ball in some space and let him get some positive plays.
“I think the biggest thing with [Henry] is tackling. If they catch a short pass, the biggest thing we have to do is get him on the ground. I thought he extended some of those plays, obviously, with his running after he had the ball in his hands.”
Are Raiders’ practice habits a problem?
After the game, Carr suggested that the Raiders need more precision in practice to improve.
A source agreed with Carr’s assessment but said the issues run much deeper.
“You try your best to do it the right way in practice, and if you don’t do it right in practice, then you can’t expect it to go right in the game. I can be optimistic,” Carr said. “Maxx, [Adams], Darren, everybody can be optimistic, but if not everybody is doing the work or doing the right things in practice, it doesn’t matter how much we hope for. You have got to earn it. But we are going to stay positive already. That’s the kind of people we have in the room.
“I think the execution was not at its best on some days but that’s not the reason,” Carr said. “It’s not like that. I wouldn’t say I am not pleased with it, but my point is you have got the meetings, the practice, the walkthroughs all matter, so if you are on it, on all those things, then you usually go out and you are on your assignments. So for me, I believe in that and that’s what Josh preaches, that it matters.”
The Raiders are 21st in the NFL in third-down efficiency and 26th in the red zone.
Carr has completed just 60.8% of his throws, down from his 64.9% career percentage. He has six touchdowns and four interceptions overall, including one against the Titans. And the reliable presence of injured wide receiver Hunter Renfrow has had an impact on the offense overall.
“There’s no shortcut to it,” McDaniels said Monday of the red zone problems. “We have to do a good job of executing down there. We gotta have a good plan and give the players an opportunity to be successful.”
While Jones is off to a slow start, Crosby already has two sacks and ranks second in the NFL with 16 pressures. Crosby had nine tackles, one sack, a quarterback hit, a forced fumble and a pass defensed against the Titans. He has 27 career sacks, 47 tackles for losses, 62 quarterback hits, and is a former AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Offensive line under scrutiny
Every game, the Raiders have changed their offensive line starting configuration. They’ve used seven different lineups so far.
Left tackle Kolton Miller is their best offensive lineman.
They’ve installed Dylan Parham as their center with Andre James out with a concussion and had Alex Bars step in for John Simpson at left guard, Jermaine Eluemunor from right tackle to right guard, and plugged in Thayer Munford at right tackle.
Raiders offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, a former Patriots offensive line coach, has privately drawn criticism for the constant changes, some of which have been prompted by injuries, but there were signs of improvement in pass protection against the Titans. And the grades have been solid overall.
“I thought we ran the ball effectively, albeit not as much as we would like to because the score got flipped on us again,” McDaniels said. “The pass protection generally was decent. We had the one sack there before half, but all in all I thought they worked well as a unit together. I thought they passed off some things well. I thought we double-teamed well. There was definitely some positives.
“We gotta look at that and try to build on the good things and then improve some of the things that we allowed to happen. They got in there and had a little pressure on Derek there in the second half when it was more of a pass, pass, pass mode. Part of our issue is if we would stay out of that situation then we wouldn’t put ourselves in that issue. But, overall, I thought it was a positive step for them.”
Is it on Josh McDaniels?
Back in a head coaching role after operating as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator and successfully collaborating with Tom Brady for six Super Bowl rings, McDaniels is trying to change the culture.
One source acknowledged that McDaniels is considerably different than his stern approach when he was a young Denver Broncos head coach and has grown in his leadership and people skills.
Another source repeated the oft-cited narrative surrounding former Bill Belichick disciples, that the so-called Patriot Way wears on players.
And a third source expressed optimism that the Raiders will right the ship, praising Ziegler’s talent evaluation skills and the strong mesh between the two former John Carroll University football teammates.
“This is an adjustment period,” a source said. “Josh is showing people how he wants things done. Rome wasn’t built in a day. When they have success, once they start winning, people are going to jump on the bandwagon. Watch and see.”
McDaniels summed up the situation after the last game.
“We’re going to have to learn how play a full 60 minutes and earn the right to win,” McDaniels said. “This league requires a lot of mental toughness, and nobody likes losing. It should hurt when we lose. We all feel s—ty.”